Archive for the Laos Category

Laos – Vientiane – a visit to Buddha Park

Posted in Laos, Vientiane with tags , , on May 7, 2019 by gannet39

You’ll see a similar picture of this impressive reclining Buddha on the front of a lot of postcards in Laos. The image on the cards has been made to look quite old, as if the Buddha were an ancient carving, but in fact it’s a concrete statue that was made in 1958.

It’s one of the many unusual exhibits at Buddha Park, or Xieng Khuan in Lao, which means “Spirit City”.

It’s the brainchild of artist, and mystic, Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat who filled the park with images of strange creatures, humans and demons from Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

As there wasn’t much to see or do in Vientiane, other than visit yet another wat, Aki and I went to check it out one day.

The first structure you come to looks like a circular pill box with a bizarre radio mast.

The entrance is through a demon’s mouth. There are three floors inside that you can clamber around. They are supposed to represent earth, heaven and hell.

It’s my least favourite exhibit as there’s nothing particularly pleasant to see and it’s full of concrete dust. The rest of the park is quite fun though, in a twisted kind of way.

Click on the photos to expand them if you’re on a computer.

And that was the end of my time in lovely Laos. I’ll have to go back as there’s plenty of lovely countryside I didn’t have time to see. Got to keep on trucking though. Off to Spain next…

Laos – eating and drinking in Vientiane

Posted in Laos, Vientiane with tags , , , on May 6, 2019 by gannet39

To be honest I nearly didn’t come to Vientiane as it doesn’t seem to have much going for it, certainly in comparison to Luang Prabang. However I felt bad about not visiting the capital of Laos so I came for a couple of nights before heading back to Bangkok. I had a couple of fun experiences in the end though, which made it worthwhile…

My map of Vientiane is here.

Soukvimarn Cuisine Lao (Intermediate A), 133 Chanthakhoummarn Rd, Chanthabouly district, ວຽງຈັນ 01000, soukvimarn.business.site

I came to this excellent restaurant for lunch at the suggestion of my friend Aki.

I can’t remember what we had exactly but I’m guessing it was a chicken salad made with wonderfully fresh and flavoursome ingredients.

And they do a good rendition of Chicken Laap, the national dish.

I do remember however that it was really good and I wanted to try a lot more things from the menu, but time and belly space didn’t allow unfortunately.

Pho Zap2 Thatdam (Elementary B), Rue Phai Nam

As a big lover of noodle soups I was intrigued to try Lao Feuhr, the Laotian version of Vietnamese Pho. Pho Zap is reputed to make the best in town.

Lao Feuhr differes from Pho in that the stock is usually made from pork bones and the noodles are served with pork or chicken rather than beef which is expensive in Laos.

Pho Zap’s version is topped with pork meat and the pork stock features star anise and cinnamon. Fresh herbs, bean sprouts and lime are added to the bowl. Raw green beans, lettuce and whole chilies are dipped in Jeow and eaten separately.

Both these eateries are very near That Dam, an ancient stupa that the Lao believe is the home of the city’s guardian spirit, a seven-headed water Naga.

A few other bits and pieces caught my eye in the area.

La Terrasse (Intermediate B), Th, Rue Nokeokoummane, ວຽງຈັນ

This French restaurant was a favourite of my friend Bev who used to live and work in Vientiane a few years back. She used to come for a steak or a burger and fries as a change from sticky rice. I followed her lead and had a steak with peppercorn sauce and chips which was just what I needed at that point in time.

This next place however was a bit of an eyeopener…

Bor Pen Nyang Bar (Intermediate A), Quai Fa Ngum Street, the riverfront street

I stumbled across this place by accident when I was walking along the riverfront and heard the loud music coming from the top floor of a building, so I went to investigate.

The scene that greeted me was like a bar in a Vietnam war film with lots of local bar girls carousing with men from all over. Not sure if they were working or whether they just like to party but it made for a very sleazy atmosphere. It’s a big place and you can eat as well as drink here but the focus of the room was around the pool table where some serious players, of both genders, were getting their hustle on. Some serious pool-playing skills were on display.

