Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Better and Better, Better and Better

Our second day in Luang Prabang began with a trek through hilly country to a picturesque waterfall. Taking two tuktuks into the country, we had to get out and walk at one point as the tuktuks couldn't climb a steep hill with us in them. Chan cut a figure in a fake leather black jacket, strange attire for formidably hot weather. This weather continued and when we actually started the real hike, I found myself blinded by the sweat dripping down my glasses.

Again just a short note about the people. They really are one of the most friendly people on the planet. Everywhere we drove, past huts on stilts, past open-sided schoolrooms, past fields, the children invariably waved and shouted 'Sabai Dii' after us. The hill people, the Hmong, who speak a different language to most Lao, often practise animism, and who have been something of a thorn in the Government's side, are being gradually resettled in the low lands. At our starting point, a new school was being built for the Hmong, albeit one that would teach them the official language.

The trek, though it was up and down some steep hills, was fairly easy, certainly to me after all my Oz and NZ trekking. The countryside we passed through was mostly agricultural land or well spaced forest. Often I saw large and exotic butterflies (several Red Admirals and many more unusual ones) weaving through the leaves . We all enjoyed the exercise.

Before we got to the waterfall, we stopped in a little village for a snack in the local market. This rural shopping centre was a circular collection of thatched stalls and dining areas surrounding a wide tuktuk park. I had a pancake with chocolate, milo and coconut, but had scarcely time to enjoy it as we headed to the falls.

The waterfall was stunning. It was a two-tiered affair with one high cascade plummeting down to one plateau before feeding the second fall. The water in the pools it fed were a limpid green. Naturally we took time over our photo shoots. Then, swimming togs in hand, we made our way to a large pool for a swim. It may have been a hot day, but that water was COLD. Zooey led the way and I followed next, but it was a struggle for us all to get in. Not being a strong swimmer I stuck in the one area while most of the others swim to the sunlit waters across the other side. French tourists (this being a former French colony, there are always French tourists) swung into the centre from a small stick swing. Yes, I wished I could brave the water more bravely, but with a bit of practice I hope to soon.

Next we viewed some wildlife, specifically Asian Black Bears in the Bear Rescue Centre, and Phet the tiger, a cub saved from poachers which has grown up in captivity. The bears were particularly interesting. As we neared their enclosure I though for a moment I was watching chimpanzees. They are incredibly agile, climbing, fighting, crawling through hoops with an almost human grace. Very dark, they are distinctive in that a pale V adorns their chest, and although solitary animals in the wild, the many young cubs seemed to be getting on well. Phet was a little too lazy tae too much of our attention, though a yawn that looked like a roar and a sudden bout of pacing gave us something for our cameras. We ended up devoting more time to the game of hide a seek the bear keepers had set up with the bear cubs food. Putting fruit and veg in various holes and crannies, all the time watched by the young bears from the door of their house, the keepers then let the bears loose to find the food, which they do very quickly.

For lunch, in order to distribute the foreign dollar fairly throughout the community, we broke up into groups and ate at different stalls in the market. I joined Sian and Sarah. Sian, it turns out, has more than one connection with the movie business and aspirations to be a writer. Sarah, ironically given the rough and ready nature of our lunch, is a food safety consultant. We all paused at that confession and stared at our meals, but my chicken and bamboo was surprisingly tasty and doesn't seem to have had any side effects.

That night after some pizza (Luang Prabang pizza in my case, with Lao sausage and Mekong weed), internet and stall browsing, I met up with Alastair and Lynn again. As before Charles, Sian and Rebecca joined us and we ended up drinking till they kicked us out, which was only 12. The intrepid members of the party chose to walk home. When we arrived at the guesthouse, the gate was locked. Luckily we had Sian, who climbed over to open the way.

Next day was a free day and so I took it easy, eating breakfast of rice soup on my verandah at 10. Then some reading ('The Sex Life of Cannibals', a book recommended by, and borrowed from, Helen and Phil) while I waited for enough people to gather to warrant a tuktuk into town. Just when Yuong and Annabel were set to go though, it bucketed rain, giving me another half an hour reading. When we did finally get into town, we had a coffee then went to view the Xieng Thong temple. This is justly celebrated and very tranquil. I really felt all troubles melting away as I knelt in the main temple staring at the Buddha, the ngars (guardian serpents) and ornate decoration. A cute French redhead was wandering around too, something which gave me pause for thought.

I had read a recommendation for a local French restaurant called the Elephant restaurant, a location worthy of splurging in (it is very expensive by Laos standards with a full meal maybe even costing 20 dollars). Finding it now I took an hour to splurge with sticky rice, fish in banana leaves, beef bouillon with spring onion, minced pork, pork on a stick, chicken salad, stirfried Chinese mushrooms, and fried Mekong riverweed, with ginger ice cream and fruit salad (papaya, mango, etc.) to follow and a glass of dry white wine to accompany. I was a happy man.

In my next installment: the ruins, the Buddha's footprint, the BBQ, Death by Milkfloat, feeding the monks, plane to Vientiane, and whatever happens next.


Post a Comment

<< Home