This trip came as a surprise to us. We hardly returned to the same country which we travelled to on the following year. Originally, we planned to visit Nepal in December 2017 as we were invited by Princess Roshana to participate in the enthronement ceremony of her son (who is a reincarnated Buddhist master well known in Nepal), which will be held at the Bodnath Stupa. However, in November 2017, she informed us that the ceremony might be delayed. So, Dharma Sister Kan suggested that we could visit Melborne in Australia instead. She asked Christie to help arrange the tour, as the latter works for Chan Brothers Travel. Next, we were told that the summer in southern Australia would be hotter than the usual weather in Singapore. So, I suggested casually that maybe we could go to Vientiane in Laos instead, where the weather could be more cooling. Meanwhile, we could also catch up with Serd again; he was our tour guide for our visit to Laos last year. This was how this tour came about.
On 18 December 2017, 24 of us took a flight from Singapore to Vientiane. On the following day, we had to wake up very early to catch a domestic flight to the southern most part of Laos, Pakse in the Champasak Province, which shares its border with Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. I saw an interesting airplane with two huge propellers on its wings and it was my first time taking an airplane of such design. The taking off and landing of the airplane were both steady and nice.
I sat next to a window on the airplane, with one of its wings clearly visible outside my window. When I saw the propeller spinning at high speed and its leaf blades started disappearing right before my eyes, I suddenly realized the meaning of “form is just emptiness”.
Pakse was highly recommended by Serd in view of its rich history, especially Vat Phou which was built around the same time as Angkor Wat in Camdodia; they were only 200km apart from each other. Serd told us that Angkor Wat and Vat Phou were built by the same king in the past. Of course, the many famous waterfalls on the Bolavan Plateau were equally attractive to us. Besides, this tour would certainly enrich the contents of our new X-Tour book on Laos.
When we arrived at Pakse, we came to the Mekong River which runs through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The water in the river appeared yellowish and muddy. When our boat reached the resort located just beside the river, the water in the river suddenly became very rough. At this juncture, someone whispered to me, “Master, are the dragons here to welcome you?”
We stayed at the river resort for two days. This mind-training tour was indeed very relaxing, with no itineraries planned in the afternoons. So, we just did our retreat at the resort when we were not going out.
One morning, we went to Vat Phou. It was built in the 11th century and listed by UNESCO as one of the world heritage sites in 2001. However, due to the lack of government funding, it simply remains a ruin. It was in a much poorer state compared with Angkor Wat of Cambodia and Borobudur of Indonesia. Even its main temple was badly damaged, with only a few pillars left standing and some broken walls. We did an Avalokitesvara Practice within the temple with no roof above our heads; the sun was above our head and the wind was blowing around us. Quite a few Dharma Sisters wept during the prayer. It was indeed very disheartening to see a once majestic looking ancient Hindu temple being reduced to the current state of ruin; this is impermanence.
When we returned to Vientiane, we went to the Pha That Luang of Laos (Big Stupa) and did a Medicine Buddha Practice there, followed by circumambulation of the stupa. The sunlight seems alive, with the sun beams shining towards me several times, and a triangular shape formed by sunlight appeared right above our group like a parasol, shrouding us. It was just an inconceivable experience.
Our cameras and handphones captured many rainbow lights around Tad Yeuang waterfall on the Bolaven Plateau. Without fail, the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and the Dharmapala (protectors of the Dharma) always kept us company during every X-Tour. This world is just a playground to them.
We did a White Tara Practice while cruising along the Mekong River. We did an Avalokitesvara Practice at Vat Phou. We did several rounds of prayer at the river resort and Bolavan resort. We did Medicine Buddha Practice at Pha That Luang and circumambulation of stupa. We did a Heart Sutra Reversal Practice at Mecure Hotel in Vientiane.
This time, the temperature of the local weather dropped by 10 degree Celcius, lower than the weather forecast provided by the Meteorological Department of Vientiane. It was only 10 degree Celcius at night when we were in the Bolavan Plateau. We were shivering as it was very windy and cold. The owner of the resort told us that it was the coldest weather to them in the past 10 years. We had to put on our winter clothing.
During this entire mind-training tour, we did nothing else but prayers. All the places we went were blessed by the lights of Buddha and the rain of Dharma. My homage to the Sun Moon Light Buddha.
31 December 2017, in Singapore (it has been raining cats and dogs the whole day).
Pha That Luang (Big Stupa)
Tad Yeuang Waterfall
Posing with the Manager and chef of a Café
Doing White Tara Prayer on Mekong River
A Huge Buddha Statue Overseeing Pakse Across Mekong River