I put my name down on the waiting list by letting the waiter know I wanted a game. I waited for an hour before I got a game which I spent having an interesting chat with a retired British teacher about the life of an ex-pat in Laos. A teacher’s pension goes a long way here apparently. I played two games, won one, lost one, and had my Margarita pinched fairly early on. An edgy, seedy place, just how I like it!

There is one more thing you could do in Vientiane…

Laos – eating cheaply in Luang Prabang

Posted in Laos, Luang Prabang with tags , on May 5, 2019 by gannet39

When I’m travelling for work, I tend to eat out at more upmarket places (see previous post), simply because I can’t afford to get ill. When I’m on holiday however, I’m up for taking more chances…

Detailed addresses are hard to come by in LP but you’ll find both these places on my Google map.

Riverside Barbecue Restaurant (Elementary B+), by the river on Khem Khong Road, near the junction with Kitsalat Road

This is a very popular dining experience with locals and tourists alike because it’s cheap and a lot of fun. It’s the local version of Hot Pot or Steamboat where you cook your own food in a heated stock at the table. The Laotian stock dish also has a hot plate so you can also barbecue simultaneously.

First you pay a set fee to the lady at the till and then she sends a waiter with some hot coals for the charcoal burner on your table.

Then you go to the buffet table to choose what you would like to cook and eat. You can return as many times as you like as it’s all-you-can-eat. My tips are to avoid those little frankfurters and load up on the mushrooms.

The waiter provides some cubes of fat to oil the hot plate and away you go.

Now I have to be honest and tell you I had a bit of a dicky tummy the day after this meal. However I don’t want to put you off as it’s a fun experience and you might have better luck than me. As a precaution, make sure you cook your food well and avoid pre-cooked food that could have been standing around for a while. I thought I had but it may well have been something else that caused my problems. Bon chance!

Unknown Noodle Shop (Initial A), no address but it’s on the other side of the street from the entrance to Wat Sen temple on Sakkarine Road, around the block from Tamarind

You’ll see the stock pans simmering away on the street and the staff and customers sitting outside on plastic stools. The Khao Soi here is described by someone on the web as the best in Luang Prabang, and I can’t disagree.

Apparently they sell out as early as 10am so it’s best not to leave it too late.

If your not averse to playing food roulette, the night market in the alley parallel to Kitsalat Road has heaps of street food vendors selling interesting wares.

And that was the end of my delicious experience of Luang Prabang. Off to the capital Vientiane next…

Laos – eating and drinking at the upper end in Luang Prabang

Posted in Laos, Luang Prabang with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2019 by gannet39

As you’d expect in a popular tourist destination, Luang Prabang has heaps of good restaurants. I’ve put many of them, including the ones below, on this map.

One of the best ones is also where I did one of my cookery classes (see previous post)…

The Tamarind Café (Intermediate B+), Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang, www.tamarindlaos.com, 11am-10pm

This was a favourite place for me to eat in Luang Prabang so I came twice. They focus on making traditional dishes with typical ingredients and do it very well.

On the first visit I started with Miang; a plate of fillings (aubergine and tomato rice pastes, fresh aubergine, green beans, lemongrass, peanuts, garlic, galangal, chillis, shredded lime leaf, noodles) which are wrapped in green leaves.

I think this leaf is from the plant of the Betel Nut, although I’m not sure what it’s called in Lao.

Feeling adventurous I had the Orlam Gai, described on the menu as Luang Prabang ‘Stew’. Based on aubergines, it also contains chicken and ‘local greens’ so I guess it varies according to what’s available.

I was particularly interested to taste the Mai Sakaan or ‘spicy chili wood.’ That I had seen in the market (two posts ago). It was interesting, the wood has a numbing flavour similar to Sichuan peppercorns, but the stew as a whole was just okay.

