I am at that stage of our holiday where I have to count off dates to work out how long we have been here and to work out what day of the week it is! As I type this it is Sunday of day eleven – so we’re pretty much half way through our holiday. However, this blog post is all about day ten, yesterday.
Stella really still wasn’t 100% better. She’s such a slight thing that she really doesn’t have many reserves if she gets a vomiting illness. All things considered she’s done really well to be still enjoying most aspects of our holiday! Fortunately when she woke this morning (Sunday) she promptly pronounced that she felt better, and jumped straight onto her electronic device to play some games and hum along as she did so. Much more like Stella! But yesterday morning she really still wanted to just lie on her bed (while playing games of course). I elected to stay at Lotus Villa with her while Dan and Clare headed around the corner to spend a couple of hours in English conversation at Big Brother Mouse.
Big Brother Mouse is a Lao based, Lao owned organisation that specialises in publishing books in Laos. Literacy has been very poor in Laos, and up until recently most people had not even seen a book, let alone been able to read. But as their website says: We’re not just a publisher. We give hands-on experience to young people as they learn new skills: writing, editing, translating, computer use, and organizing events. We’re also developing effective new ways to distribute books in a country where currently, there’s no good system for that. And we’re building toward the day when publishing books is a self-sustaining enterprise: We ask villages that can afford to do so to pay part of the cost of their school’s reading program.
Many people in Laos are keen to learn English. Big Brother Mouse publish many of their books in both Lao and English. They also run English practice sessions at their Luang Prabang location, where foreigners are encouraged to come along and speak English with local young people. There are two two-hour sessions each day – and the room was packed! There were plenty of monks among them too.
Clare has offered to write about her time in the English practice session, and she is also keen to attend another one, so stay tuned for a special guest blog post from her later on.
The staff at the villa offered to watch Stella so that I could go out for a brief explore around the surrounding streets. I very quickly came across Ock Pop Tok‘s second store. I think it’s destiny. The universe keeps on leading me there.
It wasn’t long however before mother guilt overtook me and I headed back to the Villa. However there are always more things to see on the way!
These photos are of our local wat, Wat Nong Sikhounmuang. The monks who were at Big Brother Mouse were from this wat. They’ve invited Dan to come for chanting one evening. This wat shelters one of the largest pagodas in Luang Prabang and is richly decorated with stencils and colour.
Wanting to take advantage of the stunning weather – apparently previous days had been full of rain – we asked the Villa to arrange for a tuk tuk to take us to Kuang Si Falls. This is close to an hour’s drive from town. Stella was still feeling peaky but was keen to come along. It was so worthwhile! As always we enjoyed the vignettes of daily life that were spotted from the back of the tuk tuk, and it was lovely to see countryside and mountains. Everything was very lush. There was a fair bit of rubbish in little piles at designated points along the way. There is not coordinated system for rubbish disposal in Laos.
Once we were deposited at the village at the base of the waterfalls, we discovered that the pathway up to the falls ran alongside the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. This centre cares for bears rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. From their website:
Asiatic black bears (Moon Bears) are an endangered species targeted by illegal hunters for use in the traditional medicine trade, restaurant trade or as exotic pets. Young cubs are often targeted by hunters after the mother has been killed because they are easy to transport and conceal. They are often malnourished and frightened but are given a second chance and able to live out the rest of their lives comfortably in the Tat Kuang Si sanctuary.
The centre houses more than 20 rescued bears, and they enjoy large forested enclosures, cool fresh water streams fed by the nearby waterfall, and lost of play and enrichment items to keep them fully occupied. Increasing environmental awareness is of particular importance and one of the most recent projects is a nature discovery trail within Tat Kuang Si Park, primarily aimed at local communities and school children. Through this they are able to highlight the threats to forests and wildlife, and are working to support educational visits from local and international schools over the coming years.
Then we came across the Kuang Si Falls. They are spectacular – I think that the many photos I am about to deluge you with speak for themselves.
Stella was a tourist attraction in her own right.
We arrived back at the Villa just in time to head a short way down the street to the Children’s Cultural Centre. The Children’s Cultural Centre provides after-school and weekend activities for Lao children and youth to learn about Lao culture and traditions. Through participation in traditional music, drama, storytelling, singing, and a variety of arts and crafts activities, Lao children learn about their roots and develop skills that encourage healthy lifestyles, good stewardship and cultural preservation.
We were privileged to attend a performance that included participating in a Baci ceremony, watching an Epock puppet show, and watching five different ethnic dances. The teenaged performers did an superb job.
The Baci ceremony: “Baci” meaning “calling of the soul” is an important ceremony practiced in Lao culture and Northern and Isan Thai culture. Baci is a phi ritual used to celebrate important events and occasions, like births and marriages and also entering the monkhood, departing, returning, beginning a New Year, and welcoming or bidding etc. The ritual of the Baci involves tying strings around a person’s wrist to preserve good luck, and has become a national custom.
I was up early enough to watch the monks receiving alms this morning – but will write about that tomorrow!