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A 13 day trip offering Spiritual Growth and Service in the Tranquility of Laos.
Dec. 31 2008-Jan. 12 2009

Laos is a country permeated by the ancient spirit of Theravada Buddhism. This manifests in the gentle, peaceful demeanor of the populace, the large monastic community and the beautiful temples. Most Laotians consider themselves Buddhist and every man is expected to spend at least 3 months as a novice in a wat (temple). Many stay for longer periods, and reenter several times during their lives. Temples educate, feed and house any poor young person who wishes to enter as a novice, so they are popular and populated.

Every morning at 6:00 monks begin a walk around town from their respective temples, alms bowls swinging open to receive sticky rice, money, and whatever the local people have cooked for them. The completely silent procession of saffron robes and women sitting on the sidewalk giving alms is breathtaking. We will join in this ancient sacred ritual that dates back to the time of the Buddha. We will also participate in afternoon chanting and meditation at various temples.

Laos is a landlocked country a quarter of the size of its neighbor, Vietnam, but sharing much of its history. It has a beautiful lush landscape, with numerous mountains, rivers and waterfalls. Sparsely populated and heavily forested, the northern, mountainous area hosts farming communities of indigenous hill tribes, who also maintain homes along the Mekong and Nam Than rivers. Laos is also known for its delicious and fresh food and unique arts and crafts, including woven goods and jewelry. A developing country who only recently opened to tourism, it has the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world from the Vietnam war.

Our first stop will be to the sleepy capitol city of Vientiane. It is sparsely populated, with wide, pleasant boulevards dotted with decaying French colonial mansions. It is the home of many wats including Wat Sok Pa Luang which offers Vipassana instruction, herbal steam baths and massage. We will also visit the lively marketplace and view performances of traditional dance and music.

Our next stop, just a short flight from Vientiane, is the smaller town of Luang Prabang. Arguably the most beautiful town in Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang has such an abundance of architectural treasures that the entire town has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This is where we will spend the majority of our journey. Luang Prabang sits in the mountains in the north, is framed by two rivers, and hosts thirty-two temples and a correspondingly large monastic population. During our stay in this unique locale, we will explore the stunning architecture with local experts, visit the old palace and museums, meet local arts and craftspeople, and tour the vast array of tranquil temples.

We will also explore the countryside, enjoying a beautiful short trek to the gorgeous Kuangsi waterfall, visit local villages, and take an excursion by boat up the Nam Ou river to the Tamting Cave, housing thousands of Buddha's brought by devotees. We will tour (and support) the nearby Elephant Rehabilitation Camp, take a class in making traditional food, visit some local Hill tribes, and take an idyllic boat ride up the Mekong to visit the sacred Pak OuBuddah cave.

Throughout this trip Vipassana teacher Carla Brennan will offer meditation instruction, lead meditation sessions, discuss Buddhist philosophy and provide spiritual guidance. We will learn to integrate Buddhist approaches and perspectives to bring greater depth, ease and openness while traveling together as a community. This trip is an opportunity to explore our spiritual growth as well as explore the culture of Laos. Experienced meditators as well as beginners are welcomed to join this journey.

Whenever possible, Carla will lead an early morning session of silent meditation with short teachings and discussion. Some of the basic Buddhist principles will be covered including the 4 Noble truths, the Brahma Viharas, and the 8-fold Noble Path. She will also teach qi gong (breathing and movement exercises) sessions to help relax and vitalize our bodies and minds. Impromptu teachings and meditations will be offered “on the spot” as we visit Buddhist’s shrines and temples. We will also join the monks and novices in their chanting practice in the afternoons. Some evenings there will be opportunity for a casual “debriefing” including sharing, discussion and short meditations. Individual guidance in meditation will also be available.

The service projects with BBM  as well as our visit to the Cooperative Orthonic and Prosthetic Visitors Center (a programs for prosthetic limbs for Laotians with missing limbs, many due to explosives leftover from Vietnam War) will allow us to practice “dana”, the Pali word for generosity, by giving something back to the Laotian people.

