the people square

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The One About Nirvana, Monks and Finding a Laos Lettuce Wrap Lady

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The city of Luang Prabang, Laos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Doing as the monks do, we woke with the rising sun to witness Binthabhat; the daily ritual of giving alms to monks. 
Giving alms is just another way for travellers to get scammed or ripped off. You can barter for your alms, but this just seems a shame in the light of what is suppose to be a good cause. No bartering took place for us here, but to pay 40,000 kip (four U.S. dollars)for a couple scoops of sticky rice is outrageous. I had heard the price go as low as 10,000 kip.
The act of giving alms is believed by Theravadan Buddhists to be a means of earning brownie points leading to a better afterlife or reducing the amount of times one is re-born, or reincarnated, before finding nirvana. Not the band, but a mental cleansing of the Three Poisons: lobha, dvesha and moha, or greed, hate and ignorance. It is thought to free you from the cycle of death, rebirth and the troublesome effects of karma.  If you are wondering, Kurt Cobain was indeed a practicing buddhist and after his cremation a handful of his ashes are said to have been given to a buddhist monk to make a tsatsu (a memorial sculpture). You can help but wonder if monks think…if I find nirvana, will Kurt Cobain be there? Although they abstain from speech and many modern luxuries, monks are contradictingly quite with the times – doubling on a scooter to using cellphones and surfing the net (image of monk using a computer). In Thai wedding rituals the ceremony will actually come to halt for the men in robes to break for a Coke,
Wats in Luang Prabang? Lots of French colonial-style architecture, cafes and shops. Unlike many countries around the world who’s most redundant mark of modern day culture is a Starbucks on every corner, there actually isn’t a Starbucks in Laos at all. Instead, streets are sprinkled with multiple wats (temples); there are more than 30 wats in Luang Prabang. Climbing the 300 or so steps to the top of Mount Phousi, one of the most impressive views in this small city can be found. Half way up the stairs you’ll find local ladies selling woven, bamboo cages with live birds inside. It took me a while to figure out that the chirping was coming from inside the bamboo cages (a very Zoolander computer files moment). You can buy one (10,000 kip) and release the bird at the top of Phousi for good luck. It was explained to me that these women actually find these freed birds and recapture them for the next batch of freeing-fanatic tourists.
The Pak Ou Caves in Luang Prabang, which are usually reached by riding upstream on a boat, contain a number of impressive rock formations, and miniture statues placed by the very first worshippers and preserved by their descendants. Our long-tail boat trip to the caves was interesting, sadly with the caves being the sortest part. Docking, our guide told us we’d have 30 minutes to spend exploring…and of course there would be the largest group of Chinese tourists arriving at the exact same time. We’d shuffle and contort our way behind the umbrella ridden crew on the most overcast of days. We’d be given a good half hour to visit the driver’s friend’s whiskey plantation on the way. We’d dock and were told we’d have to pay 10,000 kip each to visit. I had no problem supporting the local people, but when you pay the initial price for the Pak Ou Cave with whiskey tasting included it’s hard to resist the tear-jerking pout. Again – the tricky Laos at work. We would get ourselves a free tasting of some homebrewed lao lao whiskey.
Lao Lao is a rice whiskey made in Laos  Various flavoured lao-laos are made by macerating such additives as honey, scorpions or snakes. Suckers for a good time, we grabbed a bottle. That bottle has since gone on to provide much in the way of entertainment and sanity on some very interesting bus rides through Laos.
I’d heard that Laos baguettes were to die for, but sadly they fell short offering little flavour and for that matter lacking sandwich satisfaction. I did, however, discover the lettuce wraps. We had been told to find the lettuce wrap lady on the a street corner that leads down from the Spicy Laos hostel heading in the direction of the night market. San Diego Brandon had been given specific orders from a friend to try these little delicacies if ever in Luang Prabang. So the slow boat crew set out to find the Laos Lettuce Wrap Lady. We found her perched on a bed of grass with a folding a trillion little bundles of goodness. Fresh leaves of green filled with cilantro, mint, rice noodles, bean sprouts, cardamom and peanut paste. The Yank insisted the lettuce wraps be included in this posting. “How could you forget the wraps? That nut sauce was so good” were the exact words…nut sauce.
When you find the easily missed ‘food alley’, you’ve found Luang Prabang’s food heaven. the strip is soley dedicated to food and a hungry travellers mecca. You can score a full plate of buffet-style grub for a dollar. A little bag of six lettuce rolls is 5,000 kip. Cheap.
The Limey

4 comments on “The One About Nirvana, Monks and Finding a Laos Lettuce Wrap Lady

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      July 6, 2013

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