Day 30: A Lao Feast

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November 13th 2009
Published: November 19th 2009
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The morning food market in Phonsovan.
When we return from our trip, we'll cook up a big traditional Lao feast for all of you. Here's what's on the menu:

Hors d'oeurves: fried bamboo worms (sold live, they look like, well, maggots but apparently when fried they are like tasty little popcorn treats)

Appetizer: some part of a frog

Main course #1: a spicy curry featuring either ground squirrel or bamboo rat

Main course #2: pickled swallows (as in the bird); this is a real delicacy in this part of Laos. Farmers supplement their crop or livestock income by laying swallow traps all over the hillsides.

Dessert: fresh fruit

OK, so we didn't eat any of that (and certainly won't be serving it - although there are a lot of squirrels in the Presidio near us) but we did find all of the above at the Phonsovan old market this morning. Tay was really excited to show us the market and we thought it would be a great chance to buy some inexpensive Hmong weavings but found ourselves at the morning food market instead of the textile market.

If we did cook up a real Lao feast for you, it would

I think I might stick with toast.
- Pumpkin soup
- Fresh fish steamed in banana leaves and drizzled with a tamarind sauce
- A sweet potato or eggplant curry, with chicken
- Fresh apples, bananas and starfruit for dessert

There are two other markets in Phonsovang. One is in a large three-story building. One entire floor features Hmong and Khmu traditional dress. The other two floors are filled with cheap clothes and plastic stuff imported from China, Thailand and Vietnam. The second market features even more cheap, imported Chinese stuff and is appropriately called the "Chinese Market". Neither is worth visiting in our opinion.

After checking out of the hotel around noon, we grabbed an early lunch at a restaurant in town that Tay said was very famous (probably famous because there are very few restaurants in town since the town is so new), and then they drove us to the airport for our flight.

We've only seen one airport that's more basic than the Phonsovan airport - and it was in the jungle in Panama. The Phonsavan Airport has only two flights per day - one from Vientiane and one to Vientiane. We arrived early knowing that the flight was overbooked.

Ok last gruesome photo. We were not brave enough to try anything besides a fruit that resembled coconut.
Fortunately, Lao Airlines decided to use a bigger plane (an ATR 72) for the flight since there is no way they could accomodate all of us. Unfortunately the flight was delayed by an hour since we had to wait for the plane to come from another destination. We were just happy to get on the flight since the alternative is a 10 hour trip by minivan.

So we sat on the hard benches in the spartan waiting room, chatting and sharing cookies with our new Australian and Italian friends.

The flight was an easy 30 minutes. When we landed in Vientiane at 5pm, the temperature was 35C (or 95F!). A driver from our hotel met us at the Airport and drove us the 4 km (about 2 miles or so) to our hotel.

Our hotel is a great value. Only $35 for a large and clean room with nice furniture and nice decor. Scalding hot water and good water pressure in the bathroom. And a real bonus: cable television! We don't watch much TV but it was nice to be able to hide from the heat in an air conditioned room watching Animal Planet.

We rallied

Wasps. Evidently they are enjoyed with Lao Lao (local whiskey).
around 6pm and headed out for dinner. Our hotel is located right on the edge of the central area of town (Vientiane's downtown, while larger than Luang Prabang's, is still very compact). The Mekong River is about a block away from our hotel and the waterfront is lined with beer gardens. We watched the sunset, bought some bottled water and gum from an actual mini-mart kind of place (we haven't seen one of those since Chiang Mai) and had dinner at a popular Aussie-owned comfort food restaurant called Sticky Fingers. It was excellent. Adrian had chicken satay, Angelique had unusual but good quesadillas (olive tapanade, mashed potatoes, feta and tomatoes). We decided that we were hungry and split a plate of french fries. A delicious on-the-road meal which went very well with Beer Lao. Yum!

Tomorrow we'll have a chance to explore Vientiane a bit and then we fly on to our 6th country, Vietnam.

Additional photos below
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Hmong clothing at the craft/textile market in Phonsovan.

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