Sunday, 10 March 2013

Monk-y Business

Although it doesn't have Angkor's thousand Wats, Luang Prabang does pretty much have a temple on every corner and in these temples live monks. Apparently most men in Laos become a monk (at least temporarily) at some point in their lives. Some stick at it and others will go back to their normal lives after a short time. The monks are highly respected by the rest of the community and every morning, just after sunrise, they emerge in neat orange-robed lines and walk around the town, whilst the local people place sticky rice and other tidbits of food into their "little urns" (resisting a Morecambe and Wise gag there).

This custom of "giving alms" to the monks is a way for the people to improve their karma, and tourists can join in too, though we felt that it wasn't really appropriate - the sight of a group of American pensioners kneeling outside our hotel in anticipation of the monk parade just didn't quite look right, especially when one old lady did that "stretching your eyes to make them look 'slitty' thing", presumably so they'd think she was a local - reminding me of our very own national treasure of tact, Prince Philip!

The monks themselves observe the Theravada strand of Buddhism which encourages its followers to reject capitalism and focus on the "seven stages of purification". I assumed therefore, that they would lead very simple lives with none of the trappings of the modern world that I am so obsessed with, and yet we were amazed by the number of monks we saw who were walking around whilst on their iPhones! We even saw an orange-robed monk at Luang Prabang airport with Luis Vuitton hand luggage - it might have been fake knock-off Luis Vuitton he'd got from a guy down at the market, but all the same, you take my point.

One of the main attractions in Luang Prabang is the huge hill, Mount Phou Si, in the middle of town which has a shiny golden pointy thing on the top and which provides spectacular panoramic views. We climbed over 300 steps up the mountain, pausing regularly to get our breath back and also to look at the many statues of Buddah sitting or reclining in the gardens. One area had a Monday Buddah, a Tuesday Buddah, a Wedn... you get the idea - literally a different golden Buddah for each day of the week. It's like a Buddah theme park, "Buddahland" if you like.

And flying around these gardens were brightly coloured "buddahflies" (as I, probably very annoyingly, kept calling them). They really do like their Buddahs here, and there was even a very lifelike statue hidden in a cave, which scared the Nirvana out of me when I looked up and saw it. I don't know for sure who it was meant to be but... I Can't Believe It's Not Buddah! [sorry, I've been trying to crowbar that in to the blog for ages].

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