Carla Brennan has been practicing Buddhism for over 30 years in the Theravada, Zen and Tibetan traditions. She is a teacher with Vipassana Santa Cruz and with other Bay area groups in California and regularly offers dharma talks, classes, and retreats. She is also conducts wilderness retreats, teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and is a former psychotherapist.  In accordance with the tradition of freely offering the teachings of the Buddha, Carla is not receiving payment for her teaching.  At the end of the trip, there will be an opportunity to make an offering of “dana” to Carla.


laos

Itinerary 2008

Day 1 Dec. 30 2008
Arrive at SFO to check in 11/2 to 2 hours prior to departure.

Day 2: Dec. 31 2008
Depart at 12:10 AM  aboard Eva Airways for Tai Pei.

Day 3: Jan. 1 2009
Tai Pei/Bangkok/Vientiane (B,L,D) Happy New Year! We arrive in Tai Pei, make a transfer for our flight to Bangkok, connect to our flight to Vientiane, Laos, arriving at 6:40 PM. We apply for entry visa upon arrival and meet our Laotian local guide, and are transferred to Novotel hotel.

Day 4: Jan. 2 
Vientiane (B) Begin our day on our private bus with a guided tour of the National Museum for an overview of Laotian history. Then  we embark on a city tour, beginning with Watt Pakeo, the original home of the revered Emerald Buddha. On to Anousavari  known as the “Vientiane arc de Triumph, then we visit Wat Sisaket--the house of thousands of graceful Buddha images, and the Pra Thatluang stupa, where the the relic of Lord Buddha is kept. Our last stop is the colorful market with a wide array of woven silk textiles. In the evening we visit a famed local restaurant that features Laotian specialties and a  folk dance performance.
 
Day 5: Jan. 3
Vientiane (B, L) Today we visit the Wat Sok Pa Luang temple in Vientiane,  famed for instruction in Vipassana meditation. A forest temple, well-known for its herb garden, it was created by a well known Buddhist nun, Mother Khow Keow, who will lead us on a meditation walk through the garden. We will partake in their herbal steam bath, perfumed by  thirty two medicinal herbs that  soak the skin as they waft through the wooden floor. Afterward we will enjoy a cup of herbal tea and lay down for a gentle massage in the forest. Besides a visit to Wat Sok Pa Luang, we’ll visit the Makphet training restaurant for street children and also the Les Artisans Laos center in Vientiane to see the trainees working and invite you to support them by purchasing their crafts. Our final visit is to the Cooperative Orthonic and Prosthetic Visitors Center to review their programs for prosthetic limbs for Laotians with missing limbs.

Day 6: Jan. 4
Vientiane/ Luang Prabang (B) Depart for a flight to Luang Prabang, A beautiful French-Colonial style World Heritage town registered by UNESCO. Check into our hotel in the ancient capital of the Lao Kingdom, beautifully situated between two rivers, and surrounded by forest enshrined hills. Here time appears to have stood still, giving the visitor an vision of the old Asia. After checking into your hotel, we will take a walking tour down the Mekong riverside, including the local market, and finally visiting the Wat Xieng Thong, built by the local king in 1560 and  considered the most beautiful in Luang Prabang. Evening meal of local specialties.

Day 7: Jan. 5
Luang Prabang (B) Early morning we start with a predawn walk in the temple district to participate in the daily ceremony to earn merit by giving rice to  the monks who file down the street with their begging bowls. Return to the hotel for breakfast. Morning  tour of  several  important local temples: Wat Visoun, a temple for the Vietnamese migrants, and Wat  Ahman, where giant puppets representing the ancestors of the local people (Grandmother and Grandfather) are stored. In the afternoon we begin our service project with Big Brother Mouse. Late afternoon chanting in a local Wat.

