Buddhist Harmony - Luang Prabang

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Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
March 29th 2009
Published: March 29th 2009
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Bangkok HotelBangkok HotelBangkok Hotel

More developed than the Bay of Plenty.

0 to 60 and back again in 1.2 days

After a twelve hour coach flight from Auckland, we arrived in Bangkok. We flew economy class on Thai Air, which unlike United, offers free alcohol in coach, more leg room, and a personal entertainment system with videos on demand. Thank goodness. So, after several Singha beers, pretty decent beef curry, and four movies, we arrived back in Bangkok for the first time in a little over two years. We took a cab to the Westin for the night before heading right back to the airport to head out the next day. After almost a week on the beach outside Auckland, our stressful speeding taxi ride to the Westin woke us back up to the large city life. The view from our hotel room alone reminded us of the immense sprawl that is Bangkok. In the morning we took a quick walk up Suhkumvit Road while watching the motorbikes, taxis, and tuk-tuks speed by seemingly ignoring any possible rules of the road. We saw motorbikes fly past us on the sidewalk to avoid having to use the one way road to arrive at their turn. We also saw dozens of
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This was our home in Luang Prabang. Luckily we did not need the mossie netting.
food stalls being set up for the day, already grilling up chicken and fish and warming up the broth for pho and noodle soup. With the combination of the traffic noise, the moisture in the air, and smell from the food stalls, Bangkok just smacked us in the face. Welcome to Asia.

With Eric’s platinum status with Starwood, we are used to special treatment. Our Starwood stays thus far have been using cash and points so that the cash outlay is only usually $45 or $60 plus some points. And, we generally are upgraded to a suite. Eric has a platinum concierge, Vicki, who helps us with reservations and will notify a hotel that we are arriving and whether we are checking in late or early or need something special. Membership has its privileges. It is a nice treat every few weeks to check in to a western hotel, and to get a nice suite. In Bangkok we arrived late, after 10pm. The front reception greeted us with “Mr. Hoffman, we have been waiting for you.” We were escorted to a special reception desk on the 24th floor, and greeted with a sweet sparkling beverage, water, and a cool
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See the Tuk-tuk driver in the back sleeping?
towel. After checking in, we were escorted to our room - a two room suite. In the morning, the hotel manager, Wee, met us at the front desk to welcome us. He was assigned to us to ensure our stay was good. He said he received a call from Singapore that Mr. Hoffman is a very very special guest. Interesting. Its amazing the treatment two unemployed backpackers/travelers can receive at a western hotel. It will be interesting to see what happens when we return to the Westin in Bangkok for two nights later this month.
We only experienced the big city of Bangkok for a little more than 12 hours, and then we were off in another taxi to the airport for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. Similar to the great service on Thai Air, during our two hour flight on Bangkok Air (“Asia’s Boutique Airline”), we had a Chang Beer and a warm lunch of fried pork, sticky rice, vegetables, salad, and chocolate mousse. I cannot complain. It was actually pretty good.

Luang Prabang is a sleepy town marked as a World Heritage site. No highrise apartments, hotels, or office buildings here - the tallest building is
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Even though this is a renovated building, with the fancy old school Benz it screams colonialism.
three or four floors. We landed on the tarmac and taxied directly to the terminal, where we deplaned on the ground and walked through to immigration. The smell in the air was quite distinctive - burning. We were not sure why, and we did not remember that smell from last time. We applied for our Visa on Arrival, which we read was USD$30 per person, but recently increased to $35 per person. So, we used $70 of our last $73 to make our way into the country. We prearranged transportation to the Rama Hotel, where we were staying for just one night for $30 before finding a guesthouse for the following 12 nights. I was glad we did so, because Rama had two double beds with some of the hardest mattresses ever and no hot water - we were ready to move on immediately after checking in.

After checking in, we walked to the town centre to seek alternate accommodations for the rest of our stay in LP. We walked past about three streets before arriving at the main street, Sisavangvong Road. The local women were already setting up the Hmong Night Market, and we immediately started to recognize the market, and several of the bars and restaurants from our last visit. As we marched down the street from guesthouse to guesthouse, we found one we liked, and attempted to communicate that we wanted the room from 19 March through 31 March, for twelve nights. At $40 a night, for a total of $480, they accepted cash only. This stressed me as we found out we can withdraw the local Lao Kip from one of the three ATMs in town, but not USD. Moreover, we can withdraw up to K$700,000 per day, which is the equivalent of about $85. The Thouna Boun guesthouse asked us to pay either USD$40 or K$340,000 each day, so it meant, we had to hit the ATM each day to pay for our room.

