Luang Prabang: Monday 3rd March 2008

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Up early today for a 6:00am pickup. We watched the monks doing their dawn alms collection. Very beautiful to watch. A large family had come to give alms and they were the centre of attention with lots of tourists taking their photo, even before the monks arrived.

The monks came in single file in their saffron robes accepting rice, bananas and other food without acknowledgement. When their bowls were full, or just at their choosing they take some food out of their bowls and give it to some poor children who were standing at the side of the procession.

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We then walked through the local morning market. This was the most interesting market I had been through, selling some of the most bizarre items. Birds, a cooked dog cut into two, owls, bats, buffalo ears, snouts, tails and hooves, something that looked like a guinea pig, a loris, finches, river moss, various mushrooms and the usual assortment of fruit, vegetables and meat.

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I bought some small pancakes which were like balls made from coconut milk and palm sugar and they were delicious. They cost about 10,000Kip.

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We were then returned to our hotel for breakfast, a bit disappointing as our itinerary had indicated breakfast at a local café and I was quite sick of the usual hotel breakfasts.

Next we were off to Pak Ou caves. The boat ride up the Mekong was most enjoyable and the scenery with tall limestone mountains breathtaking.

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The caves were intriguing – a collection of all sorts of Buddha statues added to each April by the local people.

The upper cave had fewer statues but more ambiance, being dark and a much deeper cave. The walk up nearly killed me though, I was very unfit and eating way too much good food and Beer Lao.

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Lunch was at a typical tourist restaurant across the river from the caves and was quite delicious. Fish, soup, some very tasty glass noodles and some other dish now lost in time.

On the return voyage we stopped at a small village. I tried some distilled rice whiskey and rice wine. The whiskey really packed a punch at 60% proof and the wine was really nice so I bought a couple of bottles. Michelle also bought an assortment of woven products. We visited a number of shops, including a lovely man who made traditional Laos violins out of either buffalo horns or coconut shells. He was very good at playing them too.

Another shop sold various animal parts, very likely not legal including eagle talons, bear claws, deer horns, etc.

Some boys were playing in the mud having mud fights as we were leaving. Throwing clods of mud at each other then jumping into the river to clean up.

We were returned to our hotel, but I decided to go for a walk through town.

I walked past piles of oranges, many massage spas and stopped for a coffee by the riverside. The coffee wasn’t that good, though they were getting better. I walked up to the foot bridge across the Nam Phan but didn’t pay the money to cross to the other side.

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I then walked back past many Wats, shops and tourists (it seems as though there are more tourists than locals in Luang Prabang) back to the hotel.

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We were picked up at 6:00pm and taken to see a Ramayana Show. The Traditional Laos dancing was followed by short dance performances by the Hmong and Khmu ethnic groups. We were then dropped off for dinner which wasn’t that good really, though the soup and chicken curry were quite nice. The fruit at the end was fantastic though, very sweet and juicy pineapple and papaya.

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After dinner we walked through the night market, buying lanterns and T-shirts then caught a tuk tuk back to our hotel completely out of kip.