Showing posts with label Laos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Laos. Show all posts

Friday, June 20, 2014

3 days in Luang Prabang, Laos - elephants, bears, waterfalls, and the Mekong

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is lush, quaint, and improbable. This magical town of butterflies and baguettes seems to exist on dreamlike terms - an island of civility in the savage jungle of Laos. Sometimes a pinch is justifiable to confirm the reality of it all. The green hills, gorgeous colonial buildings, and kind villagers all combine to form a thriving UNESCO heritage city that is Southeast Asia with the charming vestiges of a distant French occupation.

High in the clouds, Luang Prabang holds many treasures for the travelers willing to make the trip. Aromas from fresh bakeries mingle with the crisp mountain air along quiet streets lined with quaint guesthouses and colorful noodle stands. The easiest route to Luang Prabang is on a flight from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways, though domestic flights from Vientiane near the Thai border are also possible on Lao Airlines. Another popular route is by bus from Vientiane. A Laos visa can be obtained upon arrival and costs $35 for U.S. citizens.

Three days is barely enough time to take in the full experience of Luang Prabang, but if planned correctly, you will have time to ride elephants, swim in waterfalls, and take a lazy trip down the Mekong river.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Meals - Noodle Soup - Luang Prabang, Laos

We approached the Mekong river in Northern Laos on old derelict bicycles. My bike had only one working gear, and keeping it in second became my raison d'être on these morning rides. The mist hung low, just above the ground, as though we were navigating through clouds in some high remote corner of the world. We were famished. The night spent high in the hills smacking at winged nuisances and cursing their stings proved tiring, and we sought sustenance. A woman standing behind a cooking apparatus, perhaps fashioned out of old motorcycle parts, came into view. She appeared to be tending a stew of some kind along the river. As we approached her to inquire about meals, a look of excitement spread across her face. Her emotion changed quickly though, and sheer panic suddenly widened her brow. It was though someone told her she won the Lao Lottery, only to realize that she had lost her winning ticket. She murmured something that sounded like an apology, and took off at a brisk pace towards the village. We all looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Where to now? 

As we mounted our bikes and fastened our helmets, the woman came racing back, arm and arm with a young boy. He was winded, and when he finally caught his breath, he told us one thing, while sheepishly staring at the ground, "We have noodle soup."  

And like that, he was gone. He turned around and raced back towards whatever it is Lao children do on a weekday morning. Our hostess waited for a moment, scanning our faces for acceptance. We looked at each other, nodding up and down while smiling. She showed us to our table.  

We each sat in one of four brightly colored stools, childlike in size, around a table overlooking the halcyon Mekong River. Across the river, monks draped in orange robes marched up and down steep steps to the river's edge. Every trip down was taken with great care, slowly, as each balanced a large bag on his shoulder. They would grunt as they threw the bags into a long and narrow boat and returned to the top to repeat the process. Some joked around with each other while others raced back and forth, as though they had somewhere important to be later in the day. Their grunts and laughs fell into a distant rhythmic beat.  

Our table had a weathered blue plastic caddy on it, filled with "Chillie" sauce, two bottles of which were undecipherable. One depicted a menacing looking squid, tentacles wrapped around a chili. Judging by the intensity of the Squid, the sauce likely put out high numbers on the Scoville Scale, and only the bravest at our table committed to sample it. We named it "The Menacing Squid." Just moments after being seated, 4 bowls of piping hot noodle soup were gently placed upon our table. Our hostess took a few seconds to smile at each of us, with her head cocked slightly to the side, genuinely appreciative for our existence on this earth. We each smiled back. 