In Lao, prices are generally listed in kip, and both USD and kip are accepted. In fact, we paid for a large Beer Lao with $1USD and K$3000 because our only other kip currency was 50,000, and the bar could not make change. I remembered that USD were more readily accepted during our last visit when we arrived prepared with plenty of USD. This time, because we have been traveling for awhile already, we were not packing a ton of dollars, other than our emergency fund, which we don’t plan on spending on Beer Lao. We resigned ourselves to hitting the ATM daily, and using kip, which is fine. Our trip to Cambodia may prove more difficult because the prices are all listed in USD and it is unclear whether the ATMs spit out USD or Cambodian Riel. Everything is a learning lesson. During our last few days in Laos our ATM cards were not working. We have two different banks, and each have a card for each bank. Between the two of us, 4 ATM cards at two different ATMs were not working. A little stressful. Still trying not to break into our emergency USD, we were able to exchange some Euro that I had leftover from a recent trip to Europe to last for two days. We have some Thai Bhat we can exchange as well. We were told sometimes your card will work and sometimes it does not work. Welcome to Laos.

We are in LP for two main reasons: (1) volunteer with Big Brother Mouse; and (2) relax in a sleepy little Asian town.

Overlooking our BBQ meal - it was crowing at lunch, a few hours too late for dawn.
The first goal was arranged prior to our arrival, the second takes more time to accomplish. Being in a developing nation can be taxing, especially at first. It was nice to return to a town we had been to before, but still we felt uncomfortable and on guard. The traffic was light in comparison to Bangkok, but more disorderly. Sidewalks were inconsistent and tattered, so we often walked in the street, around parked tuk-tuks and motorbikes. So, we watched where we stepped to avoid being hit, plus we tried to avoid stepping in still water or mud or trash on the ground. We were taking malaria pills and have an enormous supply of pepto, pepcid, and immodium. We have industrial strength insect repellant with at least 20% deet. We are also on guard because I always feel as though we will have our bag stolen or be pick pocketed, particularly when we first arrive in a new country. It takes some time to feel comfortable enough to take appropriately calculated risks in order to fully enjoy our trip and experience the local food and culture. That said, things became a little easier each day. Although we switched quickly from the

Working for our lunch.
slowness of the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, to our one night in Bangkok, and back to a sleepy town - there were many differences between the Bay of Plenty and Luang Prabang - it will take an adjustment.

I was not expecting jet lag, but I had it. Our morning in Bangkok I was up at 6am, and Eric was already in the next room watching TV. Bangkok and Auckland are six hours apart, but certainly not the worst jet lag we have had. We were exhausted our first night in LP, and I could barely stay awake as the clock struck 8. As a result, I was wide awake nice and early, still dark outside, and I checked the clock after realizing I could not return to sleep - 4:17am. The one thing we did not see on our first visit to LP was the sunrise parade of Buddhist monks through the city as they collect alms from believers. I figured this was as good a day as any to hit the sunrise parade. A sign in our hotel notified us that the monks start at 5:30. By 5, Eric was up, and we dressed to be downstairs at 5:30. It was still pitch black outside, but we had nothing else to do at 5:30, so we left the hotel for a walk. Apparently, the night watchman for the Rama Hotel sleeps on a mat on the floor of the hotel, and we woke him at 5:30. Apologies. We were out on the road, still dark, wandering to find some monks.

At dawn, the monks from all of the local Buddhist temples emerge onto the streets to be offered their daily meal. The monks, both young and old, march in line with the youngest pulling up the rear, all draped in their saffron robes with yellow sashes. They carry a large metal receptacle on a strap around their neck. Buddhists line the streets to offer rice, fruit, and other foods to the monks, to give alms, or to make merit or goodwill with the Buddha. We have seen this sight on television shows and an eerie quality comes over the city, where, apparently, the town is quiet except for the paparazzi tourists snapping photos of the parade. Our first view of the monks was, well, different. The town certainly was not quiet, as tuk-tuks, trucks,
Dumpling LadyDumpling LadyDumpling Lady

Nice and fresh
and motorbikes transported woman and their goods to various sites around the city where they sell. We saw groups of monks on parade, so to speak, but very few practitioners giving alms. We will try again another morning to find a more authentic experience. I hope it still exists.

