Sunday, April 02, 2006


Sabaidee means hello in Lao. If you ever come here you will learn it very quickly, because everyone who comes near you, walks by or catches sight of you will say it. Sabaidee!

Now about money.

1usd = 10,000 Lao kip
1usd = 40 Thai Baht.
1 Thai Baht = 25 kip.

You can pay for things in baht, kip or dollars, whatever you got. Almost NO ONE takes visa, and there are NO and I do mean NO ATMS in the COUNTRY. So you gotta get here with dollars and baht galore, and then they try to give you change in kip, which are worthless anywhere else and laughable deflated. So today I bought some bugspray and water that was priced in dollars, paid with 1000 thai baht and was given 186,000 kip in change. My brain stll hurts from the math on that. With the 186000 kip she gave me a rubber band to hold it all together. I felt like one of those mafioso that carries hundreds in rolls, you know? Crazy. They sell wallets here that are actually little baskets with lids, to hold all the money. I am doing my best juggling all the currencies, and am working two wallets.

So yesterday we left the Grand Luang Prabang and moved into a little auberge in the town, looking out over the Mekong. Luang Prabang town itself is absolutley charming. Chickens and chldren play in the streets, there are no busses or traffic lights. Every rides bikes or motorcycles. They just installed a new water system here and are very proud of it. The hotels all advertise "modern amenities...shower, toilet, electric, hot water". (The toilet in our hotel looks like a throne, all ornate with gilding, and it is labeled "Falange" which is also the word for foreigner. I got a good laugh out of that.) It is just getting used to tourists, and doing its best. The people are so freindly, they all want to talk and know where we are from. There is a good selection of restaurants, and there is not one chain of any sort anywhere. This place is free from Western commercialism. There are some pizza joints, and a french bakery. Some "fancy" hgh end restaurants where the main dishes go for 6USD. And a creperie. I had crepes with strawberries and lime for breakfast and it was exquisite.

The town has 33 Wats (temples) almost all stunning. Monks are everywhere as they live on the grounds of the wats, and they are mostly little boys, aged 12 and up. Women should not touch monks, and should be respectful of them and not stand higher than them, but when they are twelve year old boys playing soccer n the yard of the wat and they run up to you to ask you questions so they can practice their English, it's hard to show the proper respect. Or squat low enough so you don't have your head higher than theirs!

Today we lucked out and saw a Buddhist ceremony in one of the wats. All the boys in their orange sarongs, singing and chanting. I took no photos, disrespectful, but I will never forget the calming sound and glowing burning colors in the temple...all gold, orange and red. Spiritually, Buddhism calls to me more than any other religion. Something about it is so peaceful, with its emphasis on wisdom and patience and sharing. Very nice. It's so hippy-dippy in the US, when you see white folks being buddhists, but here it is just such a way of life, it's so natural.

Tomorrow Colleen and I will join in the offering ceremony. The monks are given their food for the day by the women of the town. For the women it is a spiritual offering, a tithe if you will, and for the monks it's a way to eat. This is the only food they get for the day. So all the women line up, on their knees, sitting on their feet, and the monks walk by and you give them a bit of sticky rice in the bowl they hold. We can't touch them (seems every religion has got something against women, ironic that these guys are reliant on the women for food but we are still lower than them). Luang Prabang is famous for its offering ceremonies. We will get up at 5 am to do it.

But tonight and last night we hit the night market, and ladies, let me tell you, it's heaven. Heaven heaven heaven. Row upon row of cheap, lovely gorgeous textiles and bags and carvings and buddhas and jewelry and bed linens, all hand done and gorgeous. I got 10 silk placemats and a silk table runner for 15usd. A purse for 2. A bunch of hand done wallets with little people on them for 1 each. A dolla (Lao for dollar) here is big money. It's crazy. I have no idea how I will get it all back to Bangkok, much less Oslo. And I got a bunch of Beer Lao t shirts, they will be the new Austin Status symbol.....

I've taken about 350 pictures and am almost out of memory on the 2nd card. You'll see some of them when I can get them downloaded.

This is long, so I'll sign off.

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