Laos: Legacies of War and a Promising Future

Riding through the countryside of Laos’ remote Xieng Khouang province, we spied verdant rolling hills, villagers of all ages escorting livestock on the dusty roadside, and giant craters disfiguring the landscape. For an instant, these cavities in the red earth evoked images of sand traps on golf courses. However, with Laos’ unfortunate distinction of being the world’s most bombed country per capita, not much golf is being played here.

Guided by a local father-and-son team, we had embarked on a day trip to visit the country’s mysterious archaeological treasure: the Plain of Jars. We would also visit two villages: Ban Naphia and Ban Tajok, nicknamed ‘Spoon Village’ and ‘Bomb Village,’ respectively.

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Photo du Jour: A Novice Monk in Luang Prabang, Laos

Novice Monk Luang Prabang Laos

In the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, it’s common for boys and young men to temporarily commit to monkhood, even if they do not remain in service for the rest of their lives. This custom brings a merit to both the novice monks and their families. As the elder monks do, the boys shave their heads (we noticed the monks tended to do so all on a set day) and don the saffron robe.

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The Ubiquitous Laotian Sinh, or Skirt

The Laos People’s Democratic Republic (P.D.R) is a joy to explore. It’s affectionately known as ‘Laos Please Don’t Rush‘ and when you get there, you see why – almost instantly. The locals  are easygoing and friendly, the environment is mellow, and the Laotian culture has retained enough authenticity that you’ll want to linger longer and appreciate its distinct details.

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A Monkey Tethered to a Bomb Shell in Rural Laos

Throughout Asia during these past few months, we had the opportunity to gleefully observe monkeys outside of customary zoo environments. Some monkeys gracefully walked on power lines as if they were tightrope artists; others stole human goodies from garbage cans at outdoor establishments. The luckiest ones lived in areas that blended a natural with an urban environment (such as Ubud, Bali’s Monkey Forest or Elephanta Island, an hour’s boat ride from Mumbai). Continue reading “A Monkey Tethered to a Bomb Shell in Rural Laos”

Photo du Jour: Paper Cranes in Luang Prabang, Laos

A garland of pure white paper cranes hangs from a monks’ residential building within Luang Prabang’s picturesque Wat Xieng Thong temple complex.

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Photo du Jour: ‘Monk Beds’ in Luang Prabang, Laos

In Buddhism, it’s believed that followers can get good results by giving merit. One approach is by offering alms, either through a Tak Bat ceremony or by donating items to those who are leading a monastic lifestyle.

In Luang Prabang’s Wat Xieng Thong temple courtyard, we happened upon this recently-donated stash of goods. There was everything from orange bunk beds and bedding to toiletries, fans and pillows.

Novice monks mingled out in the courtyard. Some read books or toyed with their iPods or mobile phones while others interacted with tourists who were eager to show them photographs they had snapped.

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Wat Xieng Thong: Waiting in the Wings During the Golden Hour

It’s the sort of environment that could hold my attention for hours. In a heavily-carved and gilded structure that’s tucked away on the grounds of the Wat Xieng Thong temple complex in Luang Prabang, Laos, are stored a fleet of Buddha statues, crackling wooden devotional panels, nagas, and the Lao king’s cremation chariot. Adorned with cobwebs and dressed in dust, they are waiting in the wings for a regal parade.

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