Yep, we're back.....the Missus and I have just returned...tired, and yet exhilarated at the same time. So excuse me while I noodle around with our photos for a while. The wonderful noodles to the right was from a stand in Luang Prabang, where we stopped and ate breakfast every morning....along with a wonderful cup of Lao Coffee....after the first morning, we would just have a seat, and the Owner who smile at us, and ask "same-same"? And we'd nod yes....so we ended up calling the place (no English sign) "Same-Same". We did so much, ate so much, that I really am not sure how I'm going to do this yet.
But let me just give you a recap anyway.
We started in Bangkok, just an overnight stay...we had an idea, and just went with the flow. Of course, there's an unending supply of street food in Bangkok.
You really can't go wrong.
We also managed to catch some of the sights.
No mysterious orbs rising out of the Mekong, but lots of street food. We managed to snag a room in a Guest House overlooking the Mekong River.
We also had some interesting meals in Nong Khai. Have you ever had anything like this from a Hospital Food Court?
Or maybe Kanom Krok in a bus station?
One thing for sure....I'd never had this before.
It was delicious. As was the Kai Yaang (Roasted Chicken), and sticky rice we had.
In spite of all the interesting food and venues...the strangest thing we did in Nong Khai was visit Sala Keo Ku, a somewhat bizarre-nightmarish park of sculptures by mystic Boun Leua Surirat. Sculptures, some towering up to 80 feet tall, are a mixture of various Hindu and Buddhist deities that seem to come from some HR Giger-ish dreamworld.
We also took the "yellow bus" to Tha Bo, a market town.....I'll say this for sure....the "Yellow Bus" sure has a bunch of character! Tha Bo was also interesting since the population is 70-80% Vietnamese.
The next morning we crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and a cab into the capital city of Vientiane. In contrast to crazed Bangkok, Vientiane is a sleepy city of 230,000.
We also met some of the nicest, kindest, and most gracious folks we've ever encountered. Depending on who you talk to, experienced travelers to Laos will tell you that Laos is what Thailand was like 20-30 years ago(or maybe more...depending who you're asking).
Our most memorable meal in Vientiane was from one of the many stalls lining the Mekong River.
There are few things better than having a cold Beer Lao, some freshly grilled seafood, all wrapped up in a sunset on the banks of the Mekong River.
There's more to the story of this dinner, but I'll save that for later. For now you'll just have to admire our salt crusted, lemongrass stuffed fish, that was swimming around a few minutes before.
We had planned on staying overnight, but stayed 2 nights in Vientiane. To save time we ended up flying to Luang Prabang.
Beautiful, scenic, Luang Prabang was by far our most favorite stop on this trip....or perhaps on any trip. If you think Vientiane is laid back, and do Luang Prabang right, your blood pressure is sure to drop several notches......There were times when I thought Luang Prabang was an island floating over the Mekong River....
We intended on 2 nights, and stayed 5....if I didn't need to work...I'd still be there.
Early every morning, the streets of Luang Prabang becomes a river of flowing orange as the Monks come to collect their Alms.
There's something about this time honored tradition that attracted the Missus and I, enough so, that we watched the procession every morning.
Silence....except for the padding of bare feet on the asphalt. The Missus and I felt honored to be able to give alms....
We stayed in a Hotel next to one of the Wats, and away from the main tourist drag, where this procession turns from a respectful, time honored tradition, into a depressing paparazzi moment.
What about the food you may ask? The Missus and I were able to sample many of the Luang Prabang specialties, such as Khai Pene, a dried, then fried river moss from the Mekong:
Like very good Nori, flavored with tomato, shallots, and garlic, and always served with Jaew Bong, a garlicky, mildly spicy, sweet, and savory "dip", studded with buffalo skin, considered a classic Luang Prabang dish.
Heaven on Earth with a cold Beer Lao.....
I had pretty much dismissed the Fresh Market right off the tourist track in Luang Prabang, as being too touristy...until we visited. Man was I wrong. Along with the usual suspects:
Were some quite unusual items......
And I was to find out that the "forest" and "mountain" people come here to sell their wares. And also noticed that the customers were almost all local early in the morning.
Fascinated with the cuisine(and staying in one place for more than a few days for the first time), I took a cooking class from Joy Ngueamboupha, Co-Owner of Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang. Please read Joy's interesting short bio, here. The class and market tour were fantastic, and it did much to fill in the blanks regarding Lao food. There was no gas or electric stoves, we cooked over charcoal...I was surprised that my stuff actually turned out ok(pretty good actually).
We also had the chance to taste some items that are considered pretty exotic by US standards. Boy have I been missing out all these years......forget about french fries, where can I get my hands on more of this?
At the time I scheduled the cooking class, I also attempted to make reservations for the "Adventurous Lao Gourmet" dinner. The nice Young Lady hesitated and asked that I wait until after the cooking course to schedule. After the course was over, I walked back to the restaurant, and tried to schedule the dinner again. The young lady called Joy on his cell....and he gave us the green light......
The degustation menu was an amazing eye-opening experience.....
With items we've never experienced before, like Sa Thao, another classic Luang Prabang dish made with river algae.
We were sad to leave Luang Prabang behind, but Chiang Mai was calling to us. We enjoyed historic Chiang Mai, and the Sunday Market is not to be missed (though we'll pass on the Night Bazaar):
And along with street food, we enjoyed a few sit down dinners as well.
Time got away from us in the end, and we managed only one last night in Bangkok before returning home.....but the Missus still got in some "parting shots", in the city that smells of food.
I'm still wrestling with how, and what to post.....
With tons of photos of various Wats (Temples) in every city....
Meanwhile, hang in there....I'll be right back!!