We landed in Luang Prabang in the afternoon and caught a taxi, (paying a flat fare to the city centre), to our hotel. We were provided with welcome drinks and lunch upon arrival which we weren’t expecting but appreciated in that humidity. After a bit of rest, we walked around town to find our bearings, but we were both pretty tired and a little jet lagged. Just before sundown, we headed to the Luang Prabang Night Markets where stalls are set up along Sisavangvong Road selling all sorts of souvenirs – t-shirts, lanterns, trinkets, snakes in whiskey and more. The road is completely closed off from vehicles so you can stroll around at your leisure. We discovered the Night Food Market up a small enclosed alleyway which had some seating on one side and the food stalls on the other. There was so much to see and smell.
After our first slow walk to the end, we had to double up and walk back to decide on what to eat. A quick hyperlapse below.
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We could basically find anything on a stick – frogs, steaks, chicken, quail, sausages and more.
Even a whole goose on a stick! (Bottom far right compared to the chicken next to it).
All skewers are grilled over a BBQ so it does get quite smokey inside the little lane way. Your clothes and hair will smell like BBQ.
One stall specialised in these large charred fish on a stick. It was tempting but the lazy me couldn’t be bothered picking out all the fish bones.
Other stalls sold various types of meat that was then chopped in front of you, then wrapped in banana leaves with any condiments.
I went back for these pork spring rolls stuffed with veggies and herbs. Crispy and delicious! Some of the best spring rolls I’ve had with so much flavour in the filling.
There were also a few buffet stalls where you pay a set fee per person, then pile your plate with as much as you want. These were very busy stalls but the food on offer didn’t really grab my attention.
Instead we went to one of the skewer stalls and ordered chicken on a stick with the intention of ordering more on a stick if it was any good. J ordered some BBQ pork which came with chilli sauce. We found out that the seats along the side were allocated to specific stalls after being yelled at, but luckily the stalls we’d purchased from had seating and we were free to sit down. The meat was juicy (the pork quite fatty) and both tasted wonderful and lightly charred. It would have been nice to have a side of sticky rice or some other condiments rather than just meat, but I couldn’t see any other sides at that particular stall. After finishing off the meat and spring rolls, we found ourselves already full but made plans to come back the following evening. I don’t remember the prices of everything but I know it was cheap, about a couple of dollars for each item.
We met up with some friends at a bar, the Indigo Cafe, which was very close to the food markets. It had a roof top area with bean bags and mats on the floor where we could relax with drinks. Plus the view of the markets all lit up was pretty cool too.
There’s no elevator so you have to go up and down several flights of stairs to order drinks and bring them up, though on a few occasions one of the wait staff brought up our drinks. We had an enjoyable evening with friends.
The next morning, three of us joined a biking, trekking and kayaking tour around Luang Prabang with Tiger Trails. Over two days and one night, we biked 19km, kayaked for about 4hrs, and trekked for I don’t know how long to see temples, a silk hand weaving village, the Tad Sae waterfalls, and trekked further to our home stay with the Khmu people.
We briefly stopped by a small town for lunch of beef pho before heading back onto a boat to cross the Nam Khan River.
The Khmu village houses are made from bamboo and usually raised on stilts. It was amazing to learn that the bamboo walls takes months to dry out and treat against insects, before being weaved into walls.
It’s the simple life with chickens and other animals grazing the land, kids as young as 8 fixing and repairing bicycles and other parts.
Our accommodation for the night was also very humble – each bed enclosed in a mosquito net separated by a bamboo wall.
Our dinner was prepared by some of the villagers and it was a feast. I wasn’t expecting much but I loved the simple home style cooking. We were given a big bowl of soup with zucchini and chicken, a tasty bamboo stir fry and mini basket of sticky rice each. Yum!
There is no plumbing in the village though our tour guide mentioned the chief of the village did have a proper toilet. The villagers and guests used the more traditional type of bathroom – squat toilet, and a plastic scoop to use as our shower. The most uncomfortable thing about the bathroom was that there were two bathrooms inside the one hut, separated by a short wall which only came up to my neck so I could easily peek over to the next bathroom, and vice-versa! That problem was solved when I made sure Mr FPJ was in the next bathroom when I showered. With the exception of the communal area and kitchen, there’s also no electricity in the village. So we showered just before sunset and used the flashlight from our mobile phones so we could see. The no electricity made for another uncomfortable moment when getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and balancing a flashlight while another guest does the same thing and thinks your someone else and starts talking to you.
