A Travellerspoint blog

The Pak Ou caves

Some quick highlights of the day

We visited the Pak Ou caves by taking a traditional boat from Luang Prabang up the Mekong. There are tons of pictures, many of which will not get posted until after I return to the States, but here are some photo highlights of the day, a lovely river boat ride, and a very moving visit to the caves where devotions, offered in the form of Buddha images, have been left for – centuries, apparently.

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Our driver and boat (right) to the caves. He was a skillful and conscientious navigator

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An arrestingly beautiful Buddha in the lower cave

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This sad little guy was asking for alms. I gave him a bit of money but, hurrying to a toilet, took no time to try to lessen the difficulty of his day by any other gesture of kindness, a lapse for which I remain deeply sorry.

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A group of Buddhas which appear to have the same kind of threads on them that I am now wearing on my right wrist, it having been tied on as a blessing by a young Buddhist novice in Luang Prabang. I found the scene deeply affecting -- both that at Pak Ou and receiving the blessing by Tham in Luang Prabang. The latter event occurred after Charlie and I had been to a chant ceremony that Tham had earlier invited us to attend.

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Another wonderful Buddha, also with the threads mentioned above

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A group of Buddhas

Posted by aethelraed 02:52 Comments (6)

Out and about in Chiang Mai

We have been in Luang Prabang, Laos for 4 days, so it is time to get something posted about my still disorganized impressions of Chiang Mai. We spent nine days there, and the photos are still quite disorganized. I will try to identify things better once I am home and have long winter evenings with time to kill to accomplish the task.

Chiang Mai is a bustling city with automotive traffic that is wild and frankly dangerous if you are a pedestrian. Pedestrian traffic crossing lights are routinely ignored by motor scooters, so be very careful crossing major streets. Even cars seem to understand the lights at the crossings as general suggestion rather than an inviolable command. The many "soi" (lanes or alleys between major thoroughfares), though they can be busy, are more charming and less risky to life and limb if you need to cross the few steps to the other side. Strolling them at night is lovely; they are active enough that one does not feel like he is in a lonely alley, but some of them become quite sleepy, and the buildings are interesting and sometimes beautiful. We became aware of simple seeing different things at night.

I enjoyed our stay in the this jumping metropolis, but by our departure on Nov 22, I wash ready to leave the noise, the heat, and the non-stop activity for the sleepier pleasures and cooler days of Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is a jewel on a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Kahn rivers that I immediately fell in love with. The Lao people appear quick to smile and seem to have a great sense of fun, a wide generalization, of course, but with evidence to support it. It is not intended to paint an entire people with one brush.

Here are some pictures of Chiang Mai

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Our laundry lady on Soi 6

A street vendor on Moon Muang Rd.
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Monks disembarking from a song-taew

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Buddhas at Wat Prahsingh

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Roof, Wat Prahsingh

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A Burmese style bird on the ridge pole of a wat

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Donald Duck with chopsticks on grounds of a Wat. We decided that the monks were having fun with the Burmese bird motif pictured above. It was amusing in any event.

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Me with gong at Buddhist shrine

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Charlie with pleased saleslady after a purchase at the night market.
"Don't show this to your wife" she said about the photo.

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Miquel's Mexican Restaurant, where we ate twice. The chili sauce is a little Tex/Mex, but all and all rather satisfying.
And I live where the official state question is "red or green?"

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On of the many Chiang Mai public telephones that caught my attention. And, no, I never did see anyone using one. Cell phones are as ubiquitous there as they are here.

Posted by aethelraed 03:31 Comments (3)

Patara Elephant Farm

Up close and personal with elephants

Our second full day in Chiang Mai saw us up at the crack of dawn to be ready to leave after a good breakfast for the Patara Elephant Farm, where we partook in the "Elephant owner for a day" program, a series of scheduled events that include feeding, cleaning, bathing an elephant and riding it bareback through the jungle. It is a strenuous program and not for the faint of heart, but if you have any fondness for these great beasts, it is worth the sore thighs and exhaustion at the end of the day. Besides, if the trip up the mountain proves to be too much for you, there is a van that will take you down while the trainer assigned to you (each person has a trainer as well as an elephant for the day) will gladly ride it down, after having had to walk up beside the regally seated falang on the way up. You needn't be shy about it; several people took advantage of the automotive option down. The paths in both directions are rugged and one is left amazed at how sure-footed, indeed dainty, these great animals prove to be picking their way along well worn mountain paths that leave little room for error or waywardness.

Mae Wan Dee was assigned to me after we were introduce and she approved me -- or at least did not reject me. There exists, apparently, an elephant version of "instance dislike", that those who run the program are sensitive to. No one in my group had to be reassigned because of pachyderm preferences, so we were on to the next step, brushing the dirt off our animals before bathing them in the nearby stream. They throw dirt onto their backs, both to get rid of annoying flies and -- this was news to me -- to prevent sunburn. The tough hide of these gentle beasts is apparently more sensitive than one would think. In order to minimize the chances of having to bathe off mud, one takes some of the local vegetation and brushes them down with it.

The program for the day has been described many times on the internet, so I won't repeat it here, but will jump right to the pictures. Once home, I may add to the text of the blog and post more pictures.

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The Beauteous Mae Won Dee.

She is 35 years old and occasionally quite willful, as when she decides she is hungry and plows into the nearest tempting vegatation for a mid-journey snack.

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Bathing Mae Won Dee in the local stream

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Me brushing the dirt of Mae Won Dee

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Me riding Mae Won Dee off into the jungle and up the mountain

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Me, Charlie, Mike, and Serafin (from left to right) before starting our jungle trek
Photo taken with Mike's camera by a mahout

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Climbing up the mountain through the jungle. Note how rugged the track is

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Swimming with elephants. And you didn't believe me!
Charlie took this photo with Mike's Canon G11

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Baby elephant. She (he??) came with another group that arrived at the falls after we did. A big hit, naturally, and too cute for words.

Posted by aethelraed 02:08 Comments (3)

Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai

We had the good fortune to celebrate the Loy Krathong festival in two locations; Sukhothai celebrates for three days beginning two days prior to the actual day of the holiday, and Chiang Mai begins a three day celebration on the holiday itself. So after participating in the culminating events of Sukhothai’s celebration, we head north to Chiang Mai by bus the next morning for the second day of its big party. Below are some snapshots of the parade, the release of krathong sawan, and my own humble krathong, which, with Charlie’s, we managed to release into the river. It was oddly satisfying, not as exhilarating as releasing the krathong sawan into the air and watching it waft upward, but deeply, even fundamentally appealing.

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Posted by aethelraed 17:32 Comments (1)

Orchid Hibiscus Guesthouse, Old Sukhothai

Paradise with Paulo

Before I leave Sukhothai and take this blog to Chiang Mai, where I have now been for four days, I need to say a word about Orchid Hibiscus guesthouse. My first reaction to the veritable botanical garden that comprise the grounds of the establishment was, "My God! I feel like I'm in Eden." That did not change, and after a day of cycling around in the heat and humidity, coming "home" to paradise was a most welcome experience. An air-conditioned cabin, a pool, all surrounded by palms, coconut, orchid and -- yes! -- hibiscus, was refreshing and delightful. Below are a few pictures - of Paulo, described elsewhere on the internet as "the eccentric Italian", orchids, hibiscus, etc. A word about Paulo: I believe that he knows the part he is playing and that he has a good deal of fun with it. I certainly did.

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Posted by aethelraed 19:19 Comments (1)

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