On our next to last morning in LP, we tried to see the monks again. To say the experience was disheartening would be an understatement. In Eric’s words, it has become a spectacle. I can understand the initial draw to see the sight; with a line of monks as far as the eye can see down the main road. The color of the robes alone was stunning. The problem was the tourists. Instead of Buddhist practitioners settling in to provide alms to the monks, they were selling fruit, sticky rice, and other foods for the tourists to provide to the monks. There were women wearing tank tops and short skirts, which is entirely disrespectful. The tour books and informational signs about the process clearly state no flash photography, which is not needed with how bright the sky was at the time. The line of flashes all down the street was
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On the steps up to the temples at Mt. Phousi.
distracting to me, and I am sure the monks, who start to feel like monkeys more than monks. The worst were the tourists who stood on the sidewalk, in front of the monks as they walked by, snapping their flashes directly in their face. On Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, he warned that shows like his tend to ruin the beauty and tradition of the places he visits. He made this commentary while watching the procession of monks in LP. He is entirely right. I understand that LP became a tourist destination mostly because of this now famous procession. I am sure the locals understand that it is why they are making money and have businesses, but it was a spectacle. A real low point of the trip to LP.

A Sucker for “Sophie”

Our first real meal in LP was at Lasi Cuisine. Eric ordered ground pork with chili and ginger, whereas I went for an old favorite - green papaya salad. The salad has sliced green papaya, chilis, tomatoes, and fish sauce. Unfortunately, this salad had a bit too much fish sauce for my liking. With sticky rice and two large 640ml Beer Lao, dinner totaled around $8. Not bad at all. But, you have to add in my sucker purchase to arrive at the total cost of dinner.

At many of the tourist restaurants, especially along the rivers and the main road, children walk by with boxes of jewelry to sell. This is how we met little Sophie. She spoke pretty good English, and we struck up a conversation with her and she struck her bargain. My first sucker purchase was a brown beaded bracelet for me and a leather bracelet for Eric - discounted at a special price just for us at 2 for K$30,000, or about $3.50. I first told Sophie that I was not interested, but maybe next time. So, in about thirty minutes, she returned saying it is next time. Then, she asked me to buy her a Coca Cola - she is just sooo thirsty she said. I told her next time, which of course, was two days later. We were having lunch with Sasha from BBM along the river and Sophie and her posse came our way. I bought her a coke. Of course, I had to buy it from the restaurant, and there were no
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On Mt. Phousi - This is my Buddha - lazy and napping
other options, like a juice, which I would have preferred to pass off to her. The fourth time we saw her, I gave her an alphabet book from BBM, so I made up for the sweet Coke. From that point on, Eric warned of any little group of children heading out way with goods to sell, either referring to them as Sophie’s posse, or that Sophie told them I am a sucker for a cute girl with a great smile! My little Lao friend.

We returned to Lasi Cuisine almost every day for Beer Lao, fruit shakes, and free wireless. That also meant we were hit up by the other girls selling jewelry each day. Usually, I showed them the bracelet I already bought and they would go away. Two girls, though, must have learned their sharp sales skills from Sophie. First, the oldest, named Nu informs me that Sophie is not her real name, but instead her name is Tik, so that “she lied to you.” Now, I am assuming that Sophie took on a Western name to increase sales. Nu also asked how much we paid for our two bracelets, and she informed me that she would
Make PeaceMake PeaceMake Peace

This is Eric's Buddha.
have sold them at 2 for K$20,000. We spent a good twenty minutes with Nu, and her little sister, Be. She enjoyed messing around on my lap top and found two pictures of me on a mechanical bull in Texas. She thought those were funny. Then, she went straight to iTunes, and knew her way around. She did not recognize any of the music, so I played a Madonna song for her - Lucky Star. As the song played she continued to browse the music, and when the song was over and moved to the next song, she found her way back to Lucky Star to replay it. I told her it was the same song we just heard and she replied “I know. I liked it.” Before the song completed, the ten year old received a call on her mobile, and she was off - “I have to go. See ya.” I have seen Sophie around town, but she has not approached us at all. She must know her secret is out, and that her real name is Tik. Regardless, I have my bracelet and will not be buying any more.

