I love random days and meeting 'random' people! Being spontaneous and taking life as it comes. I'm learning not to waste my life either! Yesterday was one such day. I woke up at about 6.30 feeling a bit cold so figured there was no point staying in bed awake so got up and began exploring Luang Prabang. It is such a cute little town very chilled out and laid back after Vietnam. But I think I am having significant withdrawal symptoms from vietnamese coffee - missing it very much!
One of the benefits of travelling I find, is that people are often more open minded and willing to discuss issues of greater importance than trivial 'daily life' of back home. I had meant to write about this a few weeks back but forgot or was time-poor (or felt like I had hogged the shared computer for too long already!). For example, discussions of religion, politics and wars feature high on the agenda- things that at home in 'normal' society would go completely unnoticed and unspoken on the whole. The wars and insane killing sprees that have gone on in these countries is so intense, impacting so many lives and only in the last 30-40 years, but barely anyone knows or is aware of it back home. I know that I wasn't aware of it prior to coming here. For example, the mass-murders of all educated people and western influences in Cambodia under the Khmer rule of Pol-Pot. I read a brilliant yet very confronting book called 'First they killed my Father, a daughter of Cambodia Remembers". About a Cambodian lady who at the age of 5 left Pnom Penh I definitely recommend it, I was reading it while at Halong Bay and it was an eye-opener for sure as I previously had little knowledge about the situation.
After I'd had breakfast in LP yesterday, I was out the front of a restaurant checking out their cooking class information when I was approached by a man who had been at the same restaurant I'd eaten breakfast at a bit earlier. He jokingly said I shouldn't be hungry anymore and we started chatting. He turned out to be a retired English Literary Professor and he gave me a the name of a 'life-changing' book that he believes to be one of the best works of literature ever (sorry i can't remember the name of it, its written down on a piece of paper somewhere!). I believe it is religion-based, something from India. I'll have to locate that book at some stage and check it out if I can! There are so many book exchange places here, so its easy to get hold of some really good, solid books which is awesome as I chew through books very very quickly.
As I was exploring through LP, I was walking past one of the many tour agencies when a guy asked me if I'd like to go see the waterfalls, leaving in about 30 minutes. It was nice and hot and he was offering a cheap price, so I thought why not. Bit of sponteneity is always good! So I went and got my swimmers and came back and the 6 of us jumped in the back of the tuk-tuk and were driven out to Kuang-Si waterfalls. The falls were beautiful. I think there must be limestone in the rock in the area, as the water was a beautiful aqua blue colour, and a few swimming holes that were quite deep so I jumped off the waterfall a few times and there was a big tree-swing as well which was a bit of fun! One of the other girls was going how it was so scary - but as I'd jumped off the 3rd story of a boat in Halong Bay, the waterfall was easy peasy in comparison!
On the trip I met a white South African couple that I got along with really well, later on in the day we kept bumping into each other and we ended up having dinner together which was alot of fun. There are night markets here in LP every night, and a big food market where you can buy a plate and then share it, everyone all digs in and has a bit of this and a bit of that. Yum. Lots of bbq foods and other items of dubious origins! Later on we headed down to a restaurant/bar overlooking the Mekong River where a couple of guys I'd met earlier were playing banjo and a mandolin. Good fun, blues and grass roots sort of music. I'm curious as to whether they were christian or not, because there were a few definitively christian songs that they played.
Today I've just come back from an all day cooking lesson at one of the local restaurants here in LP. Cannot recommend it highly enough- Tamnam Lao restaurant. I am so so so full right now, we did not manage to get through even 50% of the food I don't think. The dishes are small but they fill you up so quickly. Totally worth it though, I got morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner all for the bargain price of $30. Plus, as I discovered, this restaurant which is partly owned by an interesting Australian woman who's been living in Laos with her laos family since the 1960s, helps sustain and support an orphanage, particularly in the region of nutrition and health by increasing the protein content of their diet which I think is great! These orphanages are run by the government, who provide between 20 and 40 CENTS PER CHILD to cover all expenses. Its ridiculous, so I'm happy to help out as best I can with people like this.
As part of the day we went to the market. I found this extremely educational, (love love love food markets - except for the meat) as I could find out what all these weird and wacky foods I've been seeing around the place are (and deciding whether I'm game enough to try them or not. For example, there are many many eggs on display, and some of them are tinted, to indicate whether tehy are fresh or 'fertilised' (a delicacy) or off (some people like their eggs to smell apparently).
On a side note, I was introduced to the book 'Don't waste your life' by John Piper while I was in Hanoi. Discovered that you can read it online via a pdf version of the book which is brilliant as i severely doubt my ability to find a copy of it here in Laos! I've only managed to read a bit so far (i'm paying for internet access here in laos) but its definitely worth the read.
One thing that has been challenging me over the last few days in particular, is being culturally appropriate. I've become so aware of how few tourists and travellers actually respect the culture and customs of the local people, particularly when it comes to dress (and women especially). For example, it is inappropriate for women to have their shoulders exposed, and modesty is a big deal in Laos. I am no where near perfect, and not necessarily always the most modest girl in the world at home (probably the opposite, esp at the beach), but I try my best to do so over here, as I want to have the respect of the local people and not put them out. I've been wearing a top that has has my shoulders just covered (everything else is dirty and in the wash thanks to the dust bus) and the last few days I've felt slightly self conscious at times, especially with the hundreds of monks wandering around LP. But so many girls are walking around in itty bitty tops/dresses and shorts without a care in the world, or so it seems. hmmm. not good.