Art, Creativity, Photography, Travel, Writing

Posts tagged ‘Laos’

a word a week challenge: orange

This week Skinnywench’s dictionary fell open at the word ORANGE. Orange is the colour of the robes worn by monks in many Asian countries.

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It is considered bad manners to talk directly to a monk, if you are a woman, unless you are addressed by one. The one on the left greeted me as I was looking around a temple in Luang Prabang, Laos. Although his English was a bit limited we managed to conduct a conversation for half an hour or so and, at the end, he agreed to my taking a photo of him and his friend. I don’t think his friend was quite so happy about this as you can see from the expression on his face.

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young monks in Vat Sop Sickharam

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every morning the monks stream out of their temples and walk along the main street in Luang Prabang to collect their daily food

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Unfortunately the procession has become something of a tourist attraction with loads of tourists pitching up very early in the morning to photograph them, often going disrespectfully close to the monks in order to get the perfect photo

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votive offering

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orange sellers

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predominantly orange coloured ethnic clothing on sale

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orange flowers on a tree in the garden of our hotel

I’m also sharing this post with Jake’s Sunday Post, whose theme is “attraction” (tourist) and Mandarin Orange Mondayno. 40

a year in my life: 2012

2012 saw us travelling again:

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pink water lilies

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and the white temple in Chiang Rai in Thailand in January.

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Luang Prabang in Laos at the end of January

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and the sunbirds nesting outside our window in Thailand produced 2 babies.

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In March we went to Hamburg for our friends’ wedding, our first visit there – bitterly cold but we’d love to return

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In April I took my parents, aged 88 and 91, on holiday for a week to Lynmouth in north Devon, in the UK

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July saw us cat-sitting for friends in Germany and I took this photo of allium flowers in their garden. I used what I’d learned in one of Kim Klassen’s lessons in Beyond Layers to make this storyboard

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In August we went on our trans-European trip passing through France, Italy and Germany. This photo was taken in the mountains above the tiny hamlet of St Ours near the Franco-Italian border.

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In Italy we visited Pisa,

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Siena

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and Assisi, to name but a few of the wonderful sights we saw

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In Alsace we found the virgin with the opening stomach.

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Towards the end of the year I concentrated on creating more digital artwork using Photoshop Elements

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and used some of these manipulated photos in my sketchbook project which I have now sent off to the Brooklyn Library for its 2013 project.

We will be travelling again in 2013 so there will be more photos and more stories, I hope.

Thank you for following my blog and I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.

out and about in Luang Prabang

Here is a miscellany of other photos I took in Luang Prabang

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spirit houses

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offerings

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flower vendor

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broom vendor

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donut vendors

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handicrafts market

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snake oil is alive and well and being sold in the market

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I want this bag

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baskets and fabric on sale

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ethnic clothing on sale
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little girl in Hmong traditional costume

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ethnic jewellry on sale

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calligraphy brushes

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two of the best French cafes

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locals enjoying themselves on the riverbanks in the early evening

Luang Prabang – introduction

Luang Prabang is encircled by mountains and set 700m above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It now welcomes visitors with a degree of sophistication that was probably un-dreamed of, in terms of the quality of accommodation and restaurants that is now available, when it first opened up to tourists in 1989. The city is UNESCO heritage listed which means that it’s mercifully empty of buses and trucks and most people get around on foot, by bicycle or in tuk-tuks.

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don’t you just love her slippers

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transport on a bicyle “made for two” or more …

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more local transport

We took a taxi from the airport to our guesthouse and our guesthouse was a pleasant surprise as it was at the far end of the peninsula, almost at the confluence of the rivers, and therefore quiet. It was sandwiched between a temple complex and the very exclusive Viceroy villa, the former residence of Prince Chao Lansa Samphan, the brother of the Lao King, and which is now one of the few privately owned mansions available for rent.

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Our (first) room had polished dark wooden floors and a high ceiling.

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The Viceroy Villa
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beautiful tree in the garden of the guesthouse

A covered balcony ran the length of the building  overlooking the Viceroy Villa’s garden with its palm trees, bananas, and large lily pond complete with fountain – a very pleasant place to sit.  Breakfasts were somewhat erratic as you didn’t always get what you thought you had ordered, eg. when I wanted some marmalade for my toast I got an omelette.

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hibiscus photographed in the garden in the morning

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same hibiscus in the evening

Next morning, a gong at 4am in the temple, followed by chanting, woke me but to me that was part of the charm of being there.

We spent the first morning discussing what we were going to do and soon realised that there wasn’t much to do except chilling out and temple visiting. Both sounded OK to me.

In the afternoon we walked into town looking for the tourist office.

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Dragon decoration from the recent Chinese New Year celebrations

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slices of meat laid out on trays to dry in the sun

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That Makmo – known as the watermelon stupa, because of its rounded dome. The dome stylistically reflects a Sinhalese influence and is the only stupa of such a shape in Laos.

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first encounter with Lao temple architecture at Vat Visounnarath (in Thailand they are called wats), one of the oldest temples here

While I was off looking for the tourist office, vainly it transpired, for it no longer seemed to exist, DH had found and ensconced himself in the Aussie sports bar where he got talking to one of the guys who helps out there. We decided to eat dinner there and it was very good too. By the end of the evening we had been introduced to a number of denizens. From them we got some recommendations on where to eat and where not to eat – definitely not at the night market if you wished to avoid getting sick! – as well as other useful information such as where I could get a name stamp carved. They also told us a bit about life in Luang Prabang.  Casual fraternising with the locals is forbidden. One of the guys had an arranged marriage and another had courted his wife for 2 years with a chaperone in attendance. There were apparently no prostitutes there and only 2 or 3 known lady boys. This was the big difference between there and Thailand where you see a never-ending stream of  (generally ageing) Causcasian males with young Thai girls on their arms.

