Food and familiarity in Luang Prabang

When I did my round the world trip a year ago, Luang Prabang was one of my first stops. Unfortunately for me that meant that I was still in the phase of my trip where my homesickness was overwhelming and I felt pretty unable to appreciate anything about my surroundings. At that point, as soon as it would get dark all I would want to do was either go online and talk to someone from home or go to bed alone. I became withdrawn, unhappy and not at all myself. It was a bad time for me to be visiting somewhere that I’d previously heard brilliant things about. While I was there I got a massage, went to the night market and then for a few beers before being reluctantly dragged to the bowling alley (it’s the only place open past 11.30) whilst silently battling with the urge to cry. The first week of my trip was not at all easy.

As soon as I got over those feelings (around a week later) and started to actually enjoy myself, I regretted my time in Luang Prabang, and anywhere else up until that point. I knew I hadn’t appreciated things as I should have, and I vowed to go back and do that some day. That’s one reason I found myself back in Luang Prabang on this trip (well that, and the fact we had to cross Laos to get back to Thailand anyway so it seemed a shame not to stop there). This time it was a completely different and much more valuable experience.

By the time I left Vietnam, although I had had some brilliant times there, I was happy to leave. I had become sick of the mopeds and the chaos and was craving somewhere quieter and more chilled out. Luang Prabang was perfect. I was so happy we factored in a few days there instead of squeezing in Vang Vieng too.

We woke up on our first morning there feeling weaker than we had felt on the entire trip. It wasn’t surprising considering we hadn’t eaten anything since midday the day before (the shops had been shut by the time we arrived there the day before) and were severely dehydrated. We practically crawled down the road, praying for somewhere to serve us food! eventually we found a chilled out bar with decent prices and a vast menu. We were sold. We ordered a feast of bagels and salad and I was most happy to realise that the cheese in the bagel was actual cheese, not the standard plastic crap I’d become used to! From there on we realised we were in for a treat in Luang Prabang – the food was absolutely amazing.

One of many amazing meals

One of many amazing meals

From that first meal to cakes from the bakery (Joma) down the road, to a 4 cheese (actual, proper cheese) lasagne from an Italian round the corner and then several random items we picked up from the night market. These included mini pasties. I don’t know what they were but they were cheap and delicious. We tried a few things – some good some bad but all so cheap it didn’t matter. When I’m travelling and eating out, food is a big deal to me – it can really make or break what I think of somewhere. The lack of selection in Nha Trang, Vietnam, for example really got us down as we didn’t have a decent meal the whole time we were there, it was expensive and it was a very limited selection. After weeks of finding half decent Asian food but not much else I seemed to have regained my appetite in Luang Prabang – and it was a good place to do it!

dessert

dessert

Apart from the food, there is a lot of other things to do in Luang Prabang that I didn’t get the chance to do last time. In fact, just a few paces from the hostel I had stayed in was a brilliant view of the Mekong River. I have no idea how I missed that last time! We had our first Beer Lao at a bar overlooking it (a familiar taste from my 2 weeks spent there last year!) and then headed to the night market for some shopping.

Mekong River

Mekong River

Sunset and Beer Lao

Sunset and Beer Lao

Jess also headed to some waterfalls in the day time (you can get a tuk tuk there pretty cheaply) but I decided to pass as I still wasn’t feeling great from the day before and had seen plenty of Laos waterfalls last time visited. I knew they would be beautiful but sometimes I also know when chilling out is going to be more valuable than forcing myself to do something when I’m too tired to appreciate it.

Night market

Night market

What I love about Laos, and what I think may make it my favourite country I’ve been to in South East Asia, is that the people are friendly and polite but without pestering you. Of course you get the occasional ‘tuk tuk’ or ‘what you buy?’ but when you say no they drop it. They smile at you a lot, and they use both English and their own language to greet you (I like that, it forces you to learn how to say things their way and not just be lazy ). It’s also not too touristy and not too chaotic anywhere I’ve been. I also have a lot of good memories there (after the initial homesickness) travelling with a good group of friends I made on my Stray Asia tour.

The night market is great. Obviously, as you will find in all markets, a lot of the stalls are selling similar items. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it means you can shop around for the cheapest price. It’s mainly things like dresses, trousers, blankets, bags – the usual things you would expect. It’s quite difficult not to spend a fortune there but with my heavy backpack in mind I restricted myself to one new dress. After our shopping spree we headed to a bar called Utopia for a few drinks.

We had heard it was the place to be, and I had been there before, but were disappointed that it was quite quiet and chilled out for a night of drinking. Apparently it wasn’t always that way, but we had picked the wrong night. One of the attractions is a volleyball court in the centre but personally I’m bad enough at sports when I’m sober let alone when I’ve had a few Beer Laos so I wasn’t going anywhere near it!

After that closes at around 11.30 there’s basically only one option – the bowling alley. However, I had been there before and wasn’t too fussed, and was also feeling pretty tired. However, some friends we had made that night suggested a local bar their taxi driver had recommended. So we ended up in a bar full of locals. I can’t say it was my favourite experience but it was definitely an experience! Basically all eyes were on us. Men who were probably intrigued that we looked so different, and women who did not seem at all impressed with our presence there!

Due to our late night (and a few too many beer laos) we woke up feeling equally as weak as the day before. We stumbled to the same restaurant as before, booked our bus to Chang Mai (another 24 hours…great) and then went back to the guest house. We then felt so ill that we spent a few hours lying in bed before resurfacing for dinner by the night market. Again, just as I did after we went out in Hoi An, I was realising why drinking while you’re trying to travel and cover as much ground as possible in a short amount of time just isn’t worth it. We had basically written off an entire day to a hangover. Luckily we had one more day to see Luang Prabang without feeling like we were going to pass out!

Streets of Luang Prabang

Streets of Luang Prabang

So the next day we checked out and made sure we made the most of our time there before our next bus to Chiang Mai at 5pm. Although I have to be honest, the main thing we did was sample more delicious food from various restaurants! But another thing we did do, which was definitely worth it, was climb up the mountain in the centre of Luang Prabang for a view of the town. It was pretty tough in the heat but the views at the top were great. It was a shame, however, that there was a haze across the town, apparently caused by the burning of crops that happens a lot at this time of year in South East Asia. It’s also responsible for the continually rising temperatures we’ve now started to experience.

Top of the mountain

Top of the mountain

Triumphant

Triumphant

After that we decided to use the remainder of our money to get some spa treatment (I am going to miss cheap massages etc so much when I get home!). We settled on a facial and a body scrub and it came to about £6. Shame our sparkly soft new skin was wasted sitting on a bus for hours on end but it was a nice relaxing experience as always and one that I will repeat a few times before I leave South East Asia.

I left Laos after 3 short days and despite the hangover I really enjoyed my time there. The food definitely helped and this time I got on a 24 hour bus I wasn’t going to make the same mistake as last time and I loaded up with goodies for the journey. I may have been a little excessive. I had a large meal before to left and then bought 2 large cakes, 2 packs of mini pasties from the night market, a big bag of crisps, a chocolate bar, 2 cans of fanta and a vegetable and humous wrap from Joma. I did not want to spend any of the journey hungry and I wasn’t taking any risks! Next stop – Chiang Mai!

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