I’m a big fan of sausages and they offer a selection here. Sai Ur Mur is the unflavoured generic name. Sai Ur Mur Kun is spicy and herby while Sai Ur Mur Kwai is also spicy but made with lemongrass, galangal and buffalo meat.

I also had Cua Het Gati, or Stir Fried Mushrooms, made with coconut milk, galangal and kaffir lime leaves.

This is Soop Pak, a ‘salad’ of seasonal greens and veg tossed with basil, ginger, galangal, sesame seeds and Padaek fish sauce. For the ‘adventurous palate’ according to the menu.

They also have a good range of cocktails. Amongst others, I tried the Mekong Sunset (made with Ahn Sum; an edible purple flower, Lao Lao (rice ‘whisky’), lime and honey), the Tamarind Cooler (okay but not as moreish as my beloved Tamarind Margarita), all to good effect.

I also tried their straight Lao Lao, of which there was quite a selection. The classic Purple Rice was the best, and I quite liked the Honey Lime, but the Starfruit, Tamarind, Banana and Ginger versions are best steered clear of.

This is a good spot to try Laotian food. Nothing blew me away but it was all very interesting.

This next place is probably the best in town…

Restaurant L’ Elephant (High Intermediate B), Ban Vat Nong, Kounxoua Road, www.elephant-restau.com

Located in an old Art Deco villa, this is the most sophisticated restaurant in Luang Prabang, as the French name suggests. I liked it so much that I ate twice here.

The first time I had the Saveur de Laos tasting menu for about £15. Overall it was okay but a bit boring (B-). I was also starting to get tired of eating the same things by this stage.

The menu began with Tom Hom Prak I Leud (Betel Leaf Soup with Diced Beef).

On this plate from the front we have Mok Paa (Fish and Kaffir Lime Leaves Steamed in a Banana Leaf Papillotte), Ping Moo Saille Si Kry (Lemongrass Marinated Grilled Pork Fillet), Oua Si Kry (Steamed Pork Stuffed Lemongrass Stalk) and Kaipen (Luang Prabang river weed with sesame seeds).

This is Kroua Prak Lot Meet (Sauteed Vegetables and Luang Prabang Mushrooms).

And here we have the ubiquitous Laap Kai (Chicken Salad with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Rice Powder).

Unfortunately I wasn’t impressed with the Merlot wines I had (the first in a long time) although the Sileni Triangle from New Zealand was a bit better than the Classique d’Ardeche. They were a little vinegary so I don’t think they store them properly which is strange.

However it was heaven to finish with a balloon of Camus VSOP.

As well as a Lao menu they have a French menu so I came back to eat here again after being mildly poisoned at a cheaper Laotian restaurant the day before (see next post). After a month of local foods I really need something familiar so I went for the ever reliable sausage and chips, Merguez with onion confit, French fries and buttered veg.

Still craving meat I followed up with the Lao Buffalo Steak, basted with ‘Café de Paris’ herb butter and the usual trimmings.

On the first occasion the food had jsut been interesting but this time it pressed all the right comfort buttons. They do a decent Margarita here too.

Restaurant Les 3 Nagas (Intermediate), 18/02 Khem Khong, www.3-nagas.com

This is the restaurant of one of the best hotels in town which is located on the other side of Sakkaline Road. It’s in a beautiful colonial era building.

I’m sure the food is very good here but I just stopped in for an ice cream one day, and to have a peek at the lovely interior.

Their Rosella sorbet was a new one on me (B+).

In terms of bars, I quite liked the top floor terrace of Indigo House www.indigohouse.la, a nice hostel in the centre. They do a drinkable Strawberry Margarita (B-, not real strawberries) and the terrace gives you good views of Sisavangvong Road where the day market is. It’s definitely a good place to be during a rain shower!

Also, 525 Cocktails & Tapas www.525cocktailsandtapas.com has a nice terrace and seems to be a happening spot. The bar of the Avani+ Luang Prabang Hotel www.avanihotels.com is better for a quieter drink.

