Luang Nma Tha, Laos to Luang Prabang, Laos
11.08.2010 - 15.08.2010 27 °C
With the recent rain and change in weather that this part of the world has been receiving, sections of the road on our way to Nong Khiaw had been blocked by landslides or turned into mud pits. The drive took longer than usual but the scenery was stunning and it didn’t stop until we pulled in to Nong Khiaw and we realised what a magnificent place we were going to be spending the next 2 nights in. Huge jungle covered mountains with the Nam Ou River running below was our view from our thatched huts complete with balcony and hammock. It was so picturesque that it was hard to believe we were here.
We did very little with our time in Nong Khiaw but relax, go for a few walks, eat some great food and stare at the scenery. We had re-discovered our love for ‘morning glory’ which is similar to spinach and it has been present in every meal so far and surprisingly we are not getting sick of Lao food, only finding we can’t get enough of it.
Our main reason for heading to Nong Khiaw was to take a slow boat down to Luang Prabang along the Nam Ou River. With 10 of us to a boat and our luggage at either end, the boats sat rather low to the river level and cruised casually along with the whole journey taking just under 6 hours.
We stopped off at the Pak Ou Caves where 2 caves in the lower cliffs house around 4,000 Buddha statues which have been placed here by worshippers. Most of the statues have been carved from wood or moulded from a tree resin, then coated and covered with gold leave. Many of the statues date from the 18th to the 20th century.
The boat was comfortable at the start but the thin cushions became non-existent after a while and most of us had numb bums as we pulled into Luang Prabang. It was a short tuk tuk ride to our hotel before we ventured down to the main street and explored the night market, full of handicrafts and street food. Our stomachs were grumbling so opted for food first and then shopping and in some way we had made the right decision. As we were enjoying our grilled fish and random salads / vegetables the heaven’s opened up and neither of us had seen rain like it. It lasted for about 45 minutes and there was no letting up in between for us to make a run for it so we sat it out on top of the tables as the back splash was so forceful that even though we were under cover, we were getting soaked from the feet up. Guess this is what we have to look forward to for the next couple of months as we are following monsoon weather. By the time the rain had eased a little to escape, the shopping stalls had packed up so the next best thing was to sit in a bar and watch the rain trickle down.
Neill’s birthday gift from the group was a Laos cooking course so we headed off to the market where Caroline gave us a run down on the different types of vegetables that are used in common Laos dishes, even tasting some of them which were extremely bitter to sweet and sour. A lot of the same ingredients are used in most dishes and it’s mainly the spices that change the flavour. After talking to us about vegetables, bamboo and mushrooms we headed in further to the market to taste test some local savoury and sweet snacks – marinated mushrooms, buffalo skin, caramelised biscuits and various sauces. The cooking course was located outside Luang Prabang and our location for the next few hours was magical. The cooking tables had been set up under a bamboo thatched hut with a lotus pond behind and their herb garden in front.
The ingredients were all laid out on the main table and most of them we knew apart from a couple which were explained throughout the day. Sticky rice was the first thing we learnt how to cook and whilst it was cooking, we started work on our dip called Jeow Mak Keus or otherwise known to us as Aubergine Dip which is very similar to buba ganoush but more spicy, or if your Neill extremely spicy as 2 small red chilli’s ended up in his.
The afternoon was spent making lemongrass stuffed chicken which was coated in egg and deep fried, a clear buffalo soup which was on the tough side and not one of our favourites and steamed fish wrapped in banana leave.
The best thing was that once everything was ready we were able to sit down and enjoy our meal that we had prepared. Everything was fantastic apart from the soup which is probably something that we won’t make again. As we were enjoying our lunch, the chef’s were busy preparing our ingredients for our dessert which was purple sticky rice pudding with fresh local fruit.
We weren’t expecting a day like that at all as we thought we would be stuck in the back of a restaurant being shown how to cook the dishes and not actually cooking them so we left the course extremely happy and enjoyed the rest of the day strolling around the streets and wandering through the night market.
An elephant experience was on the agenda the next day for Kylie and a small group headed out to the drop off point where a long boat was waiting for us. Now this boat wasn’t exactly stable and proved to be the worst mode of transport Kylie has taken yet and one not wanting to be experienced again, however we’re not holding our breathes as it’s one of the most common boats around in Laos. Luckily the ride was only 10 minutes before we disembarked and headed up to where the elephants were waiting. We took a stroll through the jungle before heading back and walking through the waterfall. They are not the most graceful of animal’s and after a while the constant motion of them rocking you back and forth starts to wear thin but the best was yet to come.
Washing an elephant was something completely different and you have no control over them and what they do. They are rather big animals which means that they can hold their breath for a lot longer than us normal humans can so when they go under, you hope that they don’t stay down too long. Roberta and Kylie shared an elephant and he was rather a good one compared to Ben’s but we weren’t sure if it was the elephant or Ben. You are suppose to just stay on the back of the elephant and go with the flow but Ben seemed to do semi-circles on the elephants back and ending up backwards when he was suppose to be forward.
The elephants take their time and decide to go down when and for how long themselves and this is something that you don’t really have control over so you just sit on its back and go with the flow. What they do know is that half way through the wash, they are getting bananas so they all walk back to the platform and stick their trunks in your face, waiting for you to feed them.
We had an hour after washing the elephants to enjoy the waterfall before boarding the horrible long boat’s back to the bus. We spent the afternoon researching flights home before enjoying a cheese and wine night for Kaye’s birthday which was divine and clearly there wasn’t enough as the brie and camembert were gone within 5 minutes . We have been looking forward to this for about 2 months now or ever since we left Europe as cheese and good wine has been a rarity or like in China non-existent. We did manage to get hold of mozzarella cheese in Tibet but this was at a high price and had been smuggled over the border from India.
Tomorrow we are off to Vang Vieng to enjoying the talked about tubing experience down the Nam Song River before making our way further south to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.