It was one of those scorching, stuffy, sweat filled days in Laos. All days during the rainy season in Southeast Asia resemble one another, anyway. You can’t escape the heat; it’s with you from the moment you wake up early in the morning and remains until you go to bed late at night. The second you leave the house you feel as if you were breathing not air but as though you were filling your lungs with hot water. A moment later you notice sweaty patches under your armpits and on your back. You haven’t done anything yet, the day has just started, you’ve only just got up but you feel as if you’ve been doing tough physical exercise for at least 2h non-stop. And in Southeast Asia the air always smells of, I don’t know what… the tropics, I guess.
It was one of those days. We were staying in the beautiful historical town of Luang Prabang which is full of gold adorned temples and orange-robed monks walking the streets. We’d just left the house for a day of sightseeing and as soon as we shut the door behind ourselves, we felt the overwhelming need to drink a fruit shake. The fruit shakes in Southeast Asia are made of freshly squashed tropical fruit, mixed with milk and ice. All natural and refreshing. A real life-saver on a day like this.
This was the first thing to achieve. Get a shake and survive the morning scorch. We went to the centre following the streets we had already discovered the previous evening when we’d arrived. As we were looking for a cafe selling those dream-like refreshments, I spotted an old woman with a basket on her head, holding a little boy’s hand. Her face was all wrinkled and her body bent; she must have been around eighty or ninety, but she was confidently placing her steps and the large basket she was carrying on her head didn’t trouble her in any way. I thought this whole scene extremely beautiful and decided to approach her to ask whether I could take a photo of her and the child, but she proudly refused. We walked off and continued our pursuit of a fruit shake.
We were walking through some dusty narrow alley when a cacophony of sound reached our ears and diverted our attention from our early-morning venture. We forgot about the drink and decided to follow what sounded like a large group of people playing music, talking, laughing and having fun. We poked our heads out from behind the corner and as soon as that happened, we were grabbed by our elbows and gently directed into the centre of this gathering.
We were sat at a plastic table with a parasol in the middle and somebody brought us some Fanta in 1l bottles. Then the man who invited us to join the party came out to the middle of the dusty yard and said a couple of words in Lao. Everyone laughed and clapped their hands. We looked around. There were more tables like ours and almost all of them were full. Everything was decorated with the traditional Laotian orange and yellow tiny daisy-like flowers threaded on sticks and strings. We were the only Westerners in sight. A live band started playing and we saw a ceremonially dressed couple walk in. We realised we were in the middle of a Lao wedding. The bride wasn’t dressed in a white lavish dress, which you might take for granted in the Western world, but wore a pink silk skirt (called a sinh) and a pink silk sash hung over her shoulder, covering a white blouse. All was decorated with gold. The groom was also dressed in silk – a cream coloured blouse and matching baggy trousers (salong).
We looked around once more. It seemed that everyone was familiar with the couple but ourselves and we couldn’t really understand why we got invited to this celebration. We thought it must have been a mistake and we felt embarrassed. We decided to go. Now looking back, I regret not staying until the end. We will probably never again witness anything of the kind, but at the time our European awkwardness got the upper hand over our traveller’s curiosity and we walked out.
I found it surprising that the whole event took place in an open dusty courtyard, where everyone could technically walk in and observe. There was no privacy, it was in the middle of the town and there was no fence to screen off the wedding from random nosy looks of passer-bys or tourists. Laotian people are well known for their friendliness and hospitality but even taking this into consideration, I was astonished how easily we got invited. No questions asked. Just sat us at a table and let us join in.
As we took another cruddy alley that led us out of the yard, we spotted this old woman cooking on the street. She was preparing a meal for the wedding (!) and allowed me to take this photo.
written by: Ania
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