Hmong Night Market

Gift from Mr. NixonGift from Mr. NixonGift from Mr. Nixon

Bobshells turned into planters on Mt. Phousi.
of the most distinct elements of Luang Prabang is the Hmong Night Market. Prior to 5 pm, the main road is closed for several blocks to car and motorbike traffic. Two rows of shopping lanes are set up for the evening, with local women, particularly from the Hmong minority villages, to sell their wares. Much of the market is repetitive, with multiple vendors selling the same t-shirts (particularly Beer Lao t-shirts), silk handbags and skirts, canvas and cotton pants, slippers with elephant embroidery, silk and not so silk scarves (all of course “hand made”). There are several vendors who sell more distinct items that are meant to look like antiques - who knows if they are. Some of them have Chinese design elements, including Chinese characters, and could be older, but again, not sure of the exact origin. We shopped a great deal last time we visited LP, and bought some t-shirts, pants, a skirt, and some other items. The best part of the market is just the walk each evening. We walk up and back each night, looking at the same items over and over. It is peaceful though, even with the women chanting “sabai dee” to gain our attention. For the most part, only women man the stalls, often with their children sitting next to them, or their babies on their backs. You often wonder where the men are? Our guide during our last visit told us that the women work all day either making goods to sell or selling goods, plus watching the children, and cooking and keeping the house. In the evening, the women come to the night market to continue selling until 10pm. Their day usually starts by 6am. In contrast, the men work during the day and spend the night drinking beer and playing cards with other men. Our guide said “women work hard and men are lazy.” His words, not mine. I am noticing, however, that some younger women have their younger husbands there helping at night, so that is at least a small movement forward for equality.

Towards the end of our stay it rained. We stopped for a beer at a Foreigners bar that makes us think we are in Saigon during the War - old school American music complete with the Eagles and Joni Mitchell. There are large wooden tables and chairs inside and a patio outside. There were Western posters on the wall, and silk flowers and vines hanging from the ceiling to give a tropical experience. We were drinking Beer Lao in a sweaty bottle, surrounded by Westerners, listening to music (“The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind . . . .”). It is surreal, like a scene from the Quiet American or from Good Morning Vietnam, although we are keenly aware that, despite our location on the Mekong, we are not in Vietnam. As we sat outside and sipped our Beer Lao, the thunder and lightning started to roll in, followed by a light drizzle, and then a downpour for only about ten minutes. It was enough to send most of the vendors from the Night Market home. It is amazing how long it takes for the women to set up their stalls - placing each item neatly on a tarp, and how quickly they can wrap up their belongings, tear down their tent, and head home. On our walk back to the guest house we saw a large pickup truck with at least 25 women, plus some children, all crouched in the back, with rainbow colored plastic bags piled high like a mountain
Foot Massage Foot Massage Foot Massage

In my new comfy Lao pants.
of goods, at the front and rear of the flat bed truck. Although some vendors stuck it out, about 90%!c(MISSING)alled it a night. We assume that if the truck you came in on wanted to head home, you are obliged to go with them. I am sure some of the women in the back of the truck, once the rain stopped, saw other women continuing to sell and were jealous that they were not making that last sale.

Pleasure From Pain

One of the highlights of any trip to Southeast Asia is the incredible deal on massages. After our last trip it took me almost a year to pay $60 for a massage in the US. We stopped for our first massage of the trip just off the main street and behind the Hmong Night Market. We eased into the experience with a 1 hour foot massage costing about $4.50. It was pretty relaxing, other than the occasional sharp jab, or the rough shoulder massage at the end. Regardless, when it was over, I felt great, and ready for bed even though it was not even 8pm. Our second massage was a one hour Lao
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The French School drumming up support for their Mekong Festival.
massage, which is similar to a traditional Thai massage. It was the same price as the foot massage and worth every Kip. Lao massage does not involve oil, instead they provide you a cotton short sleeve shirt and pants that tie around the waist. We started face down as the 80 pound Lao woman climbs onto the table (or sometimes the massage takes place on a cushion on the floor) to start rubbing and pounding, using pressure points and reflexology rather than long strokes like an oil massage. Eric and I started to feel like we were masochists or something, because we both actually enjoyed the pain. My masseuse climbed onto my thighs, kneading her knees and shins into my thighs while working on my back. I opened my eyes to see Eric’s masseuse actually standing on his thighs while trying to reach his shoulders and back. She was tiny, far from 5 feet tall and probably well less than 80 pounds, and I wish we brought the camera to take a picture of Eric in his little massage clothing with this tiny Lao woman who beat the crap out of him for an hour. We always wonder whether they
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I do not understand the chicken hat, or the feather boa.
draw straws to determine which woman takes the boy feet for a foot massage, or the big American for the full body. Eric’s masseuse was exhausted after, and I saw her downing a glass of water to recuperate. After the campervan and the quite solid mattress at our current guesthouse, our backs have been in need of some pampering. We felt wonderful after, until we woke the next morning to stiff backs again from the bed. It might be a conspiracy between the guesthouses and massage parlors to increase sales - hard mattresses lead to increased massage sales. It goes without saying that we will be back for more pain, and more pleasure.

