● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Friday, 5 December 2008

Luang Prabang

1st – 5th December

Having survived the 6 hour boat journey, with only one moment of panic (even the driver looked worried!) over some rapids, we made it to Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang (LP) is nestled on the sacred confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It is an Unesco World Heritage city and possibly the most photogenic city in the whole of Southeast Asia.

Some more haggling got us a room in the Seng Phet Guesthouse for 100kip, a bargain for a nice room in upmarket LP. We spent the next day wandering round the town, taking in the sights and enjoying the culinary delights that were on offer. Eating at Tamarind restaurant, we tried their tasting platter of real Laos food. Sticky rice, combined with Jeow set our taste buds racing and persuaded us to try another cooking course to expand our Asian repertoire further. We signed up for a class in a couple of days time. Continuing our meander through LP, we saw how a strong French influence remains. From the architecture to the food stalls on the street, you could be in rural France - instead of selling noodles and rice, there are baguette sellers galore, giving us a taste of home for 10000 kip!

We met up with Guy and Jo again in LP, and together with Jonny, Ally and Tony we decided that a curry was in order. A proper Indian curry that is, with naan bread, tikka masala and all! Highly recommended, although maybe ask them to go easy on the chillies, Neesha’s Indian restaurant is less well know than the ‘Nazim’ chain in Laos, but the food was superb. Guy and Jo recounted their day – they hired mountain bikes and cycled to the nearby (35kms one way!) waterfall. They gave us the idea to do the same the following day – how hard could it

Cycling to the Waterfall

Up bright and early (10am!), the search for a bicycle began. It was quite a mission – nowhere was willing to hire out a mountain bike for the day without us joining a guided tour! Countless offers of gearless shopper bikes came flooding our way, but there was no way we were going to cycle 70kms on one of those! We had wanted to hire a scooter for the trip, but motorbike rental to ‘foreigners’ has been banned in Luang Prabang Provice due to the high number of accidents involving foreigners. We won’t mention the number of Laoations that we have witnessed falling off their scooters and the number of spray painted outlines of motorbikes on the roads (marked by police every time there is a crash!). Eventually we stumbled upon a couple of half decent (we thought) Trek mountain bikes parked outside a guest house. The lady was willing to rent them out for 50000kip a day, but told us that if we were stopped by the police, we had to say that they were our own bikes and that we had brought them from Thailand! It turns out that you’re not supposed to be able to rent any form of 2 wheel transport as a foreigner, (city shopper bikes excepted) and the police like to empound bikes they find in the hands of tourists! Crazy!

After picking up the bikes, getting a couple of baguettes made up for lunch, we set about finding a way out of town that avoided the police checkpoint… seriously, we had to sneak out of town like criminals, all because we wanted to cycle! After 2 hours of more ups than downs, we made it to the waterfall. Out of puff, Ady almost lost it when a man told him to pay 2000kip to park the bicycle against a tree!!! We didn’t swim in the falls as it was quite chilly, and the thought of another 35kms in wet shorts wasn’t appealing. The scenery was spectacular however and worth the ride.

Setting off back towards LP, we realised how much uphill we had ridden on the way there. We coasted the first 4km without needing to pedal! After stopping off at a local village to give away some pencils and erasers to the children, we had picked up an escort for our journey home. Somehow, the local children managed to fly past us on the uphill stretches, even though their bikes had no gears!

By 5pm we were home, saddle sore and tired, but at least we hadn’t been impounded! Our arrangement to meet Ally and Jonny in the evening couldn’t rise us from our bed – we had a quick bite to eat from a food stall then crashed out for the night.

Tamarind Cooking Course

Lao food is quite different to that of the other countries that we have visited so far. Sticky rice is the staple, and it is eaten with all kinds of dips and sauces. We learned about the ingredients and delicacies during our trip to the local market.

Jeow is a spicy salsa type sauce, made with roasted chillies and a variety of other ingredients depending on what type of Jeow you want to end up with. Ady used red chilli, tomatoes, garlic and shallots to create a fiery paste. Sam used green chilli for a milder flavour. After we made the Jeow, and cooked the sticky rice, it was time to eat!

After our snack, we made a number of other dishes including steamed fish, lemongrass stuffed with chicken (yes, you read it right – check the photos!) Buffalo Laap, and a tasty Lao stew. All the dishes were delicious and by the end of the day we almost needed to be airlifted out of the school! A big thanks to Joy at Tamarind for sharing his knowledge. We’d recommend the course to anyone interested in Lao Cuisine.

The next day it was time to move on to Vang Vieng, what we discovered to be a little bit of Ibiza in the heart of Laos.

No comments:

Visitors Since 19th May 2009...