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Published: April 13th 2013
Imagine that, much to your surprise, you find yourself preparing for a first date at a Lao restaurant. This is that story.
As all girls know, the story of a date does not start with the date itself. There are outfits to choose and make up to apply and, oh wait, you’re backpacking in Laos. Your least stained vest top and some baggy harem pants should do the trick. Make up is a bit of a push at 35°C, and frankly if you’re still straightening your hair in this heat then you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and sort out your priorities.
Having got yourself ready and looking delightful, you head out to the restaurant. Watch out for the neighbourhood dogs and chickens on your walk, and try not to be tempted by the endless crêpe stalls. Seriously, they are everywhere. You walk in, sit down and make some small talk with your date while you wait to order. Thirty minutes later, you start to wonder why the staff are ignoring you. Don’t worry - this is normal. I have been in Lao restaurants where I have stood up and waved, only to be ignored. I have gone up to the staff and asked if we could order to no effect. I once thought I was successful in only to see the waitress I had ordered from get on a moped and drive away, never to come back. A good tactic to get around all this is to plan a mid-dinner activity, so you can order, pop off and sort out your laundry or go for a little walk, then come back an hour later and you just might get your food. Now, though, it’s time to bring out your best date chitchat, and I would strongly recommend that you avoid the following three questions: Where are you from? How long have you been travelling? Where have you been?
It’s not that us backpackers don’t like to talk about our travels (I mean, let’s face it, I’m writing a blog about the thing) but that people will be asked these same questions hundreds of times and it gets old. Throw them a curve ball. And don’t do what someone did to me, which was to list all the ways English people are horrible before I quietly pointed out that actually I am from England and didn’t really like this particular line of conversation.
By this point several hours will have passed and several bottles of Beer Lao will have been drunk, when finally your food arrives. Now, if you have just arrived from Thailand, where all food is amazing and ridiculously cheap, please try to hide the disappointment on your face. Lao food is not exactly a culinary treat. In my experience it will either be very bland as they (somewhat correctly) assume that tourists can’t handle spice, or it will be so spicy that all other flavour has been obliterated and you are left streaming at the eyes and nose. Attractive. There is also a strange knack in Laos for getting papaya salad to taste like fish, which is something I will never understand. However, because you have been waiting for so long you wolf it down, put down your money and head out into the night to find somewhere else to hang out.
Except that you can’t. There is a nation-wide curfew at midnight so nowhere is open and if you make too much noise the police will come and ‘encourage’ you to go home. Back to the hostel it is, unless you are in Luang Prabang in which case you go to the bowling alley until 3am along with all the other drunk people in town.
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