March in Laos: A Stroll Through Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang is a lovely little town quite deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status. Despite the many tourists, it retains a peaceful atmosphere augmented by the frangipani trees lining the main street.

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The architecture was fairly simple with graceful curves reaching to the sky.

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We went into the Royal Palace Museum where the beautiful side halls were offset by coconut palms.

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There was a rather strange Soviet-inspired statue of (most likely) King Sisavang Vong, the longest ruling monarch of Laos. In fact, his rule was so long that he was only surpassed by King Bhumibol of Thailand in 2001.

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Pardon the poor photography, but I think you get the idea of the pretty vista leading up to the main hall.

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The main reason to visit the museum is to see the Pha Bang, which is what Luang Prabang is named after. This Buddha image cast in gold and finished with precious stones is believed to protect the city and give legitimacy to the ruler in possession of it. Too bad no pictures were allowed. It was pretty though rather smaller than I expected.

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The rest of the museum wasn’t particularly interesting bar a rather impressive sword and weapon display. I liked the ornate door panelling at some of the halls too.

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Next, Siamese Cat and I climbed up to That Chomsi, the golden spire at the top of Luang Prabang hill. It was a pretty strenuous hike up the many stairs. Good thing there were lots of signs proclaiming the number of steps to the top.

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The spires can be seen from most locations in the town. It’s especially pretty seeing it up close at the top.

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The main reward for reaching the top was the fabulous view. You could see the settlement stretching out along the neatly laid roads…

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… and the Mekong curving through the city on its way south.

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March in Laos: Vientiane’s Temple Architecture

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People don’t really go to Laos for its temples. While it’s hardly Ayuthaya or Angkor Wat, Vientiane hasĀ  some lovely architecture. Siamesecat and I spent a leisurely hour exploring How Pha Kaew which now functions as a museum of art and antiquities rather than a temple.

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The style was a lot less formal and lacked the grandeur of other places in the region. But this gave the whole complex a rather relaxed feel, somehow as if they didn’t take themselves that seriously.

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I liked this wooden structure beautifully gilded with gold leaf. The inside housed many treasures belonging to the city. It was a pity that the interior was poorly lit and the exhibits were placed rather haphazardly.

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Laotian architecture, influenced by neighbouring Thailand, pays attention to small details. I enjoyed this naga carving…

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… and absolutely adored the carvings on the eaves. I especially loved how this dragonfly was taking a breather on the dragon! Look carefully now.

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Inside, the door panels had ornate carvings, again coated with gold leaf.

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As in most Buddhist structures, there were Buddha statues all over the place. This tortoise stuck out amidst the many statues. I guess the poor guy doesn’t get much respect seeing as they had to put a “No Sitting” sign on him!

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August in China: Buddhas Everywhere Part Un

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One popular day trip out of Chengdu led me out to Leshan to ogle the Big Buddha. I was dismayed when told at the main entrance that only taopiao (literally: set tickets) were sold there, meaning that the only way to gain entry to see the Leshan Buddha was to also buy the set of tickets that led to some Buddha complex with the most Buddha statues in the county or some sort. It was only at the end of the day when I left by a side entrance that I realised that tickets only to Leshan were sold at a minor side gate. Yet another buyer beware warning.

I figured that I’d gone this far so I might as well pay the extra and wander through the amusement park anyway. There was a huge sleeping Buddha likeness carved into a hill face…

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… a series of sitting Buddhas carved into a hill face…

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… and lots of little Buddhas carved into niches behind a hill face!

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I quite enjoyed this bodhisattva with the infinite arms, it was just too bad the bare bulb lighting was so unflattering.

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However, I wasn’t too impressed with the deliberately neglected and moss-ridden figures outside.

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This one of the Laughing Buddha wasn’t too grotesque, just that it was too bad his belly was too far up to rub for good luck.

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After a rather ho-hum whiz past the rest of the statues came a very steep flight of stairs…

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… that rather surprisingly came with its own Health & Safety warning! The sign basically advises all those with acrophobia, high blood pressure, heart problems, the old, young and weak to take the other gentler route for the sake of life and safety. Rather impressive for China, I felt.

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The steep set of stairs of course led up to the entrance to Leshan, but enroute I stopped several times to admire the lovers’ locks lining the railing. It’s typical of Chinese custom for lovers to place a lock on the railing and throw away the key to symbolise their everlasting love. Judging from the numerous locks there, Chinese people can be very sentimental.

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