Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tat Kuang Si Rescue Centre

I am not sure what I feel about so-called animal rehabilitation or rescue centres because although I am all for saving animals and helping them survive, I do not agree with how many of these places exploit the animals for personal unethical interests. Sigh, so divided, especially when the animals in these centres (and some zoos, even!) look unhealthy, sad and distressed.

When we approached Tat Kuang Si, we were only expecting to visit the waterfall. Little did we know... no, wrong, we did not know at all that there was a rescue centre for bears there, too.

The Tat Kuang Si Rescue Centre is run by Free the Bears Fund, which I am so proud to say was started by Australians and is now in its 21st year of saving, protecting and enriching the lives of bears around the world. I was immediately impressed by their environment in Luang Prabang. Although they were in enclosures (which I am pretty sure is for the safety of both visitors and animals), it was a pretty natural environment, not a sterile one with cement floors and colourful artificial "toys".

At the time of our visit, there were 23 bears at this centre. All bears were Asiatic Black Bears, also known as  Moon Bears due to the pretty white crest on their chests.

My breath was taken away by how beautiful they looked! They had healthy, shiny, thick coats of fur and they looked well-fed and relaxed, playing happily in the water and rolling in the leaves on the ground. In all honesty, I have never been this up close to a bear, not even at the zoo, where normally there is a huge gap between the public and the animals enclosures. But not here, where the observation platforms were really close and only separated by a simple chainwire mesh fence. Made me think that animals are like children - when you trust them, they learn to trust us, too.

These bears are the lucky ones, for they have been confiscated by the Lao government in time before they cross the borders into unknown and cruel conditions of bile farms or animal circuses.

Tat Kuang Si is about 30 kilometres southwest of Luang Prabang and is known by most if not all tuktuk drivers. For my next birthday, instead of presents, please make a donation to support this noble cause and contribute that little more to the betterment of the world. We humans have done enough to tarnish our "good" reputation, don't you think?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sunset Mekong River cruise

How can one let go of a chance to cruise down the Mekong River? I mean, it is the Mekong!

I will let the photos do the talking. Notice the sun setting as you scroll down...

Monks on a boat trip home, maybe?

Transporting vehicles across the river

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Vat Sensoukharam

Just down the road from Lotus Villa was a temple called Vat Sensoukharam. It consists of a few buildings and is one of the largest monasteries in Luang Prabang. 

Constructed in 1718 under the orders of King Kitsarath, it was restored 1932 and again in 1957 in conjunction with Buddha's 2,500th anniversary.

Its name translates into "temple with 100,000 treasures", as it is believed that it has been built using 100,000 stones from the Mekong River.

Not only adorned with intricate gold trimmings, parts of the buildings also had beautiful murals depicting the different stages of Buddhahood.

Unfortunately, the Viharn had just been closed, which did not allow us a view of the interior. 

We did, however, pay our respects at the Chapel of the Standing Buddha.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Restaurant Dyen Sabai

Right next to that bamboo bridge that connected Luang Prabang town to the other side of the river was a restaurant called Dyen Sabai. The set up of the place really attracted our attention, especially the trees they kept in their compound.

There were also huts made from bamboo, where should we have taken one, would have functioned like a private room.

Service was friendly with near-fluent English. Well, we understood them perfectly fine, anyway. We started with appetizers with the option of Platter 2. It consisted of sweet chilli sauce, Mekong seaweed, dry pork with sesame, Luang Prabang sausage and eggplant dip served with sticky rice. 

We loved it! I especially liked the seaweed. I liked it so much that I bought a huge packet at the market to bring home. 

We tried their fried eggplant with pork and found that their cooking style was similar to ours. The biggest difference would be that it was not as sour, as they used less vinegar.

We wanted to try a fish dish and opted for the lemon fish served with sweet chilli sauce. Simple tastes and not overly oily.

Thanks to the sticky rice they served, we were quite full from the meal. Oh, and because we were there during lunch, we took advantage of their 2 for 1 cocktail promotion (noon to 7:00pm).

Ban Phan Louang, P.O. Box 805, Luang Prabang, 06000, Laos
Tel: +856 020 55104 817, Mob: +856 71 410 185;
Daily 8:00am to 11:30pm

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Silk Ikat Weaving

A bamboo bridge was built to cross the Nam Khan River by locals and every person who crossed it would pay a minimal fee for the maintenance of the bridge. 