Luang Prabang – wat vat is that

A short guide to temple (vat  or wat) architecture:  The uposatha (Lao sim; ordination hall) is always the most important structure in any Buddhist wat. The high-peaked roofs are layered to represent several levels (usually three, five, seven or occasionally nine), which correspond to the various Buddhist doctrines. The edges of the roofs almost always feature a repeated flame motif, with long, fingerlike hooks at the corners called chaw faa (sky clusters). Umbrella-like spires along the central roof-ridge of a sim, called nyawt chaw faa or ‘topmost chaw faa, sometimes bear small pavilions (nagas – mythical water serpents) in a double-stepped arrangement representation of Mt Meru, the mythical centre of the Hindu-Buddhist cosmos (LPG).

I started walking into town, stopping to take photos at every temple on the way.  First stop was the temple complex immediately next to our guesthouse,  which comprised Vat Si Boun Heuang, Wat Sirimungkhun, Wat Sop and Wat Sensoukarahm making it difficult to work out which was which.

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Wat Si Boun Heuang

These next ones are of Wat Siri Mungkhun
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interior
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golden stencilwork

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stupa in Vat Sop Sickharam

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young monks

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the huge drum at Vat Sensoukharam

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pagoda at the same wat housing a statue of Budhha in the ‘calling for rain’ posture, with hands held rigidly at his sides. This posture is peculiar to Laos.

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Buddha ‘calling for rain’

the main building at Wat Sensoukharam
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side view

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detail of the stencilled portico

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beautiful stencilled interior

Wat Sensoukarahm, “temple of a thousand treasures” has a rich red facade decorated with stencilling

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this is a good example of the roof ridge architecture

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richly gilded gable

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another beautiful gable

the following photos are of Wat Siphoutthabat Thippharam, where there is a school for monks*

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I guess what most photographers want when they go to Luang Prabang is photos of the monks in their glorious orange robes but women especially should never approach or talk to a monk unless the monk speaks first and you should only take photos from afar. So I was quite surprised to be greeted by a softly spoken “sabaidee” (hello) as I came out of one of the  buildings in a small and somewhat dilapidated wat on the corner of the block near the temporary bridge across the Nam Khan river. I turned round and there were 2 young monks sitting there. I returned the greeting and the one in the mustard-coloured robe, whose name turned out to be very long – Inthoneouthomphone, asked where I was from. This is nearly always the first question we are asked wherever we go. Replying that I am from Luxembourg usually elicits more interest because most people have never heard of it. After chatting for a while I eventually asked if I could take a photo of him and his friend and he replied yes and asked if I would e-mail him the photo as well as some photos of my country.

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I gave him my e-mail address and told him about Skype and how he could use that to chat to people and to see them while talking to them. Every monk has a mobile phone and many of them have computers. Whatever happened to “no earthly possessions”?

*with thanks to Lao Miao for help in identifying this wat and for much other useful information about the wats/vats in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang – a couple more wats

The next day I visited Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham or simply Wat Mai, which is the biggest Budhhist temple in Luang Prabang. The name Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham means The New Monastery of the Golden Land. Its most notable feature is its wonderful gilded facade

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detail

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main doors in the gilded facade

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more stencilwork

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Buddha figures in the main sim

It is not possible to take photographs inside the actual building comprising the Royal Palace but we were able to visit it and it provided a fascinating glimpse into a way of life long past. In the grounds of the Palace is the very ornate building of Wat Ho Pha Bang which was built in 1993.

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the naga staircase leading up to Wat Ho Pha Bang

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interior of Wat Ho Pha Bang

I went to visit the Xieng Thong temple round the corner from the guesthouse, which was supposed to be the most spectacular in Luang Prabang. The Wat Xieng Thong, “monastery of the golden city”, is the religious emblem of Luang Prabang and one of the highest symbols of Buddhism in Laos. Located close to the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula, where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong River, Wat Xieng Thong was built by King Setthathirath in 1560, during the golden years of Lan Xang Kingdom. Its gracefully sloping roof and glass murals epitomise the classical Luang Prabang style of temple architecture. Unfortunately the main building was being restored so you couldn’t go in it but the rest was pretty spectacular. On the back of the main building is a mosaic of a tree of life.

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the city entrance to Wat Xieng Thong

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this fierce-looking cat guards the steps at the river entrance

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front of the main sim

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detail of the main entrance

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rear of the main sim with its beautiful tree of life mosaic

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detail of the mosaic

Next to the sim of Wat Xieng Thong is a smaller building which the French called La Chapelle Rouge, (English -the Red Chapel). Inside it is a unique reclining black Buddha image with the robe curling outward at the ankle. On the outside of the Red Chapel is an interesting mural showing rural life in Laos.

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Facing the same courtyard, is another ornate structure with a façade that is richly carved and layered in gold leaf. This structure houses the funerary chariot of King Sisavong Vang, built in 1960. The funerary chariot occupies almost the whole of the interior. At the back of the building are a some Buddhist figures in the standing pose as well as one in the “calming the flood” pose, each one of them has a different face.

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view of the mosaic and stencilled walls behind the Buddha figures

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oops, I can’t quite reach that spot – one of the few cats I saw in Luang Prabang, just outside the main entrance to Wat Xieng Thong