The Cruelest Month

I can imagine that even our most loyal readers are getting tired of reading about how hot it is here. We Seattleites never tire of discussing the weather, so indulge me for just one more post.

The past week was so cripplingly hot that no one in my office was able to get much work done. On a few days, I got emails from Kenny to the effect of, “everyone here is asleep, I’m going home to work in front of our A/C.” I didn’t feel much more useful sitting in front of our office fan as it blew hot air at me. My co-workers and I have started scheduling all of our meetings and working sessions early in the day because nobody expects anything to get done after lunch. To me, the paralysis caused by the heat seems like the true secret of why the Global South has not achieved the same level of economic development as the states of the Northern Hemisphere.

This weekend was similarly scorching. Kenny and I felt guilty about hiding out with our A/C instead of enjoying our beautiful valley, but we could never bear to be out and about for more than an hour or two (we did venture out for cappuccini, lunch, ice-cold smoothies, and a few errands). Taking a cue from my co-workers, we did engage in some nice pre-8am activities – we took a run around the lake yesterday, and this morning we climbed up to our local hill wat. Then we spent the rest of the day chilling in our igloo-like room, catching up on our photo backlog. Conveniently enough, this means that we’re all caught up on the photos we took this weekend. Here are a few:

Getting a photo of the lake wat

Kenny at the lake wat

The view from across the lake

The view of town from the hilltop. Today was a “clear” day for this area.

A lion guarding the wat

Immigration Office with a View

While we are still here for four more weeks, our original visa only lasted through next Tuesday. Fortunately the local immigration office offers 30 day visa extensions, so we didn’t need to make a run for the border.

However, obtaining our visa extension yesterday was not without its challenges. The immigration office is located atop a twisting, 35-degree incline road at the highest altitude in town, and they make sure to order 42°C weather for you. At the top you are rewarded with a small shrine and views of the town below.

Lauren and Little Vid at the immigration office
Little Vid was happy that she got an extension on her little visa

Poi Sang Long

Today, a few people from my office took us to a local village to celebrate Poi Sang Long, a festival in which Shan boys are initiated into the monkhood at the local monastery. The holiday is celebrated in many villages in Burma and in a few Shan communities here in Thailand. Young Buddhist boys are all required to become monks at some point, but only for 9 days; many will remain monks for about a month, and then they will go back to their homes in time for the new school year.

We showed up around 8am, and the parade was in full swing. Women and men were both dressed in colorful Shan clothes, and everyone carried gifts for the monks. The novice monks were being carried on people’s shoulders, owing to a dearth of horses here in Thailand. By 9am or so, the procession ended at the monastery, where we were assailed with free snacks, juices, and coins wrapped in gold and silver foil for good luck.

This parade marcher’s clothing and makeup reminded me of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Playing cymbals in the parade

A pensive soon-to-be novice monk

Kenny made a new friend who offered him this placard to carry and deliver to the Buddha at the wat

Dancing ladies entering the wat

Chilling in Chiang Mai

We had two and a half days free before starting AJWS orientation this afternoon, and we used the opportunity to repeat a few highlights from our last visit to Chiang Mai. We zenned out at Wat Chedi Luang, and took another cooking class at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Mark, another AJWS volunteer, joined us for course one, which has green curry, pad thai, and surprisingly tasty fish cakes among its six dishes. That said, if you have flexibility in your schedule we preferred course two, where you get to make your own curry paste as the morning activity.

This morning we visited the one major site we missed last time we were in Chiang Mai – Doi Suthep, the hill wat outside of town. It’s a curvy ride to the temple base, where you encounter hundreds of other tourist vehicles and are immediately assailed by an assortment of hawkers. The wat itself was a bit of a letdown. It’s quite touristed-up, with kitschy souvenir stalls at the bottom, and children in hill-tribe garb dancing for money inside the temple. Even the “strenuous” climb up to the top proved to be only a few steps. Much of the wat itself is under construction and the Buddhas inside seem haphazardly arranged.

