Laos 25: Cheers to Luang Prabang, 3 Nagas and Mango Garden
Last Luang Prabang morning. Most likely ever, even though one imagines one will return. If only to catch some of those buses: on to Vietnam, Cambodia — even down to Vientiane, better than boring old flying. But no, persuaded by my dear friend Richard — dear pilot friend Richard, so makes sense — to jet it. How could one not, with talk of the cyclone coming to Koh Samui in a day or two? (Gullible Wanda?!)
Yes, I have spent most of my time here within the so-called old-city, which has not got old. Yet. Each time I set off, there are new things. Old things, new eyes… Each narrow side street calls me to snap. But I have stopped now. Enough is enough. Record and remember time.
This time, to prove a point, because a lovely croissant and a good Lao coffee are calling me and because I haven’t stopped in there yet, I head down Sakkaline Road past the market, past the many and various bistros and eateries and coffee shops I’ve tried, to 3 Nagas. The place has Unesco World Heritage site written all over it.
“Can I have just coffee and a croissant here?” I ask a waiter when I see all tables already occupied have big-breakfast orders on them. This must be the breakfast room for the across the road and next door “hotel” parts of this place.
“Chocolate croissant and coffee,” is my request. Service is not quick. The guests are getting preference. But it’s pleasant. The croissant is small, the chocolate not liberal.
“WiFi?” I ask. He brings the code. And wallah, point proven.
You go to an upscale place, you get good WiFi. (At my budget hotel it wasn’t. When I asked why, was told the WiFi company closes it off in the morning. Well, OK!)
3 Nagas coffee shop and ice cream parlor proves itself the perfect place to check in on Facebook for electrician recommendations back in home where there’s been a mini crisis; to WhatsApp said electricians to consult on the problem and if he can fix; to WhatsApp chosen electrician’s name to my mom’s “carer” back home so my mom — at 90 more mentally sound and able to do these things than me, if truth be told — can call him in.
Meanwhile, enjoying the shade, the comfort, a second cup of Lao joe, and finally — since this place started off in its first life as an ice cream parlor and they still make and sell artisanal ice cream, a dollop of their red berry ice cream (that’s more of a gellato) and delish, served in a crispy twirled sesame infused “cone” in a small dish.
Am flying Air Asia from Luang Prabang to Bangkok. Paid US$85.
Then on from Bangkok to Koh Sumai on Bangkok Air. Means a mad dash from one airport to another. Bangkok Airways office staff let me check in online in their office. Thanks! Tell me to exchange my kip back for dollars at the bank next door rather than at the airport. Thanks! The form records me as exchanging one million five hundred thousand kip. A Lao millionaire for a few moments. True. For that I get US$184.91.
All of which, and the prospect of the mad dash back to my hotel to pick up my bags for the marathon two-flight and madcap journey by car from airport to airport in Bangkok make me hungry for lunch.
Mango Garden beef lam
It says “traditional Lao stew” on the Mango Garden restaurant menu (50,000 kip). They do themselves an injustice by saying on the menu that the dish has sweet basil, coriander, spring onion, chili, young eggplant — and I choose the beef for the meat option — period.
It is, in fact, a pretty good version of the Lao specialty, Or Lam, which the manager admits to when I ask her and point out the wood ear mushrooms and the twist of lemongrass — and there are indeed yard-long beans. A dish to savor — in this instance, with focus and fast. The perfect last flavor of Luang Prabang.
“Yes, you will make it,” Richard says when I tell him my flight plan and my need to dash from airport to airport in Bangkok.
“No, that’s not possible,” says the one reservations woman at the Bangkok Airways office in Luang Prabang.
“Yes, OK if traffic is not bad,” says her colleague.
The mission is simple.
Fly out from Luang Prabang to Bangkok on Air Asia leaving at 4:45pm arriving at 6:05pm in Bangkok. At Don Mueang International.
Board the Bangkok Airways flight to Koh Samui. At Suvarnabhumi Airport. The Don Mueang website estimates could take between 45 minutes and two hours by taxi, depending on traffic.
There is customs to get through and checked in luggage to pick up.
Method: Plan mentally to cut a dash. Sit back. See what happens.
Result: Despite huge lines of people at customs at Don Mueang; despite a long line for metered taxis at Don Mueang, which the website and Lonely Planet say is the only way to go…
Air Asia put a priority ticket on my check-in bag so it was on the round-about waiting for me to pick up when I got there;
I have, written on a scrap of paper: To Suvarnabhumi Airport. Meter Taxi. Bangkok Air Pt PG 199. Zone 1. Taxi fee Bht 350-500. Toll fee: Expect to pay. Surcharge Bht50.
An Englishman who said he had lived in Bangkok for 15 years spoke in Thai to the metered taxi rep for me and organized the metered cab
And the woman drives like the wind across highways and byways past stunning architecture and vibey neighborhoods and narrowly avoided a high-speed crash with her focus and diligence.
She is S. Preeyaporn. Her name is on my Don Mueant International Airport Public Taxi ticket. Her ID: 5037 squiggle 2071. I even have her phone number. For next time.
Traffic hectic all the way. Journey long. Me: resigned. Incidental: Metered price, including tolls, she said, was 560 baht. I gave her 600 with a grateful and impressed (with her driving) “Thanks.”. The airport said it would be a max of 400.
Inside, I head for Bangkok Airways. Show them the picture of a screen shot of my attempt to check in. The courtesy counter checks me in. Checks me through. Tells me where to head. And I dash, through security and through the airport. Get to Gate B1 and there’s nobody there but the gate people. I show them my ticket expecting to be the last to board.
“You still have 40 minutes till boarding,” she tells me and sends me away. Back to shop in no, not duty free, because this is now an internal flight…
Richard and Barb awaiting me at 10:10pm at Samui “tropical island” airport. Dogs waiting at their Tongson Bay home.
Rain only expected Thursday. Clear expected for weekend sailing.
© Wanda Hennig 2016, story and photos.