Street Food

For our first meal in LP we ducked into an alley off the main street that was lined with food stalls. We were still hesitant to dive two feet forward, but also know we do not want to eat at restaurants for every meal, particularly when it is often safer to eat where you see the food being made. The first of the stalls focused on sweets - donuts, sweet sticky rice, and other treats. Treats were followed by several “buffets.”
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A somewhat freaky French singer on parade
These tables included several large metal bowls of various noodles and curries. It looked, though, like the food was cooked at home and then placed on the table for the evening. That made me more nervous. Next, we saw several stalls with protein on a stick - pork, beef, chicken, and fish. They were grilled right there and put on display - much more fresh looking. At the very end, we saw Dumpling Lady. She had a small bowl of ground pork and seasons, and Dumpling Lady was hand wrapping the dumplings, and then frying them in oil while we watched. Fourteen small dumplings for about USD$1. Tasty, and safe. We then returned to the main street, stopping for some meat on a stick. We chose some grilled, crispy pork skin that was incredible. We called it a night after our two tiny snacks, and hit the sack early.

In the days that followed, we became more accustomed to the street food. We became a regular of Dumpling Lady, returning every couple days. Dumpling Lady also introduced some deep fried custard, which also became a staple of our diet. Eric also tried some grilled sausages. I tried grilled sticky
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As the Hmong Night Market is setting up.
rice on a stick, which seemed to be cooked on a grill that had recently cooked fish, and I am not a huge fan of fishy tasting sticky rice. I also tried pork noodle soup for about $1, similar to Vietnamese pho, with pork, leafy greens, rice noodles, and broth, with some hot chilis and chili paste added to taste. On the opposite end of the main street we found a “Phad Thai” stand. Although not a traditional Lao dish, for about $1.50 it worked for dinner a few nights. In the morning, we found a woman selling all sorts of deep friend sweets, including large doughnuts, fried bread, and fried dumplings which were stuffed with either coconut and nutmeg, sweet yellow bean paste, or vegetables. At six for K$5000 kip, it was a pretty good deal and we were repeat customers there as well. We were still staying away from some of the more questionable street food that looked as though it were sitting for awhile, and stayed with the foods that were cooked fresh. We set up a schedule in which we went for fried sweets in the morning and hit the street food for dinner. For lunch, we splurged with a sit down meal at a restaurant - a novel concept. Generally costing about $7-9 for two entrees and a Beer Lao, it was certainly a splurge. We tried traditional Lao dishes and Thai dishes (including a fantastic pork Pad Ki Mao).

One of the more unique lunches included a Lao BBQ. We saw a sign advertising Lao BBQ for K$40,000. We had no idea what to expect. We sat at a small square table with benches, and the server opened the center of the table to show a coal bbq pit. He lit the coals, and placed a metal grill on top, which was cone shaped. He used pork fat to grease the grill, and brought out thin slices of pork for us to grill ourselves. The grill included a raised lip around the edge so that a pork-based broth could boil and steam. We received a plate of greens, cabbage, noodles, etc. to turn into a soup. We also received some peanut-chili sauce for dipping. It was amazing for less than $5.

