Zen Namkhan’s Cinematic Charm
Just a short taxi ride from the airport of the Royal City of Luang Prabang – followed by a brief jaunt down a beaten path – is where you’ll find the Zen Namkhan Boutique Resort (ZNKR). Out in this part of the country the landscape is large, wide, and nature is understated but overwhelming. By the time evening rolls around, the Namkhan River and valley begin to disappear, and the mountains close for the night, enveloped in the darkest darkness you’ve ever experienced (it was certainly darker than anything I’d experienced before). I was recommended by a friend to visit this unusual resort, and since. I needed a place to think, write, and – if need be – swim. In short, an escape! And there could not have been a better place to escape to.
One of the leisurely delights of this resort is to see crafts of all sizes – from the small Laos platform boat, kayaks, and even longer racing boats. If there’s rain, watch it swell the river into sandy torrents, and look out across at the dense riverside opposite and try and make out shapes. See layers and layers of mystery as nature folds into itself. Imagine the valley that lies beyond, and then the jungle beyond, as you sit on your dry and lens will not offer up the real heart of the jungle so make do with your own mind’s eye. Then, beyond the mountains, frame the whole view. Know that way up high there is a plateau where small communities darkness arrives. Stay and watch this spectacle that, in all likelihood, you have not seen before.
The brays of elephants might be heard, mixed with long-tailed riverboats. This soundtrack is always followed by evening’s intense chorus of insect, animal and bird, sounds that remind you just who really belongs here in the jungle lands of Laos. Nor is it time to switch the iPod on and seek the protection of familiar sanctuaries. Instead you must become the movie, and facing the river, from the generous hotel balcony, you can – with no exaggeration – imagine all cinema beginning right here.
However it might be wise to know what you are entering yourself and your imagination into, so once hung over this part of Southeast Asia, and to revisit the calamities and catastrophes that were brought upon it, including the sufferings of Laos, I suggest reading the very three books I brought Marguerite Duras’. The North China Lover. The second tome, although not Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, whch, when read within this jungle backdrop, might just have the power to terrify you all over again (in case you have read it already). Then, just to underline the aberrations played out in this part of the world, read Michael Herr’s Dispatches, a non-fiction work that describes the author’s experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. It may give you something more to think about at the night market on the main street of Luang Prabang, where sorts of small objects and bracelets made from the exploded bombs, and unexploded mines, still discovered in the regions around here.
But what about the atmosphere of this glorious hotel that is now my and discover 2-storey dwellings, a restaurant serving Lao and Western food, a yoga area, the tantalizingly seductive organic pool (try swimming in the monsoon), all of which sit under wide traditional grass roofs. But be careful. This getaway is not competing with the sophisticated hotel resorts of your average tropical paradises. This is the rebirth of space you once might have entered somewhere else in your life. To swim and then lie along the edge of the eternal organic pool is to entertain winning photographer to fudge the shot and capture an image suitable for glossy magazines published in Singapore! Instead the atmosphere quietly, with some insistence, steps in, wraps around you, and then the darkness of night simply leads to the most exquisite mornings. The sun burns off the rolling clouds and you can, if you are lucky enough, breathe differently. If you wish for more drama you can rewind in your mind the famous scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and imagine as one of those Chinook helicopters comes screaming down the river (with those thunderous rotor blades), carrying the dead, the wounded, the grunts and the reporters. High and wide is the shot, followed by the sound of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash”, and an army boat coming out of the bushes along the river. But such drama is no longer needed and action is all there already, for you to make yourself. So don’t accept imitations. If you are of cinema history then you’ll understand. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I’ll be back!” And when I do return, I will take that walk the other way, with the owner Monsieur Delorme. We will carry with us a gin and tonic each. Back along the path that leads into the resort is where the owner has situated a bench. We will light up a cigar – a small Cohiba, or a Villiger perhaps – and we’ll settle down to the main feature once again, as we watch the most intense darkness take over the valley, jungle and mountains, all in the space of about 90 minutes. Of course, the length of this film is ultimately yours to decide. Write by Roger Connely…