Laos – Luang Prabang – cooking Laotian food

Posted in Laos, Luang Prabang with tags , , on May 3, 2019 by gannet39

As I mentioned in my last post I took two cookery classes at two different restaurants while I was in Luang Prabang, both of which were really interesting and enjoyable. Not sure if the toque did me any favours though.

I chose them because they started with a trip to the market (see previous post) so we could know something about the ingredients we were cooking.

The first class was with Bamboo Tree www.bambootreerestaurants.com.

I went down to the restaurant first thing and met my fellow classmates; a nice Australian lady and her two sons who were planning to become professional chefs.

Linda the restaurant owner, chef and cookery teacher explained all the ingredients we’d be using.

Here she’s talking about the many kinds of rice in Laos.

All the prep had been done for us thankfully.

But we were hands on for the actual cooking.

Here I’m making Kai Pad Phet; fried chicken with red chilli paste and coconut milk.

The best thing we learned to make was the Oua Si Khai or Stuffed Lemongrass. First you make a cage by slicing through the white part of the stalk at different angles. Video from the second class here.

The cage is stuffed with mince meat (chicken or pork) that has been seasoned with garlic, shallots, fish and soya sauce.

It’s then dipped in cornflour, egg and breadcrumbs (panko in our case).

Finally the lemongrass stalks are shallow-fried before being cut in half and served. A brief video here.

It should be served with Jeow, a chilli paste made with chillis, galangal, lemongrass, fermented soya bean paste and sometimes buffalo skin.

We also made Ho Mok Pa, steamed fish wrapped in bamboo leaf packages held together with toothpicks.

Along with the fish inside the package was lemongrass, dill, spring onion, Lao basil, eggplants, chillis, coconut miilk, fish sauce, shallots and lime leaves.

Next up was Lap Kai; spicy chicken salad.

And here we have Tam Mak Hung; Lao green papaya salad.

To decorate this we were taught a bit of cucumber art. Video here.

This is the finished Kai Pad Phet.

And of course this was accompanied by steamed sticky rice. It should be soaked overnight and then washed in three changes of water. Traditionally in Laos it’s then cooked in a bamboo steamer.

And then we sat down and ate it all. A shot or two of the national spirit, Lao Lao rice ‘whisky’, helped with digestion.

So now I’m a bonafide Laotian chef!

My second class was at The Tamarind Café www.tamarindlaos.com/cooking-school.

Again we met in the morning at their Kingkitsarath Road Restaurant and were taken on a guided tour of Phosy Market (see previous post). After this we were bussed to their dedicated cookery school at another location outside of town.

The classroom is an open sided wooden building overlooking a pond with a kitchen garden behind it.

Growing in the garden, amongst many many other things, were Pea Aubergines, Sweet Basil and some unripe Passion Fruit.

Generally Tamarind seemed better kitted out for teaching large groups. We all had our own charcoal burners for example whereas at the Bamboo Tree there were only two stations for the woks. They could have taught a much larger group which may or may not be a good thing.

Again we had an introduction to the ingredients we were making.

We made Oua Si Khai aka Stuffed Lemongrass again but this time they were only dipped in egg and not flour and breadcrumbs as well.

Lemongrass can be quite expensive back the UK so it was good to hear that leeks, aubergines or courgette flowers could be used instead.

We were taught to make Jeow Mak Ken, a tomato version of the chilli dipping sauce that accompanies rice and vegetables. The tomatoes, garlic and chillies should be charred in the fire first.

They’re then chopped up and mixed with scallions, coriander, fish sauce, salt and lime juice.

The stomach bile was an optional ingredient but I reckon it gave my Jeow the edge.

We were also a new way to squeeze a lime, without getting the pips in your food. Cut three flaps around the edge as in the pic, squeeze each individually then fold them back up and squeeze out the centre. You can control how much you squeeze and you shouldn’t need to wash your hands afterwards. A revelation!

