So after my 1 night of “luxury” i booked myself back into a hostel. I chose Xayana capsules hostel because of the location. The reviews i read about the hostel were pretty bad but i asked to see the room and bathrooms and they were clean and that’s all that counts. I’m paying 50,000 KIP for the bed which is 1/3 of what i was paying for my “luxury” accommodation…so that’s 4 pounds a night / R57.
The ancient town of Luang Prabang is situated in northern Laos and has a population of around 50,000. Luang Prabang has an unmistakable French influence. Baguettes, croissants and wine cafes line the main street and half of Europe are on vacation here. Monks wonder the streets in burnt sienna robes. The temple drums sound at various times of the day, beginning at around 4am. The locals waking before dawn to prepare offerings for the alm. The entire town is early to bed and there is a curfew at 11.30pm. The bars in town close at that time as well and any backpackers looking for a late party can go to a bowling ally just out of town where they can play ten pin bowling until around 2am. Everyone goes there every night but i have been acting like so much of a granny lately that i love the 11:30pm curfew haha. I did on one occasion make it the famous bowling ally for a friends last night in Luang Prabang and after a few drinks the bowling becomes very competitive…good fun!!
These pictures of the monks are out of focus as i was testing different settings on my camera, but i just love them anyway so thought i would share.
Luang Prabang, like every tourist town, has an amazing night market. From silk scarves, lots of silver jewellery, beautiful handmade items and not to forget the most important thing the food. For the first few nights we ate at this amazing buffet on the street. It cost 10,000 KIP (80 pence / R11) for a plate you can full with vegetarian food and paying a little extra for some meat. What a bargain!!!
I have spent the good part of 2 years looking into this South East Asia trip so i already knew the few things i wanted to do in Luang Prabang, cooking, trekking and i also wanted to sign up with the Living Land Farm and have an interactive hands on experience working on the rice paddy’s. We normally buy instant boxed rice, microwave it for two minutes and it is ready to eat. But do you know what it takes to cultivate, harvest and prepare rice before it is ready to eat. It takes a lot more than two minutes in the microwave
Every where you go in Asia there are rice paddy’s. Rice is the ultimate foundation of everyday life in Asia, they have rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I learnt…how to select the seeds to plant, I ploughed the paddy’s while knee deep in thick clay mud with the help of resident plough Susan the water buffalo, i planted the seedlings, harvested the crops, beat out the rice husks, de-husked the rice grains, ground the rice and learnt how to make sticky rice. It was an amazing experience but hard work. They use no machinery, its all done by hand and with wooden contraptions they have made. I don’t think i will be changing jobs and becoming a rice farmer any time soon….I’m far too lazy for such hard manual labour.
One of the things i decided that i really want to do in every country i visit is a cooking class. I booked my class at Tamarind cooking school. As with the previous cooking school (and i think this is the norm), we were taken to a local market and instructed on the various herbs and other ingredients that locals purchase for cooking. I have to say that Laos food is probably the strangest food I have ever seen or tasted. I’ve attached a few pics i took at the market.
When our teacher told me we were going to stuff the lemongrass I kept thinking that it was a crazy idea. Lemongrass looks like a big spring onion. How do you stuff that? But he sliced it a few dozen times and created this bendable cage like thing to stuff with chicken and herbs. Bizarre and delicious. Other things I cooked were Fish steamed in banana leaves, i cant even describe the amazing flavours in this. I didn’t think that i would enjoy it but it was one of my favourite dishes. I also made an eggplant dip which i made waaaaay too hot even for me and i love hot food!!!! One of the dishes i did not like and didn’t even end up eating was the Buffalo salad…not sure if it was the idea of buffalo or the taste but i wasn’t a fan. Oh and dessert was Purple sticky rice with coconut sauce and fruit….OMG heaven!!!!!
One of the best things to come out of the cooking class is that i got on really well with the chef (prob cause i was the youngest in the class and he is also young). Anyway i asked him where i could get a really good traditional Laos stew and he started to tell me where but then he said he could make me one. He asked if i wanted to spend a day on his family farm and then we could make the stew. This is exactly what i wanted to get out of my experience travelling…i want to get away from the tourists and hang out with the locals as i think this is when you really learn things!!! But sadly when Monday rolled around and it was time to hang out with him it was not what i wanted. I met his family, they spoke no english so it was a lot of smiling and nodding, but they were really sweet, he also taught me a lot about Laos people and their culture, things i would not have learnt if i had not spent the day with him. We shopped for food at the local market and then cooked a traditional Laos chicken stew but then he started asking me if he could come back to South Africa with me and we can open a Loas restaurant together…ummm no i don’t think so!!! Then on the ride back to my hostel he must have asked me about 50 times if he could kiss me, every time i said no but these boys do not get put off that easily, he continued to ask me over and over again. Not at any point did i feel unsafe or anything like that. I know he was just pushing his luck asking me, not once did he try force himself on me or anything, he was respectful but did not understand that when i said no it did not mean 5 min later i would change my mind. Anyway i just put it down to another experience.
One of the days a group of us hostel “housemates” headed out to the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall. The falls area in a series of cascades and turquoise water pools of differing sizes over many different levels and quite a large area. We spent a few hours swinging on the rope into the water and the boys were brave enough to jump off the cliff.
