Click on the photo to see the Laos album
I started my travels in the Lao capital Vientiene, which is almost right across the Mekong River from Nong Khai. It must be one of the smaller capitals in the world. You feel a European influence on the city and there certainly is a large concentration of foreigners about. Still there is not a Starbucks or McDonalds in site, which is just fine by me. My first three Lao meals from street vendors were rather mediocre but I finally got a winning meal, the scrumptious Steak Lao, at Makphet Restaurant. The restaurant also helps out street kids so there is an added feel good factor. Besides the food, another difference from Thailand is that there is midnight curfew. I found a really nice rooftop bar along the Mekong and made friends with some of the locals over Beer Lao. They said the curfew is not so strict and if you do want to party ‘til the wee hours it is still possible. The guesthouses pretty much close up at 11pm so if you get in after this you have to roust someone up. At more than one place I stayed at in Laos, at night one of the guesthouse staff or family will be sleeping in the lobby on an air mattress in a pup tent. My biggest excitement in Vientiene was when I finally became a millionaire! Before you get too excited that was in Lao kip, which is about 8400=$1USD, and I blew the whole wad.
After a day and half I left for Luang Prabang on the VIP bus. It is fairly flat around Vientiene but this soon gave way to hills and then mountains! The trip really is quite scenic and it was nice to be doing it during the day. Laos is nowhere near as developed as Thailand and villages and vehicles were few and far between. It is only a 400km journey but with the bumpy, mountainous road with many hairpin turns is a nine hour ride. As pretty as the scenery was, after that long in Asian sized seats I was ever so happy to arrive at Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is also on the Mekong and has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site because of its numerous temples and probably because it is so quaint and beautiful. As a result commercial development is limited but there certainly is a tourism industry. It did not take long for me to really fall for this place. It has a friendly, laidback vibe, is very clean and there are no shortage of sites to see in the area. Oh the cost of living is a treat too. I found a decent guesthouse room with double bed and private bath, 50000 kip or about $6USD.
One of my favourite things to do in LPB was to watch the procession of novice monks receiving alms at dawn. People sit or kneel on the sidewalks waiting for the monks with their offerings, usually sticky rice. A long lineup of novice monks files by and humbly receives the offerings. It was touching ceremony.
Another highlight is a Lao cooking class I took at one at a popular LPB restaurant/cooking school. This was more on the gourmet end of the food spectrum but it was not as complicated to make the dishes as I expected with most based around a handful of key ingredients. It turned out I was the only for the evening session so I got to cook 4 dishes and then had to try eat this all on my own along with the ubiquitous sticky rice. It was delicious and I rolled out of there with a distended tummy, a guide to Lao cooking and a better appreciation of the cuisine.
The town is fairly flat and really good fun to bicycle around. The town is centered around a mini mountain that seems to pop up out of the flatness of the valley. It is fun to climb up to the top to see the Buddhist temple that is built there and take in the panoramic views of the area.
Laos will certainly be high on my list of places to explore more and I definitely would love to return to Luang Prabang. If you get a chance check it out but shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, we’ll just keep it our little secret 😉