For the people of Luang Prabang, every day begins at 5 o’clock in the morning. As the sun rises between the coconuts and old buildings watching the Mekong River trip, spiritual traditions awaken the community and guide it to the main street where the most sacred Buddhist ritual takes place- the alms giving ceremony – the ceremony of food offered to the Buddhist monks. It is a religious manifestation that has been taking place since the 14th century and where the local people give away for free food as rice, fruit and sweets to the 200 monks who cross the streets of the city to provide their daily food.
I was reading a lot about this sacred ceremony so I knew I had to participate in it, and I knew that the place where I would be staying in Luang Prabang would be on the street where the Buddhist monks are going. Suddenly awakened by the phone alarm at 5:30, I walked out onto the balcony of the room and glanced outside, thinking that until 6:00, when I knew that the pot arrives in the area, I have time to prepare a cold coffee, good enough to keep my eyes open. I took a step outside the room and heard someone calling me, in a totally unknown language, from which I could only understand Madame.
It took me a while to realize that a local woman was caling me to take part in the ceremony, but after her desperate gestures, I realised that I must descend now and that any minute of delay would be to my detriment. With the same signs of despair (not to lose the moment), I told her I would come down immediately. In order not to awaken my husband who had warned me one night before that I would suffer the consequences if I wake him on his vacation at 5 am, more in the dark, I dressed in a hurry, I took the camera and I went down the street. Here was a big bustle, chairs and mats stretched out on the floor, women carrying back boiled rice bowls and packed cakes, tourists with cameras ready for the moment and cars trying to make their way through all the madness and noisy horns and this was the beginning of a promising day.
I was the only one who was still asleep by the smell of flowers in the tree in front of the pension, and woke up prematurely from a deep sleeping nap. Still looking around and trying to delimit the reality of imagination, I see myself surrounded by 3-4 local womens trying to sell me products to give to the monks at the ceremony. That’s what I understood, because they communicated with me in a perfect Laotian language. More pushed by them than my desire to occupy one of those little chaps, I found myself sitting in the same row as those who had come to give away food. What the hell? I woke up at this time in the morning to see the moment from outside!!! Until I realized that in one hand I have a large bowl full of rice and in the other one a basket of cakes, I saw an orange group of people and the Buddhist monks started to come.
The moment is very solemn, in a near perfect silence, with the heads bent to the ground and sitting on the mats, the locals took rice with their hand from their bowls and put it in the monks bowls. Everyone knew what to do. Only curious tourists disturbed the solemnity of the ritual, triggering cameras close enough to the main characters.
When I saw that I had more rice in my bowl and that I could not even give half of it, and I did not make any pictures, I doubled the portions taken from the bowl, got up at high speed and put the camera on, sign that I fulfilled my mission. The local womens, almost overturned me trying to persuade me not to rise up, because they still have many products to sell. I managed to get away and take some pictures, give my ladies money on the products, and because I was very close to the Mekong River shore I went to see the area in the morning light.
I went back to the room to make the coffee I had in mind all the time, and, pleased with everything I had seen, I woke up my husband for which it was too early even at 7am and I went down to breakfast. The evening before, I settled with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to Kuang Si Falls, the famous waterfall 29 km away from Luang Prabang and at 9 o’clock he took us from the hotel. The following road has brought us into the driving atmosphere of Asia: overtaking at the limit, excessive speed, sudden brakes, infernal horns, but all of this has activated the dose of adrenaline we missed so much.
In the cascade parking, the driver abandoned us for a beauty sleep in the hammock he had installed in the tuk-tuk after we got down, gave us some directions and told us he was waiting for us in the same place in about 2 hours. I paid about. 80 RON for entrance tickets, then we passed a reservation of bears that stretched out to the sun and showed their lack of interest to the tourists who had invaded their space. This place is actually a backyard rescue center from illegal animal trade.
We aventured into the tropical forest that was about to reveal the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen. Just a few yards from the habitat of some of the bears, a group of turquoise water pools, almost unreal, beautiful and impossible to describe with words. There were many people who were bathing, although the water was cold, but the adventure was not complete without swimming near the trees with strange shapes growing out of the water.
I was not tempted to take my dose of that cooling experience and went further until I reached the 60-meter-high waterfall that had at the base an another beautiful natural pool, but where swimming was forbidden.
We knew from home that the at the top of the waterfall is another beautiful swimming pool, where you can have a spectacular view of the whole area. We crossed the bridge across the water and started climbing. The road was getting harder, with remarkable and very steep bumps. We climbed about 30 meters and met with a group of Chinese tourists who wanted to do the same, but returned because of the difficulty of advancing. I watched them as they struggled to descend and realized that we would have the same problem in coming back because we were pretty briefly dressed. I had some sandals that felt barefoot, and now I do not know what was in my head when I got them from home. They were about to break up and get me out of there with bare feet. So we turned around, we stopped at a restaurant near the exit, took two beers and drank them resigned, but charmed by the color of the water and happy that we saw such a place.
After that we went to the street stalls selling souvenirs, and at one of them there were two little girls, the smallest one was no more than three years old. She tried to convince us to buy something from her and did it, it was not even hard.
She was a little taller than the pineapple behind her.
We recovered the driver and the tuk-tuk and made our way back to Luang Prabang. Just a moment’s glimpse made me not to miss the butterflies farm I had heard about and which was on our way. So I’ve done another 2-hour break and I’ve entered a fairy tale, another world where hundreds of butterflies fly unspoilt around you, sit in your palm and stay there until you let them.
A cute lady who takes care of their growth walked us on a tour of the farm, and finally presented us with the process of delivering butterflies that had reached a certain stage of their development and they had to learn to fly. Magic!
We enjoyed all like children and we played with the butterflies, took pictures, then headed for the exit and stopped for another Lao beer on the shore of a sanitary fish pond fitted with comfortable seats, for those who wanted ad-hoc pedicure.
We have hardly said goodbye to the butterflies from the fairytale farm and we have returned to Luang Prabang with a craving desire to enter the first restaurant and order anything that is eatable. Very bad! I took the most spicy food out of the menu and, after I tried my best to suppress my hunger, I exchanged it with my husband who was more inspired and took a soup. Very good! A fresh mango and a beauty sleep followed.
The afternoon continued with another adventure, but about that in the next post.
All the best!