Beating the heat, choosing live chickens, and the flies come free.

Day 5: In a determined effort to beat the heat, we got up early today and were on our bikes and pedalling through the village just after 7am. A nice cool 27C start to the day which made cycling way easier – despite the pretty decrepit state of the bikes. We tried but failed to raise the height of the saddle on Jim’s bike, so he’s been pedalling around for days looking like he’s stolen a local kid’s bike.

Not long into the ride, we spotted a local market and pulled over to take a look. A fabulous array of local fruit and vegetables, plus fresh meat. We spotted lots of flies crawling over the surface of the meat – in Sydney we’d be horrified, but here’s it’s just the way things are.

From there we pedalled into Luang Prabang centre again, to explore some of the areas around and beyond it. We passed the interestingly named ‘In the Sack’ guesthouse and then spotted yet another local market – so stopped to take a look at that one too.

Again stacks of local fruit and vegetables, different kinds of rice, fresh Mekong fish, and lots of live chickens and ducks in cages (guessing there are no ‘RSPCA Approved’ birds here). We watched horrified as people picked out chickens then the guy behind the counter did the grisly deed (needless to day, we didn’t hang about for long)… That’s just how life travels here.

Next we dropped into the UXO Lao visitor centre – an information centre and exhibition highlighting the ongoing destruction and deaths caused by millions of unexploded bombs left from the Second Indochina War (1964 – 1975). More than 200 million tons of bombs were dropped on Lao, making it one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. The work carried out by the Government’s National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO) is phenomenal – both in terms of clearing bombs and educating towns and villages on the dangers – however around 20 years after the program was originally put in place, only around 5% of bombs have been cleared so far, so there’s still a very long way to go. A sobering experience indeed.

Before heading back home, we popped into a shopping centre to pick up some toiletries, and on the way out spotted some interesting ladies fashion in a clothes shop – gotta love the Simpsons get up. 🙂

Then home to read and nap, before heading out to dinner at a local village restaurant. Tonight’s meal was a superb Khao Soi (noodle soup with pork and vegetables and Lao curry sauce), Mekong fish and sticky rice.

Now back home and a massive storm has just started – we’re sitting watching spectacular lightning strikes across the Mekong while tropical rain crashes down. Quite a weather change!

More tomorrow.

The day that not much happened, and we stumbled across the laundry

Day 4: The weather in Luang Prabang continues to be stifling – we spent another morning reading and sipping coffee while the temperatures soared, followed by a 2 hour nap – it was literally too hot to move.

Late-afternoon with the temperature at a cooler 36C, we decided to brave another trip into the centre on the beaten up house bikes. Shame we had just given a bag of laundry to our accommodation host this morning, or we could have tried out this place, down a side street in Luang Prabang.

We had dinner at the night market again – dark sausage with some unrecognisable meat (ordered by Jim of course); sensational grilled chicken and another huge bowl of food from the buffet we discovered yesterday.

Advertisement

Dessert was huge fruit shakes from a street stall – carrot, lemon & ginger; avocado and mango – and then a leisurely walk back through the town, across the bamboo bridge and onto our bikes for the trip home.

As we pedalled along in the dark, past families eating dinner; kids playing tennis on the road and music coming from homes along the way, it got us thinking how lucky we are to spend time here – it’s a pretty special place.

More tomorrow.

Sex enhancing coffee, rattling bikes, and dodgy food bits at the night market

Day 3: Yesterday’s long walk in extreme heat wiped us out – we headed for an early night and despite temperatures pushing 30C throughout the night, we slept reasonably soundly for over 9 hours.

Dragging ourselves out of bed around 8.30am, we discovered there was no water in the bathroom. Assuming an issue with the local water supply, we headed downstairs to see what was happening – but it turned out the lack of water was simply because the housekeeper was watering the garden (which temporarily turns off water to the house). Local life and all that.

We jumped online to plan out the day – but the internet was also off, due to a fire in a distant town. So we headed out for breakfast to a local restaurant and had coffee and some slightly odd sour-sweet buns – no idea what they were made from.

On the way back to the house, we popped into a local store to buy coffee for a travel coffee press a colleague gave me. We found some ground Lao coffee which was perfect for the job – right beside it on the shelf was a brand called ‘Coffee for Men’ which apparently ‘strengthens the power of sex and sexual relationships long time’. Haven’t seen that one in the supermarkets in Sydney. 🙂

As we walked up a local laneway – Jim laughed and pointed at a baby walker perched on the roof of a house (as he quipped “perhaps a local childcare program”)

The afternoon was spent reading and catching up online – way too hot to venture out into the sun. Just before 5pm – with temperature still at 42C – we hopped on the beaten up house bicycles, and pedalled to the bamboo bridge where we chained the bikes up, then crossed the bridge and walked into town to visit the night market.

Needless to say, Jim was in his element – so many different types of (often unrecognisable) food – the pig’s head and intestines were pretty recognisable though. Jim bought some crispy rolls with chilli sauce which he munched as he scanned the other food options, then settled on a ‘buffet’ – fill a bowl with whatever you like for 15,000 Kip (around $2.50). We piled our bowls up and the food was actually really good!

