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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Meandering along the Mekong

LAOS | Monday, 30 January 2006 | Views [1717]

Luang Prabang reminds us greatly of Nan in north-east Thailand. Some years ago we meandered along the Thai-Lao border that is the Mekong for some months, gently absorbing the various towns and villages with no particular destination in mind. The pace of the people and the culture here are quiet distinct and seem to have no regard to national boundaries, making you really wonder about what constitutes a nation as opposed to a geographic region.

The villages we passed through had a living Buddist tradition, as here, where every morning at dawn, villagers would line the streets as orange robbed monks walked past bare-foot to accept their alms offerings. It all seemed a perfectly natural part of the Buddist culture.

But here in Luang Prabang, this important ceremony has become something of a tourist attraction, along with the ugly, the insensitive and the ignorant. Tourists arrive at 7am by the minibus load, heaving vast cameras with long lenses which they seem willing to poke point-blank at the peaceful procession of monks.  Worse, some of the local people have started selling (yes, actually selling) small bags of rice to these tourists so they can 'participate', but even worse that this is the ignorance of these people as they heave the whole bag of rice into the basket of the first monk (who then, a few paces later discards it to a waiting assistant as we might discard a dog turd to the bin).

What are these people thinking? You don't need a degree, an education or much else to simply observe that such behaviour is not very appropriate.

Actually, we  really like this town. Interestingly, we found a photograph nailed to one of the shrines here showing waht it looked like in 1980: a wrecked broken budda tumbling and disintegrating and unloved. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city and the funds are being used to carefully return the town, the streets and the temples to much of their former glory.

With tourism overwhelming any other 'industry' here, I wonder how much of the genuine character will survive? Or is it eventually destined to become an up-market disneyland?

Tags: buddhism, ceremony, culture, luang prabang, on the road, travel with children


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