In Asia, the kindness of the locals has me consistently awed. Explaining this level of benevolence to those back home is rarely executed properly and I end up saying corny stuff like, "They treat you like a celebrity." The truth is, 99% of the people that you meet are genuinely excited to see you. It thrills them that you have taken an interest in their country and culture. This runs counter to the collective wisdom that Americans shape through international travel mishaps. The story is usually the same. Americans go to Europe, deal with a few rude Parisians, pay too much for a club sandwich in London, and write off foreign travel as an expensive endeavor dealing with rude foreign cultures. They opt to spend the rest of their foreign trips in some over-manicured all-inclusive Caribbean purgatory. Clearly, they have never dealt with the utmost hospitality of a Laotian woman serving bowls of noodle soup on a river bank. And at $1 a bowl, it is hard to call this home cooked meal expensive. 

Each bowl was served with a side plate of fresh accompaniments, likely just picked earlier that morning in a garden just out of view. The plate contained bean sprouts, cut limes, some sort of edamame, fire red chilies, and a whole grip of fresh herbs. The bowl of soup itself sat there, just being glorious. I threw in handfuls of each side ingredient, saving the limes for last. The broth contained fresh herbs like cilantro and basil, with some thinly diced green onions thrown in for good measure. The steam raised off the face of the broth slowly and peacefully, decorating the air around us with the trappings of a sensory delight on this cold depraved morning. The fresh Thai basil and star anise began to open up my sinuses and I vowed to get serious with the dish.

I stirred in my side ingredients, added a bit of chili sauce, and placed my thumb and forefinger on my soup spoon, pondering the plan of attack My cohorts were in deep slurp mode, eyes watering from an overcompensation of "Meancing Squid" hot sauce. I grabbed my light wooden chopsticks and decided that mouthfuls of noodle would be first. The noodle soup had thicker noodles than pho, yielding slightly to the bite, but putting up enough fight to let you know they were hearty. I twirled the noodles around my sticks, taking the time to stab a beef ball or two that floated to the surface of the massive bowl. The beef balls exploded with a hot intensity in my mouth. They were meaty and salty and perfect. I had an uncharacteristically divine urge to stand up and shout, "Halleluiah" down the Mekong at the small narrow fishing boats that plied the river for catfish the size of Volkswagen Beetles. It was a near religious experience.

Now through, the time was nigh to test my mettle for heat. It was time to tangle with the "Menacing Squid." I stirred in a few drops at first, slowly graduating to an inescapable Scoville prison. At this point, my friends and I looked like a pride of red hat ladies fresh from a Steel Magnolias screening. Eyes red and watering, we laughed and slurped while the morning faded, the mist lifted, and we primed ourselves for the next adventure.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Goodbye Laos

We have officially left Laos.  It will be missed.  Update from Bali tomorrow.

Creepy Crawlers and Elephants - Laos

There is an ancient Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times."  I feel that, in 2010, much of our world society lives within the vicinity of this curse, especially those that stay in the jungle of Laos during the rainy season, as we have done.  This lodging is in the country of the country, in the clouds with tigers and snakes.  Our vehicle broke down twice just getting there.  Luang Prabang has been coined an inland island due to the expanse of rainforest jungle that buffers it on all sides.  For a night, we made our home in this very jungle.  It was terrifying.    

We should have known when we arrived.  Thumbing through our check in hotel materials, we found a rather disturbing page about a creature called an "Irma."  The passage stated that while she may bite a human, she only does so out of self defense.  Irma is more scared of you!  We were told that Irma will be a contributing member of our bungalow, eating mosquitoes and other bugs that may harm us.  Irma was given personification by this entry, and this granted Irma immense power and damn near invincibility.  How could we kill Irma.  Oh, I almost forgot to explain what Irma is.  Irma is a spider the size of Manute Bol's hot dog finger hands.  Hot freaking mess.

Our bungalow was legit.  It looked out over the dense Laotian jungle, and we could hear the music of unseen beasts serenading with the afternoon storms.  It sat up on stilts, had an outdoor shower, and in the light of day seemed perfect.  We put on robes and high fived.  We talked about shouting at elephants from our balcony and riding tigers down the river.  We ate cashews and fully bought into the charms of rugged luxury.  Until of course, the gates of insect hell flew open.

