My second last chapter on Laos is based on a personal view on the life and culture of Luang Prabang. Before I left on this holiday, I read other traveler’s accounts of their holiday and seen their photos. But, never can I imagine what it was really like until I got here. It is never the same seeing a place in real life compare to still images. Also, it is never the same hearing from other experiences compare to one own experience. Simple reason. We are all different. We are brought up differently, in our own culture and background. But, I always hear this. It is always better to see and experience a place by assimilating ourself into the local scenes. That is how we learn about other people and culture. That is what make life interesting. That is why we travel.
Luang Prabang is no different from how I like to experience things when I travel to a new place. I like to see and experience the local scenes. Thus, this post is focus on Buddhism and morning wet market. This is the local life as how I see it. There is similarity in how I was brought up as a child in Penang, Malaysia.
My mum brought me up based on Buddhism and Taoism believes. In primary school, I also learned about Buddhism and Hinduism as part of history teaching. I never questioned about the practices and believes. I grew up practicing the same things as my mum would have done from generation to generation.
Things changed when I went to America for my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. I began to explore other reasons and believes of my existence. I became friend with a group of Christians in the university, called “Navigator”. It felt different. They were different. They always smile and laugh. They were extremely polite. They opened door for others and let others go before them. It felt strange. I was baptised in a a small icy cold stream in the middle of winter. I became a Christian! Lord help me! Then, it dawn on me that it was very strange and weird to behave that way. How long can someone really be nice all the time, 7 days a week. Or for the matter, not sin or if sin, ask forgiveness on Sunday church service. “Lord, I have sin”.
One day I woke up and came to my senses. I realised the entire charade of being a “Navigator” was not me. There is more to life. It is not me to conform to a certain group and mannerism where there is no individuality and all the same. Or, for the matter, make judgement on others on what is right and what is wrong. That was when I started questioning myself, my upbringing, my cultural background, my values and seeing things and life differently. I assimilated myself into the American student culture, became an Orientation Leader for incoming freshman, a Resident Assistant in a dormitory and became a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. I still hold the believes of my own culture and values of my upbringing. And, continue to learn, understand and experience the culture of others.
Luang Prabang is rich in culture, still intact and local lives go on daily as normal. The number of tourists flooding their streets keep growing each year, as more and more people are discovering the beauty of the place. It is inevitable that things will change especially in the outskirts of the heritage enclave, which is not protected under the UNESCO heritage listed area. Local life and culture will slowly disappear with the influx of tourism.
In the main heritage precinct, there are several beautiful temples and buildings. Buddhists go on with their daily lives. Phou Si hill in the middle of the peninsula providing a captivating bird eye view of the area. Several buddha statues near the foothill. The beauty of Luang Prabang is magical and enchanting with surrounding mountains, hills and gentle flow of Mekong River. The nature of the area reflects in the calm and gentleness of the locals.
Buddhism is a big part of the people and culture. There are many young Buddhist novices in the area. One of the most traditional custom in the area is the Buddhist morning alms. It starts at 5:45am. I had the chance to witness this morning ritual twice; the first and last morning of my stay. Rain or shine, the ritual goes on. I was quite fortunate as the first time I saw it, it was a beautiful clear morning. The second time it was raining. It was quite surreal to see the monks and the villagers carrying an umbrella. The monks were bare footed and clad in their saffron coloured robe. The villages, mostly women, sat on a bench or bamboo weaved mat. The morning alm continues even in a heavy downpour. The experience was very calming and peaceful.
I read a write-up at one of the local restaurant, “Tamarind” that the morning alm signifies the giving to one ancestral spirit for a better future and blessing in one next life. The giving is in the form of a pinch of sticky rice thrown into a bowl carried by the monk. I also read in the same article that the rice is then taken back to their temple to feed their commune with other charitable food provided by the local community in the area.
The peaceful face of a Reclining Buddha
Note the flat palm hand. My partner was tired and rested himself on the Buddha palm, after walking up and down the other side of Phou Si Hill. It was hot and humid. Thought it was cute. After he got down, one huge bee was buzzing around his face. It will not go away! I told him that he was being disrespectful to the Buddha and the bee was “basically” scolding him!
Villager’s food in containers waiting for morning alms
Place mats for the local women villagers
Buddhist morning alms
Watch the quietness of the morning alm, except the occasional clicking of a camera.
After the morning alms, I went to the wet market. It was really nice to see a living wet market. It was busy with local villagers buying their produces for the day cooking. The market here is more exotic than the one in Penang, Malaysia.
When I was young, I like to go to the wet market with my mum. It was only a short 5 minutes walk from our pre-war terraced house in Georgetown, Penang. At the time, there were life stocks such as chicken and duck, which were slaughtered and cleaned on the spot on order. But, this practice is no longer allowed in Malaysia.
The market in Luang Prabang has more than what I would expect to see; from the common Asian greens, herbs, roots, poultry, fish and meat to something quite exotic that I cannot contemplate cooking or eating myself.
How about some bats?
Or, live worms? Think about this as dry tequila!
Live baby shrimps – now this is new to me. I would love to fry some. Very fresh.
Variety of small chilies – I can tell they are extremely hot!
Something more common – garlic and shallots
Or black fungus, ginger? Very fresh. I wish I can buy some for cooking
Looks like Oyster Mushroom? But, maybe not. Very tempting.
What about this fresh greens?
Lemongrass and young Galangal
Fresh rice noodles stall
As I finished my personal tour of the wet market and about to leave the exit point, lo and behold someone had to arrive in style! It was none other than my partner, chauffeured by a handsome young man from the Mekong Riverview Hotel. Here I was, got up at 5:30am, went to see the Buddhist morning alm and finished browsing the wet market. And, he being more civilised (in a true sense), got up about 8am, had a decent breakfast and arrived in the hotel owned Golf Buggy!