Our full photo set is available here.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang – our favorite wat in Chiang Mai

Cooking school
Each course in our cooking class started with a demonstration in a room handily equipped with a large Food Network-style overhead mirror

Chopping vegetables
Mark and Lauren chopping up the ingredients of their green curries

Lauren and green curryKenny and green curry
Enjoying our green curry fresh out of the wok

Lauren at Doi Suthep 
This dancing horse at Doi Suthep came to give Lauren a kiss

Doi SuthepDoi Suthep Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep

King of the Hill

This morning we started our day at the Royal Palace, where no pictures were allowed to capture the opulence of past Laos kings. After perusing the mosaics, murals, and crazy large throne rooms, we crossed the street to climb Phousi Hill and check out the aerial views of Luang Prabang.

On the way up the 100m hill,  we stopped at one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang, Wat Pa Huak. It’s a cute little wat, and its 200-year old murals are in pretty good shape. As is often the case in Southeast Asia tourist sites, I was approached by a child selling random trinkets. My general approach with these children is to change the subject to something mildly educational. I had my compass handy, and it proved instantly fascinating to the little girls. One of them had a magnet and was enthralled by how she could control the compass arrow with it.

Buddhas at Wat Pa Huak
Buddhas at Wat Pa Huak

Chatting with the locals
Teaching child merchants how to use a compass

We then continued winding our way up the hill. After a couple hundred more steps we reached the top and were rewarded with expansive panoramic views of Luang Prabang and the surrounding countryside. We could even see Lao Airlines planes taking off from the airport strip!

190 steps up
Words of “encouragement” along the way up

Lauren through the window
It was fun having both cameras with us

View from the top
View of the Mekong river from the top

Hills of Luang Prabang
We also went back later in the day to catch the sunset views

One Day in Vientiane

Yesterday was our only full day in Vientiane; our goal was to see most of the major wats and other important sights while still finding some time to relax and take in the laid-back atmosphere for which this small Asian capital is famous. Although the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with us – it rained for most of the day – we managed to accomplish our goals pretty well.

After finishing breakfast at our hotel, the day started off with three important errands: (1) acquire guidebook — we got a used Lonely Planet (photocopied of course) from a bookstore around the corner; (2) rent bicycles — $1.25 per bike per day; (3) purchase Beerlao t-shirts.

With those important tasks accomplished, it was time to get started. We rode our bikes over to Wat Si Saket, home to 10,000 Buddha images.





While we pondered the many Buddhas at Si Saket, the rain started coming down in full force. We decided it was time to make a stop at our hotel for some better rain clothes before heading out for more action. But on the way back out, we got distracted by Sabaidee Massage, directly across from our hotel. We decided to stop in for a Lao massage to wait out the rain. This proved to be an excellent decision; for under $5, I had one of the better Asian massages of my not-so-limited experience, in a very nice setting with peaceful music playing.

After a quick veg lunch at Vieng Sawan, we hopped back on our bikes and back into the storm. It was pouring, but we were determined to make the 4 km ride out to Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos. On the way, we stopped at Patuxay (the Lao Arc de Triomphe, built out of cement donated by the US for an airport runway) to snap a few quick photos and to wring some of the water out of our drenched eyebrows.


After our quick stop at Patuxay, it was back on the bikes to finish our drenched slog to Pha That Luang. When we arrived, I felt like I had won the Tour de France:

I am the winner!

It’s already on the money and every billboard in the airport. But we just had to see it in person. Like so many other temples, it looked better from far away.

After returning our bikes, we happened upon a cute bakery called Banneton. The banana, dragonfruit, and strawberry tart called to us, and we listened.

To finish off our Vientiane day, we had a fantastic dinner at Makphet, which is like the Lao version of FareStart. We will certainly write a review later, so I won’t spoil it now by giving away any details.

Unbelievably, the weather is even worse this morning, so yesterday’s action-packed schedule was well worth it. We fly to Luang Prabang around noon.