The next morning, we were woken up by clucking chickens walking underneath our beds and a rooster crowing. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs with tomato, and a freshly baked soft baguette. A very generous portion to start our day before setting off for more trekking and kayaking.
It was a good experience but oh so HOT. When we got back to the town centre, we headed back to the Luang Prabang Night Food Markets for a snack. I wanted to try some of the Laos sausages on offer.
I don’t remember what I picked – I just pointed to two different sausages and hoped for the best. The darker coloured one I think ended up being a pork blood sausage. It was very rich and did not taste right to me. The smaller three sausages on a stick were a much sweeter pork sausage, almost the same taste and sweetness as a lap cheong (Chinese sausage). It would be interesting to find out what the different types of sausages were, perhaps via a food tour.
Towards the entrance of the night market lane way, a lady had set up a coconut pancake cart and I couldn’t resist trying some.
The tiny little pancakes reminded me of the dutch pancakes cooked on a hot griddle. They smelled amazing but unfortunately they were undercooked so we had to throw them out.
There were five of us in the group now, and one friend suggested having Lao-style BBQ for dinner at a restaurant/bar Lao Lao Garden a few streets away. It had a massive beer garden with plenty of outdoor seating.
The regular Lao-style BBQ cost 55,000 Kip per person (about AUD $8). Similar to a Korean BBQ, each table had been fitted with an area in the middle for placing coals and a hot plate/cooker on the top. Our package came with chicken and pork, mixed vegetables, eggs, mushrooms, and glass noodles. We had two hot plates between the five of us to cook our dinner on. The hot pots had been filled with broth to cook our vegetables and noodles in, as well as a BBQ area on top to cook the meat on. The wait staff were very helpful and did most of the cooking for us. Condiments provided included tamarind and peanut sauces, chilli, garlic and limes.
The next morning, Mr FPJ got up early to see the Laotian monks in the alms giving ceremony while I stayed in bed. Locals line the street to provide offerings – usually food such as rice, fruit and sweets, which gives the monks their daily meal. This ceremony takes place at sunrise every day.
We had breakfast across the road from our hotel overlooking the Mekong river which was included in our room rate. Most of us decided on the pancakes and our choice of smoothie. I found that the ‘smoothies’ in Luang Prabang were more like juices as there was no milk in them.
After breakfast, we walked around town again and as it was our last day in Laos, we all decided to splurge a little and get massages. On the way there, we passed by a French bakery, Le Banneton. I’d forgotten that Laos had been under French rule. Of course I had to go in and buy something. The apple tart (18,000 Kip) was superb and made me miss all types of pastries.
We had lunch at an eatery along the Mekong river close to our hotel so that we could pick up our suitcases and head off to the airport afterwards. I saw khao soi on the menu and ordered it to compare it to those I’d had in Chiang Mai. This version was very much like a regular noodle soup with a light broth but with a huge spoonful of curry and chilli paste on top. It wasn’t quite the same and there were no crunchy noodles. It reminded me more of pho than khao soi. Sadly, it was not a satisfying last meal in Laos.
One friend had the yellow chicken curry with potato, carrots and some greens.
And another had the green chicken curry with zucchini and green peppers.
And that is all from our brief trip in Laos. Next stop, Vietnam!
Tips in Luang Prabang, Laos
- There are money exchange booths dotted around town
- Both US dollars and KIP can be used but don’t expect your change in US dollars
- The Luang Prabang Night Food Markets are open nightly from 5pm – 11pm.
- Top food items to try in Laos – pork sausage sai oua, anything on a stick, spring rolls
- If you can get up early enough, go see the monks do their daily alms giving ceremony. Please remember no flash photography, don’t stand too close and don’t interrupt the procession.
- Our friends hired a scooter to explore areas outside of Luang Prabang, we would have loved to have done the same if we’d had more time in the country.
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