My first day in Vientiene, before I met the monks, I did what I always tended to do in somewhere new – I go out to explore! I pick up a map sometimes, if I find one in the hostel or kiosk etc. or even online sometimes. Not here though.
So I wandered from my hostel, down roads, turning here and there trying to keep in mind where I was going to find my ‘breadcrumbs’ back but that rarely worked!
Hey hum. I always find ‘my way back home’…
I always got lost in the UK so this is nothing new for me! I have no sense of direction like N-S-E-W, the sun or where I’ve just come from – I even have problems knowing from a map where I am/need to go! Just me, a traveller maybe.
I found shops and restaurants to try later on, temples I called in as I came across them, and found myself by the river or coast (I wasn’t sure which at first, but a river it turns out with sand islands in a low water area …)
I came across a couple of young men sitting on the grass in the shade and got chatting (I can’t remember how!) and ended up sitting a while chatting about them and me. They found it unusual that I had no map and didn’t care, that I trusted to get back safely somehow. They were an American visiting his Belgian friend who was staying in Laos, working and learning, and his friend visiting. They invited me to an event in the area, a meeting at the English school on the outer area of the city, and I said I might do the next day.
I sat down with them and we chatted about travels, how to get from here to Chiang Mai by boat and bus, cheaper ways and more fun ways than flying, and how I get around map-less. They find me ‘brave’ for getting lost and just wandering the towns and cities I visit! I find it easier and fun, exciting but feel quite safe. There are always taxis at a push and I usually carry a card from the hostel I’m at!
Later on as I walked along to the river front, I then bumped into a couple with pram and roller skating child in Union Jack helmet, and we stopped briefly to chat. They work here, originally she is English but lived Perth from 11; he is Irish (not English), and their daughter just started at the Vientiane International School.
I wandered, turned back towards where I thought the hotel was, and eventually got back for a well earned drink in the bar, sat on the street outside watching people come and go. It was a nice hotel, here, opposite a temple and awoke to the 3 am bells calling monks to prayer. This is usual, getting up so early, praying and then going out walking the district for donations of food and money by the locals, and this is then their breakfast. They share what they collect with the poor and needy of the area who come to the temples.
I saw them one day preparing the food they’d collected, some people sitting round waiting and didn’t realise until I learned how it worked, thinking there was like a church event on – a little party! I also found one biggish temple with food on the ground, on leaves or something – rice, vegetables and things – all along the walls about a metre apart, some of it half eaten, others covered in ants and insects – and no doubt some of the starving animals (cats and dogs) would also share this, it being ground level! I found this odd but interesting.
The monks have duties allocated daily – sometimes they have to be up first and ring the bell for morning and evening prayers, or preparing the food for visitors, themselves and the teachers or head monks.
One thing I had to keep in mind is that monks cannot touch a female ever! I am a huggy person or shook hands with some people, but obviously not these, when I thanked them for their help.