When asked, the lady manning the collection booth explained that it was also a form of side income, as the bridge will only stand there for 6 months. The other half of the year is considered unsafe, as the river would swell with monsoon waters.

We randomly explored the other side of the river, walking down streets aimlessly for a tourist-less feel and chanced upon a home with a compound converted into a shop. It reminded me very much of the converted village homes we have in Seri Kembangan, too.

The proprietor was weaving when we entered. It was my first time watching silk ikat weaving in action.

There were rolls of colourful silk thread strung together hanging on the side of the weaving machine. Such a meticulous handicraft, weaving, and what I saw was just a normal piece of cloth. One with fancy design must take ages!

She explained that it was a family business, as her sister weaves with her.

Mum has a thing for cottage industries - she feels compelled to buy something from them to support their hard work.

And so began our long wait for her to choose the things she wanted.

In the end, we went home with scarves and a set of traditional Lao dress called sinh.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mount Phou Si

In the middle of Luang Prabang is a mountain called Mount Phou Si. Apparently, all visitors to Luang Prabang should make time to climb to the top of Mount Phou Si for the view. And so we did.

At the foot of the mountain, we noticed a lady being handy with some banana leaves and a pair of scissors. We wondered what she was making.

When we saw the end product neatly arranged on a table near the flight of stairs that we were about to climb, we then understood that she was making offering wreaths.

It was a steep climb to the top and there majestically stood Wat Chom Si Temple, where we made a donation and observed the locals pay their respects.


The vantage from the top was breathtaking - it was a full view of the entire town with the two rivers flowing on both sides of the mountain.

We took the other stairs to go down the mountain, halfway making way for a pair of Buddhist monks who swiftly manoeuvred the stairs.

Almost at the bottom of the flight of stairs, there was an elderly lady manning a little stall. We noticed little bamboo cages and as I peered, realised that there were little birds in them. We assumed that they were for the freeing of life ritual practiced by some Buddhist traditions.

We then noticed several golden statues of Buddha in different forms. 

The one form I recognised was the Reclining Buddha, also known as the Sleeping Buddha.

I noticed one part of the path had dragon tails - one black and the other silver. My first assumption was that one represented good while the other evil but I have a feeling that I am entirely mistaken. I have yet to find an answer. Someone enlighten me, please.

The best image I captured not just through my camera lens but through my own appreciation of the place was this of a monk interacting with a young child. To me, my interpretation was this: Life is about innocence and staying true to ourselves. That is how we feel at peace, just like how I felt when a smile unconsciously creeped onto my face when I stood where I was observing this pair for some time.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang was a name I have never heard of until Dad planned this holiday. I looked the place up and there is much information on the Internet, and so I shall not bore you with facts of the place. To me, Luang Prabang was like no other place I have visited, as it was still very much untouched by Westernisation, perhaps due to its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Personally, I felt that being sandwiched between two rivers really gave the place a unique character. And not just any river, they were the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. I guess having the rivers made up for not having any sea access. 

There were many tuktuks around, which I assumed was their main form of public transportation. I liked how the buildings there was of different eras, architecture, height and usage - all adding to the charm of the place.

I liked how the place was still very green with both foreign planted trees and also growing original plants.

I liked how small lanes connect main roads after every few blocks. These lanes were clean and meandered through residential blocks, which provided a little window to the local life.

In addition to the many Buddhist temples dotting the capital, I found the amalgamation of French, Chinese and Laotian architecture the next best attraction. Okay, fine, food, too.

Some shops were owned and operated by immigrants, mostly from the southern part of China. Like this girl manning this souvenir shop, she and her family originated from Yunnan, a south-western Chinese province that shares borders with Laos. We started talking to her because Dad was waiting for Mum and Aunt to exchange currencies. Tip: Bring as much USD or Chinese RMB to exchange - the MYR is not wanted here.

It had a different kind of charm as the sun set and night fell...

In addition to the permanent shops...

... there was also the night market. Literally, the whole street was lined with stalls.

Mostly sold local handicraft but one specifically caught my eye because no matter what, we all have to be updated, do we not? ;)

And in all honesty, I felt so blessed to be born in Malaysia to the family that I am in after taking in more of the sights and sounds of the place. Really, we have nothing to complain about and should learn to be grateful for what we have.