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Alms Giving - Luang Prabang, Laos

As it's Sunday, I thought I would share photos from the 

Buddhist alms giving ceremony that we participated in this week in the 

UNESCO World heritage city of Luang Prabang.

Laos is an amazing holiday destination and we frequently asked ourselves
why it has taken us so long to get here? 

1. Laos is Authentic: it's real, it's raw. It's is one of the world's least developed countries where you appreciate the simple pleasures, whether it is a stunning landscape or walking through streets and villages where time seems to have stopped still.

We were invited to take part in the alms giving ceremony by our hotel the Sofitel in Luang Prabang, who every day at dawn provides food for the monks outside their sister hotel the 3 Nagas.

Having witnessed the schmozzle of badly behaved tourists at Mandalay in Myanmar last year, I was a bit nervous about the cultural appropriateness of this. This had degenerated into a weird push and shove and some very unspiritual words being exchanged.

Luang Prabang was very different possibly because we are in low season and tourist numbers are low. But it felt genuine.

We got up at 5 am to hand out hot steamy, sticky rice to around 200 monks. The hotel briefs us about what to expect, how to behave and help us dress in a silk sash, the women and men wearing them on opposite sides. Custom dictates that women must be appropriately and respectfully dressed, must kneel and must not make eye contact with the monks. 

A quick peek at the saffron robes however and you can't help but notice how young some monks were. Speaking to our various tour Lao tour guides they all credit their excellent English to their studies during time spent at the Monasteries.

Our 3 Nagas hotel provided the rice for our offering, they have one of the best restaurants in town. The monks seemed appreciative of the culinary excellence and rice donation. It felt very special to take part in this colourful ceremony.

2. Laos felt undiscovered. Where is everyone? Granted we were there in low season, it's stinking hot, too hot and humid to even sit by a swimming pool some days. But it's a long time since we've had the pleasure to have a country virtually to ourselves. We've hardly seen other tourists and we've enjoyed private dining in some restaurants. We felt quite the intrepid explorers!

3. Laos is unspoilt: We did not have people hassling us to buy things or trying to rip us off by overcharging us for a taxi or tuk-tuks. You travel on bumpy roads and in shaky boats along the Mekong. You can stop at a roadside market and see no end of weird and not so wonderful things for sale. We spotted a dead squirrel wrapped in a banana leaf, and a deep-fried mother mongoose and her pups flattened on skewers. It's confronting, yet it's a life that has not been sanitised for the tourists.

4. Lao people are warm, kind and slightly shy people who seem genuinely pleased to see you. One of the best bits has been talking with the locals. Those whose English is good, all have a story to tell. In a communist country with rudimentary education, they speak warmly of their sponsors and benefactors who have donated either their time or money to provide an education. 

5. Lao offers a diversity of landscapes, people and wildlife. We have enjoyed the temples, the mountains, tubing and kayaking on the rivers, caving and finding many Buddha's hidden deep in the earth away. We have hiked up hills and biked to Blue lagoons, or cruising on the Mekong. We have seen water buffalo, and elephants bathing, kids brushing their teeth in murky waters, we've braked for cows on roads and been greeted by village kids, dogs, goats, chickens and piglets as we've hiked into remote villages. We have witnessed extreme poverty and seen opulence and eaten at wonderful restaurants.

There is something for everyone in Laos and everyone loves Laos!

Linking with thanks to Darren at Photalife
and Tricky and Carly at FAST for Five On Friday - thanks for hosting!

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