After our wonderful rice experience, we stopped off at our hotel to pick up some bikes to explore the town again. We knew that we wanted to visit the Royal Palace Museum, so we headed there first. The Royal Palace Museum was once an actual palace for the Royal Family of Laos, until the Royal Family was overthrown by communist forces in 1975. Now, the building serves as to display royal artifacts and gifts from various countries, as well as show what some of the royal bedrooms looked like when they were in use.
We had just a bit of trouble getting in – like most palaces and temples, women are required to have their knees and shoulders covered. Julia prepared for this, wearing the dress she had purchased the previous day with a shawl to cover her shoulders. However, she was stopped when we walked in by a guard who claimed that the sides of her knees were visible. It was quite annoying, because she prepared specifically for this possibility and dressed quite modestly but was still turned away and forced to rent a silk wrap to cover her sinful legs; the attendant that she purchased the silk wrap from was actually incredulous that someone told her that she needed to cover up. We consider ourselves very tolerant and accepting of other cultures but it’s hard to not be annoyed by customs like this, especially when the shorts I was wearing showed all of my knees. (Also some older temples actually have carvings of topless women covering the walls, and in one temple, actually sold post cards with topless women from the hill tribes!)
We also had to stow away our camera, unfortunately, so we couldn’t get any pictures from inside the Palace. It’s a shame because it was really interesting seeing all of the gifts on display from different countries, such as an old music player from Germany, swords from France, or decorative wraps from Thailand.
We were getting hungry again at this point – our lunch was only small rice products, after all – so we decided to start walking to Dyen Sabai – hot pot fondue place that some of the other tourists from the rice experience recommended to us. Our walk took us through the heart of downtown and then across a bamboo bridge – which we were quite surprised to find required a toll to cross! The toll was very small – around 10 cents – and was used to rebuild the bridge every year when the rainy season caused the river to rise high enough to collapse it.
We arrived at Dyen Sabai and found a lovely restaurant overlooking the river. It was still the early afternoon, so not many other people were there – we had the best view all to ourselves! We ordered one of the fondue pots and a couple of drinks and sat back and relaxed! The fondue pot came pretty quickly, and we saw right away that this was very different from a place like The Melting Pot. The table we sat at actually had a fire pit underneath with burning hot coals. The pot rested directly over the top of this, with a moat around the outside filled with broth that cooks the vegetables and noodles, while the top part sits directly over the coals to cook the meat. It was a very unique and delicious fondue experience!
Earlier that morning, we were talking to Lee at the Living Land Company about what the farm does for the local community. The living Land Company’s profits all go directly back to the community; and education is their priority. They support five students in their university studies right now! Since native English speakers are relatively rare (American English seems to be preferred over British), and Lee had asked for volunteers, we decided to go back to the Living Land between 5pm and 7pm ro assist in the classroom. Getting to know local students seemed better than going to the storytelling theater as we had planned, and we are so glad we chose to do the teaching. The students all attend regular school during the day, and take English classes at night. You can see them riding bikes to and from school in packs with those black pants/knee-covering skirts (in Thailand they seem to be a little shorter, and pleated instead of traditional wrap), and white button-up collared shirts. Students wear uniforms from the time they first start school all the way through the University level!
In the Living Land Community, the English classes are split between beginning and advanced. We taught (more like guest starred in) the advanced class, between ages 12 and 17. The teacher is a first year university student, and there are usually 13 pupils, although 11 were in attendance. The students were all really happy we were there. They were respectful, listened well, and clearly wanted to learn, but most were pretty shy. After working from a book and “introducing” ourselves, (I’m fine, how are you, what’s your name, etc), we got to fun games like pictionary. Julia also made up a game where we make an expression, and they try to guess the feeling. They had a ton of fun, and doubled over laughing when she did her exaggerated mad expression. (People don’t seem to get very angry here, and in fact conflict is really frowned upon!) They also knew hangman, although we ran out of time before we could play.
We went back to downtown LPB and walked through the night market. There were a ton of shops and of course a lot of tourists! We got a few street food items and some souvenirs, then finally went back to our hotel for some much needed rest!
The next day, Thursday, would be our last day in LPB, but we still had a few hours to explore! We started by walking through the Phosy market, which is basically a one-stop shop for just about anything that you might need – from fruits, veggies, meat, and other food supplies to clothing, toys, household products, and electronics! But unlike a Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer back home, everything was sold by different vendors all under the same roof. It’s tough to imagine a place like this being your primary source for groceries and other goods, but for many people in LPB that is what they do!
We got back on the main road and saw a sign for a silk weaving center, so we decided to stop by. They lead us through a (free) tour that showed all of the stages of silk weaving, from harvesting the silk from silk worms, to the various natural dyes that are used, and they even had a whole army of seamstresses creating beautiful silk wall hangings and wraps by hand!
Before we knew it, it was already time to say goodbye to beautiful Laos. We planned this trip thinking that two full days (plus two half days) would be enough to see Luang Prabang, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. Our entire experience was jam-packed with activities (and lovely people) and we still didn’t have nearly enough time to experience everything we wanted to! We do have some extra time before we come back home, and it’s only a short flight away from Chiang Mai, so maybe we’ll just have to go back!