Articles in Laos travel
The strips of texture, it turns out, that I thought might be strips of mushroom, is young bamboo, grated. There are mushrooms. There is onion, red chili and spring onion, a mix of intense and subtle flavors. The rice noodle roll is somehow sensual in texture; the fish plump and decadently fatty and warm. Perhaps another nine on the mouth orgasm scale.
The next morning, Sunday, we drive right down the island to the family-run Beach Restaurant at Thong Krut fishing village on Koh Samui. It’s a fave or Richard and Barb. And it’s fabulous.
At the Bangrak fish, meat and veggie market, fishermen are pulling in on the beach and unloading their catch straight into the market. It’s busy, busy. Locals shopping on Friday arvy for the weekend. A TV crew in action at one of the stands. The vendors an eclectic bunch, ever ready to engage in hand-gestures and attempts to explain.
It says “traditional Lao stew” on the Mango Garden restaurant menu. They do themselves an injustice 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, the twist of lemongrass and the yard-long beans.
The morning market opens at 6am, just after Sai Bat. To quote from the official Luang Prabang website: Lao cuisine draws almost exclusively on fresh foods. Few homes traditionally have refrigerators and modern supermarkets are rare. So at this market, you’ll find every possible type of food regionally available, including an amazing mushroom selection. Everything fresh is seasonal.
When I see a young monk sitting at a little table inside a temple ground reading, I smile and he smiles and says Hello across the short distance and the wall. And tells me he is practicing his English and invites me to come and check the book he’s taken from the library. His English is good and his name is Bakh and he says he became a monk to get an education and he is turning 19 the next day. He is from a Mekong village where they had no high school.
The Luang Prabang night handicraft market is good for browsing and bargaining. The Luang Prabang night food market is good for indulging what with all the barbecued meats and fish and sausage and a pigs heads and all manner of meaty bits and bites cooked over fire on grills.
Almost stop in at a place called Chill. But not quite right, even though what “right” is, I won’t know, till I find it: a Lao breakfast menu at a pretty elegant place that also has a bakery. When I search I find it in my Rough Guide too. At Café Le Ban Vat Sene on Sakkaline Road I sit outside and order the Khai Jeun Jaeo Mak Len (omelet cooked with herbs and served with tomato relish, sun-dried beef and sticky rice) 30,000 kip and Lao coffee.
At Delilah’s Cafe in Luang Prabang I order the Rough Guide brekker suggestion. The banana pancake that comes with lemon, ginger and cream and a Lao coffee. Here, like everywhere, there is WiFi. (Sometimes I doesn’t work but for the most part does).
The first thing I notice when I strike out on my first Luang Prabang recce is the texture of the sound. It is, best way to put it, like a damper pedal has been pressed. The scooters are abundant and buzzing. They are one, two, three, four-up. Sometimes five. The streets are busy. But the noise… It is cut by several decibels compared to, I would say, everywhere I have been so far.