A Laos cooking class. Given my unfamiliarity with the cuisine, everything was remarkably easy to prepare, which I’d guess is down to the excellent instruction and inherent simplicity of the dishes. First up was a trip to the market, which was the usual South East Asian chaos, colour, and piles of meat kept in 25 degree heat. All the really weird bits of meat too - apparently, Laotians are big on their offal and blood. Very much a waste-not, want-not culinary society. Indeed, the heart is the most expensive cut of meat here, because (rather logically) it’s small and there’s only
Laotian food can be a touch gribbly (see grubs et al below), but in general is very tasty, simple stuff - a super-flavourful herb and spice paste, sticky rice, maybe some simple grilled meat. Lots of fresh herbs and lettuce for making wraps. Dip a ball of rice into the paste, and away you go. There are some rather surprising flavours for a South East Asian cuisine: bitterness is a looked-for taste, dill is a prominent herb. We also went out for some Swiss-Lao fusion food — lemongrass cream ravioli, and rolled stuffed water buffalo steaks.
The centre of Luang Prabang is mostly grand colonial architecture, pristine temples, and strings of guest houses. However, a two-minute ferry across the Mekong, and the tourist-focused glitz of the Old Town fades away. Quite literally, actually…you can only just glimpse the rooftops through the haze.
A religious centre, Luang Prabang is home to any number of Buddhist temples and monasteries, with orange-clad monks and novices around every corner.
Try the adventurous menu, they said. A more in-depth look at Laotian cuisine, they promised, with hard-to-find dishes. We possibly should have read between the lines more, because what we ended up with was a platter of dung beetles, rice grubs, and super fiery chili pastes. Still, there was also a rather good smoked aubergine dip, an interesting barbecued stuffed frog, and great sweet pickled tamarind. And the cocktail was excellent.
The destination for our motorcycle excursion was the Kuang Si waterfalls and a bear sanctuary. Kuang Si was rather more swimmable than Tat Se, and came with a pretty awesome, and very popular, rope swing.
We *had* to rent a motorcycle at some point in south-east Asia, or the trip wouldn’t be complete. We were too chicken/conscious of our own mortality to attempt it in Vietnam, but Laos seemed relatively safer. (Not that they require anything as idiosyncratic as a driving license to rent a motorbike, but at least the traffic was minimal). So we rented a Honda Scoopy and set off for a park about 30km out of town. We have (obviously) lived to tell the tale, and enjoyed some lovely scenery along the way.
The Luang Prabang old town. Note the terrifyingly rickety bamboo bridge
Because what is the point of going on holiday if you can’t eat a banana split at 11 am while you watch the world go by?
At the end of our day-long trek, we ended up at the Tat Se waterfall. They are so beautiful, they almost look fake, as if they had been manufactured to order for a Vegas hotel. We approached it from above, through the jungle, which was quite magical — like we were explorers happening upon it for the very first time. Of course, that’s very much not the case. When you get to the bottom there are bars, restaurants, zip lines, elephant rides…