Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Leaving Luang Prabang

Leaving this sacred, serene and magical place was a wrench: we really didn’t want to go. But the last full day and the final half day before our journey back to Bangkok was quite eventful.

Our morning was spent again at the Wat Sirimounkhoun Sayaram where our friend Khamchanh is a novice. Just sitting under the large tree in the corner of the Wat courtyard in the shade, feeling the light breeze and watching all the restoration work on the Sim (the main temple of the monastery) is perfect! Whilst this Sim is nowhere near as splendid as that in Wat Xieng Thong, it’s more homely and is being carefully and lavishly decorated. And what’s more, now that we see Khamchanh every day, several times a day for chats and exchanges of ideas and information, it’s OUR wat! Sitting here talking to our monk friend gives us a unique privilege: living life at the pace of the wat, almost becoming part of it, and perhaps slightly resenting the tourists who come along, poking in both their noses and their cameras. But they’re only here for a few minutes, and we’re here becoming part of the furniture!

The afternoon had something else special in store: a trip across the Mekong river to explore the caves, temples and villages on the other side. On our journey across on the car ferry we met our new friend Dip who was looking forward to leaving Laos for a period of study in California. We had a great time strolling through the village on the opposite bank, and made the most of this alternative aspect of Luang Prabang.

The evening held something very special in store: as darkness fell, we returned to Wat Sirimounkhoun Sayaram to visit Khamchanh again. Tonight he invited us into the private living quarters of the monks, and we sat in his room for about an hour and a half talking. We covered many subjects, all described with the care and detail of a devout Buddhist. We talked about his exams, his love of languages (Korean, French and English especially,) his science subjects (Chemistry was featuring this week), football, world politics, world history, and above all his love of Laos and the history of his country. We also touched upon some of the hardships of his life. What a great friend to have made!

Our last few hours in town on the following morning were likewise spent at the wat, saying our farewells. This is one person with whom we’re going to make an effort to keep in touch and to see again. Then it was off to the airport for a smooth flight on Bangkok Airways down to the concrete jungle in the Land of Smiles. Which is where we are now, waiting just a few hours for our flight on Air Asia over to Yangon (Rangoon, of course) in Burma (oops, the uniforms there prefer ‘Myanmar’).

Of course you know that the regime there doesn’t really permit internet access, and that international phone calls cost the earth. So maybe the blog will fall silent for a few weeks. But if this happens, fear not readers! For on February 23rd you’ll be able to read all about it!

Why are we going? Well, two reasons:
1 It’s not to support the government, rather to be able to testify about the place upon our return.
2 Maybe the people we meet will realise that the outside world is not quite how they are made to imagine it….

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