Whether limes usually have pips or not proved to be a controversial issue on my Facebook page. I did some research on the pip question and found that the limes typically sold in UK supermarkets are Persian or Tahiti limes and are indeed seedless. Petite Key Limes, on the other hand, contain seeds.

We also made Mok Pa, a popular dish of fish (catfish for us) marinated in herbs and steamed in banana leaves. Video here.

This time we were taught how to warm the leaf first to make it flexible.

We were also shown how to make a parcel with twine rather than toothpicks.

Also Laap, a minced meat ‘salad’ which is the Laotian national dish.

And of course sticky rice, both white and red this time, which needed washing first.

Again it was steamed in a bamboo steamer.

After our labours it was time to eat our creations.

It was thirsty work obviously.

While we were there occasional torrential rain showers would add to the atmosphere.

Once we’d eaten we went back to make dessert, Khao Gam or Purple Sticky Rice with Coconut Sauce.

Hot water was added to grated coconut which was then squeezed and discarded. This left just the white coconut flavoured water which we then used to heat up some cooked red rice.

After garnishing with fruit jam and some sesame seeds we also added some fresh fruit such as Rambutan and Long Gong.

So you really must do at least one cookery class if you can. Of the two I’d say the Tamarind class was the best organised, most educational and in the best location but Bamboo Tree were good too.

That’s all for now. Tham Keo! Cheers!

Eating out in LP next…

Laos – Luang Prabang – walking round Phosy Market

Posted in Laos, Luang Prabang with tags on May 2, 2019 by gannet39

I took two cookery classes at two different restaurants while I was in Luang Prabang, more of which in the next post. Both classes started with a shopping trip to Phosy Market to look at the ingredients we’d be using, and many more we wouldn’t. On the second visit I saw lots of things I missed the first time, so there’s definitely plenty to see.

Phosy is the main food market in Luang Prabang. The fruit and veg is outside under umbrellas while the meat, fish and dry goods are under cover inside a large building.

It was really interesting to see so many different ingredients and have a knowledgable guide who could explain them.

Here she’s telling us about a common ingredient in Lao cuisine, Mai Sakaan ໄມ້ ສະຄານ, an ingredient that is best described in English as ‘spicy chili wood.’

Mai Sakaan is very fibrous so it should be chewed and then spat out. It’ll make your tongue tingle in a similar way to Sichuan pepper.

Other things were more recognisable such as…

Chillis ໝາກເຜັດ [ma᷆ːk.pʰét].

Garlic ກະທຽມ [ka.tʰíam].

Lemongrass ຫົວສີໄຄ houa sikai.

Banana Flowers ໝາກປີ [ma᷆ːk.pìː].

Bamboo Shoots ໜໍ່ໄມ່ [nɔ̄ː.mâj].

Another kind of bamboo shoot maybe.

Lao Aubergines ໝາກເຂືອ [ma᷆ːk.kʰɯ̌a] and Limes ໝາກນາວ [ma᷆ːk.náːw].

There are many other kinds of eggplants. These are berry eggplant ໝາກແຄ້ງຂົມ mak keng kom or what I’d call pea aubergines.

Green beans ໝາກຖົ່ ວເບີອ mak tua beua.

There are various kinds of gourds. At the top we have the Snake Gourd ໝາກນອຍຍາວ mak noi nyaow and at the bottom is the Angled Gourd or Silk Melon ໝາກໜອຍ mak noi.

These tiny gourds are called Gadawm ໝາກກະດອ່ມ mak gadawm.

Hog Plums ໝາກກອກ mak gawk, mak kok, a sour fruit.

Tamarind ໝາກຂາມ [ma᷆ːk.kʰǎːm].

These look like Oyster Mushrooms ເຫັດນາງລົມ het nang lom.

Here we have banana leaves…

… which are used for making “steamed food” ອາຫານຫນື້ງ ahan neung.

