Life in Luang Prabang
The photo above is an aerial view of the peninsular part of Luang Prabang with the Mekong on the right and the Nam Khan tributary on the left – taken from the Tourism Luang Prabang website.
April 2022 Laos and Luang Prabang have been economically devastated by the Corona virus, though the country is now trying to re-open the tourist trade. Workers in the hospitality industries had returned to their home villages as hotels, restaurants, and shops closed; there has been much hardship.
A new menu item, Bounchan's family, has been added to follow ongoing events in his family's life as they become more oriented to toward Luang Prabang.
Festival of light
Lao New Year celebrations
Good natured monks
Kids love New Year's water fights
Shopping for supper
Boat Races -- Boun Souang Heua (2019) During the rainy season in Laos mythical water serpents, Nagas, escape when rivers overflow their banks. Villages organize longboat races to lure the Nagas back into the rivers. A single tree is used to carve each boat which can hold up to 50 paddlers; the races are a 400 m sprint. Homemade bamboo rockets are sometimes launched before the races, and in the capital, Vientiane, traditional music is played near the finish line with tempo increasing as the boats approach.
Luang Prabang hosts the first major races at the time of the full moon mid-way through the three month Buddhist Lent period. The precise date depends on the lunar calendar; this year the races occurred on August 29th. Accompanying the boat race boat race festival (Boun Souang Heua) is a large market offering goods from neighbouring Thailand as well as local fare.
Races occur on the Nam Khan (Nam means river), which is a tributary of the Mekong connecting to it at Luang Prabang and forming the peninsula where the old town is situated.
Photos 2, 6, and 7 are from Houmphet Manisouk who has many other photos of this year’s races on his Facebook page; the remaining photos were taken by Bounchan. The last photo is a thank you note from Phoumieng village to donors who funded the electrification project.
Festival of Light Boun Lai Heua Fai (2019) The annual Festival of Light, or Fire Boat Festival, took place in Luang Prabang on October 14th at the time of the full moon. It’s an occasion to honour the spirits of the water and wish for good luck in the future. Each of the temples, and the 33 villages that form the Luang Prabang UNESCO heritage site, make large, colourful boats out of bamboo and tissue paper. Individual families are expected to make their own boats, traditionally out of bamboo leaves and trunks, which adds thousands of small boats to the Mekong. Flowers, incense and even a little food and money are sometimes included. At the launch, candles are lit and prayers said; the boats carry away sins and bad luck. Fireworks add to the spectacle.
The procession of the larger boats through Luang Prabang is seen in the 2nd photo, with a bit of colonial architecture evident. Photos 6 and 7 show a serpent boat at the moment of launch, and in the water.
Photos below where taken at the Kuangthineung school on March 21st, 2019 where two of Bounchan & Noi's kids attended school that year in Luang Prabang. Bounchan's daughter, Kay, is just getting on the swing in the second photo; and daughter, Kai, and son,Vong, are in the last photo. See the school location here.
Lao New Year Celebrations ! The Lao New Year (Bun Pi Mai) is celebrated over 3 days—April 14th to 16th this year (2019), though in Luang Prabang it can last up to a week. It is a time of renewal when water plays an important role to wash away bad luck and past sins, and a time of merit-making to improve one’s karma. Animals are also set free to gain merit.
The first day of the celebrations is the last day of the old year when people clean their houses and villages, wash Buddha images, and prepare scented water and flowers for the following days. The second day is a “no day”, or limbo, between the old year and the new year; there are parades, traditional performances, and beauty contests. On the third day, which is the first of the new year, Baci ceremonies take place to generate good luck for the new year and keep good spirits in the body.
Photos were taken during the parade on the April 15th. The second to last photo shows Bounchan’s daughter Kai and son Vong taking a snack break. And in the final photo Vong has bought a bird which he will set free for merit-making (a good deed.) Follow-up postings will look at other aspects of the celebrations. (The 5th photo was taken by Kai Photography: https://www.kaiphotographyjapan.com/ , the 2nd, 4th, and 9th by a studio we couldn't identify, all others thanks to Noi Her, Bounchan’s wife.)
Good-natured monks !! Water plays an important role in Lao New Year celebrations. Along with other people, Buddhist monks are shown respect and wished good luck by having water splashed on them. But, things can get out of hand.
The photos show an initial splash of water which rapidly descends into a serious soaking (photo 5). Remarkably, the head monk – being carried in a temple replica (photo 6) -- maintains his serene composure, though he may be a bit unhappy. The final photo indicates that the temperature in Luang Prabang on the day of the parade – April 15th – hit 38C (100F), so the water may have had some welcome cooling effects. Note that later in the week it was forecast for 41C (106F), plus humidity.
A salute to the monks for enduring this with good humour and grace. (The 1st & 2nd photos were taken by Kai Photography: https://www.kaiphotographyjapan.com/ , the 8th by a studio we couldn't identify, all others thanks to Noi Her.)
Kids love New Year’s One of the pleasures of the Lao New Year, especially if you’re young at heart, is to splash people with water. For strictly ceremonial purposes, of course.
The photos show three of Bounchan & Noi’s kids and friends – the “usual suspects” (cultural reference for older readers), helping to cool down passing motorists on a hot day; such thoughtful children.
In the first photo, the kids are waiting patiently. Anna is deep in the background (jean dress, pink top) holding a water gun; brother Vong (in orange and holding a bowl with his left hand) is looking very wet already. Loading up is happening in the 2nd photo, followed by a motorcycle approaching. Direct hits occur in the 4th photo, and perfect follow-throughs in the 5th. Youngest sister Kai (green top) looks on and studies technique in the next photo. Notice the mountains in some of the backgrounds. Photo 7 presents a typical scene in Luang Prabang. Later, Vong and Anna decide to go horseback riding. Since middle sister Tousia has not been seen in the New Year’s photos, the final photo is of her looking thoughtful back at the village in May 2018. (Photo 7 was taken by Kai Photography: https://www.kaiphotographyjapan.com/ , all others by Noi Her.)
Shopping for supper. (April 7th, 2019) Bounchan shared the experience of a meal preparation from market to table. A big thank you to Noi, Bounchan’s wife, who was not feeling at all well that Sunday.
The first three photos show Noi -- in the pink top, selecting some bamboo. Notice the street scene in the 1st photo with the mountains in the background; daughter Kai is sitting on the motorbike. In the 5th photo Noi is removing the tough outer layer of bamboo. The tender insides of the bamboo are ready to be soaked in photo 6; the “teeth” on the bamboo surprised me -- I first imagined it was squid. Greens are added to the boiling bamboo in the 8th photo, followed by finished dish. At the table in the last photo, from left to right, are son Vong, mom Noi, and daughters Tousia, Kai, and Anna.