Falang - Same Same But Different

Two Lao phrases have become part of our lexicon since the start
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The start of the market, stalls as far as the eye can see.
of our visit. Falang is Lao for French, who ruled Lao during their colonial period. It is now a word that is generally used to refer to all foreigners, and in particular for Westerners. We were at one expat bar, Lao Lao Garden, which had a “Q&A” in the menu, explaining how to behave in Lao culture. One of the questions related to the use of Falang. According to Lao Lao Garden, Falang is actually a term of endearment and shows respect for foreigners. I am not buying it though. I have not heard any Lao actually use the word, but I do still believe it is meant to be derogatory. Regardless, Eric and I have adopted the word as our own. When deciding which food to eat at the food stalls, we distinguish between “falang safe” and “not falang safe.” Along the main road are all of the falang restaurants. We stopped at a food market with some local Lao who work for Big Brother Mouse and we shopped at the same food stall for some friend breakfast foods. I am sure they received a better price, and we received the falang price. Eric and I also now refer
Dried FishDried FishDried Fish

Who knew there were so many varities of dried fish.
to stupid looking tourists and falang, including one sad Frenchman who had almost his entire head shaved, other than a circle of hair in the back of his head, where he had a pony tail. I am not sure if he was training to be a samurai, but he definitely deserved the title falang. Another night we saw a European, possible a Brit, eating a baguette at the Foreigners bar, with ham and Kraft cheese singles, obviously not wanting to eat the local food. But, he was drinking a fruit juice with ice (a no no) and finished the meal with a cigarette. We wanted to point out that he has a greater chance of dying of cancer from his cigarettes than eating a spicy pork noodle soup at the night market. Falang. Not to seem cruel, we also use falang to describe ourselves too! We did see Falang being used in its original form too. The French School in Luang Prabang was hosting a free Mekong Festival. We first saw them in the back of a truck playing strange music, with strange singing. We stopped by the school - I won't say no to a free party. Two of
Food StallsFood StallsFood Stalls

Delicious fried protein - fish, sausages, chicken.
the Frenchies were doing a dialogue when the music stopped and they referred to themselves as Falang. It was the only word I understood of the French!

The other phrase is “Same Same, but Different.” From what we can figure out, it translates to similar. There are t-shirts for sale that say same same on the front and different on the back. I was explaining to some students at Big Brother Mouse what rhyming words were - I tried to explain that they are similar sounding words, they end in the same sound, even if they are spelled differently. The book included the examples bright/white and fork/cork. They seemed confused, so I explained they were same same, but different, and they seemed to understand. We also have incorporated the phrase into our speech. Just like we picked up “Good on Ya” from New Zeland, falang and same same but different will stay with us.

Tamnak Lao Cooking School

Eric and I have never been able to cook Asian food. We have tried some stir fries, and we brought back some Thai seasoning from Bangkok last visit, but had no success. We saw that two restaurants
Bamboo BridgeBamboo BridgeBamboo Bridge

This is a private bridge - 2,000 kip to cross. And, when the river floods, the bridge goes too. It is rebuilt each year.
in Laos offer cooking classes. We chose a six hour cooking class in which we learned to cook five traditional Lao recipes, plus saw how to make sticky rice and chili paste. Only three people signed up for the class, taught by two Lao teachers, Leng Lee and Phia Yang. Quite the high teacher/student ratio. Leng, Phia, Nicole (a landscape architect from Munich), Eric, and I started by traveling to the largest market in Luang Prabang, the Phousi Market. We already walked the three kilometers to the market last week, trying to buy, among other things, socks. The market seems to have everything from meat, fish, and produce, to clothing, house wares, jewelry, electronics - everything it seems but socks. During our morning trip I still kept my eyes peeled for socks, but Leng walked us through the food section to show us the different ingredients we would be cooking with, and to also point out some different traditional Lao and Thai produce. We saw galangal (similar to ginger root), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, tamarind, tamarind paste, bamboo shoots, woodear fungus (mushroom), choko (a green pear-shaped vegetable), and different types of chillies. We also saw padak, which is the very
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Everything in this part of the world is too small for Eric.
pungent Lao fermented fish sauce, which still has large chunks of fish floating in the sauce. Leng also showed us the different kinds of rice - steamed rice and sticky rice, as well as Thai sticky rice.
The class itself was a great experience. The teachers demonstrated the first two dishes - Luang Prabang salad and Friend Rice Noodles with Chicken and Vegetables, and then we cooked them on our own. We ate the two dishes for lunch. After lunch, the teachers demonstrated four more dishes, plus jeowbong red chili paste, plus sticky rice. I was told sticky rice was not difficult to make, but I am unsure how to replicate it at home. First, you rinse the sticky rice at least three times, then soak the rice in water for at least two hours, but preferably over night. They fill a large pot with water and place the rice inside a steamer basket to steam over the rice. It is more of a steaming process, using a towel to cover the rice. We will see what we can accomplish back in Chicago. We cooked three more dishes and ate “dinner” around 3:30 pm, unfortunately still full from lunch a
Our lunchOur lunchOur lunch

