Luang Prabang – Day 2: The Temple Death March

Next morning I was up bright and early for a quick breakfast and an early start on my 10 temples, the Royal Palace and museum day. So, I spent my day walking, sweating, taking my shoes off and putting them back on at every temple. I began my morning at the Royal Palace.

The Lao Palace is quite modest compared to Thailand and Cambodia’s but still very worth a visit. Lots of interesting artifacts to see and history to read about. I was not surprised but still amused to see the same story of the Asian Dudley-Do-Right and Nell depicted in a huge four-part Muriel extending thru the four long halls connecting the palace. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the palace so no photos here.

After the palace, I visited the Royal Museum and on display were the masks worn in the dance performances by the Red Monkey King, White Monkey King, Prince Dudley, Princess Nell, and the evil Prince Snidley Whip Lash.

Though every temple complex has the same elements: images of Lord Buddha, a giant bell, a giant drum, cremation oven, incense burners, and alters for flowers and food tributes – they are each unique in how these symbols are represented. I will spare you the descriptions of the each-and-every temple complex and just share the photos.

Probably more interesting than every detail of each temple was my walk thru the day that took me over 14km and 40 stories of stairs. In retrospect, I think I did the entire route backward. I began by visiting the Palace and museum first then began my temple march with those nearest the Palace first except for the two temples on Mount Phousi which was just across the street and over 300 long hot steps above the Palace.

So, basically, I visited the easiest temples to get to while I was fresh and in the cooler part of the day and saved the three temples on the other side of the Mekong River and those on Mount Phousi and up hundreds of feet of uneven stairs until I was already worn out and the temperature was a humid 104 degrees.

What the hell was I thinking? As I marched along with my clothes totally soaked in sweat I noticed that no one else was moving much. Everyone else was either sitting on verandas under fans drinking beer or juices or laying about on their covered platforms. All I could think about was the old Noel Coward lyrics – “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”.

BTW all thru this part of the world, you see these simple bamboo platforms. They are constructed of just four thick bamboo poles driven into the ground. About 18 inches to 2 feet from the ground is a platform of bamboo with a woven matt over the bamboo floor. The platform is completed with a thatched or woven roof to keep the sun and rain off.

I am not sure if the raised platform is for air flow to keep things a little cooler or to keep the insects off the people on the platform or both. But I saw these things used as outdoor dining rooms, to socialize and play cards, and even for naps. There would be as many as 5 or 6 people lined up shoulder to shoulder sleeping like an open can of sardines as I marched by in my wet clothes.

After visiting eight temples on the city side of the Mekong and three on the far side of the river I was ready for a break. I had timed my last two temples at the top of Mount Phousi for the sunset so I had an hour or two to kill. I had read about a book store and tea house that made a killer coconut milkshake. So, what would an extra kilometer or two matter in the great scheme of things?

Turns out that L’Estranger Books and Tea was much harder to find than I had imagined and my search doubled my kilometer count and killed an hour of my free time. But I finally found the Book store and ordered a large glass of unsweet black tea and a coconut milkshake. An odd thing about southeast Asia – they serve their tea sweet with milk.

All thru Asia waiters and waitresses looked at me like I was nuts every time I ordered black tea. No sugar. No milk. No other crap. Just the damn tea. The young lady at L’Estranger’s looked at me with the same raised eyebrows then went off to fill my order. She came back very proud of herself and announced that since I didn’t want sugar in my tea she was sure I wouldn’t want sugar or any kind of sweetener in my Coconut milkshake.

So, my tea was perfect. My milkshake not so much. It was okay but I’m sure a little sweetener would have gone a long way to making the perfect milkshake. She was so proud of herself for taking the initiative I didn’t have the heart to tell her any different and just drank my flavorless milkshake in silence.

Then I was off to climb my 300 plus stairs to see my last two Lao temples and watch the sunset over the Mekong River from the summit of Phousi. BTW Phousi is pronounced by the locals as pussy cat without the cat and takes a little bit of getting used to hearing.

The first time the young lady at reception in my hotel asked me if I was going to climb mount Phousi I’m sure I did a double take. But up I climbed that Phousi along with a hundred other tourists and locals to sit and watch the sunset from the highest point in Luang Prabang. I must have looked like I was near death because locals kept trying to share water with me and several English speaking tourists kept asking me if I was alright. Mostly I was just dehydrated and exhausted from walking in the oppressive heat all day but I soldiered on.

After the sunset, I descended the 300+ steps to the night market – grabbed a quick dinner and walked back to the hotel (via the dilapidated motorbike bridge). Once back to the hotel I took a nice long hot then cold shower and ordered a very good one hour Lao massage.

And as I was drifting off to sleep I just kept thinking – what the hell was I thinking? Why couldn’t I just accept my son Ryan’s philosophy about old buildings – seen one old temple you’ve seen them all so move on! And move on I did – to Cambodia and more damn Temples! But that is a blog for another day…

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