Luang Prabang, Laos
I actually managed to wake up early today at 05:25; I quickly got dressed and grabbed my camera; I then walked out of the guesthouse to find the gate locked and no one was up to open it; after assessing the situation and figuring that climbing over the gate would make too much noise and possibly break it, I went back inside the lobby and found a key that looked like it matched up with the lock; sure enough the key worked, I opened the gate, put the key back and walked out, locking the gate behind me. Once I reached the main road (which changes names every few blocks – “Chao Fa Ngum”, “Sisavangvong”, and “Sakkarine”) I saw that the Alms Ceremony is not isolated at just one temple like I thought, but is all along the road, near temples, shops, hotels – wherever locals decide to set up along the sidewalk to offer food to the monks; most of the locals were offering sticky rice, cookie treats, and fruits. I also realized that there is not an exact time for when it begins; I had read it began at 06:00, but I reached the road at 05:50 and there were already monks walking the sidewalks to receive food.The monks would walk along and open their baskets for the locals to drop food inside; there were also many tourists either partaking in the Alms Ceremony or snapping photos of the ceremony. I walked along the road all the way to the end (at the Nam Khan River) and then turned around; at about 06:30 all the monks had returned to their temples and were beginning their daily work, sweeping sidewalks and cleaning their respective Wats.
I then returned to the guesthouse and was glad to find the gate now open and the owners/managers were up. I then showered and packed my bags; I grabbed my laptop and researched the next stop on my itinerary: Vang Vieng. I discovered that it would be best to book a bus ticket which has transportation included to the terminal; I had one of the guys at the guesthouse call and make a reservation for me; it was 08:15 and at 08:30 my transportation had arrived (this was the the only quality service I received today from the transportation company); I had my bags ready to go and had just managed to reserve a place in Vang Vieng before having to get up and walk to the tuk-tuk that would take me and several other passengers to transportation company’s terminal, which had a fleet of minivans to take customers to all the major cities in Laos. The minivan to Vang Vieng was scheduled to leave at 09:00 and I had bought my ticket and was ready to go at 08:50. The departure time then changed to 09:30, and then to 10:00 – when the minivan was all but full. We then drove to the nearest gas station to fuel up since our driver apparently could not do this during the past ninety minutes while we all waited to leave (sadly this happens everywhere in this part of the world; once again it is all about them making money and not delivering on promises or quality services). We then finally set out toward Vang Vieng, picking up one last customer along the way to ensure that all the seats were occupied. The road itself was poor with potholes, as well as debris and soil from recent minor landslides (several of these landslides were being cleared by tractor hoes and we had to wait for them to move out of the way for us to pass by); also, the entire journey was through a mountainous landscape, so the road kept winding and moving up and down. The scenery was quite spectacular; the mountains were covered in lush green jungle, farms dotted the landscape, and the rocky limestone mountains scrapping the rain clouds as they passed by created a beautiful fantasy world for us to enjoy in our cramped minivan (this is some of the best countryside I’ve seen in my travels and Laos is like a giant garden worth exploring). During the six hour journey, we stopped twice, first at a run down restaurant in a muddy and dreary looking town and then at a scenic overlook that only had restrooms for us to use. We then finally reached Vang Vieng and the minivan stopped at the “city center” (i.e. the guesthouse the travel company has a deal with).
After departing the minivan, I grabbed my bags and walked to the hotel I had made a reservation with this morning; I checked in and immediately took a much needed cold shower. I then relaxed in my room and unfortunately discovered that the wifi is atrocious (based on experience, this is the case in most of Laos and good portions of Vietnam – at this rate I probably won’t be able to bring the website up to date until I reach Nepal (I don’t have much hope for Bangladesh)). After relaxing in the hotel for a short while, I then walked around the town, grabbed cash at an ATM, noticed several restaurants playing ‘Friends’ episodes for their customers’ entertainment (I had read online that ‘Friends’ is popular here for some reason), and then bought some snacks and drinks at a mini-mart; I then went back to my room and relaxed for the rest of the evening (I also watched ‘Red Lights’ which had an intriguing and well done first half, but then a disappointing second half with plot holes – to be honest, I also did not like the direction the movie took and the portrayal of certain scientists (who, in this movie, were terrible at their job, not thinking logically or of all the possible controls needed in their experiments, but I guess all Hollywood movies have that flaw)). Eventually I managed to put myself to sleep with no real plan for tomorrow or the next day (I guess I’ll go tubing).