Look at our fancy cooking.
few hours before. Our favorite dish for dinner was fried eggplant with pork. Very tasty. We have a cook book with twelve Lao recipes to take home, so be prepared to be a guinea pig for us if you live in Chicago. I was very happy we took the class, and hope to do the same in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. But, we were exhausted, and completely full at the end - a full day and a full belly.

Earth Hour and an ATM

Once you start to spend a decent amount of time in a developing country, you start to experience the problems you miss when you are on a short holiday. About 5 days before our departure from LP, Eric went to the ATM next to our guest house. We have two bank accounts, Capital One and Citibank. We each have ATM cards for each bank, so that totals 4 ATM cards between the two of us. We use Eric’s Cap One the most, and occasionally I will use mine. We have not used the Citibank since the US. After Eric’s Cap One working every time we hit the ATM in LP, we were
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Check out my new striped Lao pants - drawstring and comfy.
surprised when Eric’s ATM card did not work - neither of them, in the ATM next door. He walked to the other ATM in town, and same problem. I broke out my cards and same thing. We both asked at the exchange bank that owns the ATM and they looked at our cards and said they wont work in this country - but they had before. Then, were told “some days they work and some days they don’t.” We saw the ATM working for other people, but not for us. After the immediate stress and annoyance, we went online and checked Citibank and all looked good. We went on Capital One and their online banking was not working. We called the 800 number using Skype and they were not open! So, we were going to exchange some Thai Bhat we brought for this purpose, and instead found 105 Euros from my last trip to Europe and exchanged that. We figured we would try to next day to see if the ATMs worked.

The next day was when cities around the world were participating in Earth Hour - turning their lights out from 8:30-9:30 pm. We woke just before 8:30

With views over the Nam Khan River
am and turned on the news. About ten minutes after waking up, the power went out. No big deal, we just got dressed with the flashlight and the curtain open. We went outside and saw the whole street was without power, including the ATM. We found out the entire town was without power. Power finally came back around 1:30pm. At that point, the ATM was on the fritz, which we heard will happen after a storm. So, we exchanged our Thai Bhat for enough kip for the rest of our stay, and hope that our cards will work back in Thailand. Not a huge set back, but enough of an annoyance.

We called it an early night, being a little over heated with no a/c for most of the day. We were in bed watching CNN during Earth Hour in our time zone. Despite Ed Norton and Alanis Morrisette requesting we turn off the lights, we figured we did our part - no power for five hours of the day was enough for us.

For Adult Eyes Only

That’s the warning - no kids beyond this point.

On the door of each hotel room in Laos is a disclosure from the government. The country on a whole has a midnight curfew, making it a great place for Eric and I, who can barely stay awake past 10pm most nights. The “Accommodation Regulations” issued by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (“Peace, Independent, Democracy, Prosperity”) police department are similar to the disclosures on the back of the door in many US hotels. The regulations in Laos, however, include some unique disclosures, most likely as a result of the Communist government. Some of the more entertaining include, verbatim:
• The tourism police office has issued accommodation regulation for tourists and accommodation provider to implement and follow as below:
o Do not bring any illegal things come into hotels guesthouses and resorts, it is not allowed include ammunitions, except the official who have the permission only.
o Do not any drugs crambling or bring both women and men which is not your own husband or wife into the room for making love.
o Do not allow domestic and international tourist bring prostitute and others into your accommodation to make sex movies in our room, it is restriction.

These regulations really put a cramp on our plans for this trip. Darn it.


29th March 2009

love it!
the picture of eric in the apron is priceless -- i know the feeling!! i am diggin' the blog. glad to know you guys are lovin' life. :)
30th March 2009

Living Vicariously
Thanks, I am really enjoying your blog, living vicariously through your world tour. Eric, I will talk you up at the MRO in Dallas. Bill Peterson
30th March 2009

all your "fried"'s became "friend"s...it made me laugh and i can't wait for you to make me sticky rice! :)

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