Lockdown Armchair Travel – Laos – March 2013

Whilst we’re not all (currently) still in proper lockdown, travel is still a risky business, so let’s continue with L – which is for Laos, one of the three countries we visited in 2013 as part of our Indochina tour. A gentle, spiritual, welcoming country with some fascinating secrets.

So what do you think of, when you think of Laos? Do you actually think of anything?! Maybe this:

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Young novice monks, seen everywhere – but more of them later. We started our five days in Laos in the capital – Vientiane.

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Of all the world’s capitals, this must have the least traffic. The statue of Chao Anouvong, the King of Vientiane from 1805 – 1828, welcomes you from his plinth alongside the Mekong.

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This is where the President, Bounnhang Vorachith, lives. Laos is a one-party, Communist state, but you wouldn’t really know it from day-to-day life. Not as a tourist, at least.

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In the centre of a roundabout is a stupa, which many believe is inhabited by a seven-headed nāga (a snake deity) who tried to protect them from an invasion by the Siamese army in 1827. If it gets in your way you can refer to That Dam Stupa – which is exactly what it’s called.

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Our tour took us first to Buddha Park, 25 km out of town, which is a somewhat bizarre place. Opened in 1958, and with so many proper temples around, one wonders why they felt the need to create a kind of Disneyland to Buddha. None of the buildings is sacred.

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Weird. But they do sell great barbecued bananas.

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Back in to Vientiane, and time to see some temples. Pha That Luang is a reconstruction of a temple that was destroyed in the Franco-Thai War and was rebuilt after the Second World War.

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Nearby is the Lao Tripitaka Research Centre, another temple/library where the monks learn and study.

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and the temple at Wat Sisaket – built in the early 1800s.

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In the centre of the city is the Patouxi Gate, built in the 1960s to commemorate the country’s struggle for independence from France. Amazing view from the top!

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Then we had a trip around the food market. At times you needed a strong stomach…

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Our final sight in Vientiane was the fascinating – and sad – COPE centre. This is a museum/visitor centre relating to the prevalence of the use of prosthetic limbs in Laos due to the amount of unexploded land mines. It makes for a sobering visit.

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The next day we flew to the beautiful city of Luang Prabang for three fantastic days. We stayed at the wonderful Xienthong Palace hotel, which was perfectly located by the banks of the Mekong – and why not, it was the last residence of the Lao Royal Family!

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The centre of Luang Prabang is very small and everywhere you want to go is easily visited on foot. Our first port of call was to visit Wat Ho Pha Bang, a Royal Temple completed in 2006 to house the Phra Bang Buddha image.

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It’s stunningly beautiful.

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With ornamental nagas

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exquisite architecture

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ornate decorations

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moody windows

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majestic columns

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and picturesque views.

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Next we went out of town to visit a silkworm factory – here are the little blighters

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and this is where they make clothes and material out of the silkworms’ hard work!

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Back in town, we visited the Wat Xieng Thong, a very striking Buddhist temple that’s now over 450 years old.

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I particularly like the ornamentation on this pink wall!

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One of the fun aspects of Luang Prabang is that there’s a good variety of bars and restaurants for an enjoyable night out!

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and I can definitely recommend:

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The next day was mainly devoted to a delightful Mekong River Trip. I could bore you with hundreds of photos of the Mekong. Here are just a few.

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During the trip we visited the Pak Ou Caves, and had lunch nearby. The caves are full of miniature Buddhist sculptures, and make quite an extraordinary sight in that particular location.

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At sunset, we did what all tourists to Luang Prabang do, and that’s to ascend Mount Phou Si and watch the sun go down over the city.

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After the sun has descended, so do the tourists, into the waiting arms of the stallholders of the Night Market.

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and our favourite watering hole, the Opera Bar. (This, however, is the Xieng Muan Garden Restaurant, also very nice!)

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On our final day we got up early to offer alms to the monks. You do this by giving them lumps of sticky rice. Sounds neither appetising nor healthy, but it’s a tradition that goes back a long way. The rice is cooked like this

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Then dried like this

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And then the monks all file out of the temple

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and collect the rice, that has been given to them by the people, in their shoulder bags

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It is then taken back to the temple kitchens for the monk chefs to prepare it into something pallatable for breakfast.

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This particular temple houses an Emerald Buddha.

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It’s actually made of glass but I don’t suppose that matters.

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I caught this boy looking wistfully out of the window. I often wonder what he was thinking. I’m not sure he was happy with his lot. I wonder what has happened to him.

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There’s a school nearby, which looks surprisingly modern in comparison with the simple lifestyle of the monks.

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Later we took a trip out to the Kuangsi Waterfall Park

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which also houses the To Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre

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and those bears have a great, safe time!

