Luang Prabang, Laos

This is a post by David.

We’ve been in Luang Prabang, Laos for almost a week now and it is pretty amazing. We were a bit reluctant to leave Thailand because we were having so much fun, but we were also starting to feel very comfortable there. So that was all the more reason to move to a new country!

Boats on the Mekong River at sunset. This is the view we see every night at the end of our street.

Laos was colonized by the French and only gained independence in 1953. The French influence is very present and has mixed nicely with the local flavor. As a result, you’ll see gorgeous French architecture on palm tree-lined streets, and cafes serving the best croissants au chocolat alongside sticky rice and catfish from the Mekong River. The unique blending of cultures has earned Luang Prabang the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

French-style villas on the streets of Luang Prabang

The food here is delicious. It’s easy to get French food, so most days start with a croissant at a local cafe (we’re partial to JoMa Bakery) or eggs and a baguette. The fresh-squeezed orange juice is amazing. For lunch and dinner we generally stick to Loatian food although we did have a wood-fired pizza once.

There are a number of great local dishes. For example, mok pla is a fish from the Mekong River, usually talapia, steamed with herbs and wrapped in a banana leaf. It is amazing. Larp is a salad made with lettuce, pork, mint, chillies, and other herbs and veggies. Everything is served with sticky rice which you roll into a ball and use to scoop up your food. You eat with your hands here. And you wash it all down with Beerlao, a pretty decent lager. Most of our evenings end with a stroll through the market and some sort of cake (chocolate or carrot) from our favorite vendor.

Larp with pork and lots of herbs, chili, and lime

Life here is relaxed and lived on Lao Time, which seems to be in the same timezone as Italian Time. But despite the laid-back atmosphere we’ve managed to have a few adventures.

We went to a cooking class which was held outside the city in a gorgeous little valley with thatched huts overlooking a river. We cooked on earthenware ovens and ground all our ingredients and herbs in a stone mortar and pestle. Lao cuisine has borrowed a bit too much from the French, in my opinion, because it is extremely complicated to cook. Though I’ve still decided to try making mak pla when I get home.

Time to cook Mak Pla!
Cooking in Laos is still done in clay pots, such as these at our cooking class. It might not be easy, but it sure is delicious.

Some other adventures we’ve had in the past few days:

  • Rented bikes and rode all around the city, which is quite small and easily navigated.
  • Volunteered to help students practice English at an awesome non-profit called Big Brother Mouse.
  • Stayed in a bungalow outside the city for a night.
  • Crossed the Mekong on a boat with the locals and went to a nearby village and temple.
  • Visited any number of markets, temples, hills, and temples on hills
Markets in Asia are always a crazy affair. The markets in Luang Prabang are much more relaxed though. Also, that's our cooking instructor in the center.

We still want to visit the waterfalls outside the city as well as the bear reserve. So we will probably stick around Luang Prabang for a few more days and then move on. It’s too easy to get trapped in the easy life here! Our next stop might be Siem Reap in Cambodia or the 4,000 Islands in southern Lao.

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