I got up at 5.30am and, leaving Carol to sleep, threw on some clothes and walked up to the main road in the dark. The monks had just started filing along the street and I took a few discreet pictures from a respectful distance, but I was even more disgusted than yesterday to see the atrocious behaviour of thick-headed tourists following them with video, taking close-up photos, and even sitting in line to put cheap rice in the monks’ begging bowls while they nattered mindlessly to each other all the while.
I soon left, and after detouring to the end of the peninsula (it was still not dawn, and I quickly turned back from the park entrance to avoid a guy in a hoodie standing in the shadows); I finally found a quiet spot where a few locals sat alone, ready to pass out rice to the monks. Two women gossiped quietly. Several groups of orange-robed monks walked in single file around the corner—about 14 to a group, mostly quite young or in their 20s—and received their rice. At last, I got a small, brief insight into what this morning ceremony would have been like before tourists turned it into a sideshow.
I had breakfast alone on the terrace overlooking the Nam Khan, then later Carol joined me. Then we headed down the Mekong side of the peninsula to the steep steps that lead down to the local ferry, and found a guy with a boat to take us across and upstream to a landing spot on the other side.
We climbed steps past clucking chickens and chatting locals, bought a 10K kip ticket from a woman sitting at a table, and climbed to the top of the hill to Wat Chomphet, a simple, almost empty temple, with a spectacular view over the Mekong and Luang Prabang, hills in the distance.
Then we descended the steps to the ticket table and walked on eastwards to Wat Longkhun, another Buddhist temple, very atmospheric, with its interior walls covered with decaying, colourful murals. A guide appeared and lead us to Tham Sakkalin, a limestone cave nearby, unlocking the gates and taking us down into the humid darkness where little Buddha statues sat in crevices. It was quite a spectacular cave, deep and dark, and I was glad we had our torches. I tipped the guide 20K kip.
We walked on, past a kid who ran up and gave us a tiny flower and then demanded money (sorry kid!), to a place where a new temple was being built. Then we doubled back, continuing past where we had landed and through the village and market of Ban Xieng Main and down to the main ferry landing, where we easily got a tiny boat with a few other people in it to take us over the river for 10K kip.
A wonderful morning. We got away from the tourists for a while and got our own transport, and had a little dose of ‘real travelling’ again.
Eventually we made our way back to our side of town and had lunch in a restaurant called Tamarind, which was excellent. Carol went back to the room and I spent a while getting some more Lao kip from an ATM, then finding a pretty dodgy moneychanger so I could get a hundred in US dollars to pay the Bear Rescue centre tomorrow.
For a few hours we rested back at the hotel, reading and napping. As evening closed in we went out for an early dinner at the Silk Road again. Though the food, and the location set back from the road, are good, this time the four young male waiters were too busy looking at their iPhones to be in any way attentive, and a couple came in with a noisy toddler, so we didn’t linger long over our meal. Damn AOR duo playing again outside the hotel when we got back, which was also frustrating!