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The waterfalls are beautiful and are a great place for people to relax.

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Coming for a swim?

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At the end of the day we headed to the airport to get our flight to Hanoi, more of which in a few weeks time! On the way we stopped at a rather sad little craft village where desperate villagers made all sorts of desperate attempts to sell you their rather desperately underwhelming products. Wasn’t a great experience, to be honest.

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Mind you, it was worse for the rats

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And there you have it – Laos in a nutshell. I remember its beauty, its tranquillity, and its sense of humour, which you could see everywhere!

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This is where you go for remedial treatment for venerteal disease – nasty!

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I didn’t fancy the testes of tea

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Two more things – incredible spiders!!

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and the usual quirky sights – novice monks everywhere

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hard-working fishermen

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vintage cars outside restaurants as a promotion feature

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egg delivery by moped

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beware of the bridge!

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Thanks for accompanying me on this lookback of a few days in Laos. Next regular blog will (probably) be back to the theatre programmes and some shows I saw from November 1982 to March 1983. Stay safe!

 

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Jordan – Amman, Mount Nebo, Karak, Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash – November 2008

Having shared the delights of Japan and Jersey with you, now it’s time for Jordan. We went there on a tour in 2008 that continued on into Syria – but more of that some other time. Jordan’s a beautiful, friendly place, full of amazing sights.

What do you think of, when you think of Jordan? Petra, right? Naturally. But I’m going to take you through these holiday snaps in order, so we start off in the capital, Amman.

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Our first visit was to Mount Nebo, where Moses got to see the Promised Land but got no further.

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There it is – the Promised Land (in the distance)

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Amazing mosaics in the church in Madaba

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Then we negotiated the windy road up towards Karak

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with the extraordinary Jordanian landscape

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until we got our first sight of the castle at Karak

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Which is great fun to explore!

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But you were right the first time – it’s all about Petra.

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To get to the exciting part of Petra, you have to walk down a narrow path called the Siq.

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And after a while you’ll get your first glimpse of The Treasury

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And then your second glimpse

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and your third

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getting nearer

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almost there

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and finally, you see the Treasury in all its glory!

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It’s as though you’ve opened layers and layers of gift wrapping until finally getting to the big present!

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See how massive the building is in comparison with the heights of the visitors!

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Petra enchants you with its other-worldness

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The mosaics are remarkable

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And I was so grateful for this kind gentleman to wander into my shot to make it complete

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Straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. Talking of which:

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That’s the famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom. We’re now on the road to Wadi Rum.

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A desolate, desert landscape en route, but when you get to your destination…

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There’s always a bedouin to make you some tea.

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Ever wondered what it might be like on the surface of Mars?

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More dramatic landscapes

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that conceal an abundance of ancient art

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After overnighting in a tent, we were on our way to Jerash, the Pompeii of the East.

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That’s the ancient Hippodrome.

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But there are numerous amazing sights in the ruins of this Greco-Roman city.

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Including some musicians who played Amazing Grace for us on their bagpipes. They needn’t have bothered. I was only grateful they didn’t go on to perform Scotch on the Rocks.

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It’s nice just to get lost amongst the ruins

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After Jerash we followed the road north into Syria – but those photos are for another blog post. In the meantime, here’s our driver and our poppet pocket rocket space cadet tourism policeman, who accompanied us everywhere we went, looking concerned.

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Yes he does look about 17. And, as always, all destinations give opportunities for quirky photos.

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So we say farewell to Jordan

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Thanks for accompanying me on this little jaunt around Jordan. Next blog may, or may not, be another return to some old theatre productions in the summer of 1982. Stay safe!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Jersey, 1995

Still with J, and almost – but not quite – abroad, it’s Jersey. I’ve been there twice, the most recent time was in 1995 for two weeks of summer sunshine – and it really was glorious. Most interesting, however, was that our visit coincided with VE Day – which in Jersey meant the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the island. As you can imagine, they celebrated big style!

So what do you think of, when you think of Jersey? Probably things that I didn’t photograph! But try this for size:

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The Jersey flower industry is an important part of the island’s economy. And they make the island look beautiful!

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I was surprised to discover the island has a really chic little racecourse

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And somebody made a lot of money that day!

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It’s an island of lovely beaches

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Castles… (this is Gorey)

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and coastlines

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But watch out for those waves.

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That craggy coast can look austere at times

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Here’s St Brelade’s Bay, where I went on hols in 1982

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But St Helier is where it’s at. And, as I said earlier, we were there for the 50th anniversary celebrations!

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The place was packed and very excited

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We were there when the Prince of Wales arrived

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And the marching bands played