Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang was our second destination in Laos. We arrived at 7am from an overnight bus and wandered around the bright, awakening town trying to find our guest house.The main tourist drag was right on the Mekong riverfront and was scattered with guesthouses and al fresco tourist cafes, each tantalizingly promising fresh baguettes, thanks to their previous French occupation. The cobblestoned streets were lined with trees and the occasional temple, and locals were hanging out on their porch or in the corner noodle stand. The air was fresh and cool thanks to the rain during the night (which also happened to soak our suitcases stored in the bottom of the bus).
We found our guesthouse and explained to a sweeping maid, who I’m sure spoke no English, that we had made a reservation and yes, we were here really early but was it possible that we might get access to our room if it was available? She stared wide-eyed for a bit then scurried back to wake up the owners who, in the most groggy fashion, showed us our room and promptly went back to sleep. We were more than happy to set our damp (thanks to the unsealed cargo compartment on the bus) bags down and fall into bed to recover from our harrowing bus ride.
Once we were sufficiently awake, we spent our several days lazily wandering about the quiet town. There aren’t too many sites in Luang Prabang and none take too long to visit, so we didn’t feel pressured to rush around. Each of the main roads had many little cross roads connecting between them, often not even wide enough for a car. These cobblestone streets were filled with leaf filtered sunlight and old colonial French architecture. It was a pleasure just wandering and discovering what new picturesque scene would pop up around the next corner. The long, narrow strip catering to tourists was much more low key than most other countries we’d been to and we enjoyed taking numerous breaks under the pretense of getting out of the heat for super cheap fruit smoothies and various snacks. Between fruit smoothies and noodle soup we toured a few temples and wandered the night market, which was once again calm and reasonable. And full of beautiful textiles.
But the food situation in Laos was not our favorite. The flavor pallet for Laotian food was at once strange and bland. A bitter-tangy flavor was present in most dishes, due to galangal root, a relative of ginger. Twice I got “classic” Laos dish recommended by a server (my favorite technique). The first was OK, but didn’t have too much substance—a plate of dry seaweed squares topped with sesame seeds, with a traditional chili dipping paste and some sticky rice (eaten with your hands). Not terrible but not inspiring either. The second was a Laotian curry (the orange one), recommended enthusiastically by the restaurant’s waitress/cook/mom. I agreed and when it arrived I found two things objectionable. One was that it had salmon in it, but that could be overlooked since it’s not her fault that I didn’t specify no fish. The other was that immediately upon opening the lid of the bowl I saw four little insects dead on top. Ok, so that’s not the end of the world when you’re touring in Southeast Asia. But when I looked closer, I saw a tiny maggot. And another. And another. My soup was full of little worms.
I didn’t eat it. I called the husband/neighborhood afternoon drunk over and showed him there was maggots in my soup (without English). He picked one up, carefully inspected it, and squished it between his fingers. Yelled something at the kitchen and walked off. For a while we thought perhaps we would get another, fresh curry, and the resident daughter even seemed to run off to the market on her bike. But we didn’t see them again until we asked for the bill and yet he looked quite confused when he was clearing the table and none of my curry was eaten. Hmmm.
A third instance of weird food in Laos was terrible beyond anything I had imagined anyone ate ever, and we did NOT order it. But I took a picture of the menu.
So that’s a thing.
Although we did not get sick in Laos, after these experiences, we ate a lot of noodle soup (kind of like these people). Noodle soup is good. And clear. So you can see the constituents.
But really, it was a lovely town. We would definitely recommend hanging out for a few relaxed days. Just watch your food.