At the foot of the falls is a black bear sanctuary for bears which have been rescued from poachers. They all looked happy and content playing with their numerous swings and each other.
Finally the day arrived of my 2 day trek. We got a lift by car 40min out of Luang Prabang, then we went on a little boat ride to get to the place to start our trek, the only way to get to these tribes is walking as this is basically the jungle. The first day was an uphill hike for 5 hours, stopping on the way up at various tribe villages. I found the trek at times really hard, i was breathing so hard that i thought my lungs would burst, my unfitness coupled with the fact that i was not wearing hiking shoes and it had rained on and off making it very slippery, made it even harder for me.
There are 3 main tribes in Laos…Khmou, Lao and Hmong. Our guide explained the difference between each tribe, they speak different languages, pray to different “spirits”, their houses are built differently etc etc. it was really interesting. The children, from some of the tribes that are higher up in the mountains, do not and will never go to school. The men spend the days hunting in the jungle, anything and everything is edible!!! The women look after the children and clean the village. They have a women’s union in the bigger villages and during these meetings they decide what job each women is responsible for in the village. Every village we passed and went through had loads of cats and dogs running around…sadly these are not pets ;-(
We stayed in a Khmou village. I think 90 or so families live in this village. Our guide gave us free time to go and explore the village. You do feel bad being a tourist and walking through the village whilst everyone, from an extremely young age to old age is hard at work. So i decided that the best way to interact with the locals is just sit down and offer to help with their work and so that’s exactly what i did and although no english was spoken, i just indicated to an old women that i wanted to help her. she had a massive grin on her face and every time i finished doing what she had given me she looked at my face to see if she should give me more work.
The children started gathering around at this point and although they do not know english they would repeat everything i said, even the very young ones. it was really cute. Words cant explain how cute these children are. They find joy in anything and everything and they have nothing, they are dirty, they will not get a good education, they will never travel the world and most will never leave their villages. They do not have toys. I did not see one toy that wasn’t something made out of bamboo. What shocked me as well, as i guess i hadn’t really thought about it, is the babies do not even wear nappies. nappies is a luxury!!!! And the love between these children is so heart warming. A little 5 year old carrying around a 1 year old on the hip like a parent would, or tied to their back walking up a mountain…the strength (physically and emotionally) of these children is amazing.
For dinner our host family prepared us traditional Laos food. I like to try everything and normally would eat everything given to me so as not to seem rude but dinner that night was awful. We were served seaweed cooked with onions and garlic. Seaweed out of the river. it was green slimy goo, you could not eat it with a spoon, you had to pick it up with your fingers and try pull it apart and eat. i cant even describe how disgusting it was. This is what they have for dinner every night!!!!!!! As we were guests they also served us some soup which was vermicelli noodles with some sort of vegetable that grows a lot in the mountains, they said its pumpkin but i would describe it as a very very watered down, white type of pumpkin with half the amount of taste a pumpkin would have.
Being in this village makes you realize how spoilt we are. They have no electricity and by 6:30pm its pretty dark. Some people have a generator that they put on at 8pm and which goes off at 10pm, just so that they can watch a little bit of TV. That night we played cards by candlelight and by 8:30pm we were ready for bed. We slept in the guest house which had our own little “rooms”, we slept on a blanket on the floor. It was a really tough night. The floor was hard and I was cold.
The next morning after breakfast (which thank goodness was normal – egg baguette) we trekked a little uphill again and then it was downhill back to our starting point. I really enjoyed the hike but with my shoes i think its best i don’t do another one. Staying in the village with the tribes gave me very mixed emotions, i feel every time i experience something like this i look at my own life again, i guess its only natural. Going forward i just feel there are so many things i want to change about my life. I want to give more of my time to charities and i’m not just saying all of this, i have been looking into charities for ages in Durban as I’ll be studying full time again for a year and figured i wont have money but i will have time and i may as well take 1 day out the week to help a charity in some way.
In total i spent 10 days in Luang Prabang and i did enjoy it here. Some people were like “what 10 days…why so long!!!” and i prob shouldn’t have stayed so long as i am running behind schedule a little but i also don’t want to be mad rushing through everything. I’m just taking each and every day as it comes..and i’m loving it!!!!!! What i’m trying to live by is this….I’m on a long-term trip and i can afford to spend extra time in places, so I’m not going to leave a place i love before i’m ready. I’m taking my time, doing what feels right to me and my memories will be all the richer for that!!!
Its Thursday morning and i’m up early again, next stop is a 6 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng in Laos 😉 I’m making my way closer to the Vietnamese border.
Below are pics taken during my Luang Prabang stay, i couldnt decide which pictures to share as i loved them all so much so there are loads but i hope you enjoy them as much as i did taking them.
On my dear Finnish friend Jenni’s last night we decided to finally try out the traditional Laos barbecue. The pot sits on top of a cement block filled with coals. You start by taking a slab of fat and rub it all over the top of the grill. Finally, throw the meat on top and watch it sizzle. While the meat is cooking, add vegetables and vermicelli noodles to the broth. And there’s your soup! Yummy and good fun!!!!!