There are certain smells and sights that always remind you of home, or places that are special in your heart. I think that is why I liked Laos the best on our trip because it was like being in South America on a different continent. The small towns, local flavor, bartering marketplaces, and laid back rides in a tuktuk were reminiscent of our times in Colombia and Ecuador. I think God gives us those moments to remind us that He knows our hearts and always wants the best for us.
On our arrival, we had a Baci welcoming ceremony where we were offered fruit, homemade whiskey shots, and had strings tied on our wrists for good luck. It was an interesting ritual performed by the elder women and a shaman. It is basically a good luck ceremony and a welcome to the country.
We didn't see many birds anywhere on our trip but there were a few colorful ones that did show up outside our door with a cheery song. It is always interesting that some landscapes could be anywhere in the world so I guess it is a good thing we have GPS to know where we are.
The town of Luang Prabang is considered a UNESCO world heritage site as it tries to maintain its original culture and personality. The Wat Xiengthong Temple and The Royal Palace Museum are both located here. It was interesting to learn about the monarchy in Laos and its traditions; it reminded me of the Israelites in the Bible always asking for a king and wanting someone to be in charge. I never thought about which places in the world had kingdoms at one time, and while most of them seem to be fairly ceremonial, but there was a time when the king did rule and run the country. The last king, Savang Vatthana, surrendered the throne to the Pathet Lao, who abolished the monarchy in 1975 in favor of a Marxist state called the Lao People's Democratic Republic, which has controlled Laos ever since.
There aren't many reasons to get up early on vacation unless of course you are going out at 5:30 to feed the monks. Feed the monks you say? Yes. About 100 monks live in the city and work in the temples. They are supported by the people and each day they come out in the mornings with their basket to get rice and other offerings of the people. You will see us in the photos below each giving a handful of sticky rice to each monk that passes. My first reaction was it seems a little unsanitary, but sometimes tradition trumps logic and the monks weren't complaining; technically, they can't complain because they are monks.
Our guide had an interesting analogy that ties in with that idea about anger. If you keep anger inside you, it is like a fire burning and when you get angry with someone, you pass that fire to someone else and it keeps burning. If you let it die with you, then you pass peace and we are all better for it. Hopefully the monks are all feeling the peace and are not harboring any bad feelings about getting up every day for handfuls of rice; again, can't have road rage if you don't get to drive!
You can't take a trip to Asia without trying to find your way to an elephant. We went to several centers where the elephants appeared to be well taken care of and we were able to interact with them. They were hilarious as they ate whatever you held out: cucumbers, ears of corn, squash, pumpkins, bananas. They seemed to be storing it in their mouths to chew later so they could take advantage of the situation and get as much food as possible. An adult elephant needs A LOT of food each day so I don't blame them.
Out in the countryside, we went to a park that was more like the elephant's natural habitat. Just like with horseback riding, I always seem to get the one animal that is having a bad day. Our elephant started off with an attitude but we were able to keep him on the path with a selection of fruits and vegetables so he obliged us with a ride through the forest.
Our journey throughout the countryside took us to several villages where they made local handicrafts such as paper, pottery, and silk. I always enjoy seeing the process, even the paper made from elephant dung. It is always good to re-purpose whatever you can and I have to say, no smell! We also saw some homemade stills with local wine and whiskey being produced. They smelled and tasted like they would cure "whatever ails you" and then some. Tard Kuangsi Waterfall was a refreshing break in the day, along with the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre in Luang Prabang. I would not have expected black bears in Laos but they apparently have been trafficked almost to endangerment and the center works to rescue them.
A potpourri of images of Laos gives you a good picture of the variety and diversity of the land and its people.
The life of a monk can start out fairly young. Often a family with a lot of children will send one to the monastery to be in training. The boy will work with the monks in exchange for education and a place to live. He can decided when he is older if he wants to remain or try his luck in another career. It reminds me of the Catholic tradition of trying to have one child that would go to the priesthood.
Romans 15:13 was the mantra for this part of the trip:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Where your hope lies is what makes the difference. For me, the idea of having many gods or lives through reincarnation is more about man's control on his life, not God's. All the elements are designated by man to serve his purposes or provide something to focus on or work toward. I am grateful my God came down for me and I don't have to work my way up to Him.
If you believe that there are many ways to heaven or many heavens, it would seem that there would have to be a variety of worlds created by these gods. I wouldn't think the gods would all be working together since they are of various religions.
This earth and all it holds, especially the amazing creation of man, were of one God who loves us all with an everlasting love, and asks nothing of us but faith. Love Him, love your neighbor and what a wonderful world it would be for all of us.
All photographs are copyrighted and the property of Cathleen L Carpenter Photography