And there were many, many kinds of rice, mostly sticky ເຂົ້າໜຽວ [kʰa᷆w.nǐaw].

Other things were harder to identify and name.

Dill ຜັກຊີ pak sii is a popular herb in Laotion cuisine but I think this might be some other kind of plant, perhaps a river weed.

In other south-east Asian countries this is known as ‘fish mint,’ ‘fish herb’ or ‘fish leaf’ but I don’t know the Lao name.

Scarlet Wisteria ດອກແຄ [dɔ᷆ːk.kʰɛ́ː] aka Sesbania Grandiflora the blossom of which is eaten as vegetable in soups and curries.

Bottom left are I think cucumbers ໝາກແຕງ mak taeng whereas to the right are Chayote mak su, or what I’d call Christophines in a Carribean context.

Above those are a bowl of small Bitter Gourds. Centre left is Pumpkin ໜາກອຶ mak eu.

These I believe are Chayote Greens.

This is Cinnamon and perhaps another kind of Cassia bark.

Here we have what look like eels.

And I think this is a type of catfish.

Can anyone tell me what the follwing are?

In the indoor market the butchery section is not a place for those with a faint heart.

Congealed pig blood or pig blood curd/tofu is used in a lot of soups.

You can buy Buffalo Skin, either with the hair on or hair off.

The same stall sells Kaipen ໄຄແຜ່ນ [kʰáj.pʰɛ̄ːn], from centre to bottom left in the pic; dried sheets of edible green algae from the Mekong, a product for which Luang Prabang is famous. In appearance and flavour it’s comparable to Japanese nori.

This lady is selling me Lao-style fish sauce ປາແດກ [pàː.dɛ᷆ːk]. As Laos is a landlocked country, the local fermented fish sauce is made from river fish.

Back at the restaurant I transferred the contents of this murky bag into a water bottle in order to take it home in my suitcase. I dread to think what it would be like if it leaked!

Now we have our ingredients, let’s get cooking!

Laos – Luang Prabang – wats around town

Posted in Laos, Luang Prabang with tags , , , on May 1, 2019 by gannet39

After visiting several wats in Thailand I was now starting to suffer from chronic temple fatigue. However I’m really glad I took the time to visit Wat Xieng Thong en.wikipedia.org as it really is something special.

Built between 1559 and 1560 it is one of the most important monastries in Laos and a repository of traditional culture. Until 1975, when the royal family was deposed, Laotian kings were crowned here.

The main building is the Sǐm (ordination hall).

It’s decorated with multi-coloured glass tiles that glitter in the sun.

On it’s rear gable is a beautiful glass mosaic of the ‘tree of life’ which has become a symbol of the city.

Other decorations include carved gilded wooden doors depicting scenes from Buddha’s life.

Some black outer walls are decorated with a gold overlay.

A statue of Buddha resides inside.

There are several Stupas (prayer mounds) around the compound.

Next to it are three small chapels called Hŏr.

Other glass mosaics run around the sides of the Red Chapel.

Over the way is another hall called the Hóhng Kép Mîen where the ceremonial funeral carriage for Laotian royalty is kept.

It’s decorated with red-tongued nagas (river serpents).

More mosaics cover the walls.

I particularly love this tree with heart-shaped leaves.

Down the road is Wat Sensoukaram aka Wat Sene which was built in 1718.

It’s nicknamed the ‘Red Temple’ due to its red facade overlaid with gold.

It’s not as beautiful as Wat Xieng Thong but it has a few fun details.

The outbuildings house a standing Buddha, a chapel, a bell and drum tower, and a couple of ceremonial boats.

A short distance away is Wat Siphoutthabath.

It’s fairly unremarkable although it does have some nice carvings on its doors.

The reason to come here though is to climb the ancient staircase up Mount Phousi, a low hill that sits in the middle of Luang Prabang.