It began around sundown.  Meagan noticed that her pack was covered with insects.  We lamented this unfortunate situation and cleaned up her bag, eventually blaming it on a half eaten clif bar.  Poor Meagan would later find her bed covered in winged creatures dying a slow death.  Ye gods, we thought, and our faith in the bungalow began to wane.  We shrugged our shoulders and went to dinner.

When I think of terrifying moments on my life, I can thankfully count on one hand.  The alleged devil worshipers that Jeff and I saw in middle school is up there.  The movie Cat's Eye screwed me up pretty good due to the stupid troll.  I once got a very cold uncomfortable feeling in a park where a murder took place.  These are all fairly mundane and hinge on the fulcrum of speculation, with errant imagination feeding the mind like red bull and vodka.  None of my prior terror grooming prepared me for what I saw when I returned to our bungalow from dinner.  I heard my housemates whooping and screaming.  I walked in the front door, looked up and stood eye to eye with Irma, perched on the wall directly above our door. This did not require imagination. This was very real.  And ridiculously terrifying.

During our discussion about whether or not to leave and head back to Luang Prabang.  Something else horribly spooky happened, Irma disappeared.  We looked up above the door, and a void was left that steered our eyeballs hopelessly around the room in panic.  A queasy sort of uneasiness sapped us of our energy.  There was nothing we could do.  I decided to discuss Irma with the manager, and all she said was, "They no poisonous anymore."  I cannot think of a more discouraging response.   I did not ask for elaborations, and we all went to bed.  What transpired was a frequently sleepless night punctuated by a blood curdling scream by Kristin at 4am when she found a large spider on the toilet roll.  We saw bugs we had never seen and heard sounds we had never heard.  We knew Irma was out there somewhere.  Lurking.  I stared at the ceiling all night, finally breathing a sigh of relief when the sun shone through the blinds.  Thanks for not eating me Irma.         

 In the morning, we took in an Alms ceremony, which takes place very morning and involves monks receiving food offerings from villagers.


 Our donation 

 Ryan and I, 6am, yay

 After the ceremony, we were told we must also give water 

 I do not usually like taking pictures of monks because I think it is a bit of a cliche wrapped up in offensive motives.  But at 6am, I dont care about my fabricated integrities.
 Kristin having breakfast 

 Me and our tuk tuk, wearing my famous headwear 

 The way to our place, Zen Namkhan

 Our tuk tuk packed full

 Ryan trying to catch up 

 Our awesome shower 

 The place was impossibly nice at first 

 Great view from the balcony 
We should have known

Laos living

 The ecological pool for swimming 

 fed by mountain water 

 The manager and her gong 


 Suspension bridge next to our bungalow 


 Love this guy 

 Straight up jungle 

 eye to eye with clouds 

 Our walk 

 Furmonster of the day, followed us for at least a mile.  When we stopped, he would stop.  It was pretty funny.

 Nam Khan River 

 Elephant reserve 

 Butterflies are everywhere in Laos, just making the place all the more incredible 

 A strange vehicle 

 We see alot of these, and think they may be homemade cars 

 Cleaning out the bugs 

 stuffed with beef and potatoes 

 tom yam soup 

 Boring pad thai 

 Very tasty Lao chicken dish 

 Banana Pancakes

 Night picture of some wood and the pool 

 Tough reality to come home to


 Bugs in sink 

 Ryan the dockman 

 cruising the river to go ride elephants 


 Feeding elephants 

 All of the elephants were rescued.  One of the elephants was rescued from an existence that included being given copious amounts of extacy to encourage increased logging capabilities.

 They were such good animals 

 I really like this one 

 Leaving the elephant rescue center 

 Baggage Claim at Laos capital  city of Vientiane 

 Lunch at airport 

See you guys later.  Sorry for getting this up so late,  my charger was not working.