When I cannot sleep at night I lie in bed and think of the places I have been. My favourite is Luang Prabang. I imagine I am leaving the little museum, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre which dedicates itself to preserving the cultural diversity of Laos. The history of this landlocked state is one of war and conflict, with many ethnic groups migrating backwards and forwards across international boundaries. They have suffered invasion by the French, the Japanese, Americans, Vietnamese and now by tourists from every part of the world. But they are a kind and gentle people and have a good sense of humour. I imagine coming down the hill, seeing the road crowded with mopeds and bicycles and crowds walking hither and thither. I turn right and head 200 metres to the beginnings of the Night Market. On a low wall a family has laid out its wares: berries and bark, leaves and roots, collected from the forest, each with specific medicinal qualities. Some of them very powerful. Soon, if I am still awake in the dark in Wiltshire, I am once again among the youth of Holland, Australia, France and Germany as they bargain with smiley faced women sitting cross legged among their “hand made” ethnic goods spread around them. Babies and dogs sleep on colourful cloths in little baskets as I glide through the throng past the Royal Palace of King Sisavong and the Big Brother Mouse charity bookshop. As I reach the start of Sakkaline Road the crowds thin out, but there are still tourists here, sitting in bars and internet cafes showing off their purchases and acting like real travellers.
I pass by the Tamnak Lao restaurant and the upmarket 3 Nagas with its rich Americans. They eat here then cross the traffic free road with their guide to go to their up market hotel, the Villa Santi. Am I jealous? Well a little, but I am among the temples now and here is the entrance to my hotel Villa Senesouk. Opposite is Wat Senesouk where the rice ceremony starts and finishes each morning. Tourists are attracted by this ceremony, but few understand what it is about. They arrive at 6 am and make a noise and a fuss with their long lensed cameras and photograph the saffron robed young ‘monks’ as they file out to beg rice from the local population. State education is not provided after the age of twelve years so parents send their sons to stay in monasteries. Girls stay at home and help their mothers. The young boys file out each morning to collect rice from the local population. They bring it back to the temple where they stay for it to be shared out for lunch. These are nice kids and they love to gossip in English and talk about football. I have become so blasé that I don’t bother to get up for the ceremony. If I am awake, I can stay in bed and watch the proceedings from my bed.
Of course such delicate social proceedings could become overwhelmed by tourism, the locals are aware of this and try to encourage correct procedure from tourists. One leaflet is particularly amusing
There are some female merchant sell somes rice box. Plastic Cake or Banana and another, if you buy you Pay when you buy (DO NOT AFTER)
So if you finish that you are you could not take Any more with her, because the female merchant need so much money and it Will be have a big problem with payment by incorrect.
If you want to give alms to the monks, we have a big rice box with 20,000 kip per each, and please tell the receptionist before. (order before)
If you don’t understand please ask the receptionist.
Well, maybe you should try writing such a note in Lao.
Continuing my nocturnal rambling I pass alongside temples lowly lit in the early twilight. There are few restaurants here, but towards the end of the road there is Le Banneton. I take breakfast here most mornings, scrambled egg, Earl Grey tea and croissants, those made with butter are best. I sit outside at my little round table and read a European paper. Ecstasy. Sometimes I have lunch here, but my favourite is to have supper with friends. It is quiet in the evenings, there are the voices of children as they cycle up and down, sometimes a tug tug and now and again a temple bell. We start with gin and tonic
“Ice and lemon sah?”
They have good Bordeaux wine here and the blue cheese salad is to die for. Followed by a delicate pastry of course. These could be memories, or maybe dreams, I don’t know for I am asleep by now. In the morning there will be temple bells, the shuffle of bare feet and the sound of tourists. While I try to decide to get up or not I will most likely fall asleep. I have seen enough.
Copyright ©2020 Roger Jinkinson