It’s not very high but you can get a view of the river and some of the town. Some people say it’s nice to come here to see the sunrise.

At the top is a small shrine built into the rock.

Which is the entrance to a tiny cave.

No doubt a good place for silent meditation.

All this walking about is good for the appetite…

Laos – Luang Prabang – French colonial style

Posted in Laos, Luang Prabang with tags , on April 30, 2019 by gannet39

Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos, now the second city, and is a designated World Heritage Site. UNESCO says that Luang Prabang “is exceptional for both its rich architectural and artistic heritage that reflects the fusion of Lao traditional urban architecture with that of the [French] colonial era”. I’d say it’s a must visit in Laos, much more so than Vientiane, the capital, which doesn’t have much going for it.

I stayed for six days in two separate hotels, both converted residences from the French colonial era. You’ll find them both on my map.

There are lots of other lovely colonial era buildings around. I’ve put them in a gallery at the bottom of the post.

The first place I stayed at, The Grand Luang Prabang www.grandluangprabang.com, was about 5km out of town.

Formerly known as the Xiengkeo Palace this French colonial building was once the royal residence of Prince Phetsarath, the Regent of Laos until the communist takeover in 1975.

It was at this time that the palace became a hotel and modern rooms were added.

There’s a large garden to wander around. You can click on these galleries to expand them.

The palace is set on a bend of the Mekong River and the garden makes the most of the vistas.

The views form the breakfast terrace are particularly nice.

Add a bowl of Chicken Pho to your continental breakfast and the experience is sheer bliss.

The fancy dinner I had one evening was okay too.

Each room of the Grand has a veranda with a view of the river.

You can leave the screen doors open and hear the rapids.

Another reason I choose The Grand was for its pool, which I had to myself as I was there out of season. Heaven!

If like me you love old colonial hotels then The Grand is a true Indochinese experience that shouldn’t be missed.

However, the downside is that it’s a bit of a trek to town. The hotel does provide a free shuttle a few times a day but it’s not always convenient. Much as I loved staying there, after three nights I’d had enough of the constant toing and froing so I moved to another hotel in town…

Villa Maly Boutique Hotel (High Intermediate A), Oupalath Khamboua Road, Ban That Luang Village, www.villa-maly.com

Villa Maly is a private villa built in the colonial era.

It’s furnished in an Art Deco style with a mix of French and British period pieces.

The villa has a small but very lovely garden.

And of course the all important pool.

The staff were lovely and the breakfast was very good.

By way of contrast, the five star Grand was £66 a night (off season, 2017) and rooms at the four star Villa Maly were £55-63. Villa Maly’s pool is 8m by 20m whereas The Grand’s is three times the size at 25m by 20m. Neither have a gym. There are of course many other excellent hotels in town.

There are many other lovely colonial buildings in town. All very obviously French but with Lao touches.

This is one of my favourites.

This French-style house was built in the 1920’s by a Chinese expat who was in love with the colonial style he’d experienced in Hanoi.

Double rooves and the use of wood seem to me to both be Lao influences.

There’s a fair bit of Art Deco around, both old and new.

This beautiful 1952 Citroën II Familiale is parked up outside the 3 Nagas on Sakkaline Road.

Hopefully this post has given you an idea of why Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Now for the wats…

Laos – a slow boat down the Mekong

Posted in Laos, Pakbeng with tags , on April 29, 2019 by gannet39

From Chiang Mai it’s a short hop to Chiang Khong where you can cross the border to Huay Xai in Laos. From there my plan was to catch a boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, the country’s second city. I’d already bought a ticket from Mekong Cruises mekong-cruises.com and they provided a transfer to Chiang Khong.

Crossing the border was a mere formality, I just filled out a few forms and paid out some money for the visa. It’s in everyone’s interests to make it as easy as possible. I met my fellow passengers during the process, a family and a retired couple from Australia, and an English-speaking Russian and his Thai wife, all of whom were pleasant company during the cruise.

My map of the cruise route is here.

