We leave Luang Prabang and arrive in Vientiane, Laos. Being the capital of Laos, the city is busier than Luang Prabang. Alongside fancy French-style government buildings, there are many magnificent wats.
Dev read a blog post about Wat Pa Na Khoun Noi, aka “Forest Temple”, where some previous tourists went and spent a few days at the temple living among the monks. This would be good preparation for our upcoming 10-day meditation retreat, so we decide to try as well.
We arrive at Forest Temple. It’s quite simple compared to the other temples we’ve seen. A loud prayer bell rings, and all the dogs on premises start howling – quite an unusual site – and this goes on for 30 seconds until the bell stops ringing. Wish I had caught a video of it, but I was just surprised in the moment! I’m a little hesitant at the idea of staying here for two days…
Since no one has greeted us after a few minutes of standing around, we ask one of the monks exiting the temple if he speaks English; he doesn’t, but he leads us into the living grounds to another monk who does. We ask for the abbott by name, who will ultimately be the one that gives us permission to stay at the temple. The monk doesn’t seem to recognize the name. Eventually he figures out who we must be talking about, and tells us that we are at the wrong location, that the Forest Temple is far far away, maybe 20 km. Funny how 20 km is so “far” away here, back home that would be a 15 minute drive. We ask for contact information for the abbott, but he is unable to get us any. He tells us to come the next day, Sunday, during a meditation session for newcomers, where we can ask another monk who will probably be able to help us.
After this inquiry, we have a casual chat with the monk where he mainly asks us questions. He’s curious about why we want to meditate, how we are able to travel for many months, what our professions are. Then at some point he abruptly ends the conversation and leaves. Perhaps he has something important to do.
The next day we arrive in the late afternoon for the meditation session. We do one hour of meditation consisting of sitting, walking, then sitting again. After the meditation session, we ask one of the monks if he has any contact information for anyone at the Forest Temple. He says he might, and takes our email addresses, telling us he will email us the contact info.
A few hours later, the email arrives. I call the number; unfortunately it is out of service. I’m ready to give up at this point, but Dev does not.
After some reflection, I try to think why I’m hesitant. After all, aside from money, what do I have to lose? I’m spoiled by the expectation of being able to call or email someone, and getting a yes or no answer quickly, efficiently. But that’s not how it’s working out here. Before mobile phones, many people had to travel long distances, not knowing whether they would be able to accomplish their goal. Some people had to do this by foot, and potentially waste a whole day. We were being driven there in a tuk-tuk in 40 minutes.
So I decide to see it as an adventure. Go directly to the temple and seek accommodation. This is a true adventure; not knowing what will happen.
We check out of our hostel, and take a tuk-tuk to the Forest Temple.
When we arrive, there is a lot of excitement in the temple as people see Dev and I hop out of the tuk tuk. They don’t get many foreign visitors here being so far from the city. We are immediately directed to an elder monk sitting towards the front of the temple.
He asks us what we are here for. We tell him that we are seeking the opportunity to meditate with the monks for two days. He asks where we are from – and asks to see our IDs for some reason. I hand him my driver’s license. He finds a piece of paper, and flips it over to the blank side; he ask us to write our name and nationality down (and I’m guessing its a good sign he needs our info, authorities sometimes require hosts to retain info of foreign guests).
But then he then explains to us that unfortunately they cannot accommodate us, as there is a big celebration starting tomorrow, throughout the entire week. He tells us to pray to the nearby Buddha statue, and enjoy walking around the temple before we leave. We pay our respect to the Buddha statue, and walk around the temple grounds.
There are lots of chickens here.
The temple is beautiful.
We meditate for a bit in the temple; a monk takes a picture of us.
Walking along the grounds, there is a smaller temple in the back.
Freshly cut flowers, in preparation for the celebration.
After enjoying the serene beauty of the temple and statues, we leave. On the ride back, I feel a little burned that it costs us $20 to get there, and another $20 to get back, so $40 total invested in this adventure.
But we tried! It’s a lesson where I learned to be more open to taking such risks, and challenge my desire to want answers conveniently. Sometimes you have to find out answers the hard way.