Woke up at 0415 this morning – why you might ask as we’re supposed to be on holiday! Well at around 0545 the monks can be seen leaving the temples to collect alms. Alms refers to the food cooked by the local people and given to the monks. This is done because it is considered a good deed and is thought to benefit those who provide for the monks when they are reincarnated. The monks rely on this as their only meal of the day which they must consume by noon. We saw around 20 to 30 monks but nearer the main and much larger temple up to 300 monks can be seen.
Some of our group brought sticky rice to give to the monks whilst the rest of us collected on the opposite side of the road to take photos. They had to roll the rice into small balls which were scooped out like ice cream into the bowls of the passing monks which formed a line along the pavement. The monks that brought up the rear were frequently finding that the rice (or other items of food) were gone by the time they arrived. I assume that food would be shared once back at the temple – this would seem like the Buddhist thing to do. If not it would be a big incentive to ensure that you woke up early to be first in the queue!
Once the monks had dispersed we headed back to the hotel and finished up with packing before having breakfast at 0700. We were back on the road at 0800 – our destination was Vang Vieng. It was a bumpy ride on roads that had yet to be completed. This, and the fact that we were winding up and down the mountain sides meant the bus was constantly swerving to and fro. This was dealt with by putting on some music and falling asleep (we had been up since just after 0415!!). After about 2 hours of travel we stopped at a ‘service station'(?) – at least this is what I think it was. There were toilets – squat toilets – that you paid 2000 kip to use, drinks and snacks for sale and even a place to get hot food. The facilities were VERY basic, BUT, the view from the back window was fantastic. We were part way up the mountain side, all you could see were an array of greens that made up the foliage on the opposite side of the mountain. Dotted very sparsely were signs of small settlements (a few wooden huts) that denoted a village was present. More immediately below us were livestock belonging to members of a different village including chickens, ducks and I think geese.
Back on the road and Anthony promptly fell asleep to his music again. I started off with better intentions and looked out of the window at both the beautiful scenery as well as the small villages we were passing through. Now these villages were more basic than any we had seen. Some had houses (more shelters) made of bricks or breeze blocks whereas others were composed of wooden slats and a straw roof. A few seemed even more basic still and looked like the walls had been weaved as there was a criss-cross effect like you might see on a basket. It was hard to see inside as we were travelling quickly, swaying to and fro plus the fact that it was dark inside these shelters. From what I did see these communities had very little. They were most likely wearing the only clothes they owned and there didn’t seem to be any other belongings other than the odd moped dotted around. Children were playing in dirt and I saw one toddler sitting in a small tub of water – either playing or washing I could not tell. Though everyone was smiling and just getting on with their day to day life. Even seeing it, you cannot understand what it must be like, being so very privileged to live in a country and a society that has everything and so much more. However, from time to time what was interesting is you would still see people with technology – has this become a basic human right after food, water and shelter?
After another hour where the bus had somehow managed to sway me back to sleep we arrived at our lunch break. It was high above the valley below on a mountain top – a popular stopping point as a viewing platform of the landscape below. At this point we were in and at times above the cloud meaning that it alternated from intense fog like conditions where you couldn’t see the edge of the cliff to a blanket of what looked like cotton wool laid out beneath you. The cloud seemed to roll over and down the mountains like a wave and it was the perfect spot for Anthony to get some more of his fantastic panoramic photos!
Nat, had organised lunch for us in a cafe at the topmost point. Anthony and I had yellow curry (a new favourite of mine), steamed rice and stir fry sweet vegetables to share with some soft drinks to boost our sugar levels. It was a really nice meal and afterwards we went out and took yet more photos, managing to get some of us together which is always good! The toilets are worth a mention as although they were squat toilets they faced the valley so it was the best view I’ve ever had from a toilet (the second best being from the top of the ‘bottle opener’ skyscraper in Shanghai).
Back on the bus for our final leg of the journey and guess what…Anthony fell asleep again! This time I had given him Henry (remember the neck pillow?) so at least he seemed a little more comfortable this time. Unfortunately the road was still of such poor conditions I was unable to read, write my blog or play games on my phone so I alternated between looking out of the window and/or listening to music with a few snoozes in between – there were still 3 hours to go after all but when travelling you often find that life just slows down compared with being at home and you have to just go with the flow.
We arrived on the outskirts of Vang Vieng and stopped at an old airport which the Americans had used during the Vietnam war. This was because the bus was too large to get through the small streets that led to our hotel by the river. We therefore transferred to a smaller vehicle which dropped us at the hotel, our luggage following a few minutes later. Our hotel was right on the river front, our balcony looks out onto the river and towering out of the land on the opposite side of the river are huge limestone karsts – exactly like those I saw in Yangshou in the south of China last year. The river itself was brown with sediment but flowing very quickly indeed due to this being the rainy season. As a consequence this meant kayaking was off the next day but we’re thinking it will be better to do it in Halong Bay instead anyway!
Our room was fine – not quite as luxurious as we had had the night before but was large with A/C and fan, as well as shower (luke warm) and complimentary drinking water. We went to explore the swimming pool on the second floor which turned out to be fantastic as it overlooked the river and was long enough to swim lengths. We opted for sitting in the hammocks as we didn’t have long until we were going out for our evening meal.
Food was at a place called River Spirit (again overlooking the river) and we ate as a group. Anthony, I and a few others opted for burgers and this was great as I fancied something other than rice! After food we had a short orientation walk around town so Nat could point out places to eat the next day as well as where money could be exchanged.
Considering we had slept a large proportion of the day we soon crashed out on arrival back to the hotel – seems doing nothing can really take it out of you!!
Claire & Anthony