We were on the Luang Say cruise, a two day trip to Luang Prabang on one of the company’s long, low-slung passenger boats.

You could get there much quicker on a ‘longtail’, one of those speedboats with the extra long propellor. However, I heard second hand that bumping along on the water for several hours is a good way to end up with a very sore backside.

We on the other hand had soft armchairs and various other comforts, like a bar. There’s a lot to be said for taking your time.

And so our cruise down the Mekong began. My video here.

It quickly became apparent there was little else to do other than watch the riverbank slide by…

…and wonder what was hiding in the intense undergrowth.

Sailing along the Mekong was a big tick on my bucket list, something I’d unconsciously wanted to do since I first saw Apocalypse Now. Sadly I was told that it may become difficult as more and more dams are built with Chinese investment. So if it’s something you want to do, make sure you do it soon.

We had two lunches on board, and several snacks, thanks to the boat’s nice lady chef.

This was my first taste of Laotian food (although it’s very similar to Isaan cuisine) and I loved the big, fresh flavours. The raw fresh tamarind was a first. Sour doesn’t quite cover it!

Remember you can click on these galleries to expand the photos if you’re on a computer.

Our cruise included two stops at villages to go and look and maybe buy local handicrafts. Personally I have no desire to gawk at how people live and could happily have done without these stops. I suppose it is a way for the villagers to make a bit of extra money but I don’t remember any of our group buying anything. Our guide also dropped the nugget that often the ‘traditional’ textiles the villagers are selling aren’t actually their own work but something that they’d picked up from a market that will sell well to tourists.

The first village was called Ban Houy Phalam. It’s home to 85 families of the Kamu tribe whose houses are built on stilts with work areas underneath them.

We spent the night at Pakbeng which is the halfway point to our destination. We stayed in a lovely hotel, the Luang Say Lodge www.luangsay.com, overlooking the river.

The rooms were actually separate buildings off their own wooden walkways, surrounded by lots of unusual plants.

The interiors were lovely although the towel art made me smile. Think I’ll start collecting examples and do a whole post on it.

It was very atmospheric at night listening to the insects and other sounds of the jungle. In the morning you could hear the elephants down at the river having their morning bathe. This is the best time to catch views of the river with the morning mists still rising off the trees on the mountains. My video here.

It was a very pleasant and relaxing stay. The food was okay, nothing amazing, but the rooms were the highlight. You can arrange to stay on a night or two if you wish, and finish the journey on a later boat.

There was a bit of other traffic on the river.

In the morning we stopped at a second village called Ban Baw where for over 600 years three different ethnicities, the Lao Loum (the ethnic majority in Laos), Tai Lue and Shan, have lived in harmony. It seemed more affluent than the first village with a couple of civic buildings.

I’m guessing the pictures on the front of the temple are used for religious instruction. Given how surreal they are, I’d quite like to know the story myself!

Of most interest to me was the handmade still the villagers used for making ‘whisky’ (rice alcohol). I wanted to try it but noone was around so my guide said I could leave some money and fill one of the empty bottles next to the still, and I ended up with this energy drink bottle full of paint stripper. It was an experience but I’m glad I don’t have to drink it all of the time! Don’t confuse this with Mekhong whisky, which is another drink altogether.

Back in the boat the landscape started to change as the jungle gave way to limestone cliffs.

Our final stop was the holy caves of Pak Ou.

Tham Ting the lower cave is also known as the Cave of a Thousand Buddhas as over the centuries local townsfolk have deposited their old or damaged Buddhas here.

What doesn’t get much of a mention is that some of the rock art that is also in the cave predates the Buddhist period that began in the 15th century. Some of it may even be Neolithic.

Up several flights of stairs is a second cave known as Tham Theung (upper cave) which is darker and has fewer Buddhas.

The stairs are pretty tiring but you can get a bit of a view when you stop.

From here is was just another 25km to our final destination Luang Prabang, more of which in the next post…

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