Day 8: Jan. 6
Luang Prabang (B) Breakfast followed by a visit the National Museum housed in the former Royal Palace. The collection of former sovereign artifacts and treasures reflect the richness of the Lao throne from the early Kings to last sovereign. Then we scale the holy Phousi mountain, climbing 238 steps, and providing an overview of Luang Prabang town and visiting the stupa at the top. After wards we will have  lunch at a charming cafe overlooking the Nam Khan River. Afternoon return to our service project, and then to another beautiful Wat to participate in afternoon chants.

Day 9 Jan. 7
Luang Prabang (B,L) A fun, educational and supportive visit to the local Elephant Camp, established as an NGO in 2003 to offer a retirement community for retired elephants from the logging industry. We are introduced to the project, then take a trail ride to  the Tad Sae waterfall. Lunch at the camp, followed by an easy kayak trip (about 3 hours, class 1-2) with stops at interesting locales, and arrive back in Luang Prabang  in the afternoon in time for chanting.

Day 10 Jan. 8
Luang Prabang (B) Morning visit the Akha Hill tribe  people, then we  travel a short distance to a ethnic Hunan village of weavers. Afternoon return to our service project at Big Brother Mouse and our late afternoon meditation. Evening performance of dance and music at the Palace.

Day 11 Jan. 9
Luang Prabang (B, L) This morning we gather at the Tum Tum Cheng Restaurant and Cooking school for a fun and fascinating workshop in the history of local cuisine, while learning to prepare local delicacies. We begin with a visit to the market, and work our way through 5 courses, culminating with lunch. Afternoon return to Big Brother Mouse and chanting at another local Wat.

Day 12 Jan. 10
Luang Prabang (B) Morning excursion by boat up the Nam Ou river, one of the most beautiful in Laos. At its juncture at the Mekong river we’ll visit the Tamting holy cave, housing thousands of Buddha's brought by devotees. Following this, we continue on to Ban Shanghai distillation village, where they produce alcohol from sticky rice. Return to Luang Prabang for lunch by the Mekong River. Late afternoon we join the monks and novices for their late afternoon chants at the Wat Nong temple. Proceed back to the Palace grounds for another venue of traditional dance.

Day 13 Jan. 11
Luang Prabang (B,D) Breakfast, followed by an excursion overland to a beautiful short trek  to the stunning Kuangsi waterfall. We have lunch there, then perhaps enjoy swimming in the falls. On return we stop at Ban Sangkong, a village making paper from mulberry trees. Evening meal in the home of a local family, noted for their excellent cooking, and a traditional Baci (blessing) ceremony to wish you luck and happiness in the coming year.

Day 14: Jan. 12
Transit: Return to the USA or visit Thailand (your return flight is routed through Bangkok) or book or optional 4 day, five night package to Angkor Wat in neighboring Cambodia.


Included:
  • 2 nights at the Novotel Hotel in Vientiane
  • 8 nights at Lao Wooden House in Luang Prabang
  • Flight from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, and all transfers from hotel to airport.
  • Breakfast each day, 3 lunches and 1 dinner.
  • Excursion to Kuangsi waterfall, Ban Sangkong paper-making village
  • Traditional Baci (blessing) ceremony
  • Excursion by boat to the Tamting holy cave & to Ban Shanghai distillation village.
  • 3 performances of traditional dance.
  • Cooking class of local cuisine
  • Visit to traditional Hill tribe and weaving villages
  • Visit to the local Elephant Camp including a trail ride to the Tad Sae waterfall and return by kayak.
  • Visit to the Royal Palace, the holy Phousi mountain, Wat Visoun, Wat Ahman, Wat Xieng Thong, and an orientation walking tour of Luang Prabang.
  • Guided tour of the National Historical Museum, City tour of Vientiane, Watt Pakeo, Anousavari monument, Wat Sisaket
  • Visit the Wat Sok Pa Luang temple including a meditation walk, herbal steam bath, a gentle massage.
  • Visit to the Makphet training restaurant and Les Artisans Laos center, and the Cooperative Orthonic and Prosthetic Visitors Center.
  • Donations to Big Brother Mouse and the Orthonic and Prosthetic Center.
  • Pre-trip Information. Services of tour organizer/leader Made Surya as well as local guide in Laos.

Not Included:
  • Tips and dana for meditation Instructor
  • Meals where not indicated
  • Laundry
  • Visa fees and airport taxes
  • Insurance

Cost: Ground portion:$1756.00 Air Portion: $1490.00 (as of 5/20/2008) based on two people sharing a twin or double-bedded room. Single supplement available ($236.00). Minimum 10, maximum 16 participants. Please note that price of airfare may rise due to fuel costs.

Deposits/ Penalties: A $350.00 refundable deposit reserves trip space. A penalty fee of $75.00 will be charged for all cancellations received in writing. After tickets have been issued airline penalties will occur. No refunds will be made after departure. Final payments are due 60 days prior to  departure.

Trip leader: Madé Surya BS. While a graduate student in Economics at Udayana University in Bali, founded the Mountain Climbing Club, now boasting about 200 members. He has been organizing and leading study tours for 21 years and has assisted scholars and film crews in Exploring Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Greece and Italy. He has previously led many active tours, and remains a favorite guide and friend to former clients. Surya has published essays in Hinduism Today, and is currently researching traditional Balinese Healing techniques.

Airline Options: Participants may depart and return at any time. Participants are urged to sign up early and make plans regarding dates, as we are traveling during High Season. You  may wish to opt for an upgrade to Eva Evergreen Class. The cabin is small and quiet, situated in the nose of the plane. The seats have a long pitch and recline with footrest and private armrests. These seats are limited and should be reserved ASAP. Current price for upgrade (which may change) is $333.00. Contact our travel agent, Wendy Simon at Pacific Harbor Travel, Santa Cruz (local calls: 427-5002, or 1-800  435-9463) for further details.

Terms and Conditions: In case of unexpected situations, the tour leader reserves the right to cancel or postpone any event. Festivals and special events will be incorporated into the itinerary as optional excursions. Anyone who leaves the tour at any time FOR ANY REASON is on their own. There will be no refunds for missed tour activities and no substitutions.

Accommodations: Are based on double occupancy. We stay in clean, comfortable locally-owned hotels with private baths. In Vientiane we are at the 3 star Novotel Hotel. In Luang Prabang we stay in a simple, newly renovated historic Guest House, located in the heart of the Old Town. Those needing additional comfort may upgrade to the Apsara Boutique Hotel for an additional  $240.00 (double).

Medical: This trip is not extremely rigorous, but neither ourselves nor our organization assumes liability regarding provisions of medical care. Participants are urged to check their insurance coverage to be sure it is adequate. You must be in good general health; it is vital that persons with medical problems make them known to us well before departure. The trip leader has the right to disqualify any member from the group at any time if considered medically necessary or to avoid endangering the group, or if the participant in question is physically unfit for the rigors of the trip. Trip members should have a personal supply of medications which they may need. At this time no inoculations are required to enter Laos or Cambodia, so it is up to you and your doctor.

Responsibility of Trip Members: Luggage must be kept to 44 lbs each, the maximum allowed by domestic flights. Trip members are held responsible for being in sufficient good health to undertake the trip. Trip members are responsible for preparing for the trip by studying the itinerary and pre-departure information packets sent by Danu Enterprise and for bringing the appropriate clothing and equipment as advised.

Additional Options: We are also offering a four night visit to Angkor Wat in neighboring Cambodia  which can be enjoyed at the beginning or ending of this trip. Trip members may also join us for our tour, immediately following, in Vietnam. Contact us for further information.

For further information contact Danu Emterpriese, (831) 476-0543, danu@earthlink.net







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