After a stroll through town to the bamboo bridge – even more spectacular lit up at night – we hopped on our bikes again and pedalled back home under a spectacular full orange moon.

And so to bed. More adventures planned for tomorrow.

Total distance walked: 10.5km
Cumulative total: 30.5km

The day the window fell out, and a near miss with blood soup

Day 2: The day began with an almighty crash, when Jim pushed open the window in our bedroom and the entire thing fell off and disappeared into the garden below.

Our host Monica heard the racket, managed to retrieve the window and, somewhat miraculously none of the 6 glass panes had broken – helped no doubt by a date palm breaking its fall. Monica headed off to summons handyman help in the village, only to be told that today is Buddha Day, and no one does any work on Buddha Day. So a large hole remains, and we’ve since moved to another room, where we’re now wary about touching the windows.

Otherwise, the morning got off to a great start with a fabulous breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Mekong; fresh local bread, eggs, Lao coffee and a selection of 10 homemade preserves and spreads, all made by Monica, and all superb.

With the heat rapidly climbing (already 32C at 10am) we headed off on a long walk into and around the centre of Luang Prabang, taking a recommended shortcut over a bamboo bridge across the Mekong. Once on the far side of the bridge, a guy appeared out of nowhere asking for a bridge fee of 10,000 Kip (around $1.80) – reminiscent of when we climbed to the top of a very high monastery in Myanmar, only to be told right at the top that we needed to buy a ticket. We were lucky to have the chance to walk across the bamboo bridge, as it gets washed away in rainy season (coming up soon) and has to be rebuilt again every year.

Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a fabulous town to stroll around – a great mix of traditional wooden houses, colonial architecture, over 30 Buddhist shrines – and of course these days, lots of modern bars and restaurants. We climbed to the top of Mount Phousi, a 300 step climb with a golden Buddhist shrine and glorious views over the town and temples below, and across to the mountains in the distance.

Spot the badger.

After a welcome lunch of local noodle dishes, we started the walk back home. By now the temperature was a searing 39C (our weather app said ’39C, feels like 44.5C’ – unbearable heat). We crossed another bridge, a little similar to Bay Bieng Bridge in Hanoi – constructed of wooden slats, which in places seemed to be coming away from the metal fixings. And with large chunks missing out of some of the slats, there was also a good view of the Mekong right below our feet.

By now, we were starting to struggle a bit in the heat, and debating whether we should find a taxi or tuk tuk, when we spotted a local shop with water pouring off its roof (no idea why). We took the opportunity to have a cold shower on the street, much to the amusement of the locals – and turns out it was just what we needed to get us through the rest of the walk home. In total, we walked 20km and drank 10 litres of water between us.

This evening we walked to a nearby restaurant in the village for dinner, with a menu entirely in Lao. The only Lao word we’ve learned so far is Sabaidee (hello) which doesn’t get us too far in restaurants. We pointed to a few dishes, with absolutely no idea what we were ordering – thankfully one of the guys eating at a table next to us spoke some English, and pointed out we’d just ordered Blood Soup (“You won’t like it, you’re not Lao.” Clearly he doesn’t know Jim). We changed our order, and I’ve promised Jim he can try it another day – ideally when I’m not around.

It was another superb meal of local dishes – grilled duck, a whole fish with local herbs and lime, mixed vegetables in sauce, sticky rice and Beerlao.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Total distance walked: 20km

Arrival, intestines and a very hot dog

Day 1: After a 16 hour journey from Sydney – five of those spent in Haikou airport waiting for our onward flight to Laos – we arrived safely in Luang Prabang, to a scorching, airless 40C day. Walking down the steps of the plane, a heavy gust of hot air hit us – a reminder that we’ve arrived at the hottest time of the year in Laos, which is just how timing worked out. We’ll get used to it.

After lots of packing and unpacking of backpacks in Sydney (trying to determine what we really need for a year in Asia, and what we can probably do without or at least pick up along the way), we were pretty happy to find our total luggage including day packs was only 11kg (Lil) and 12kg (Jim). Still a decent weight to lug in the heat, so I suspect as we’ll find ourselves turfing out more stuff as we go along.

Our accommodation host arranged for a driver to pick up us from the airport (we were early, he was late – lots more waiting about, but who cares when you have a year to spare?) We followed the driver to the car park and found ourselves climbing, giggling, into a multi-coloured tuk tuk with wooden bum-numbing benches. The animated driver requested I sit the opposite side to Jim as I ‘am too heavy for the tuk tuk’ otherwise.


After 20 minutes of bouncing along narrow dusty village roads, getting a bit too close for comfort to various dogs, villagers, chickens and other vehicles, we arrived in Don Kao, a small village 6km outside the centre of Luang Prabang. Surprisingly rural, given it’s close proximity to the city.

Our home for the next five nights is a sensational sprawling wooden villa with big wooden terraces that look out over the Mekong River – glorious views with boats tripping up and down and local kids swimming along the riverside. Our host Monica is Austrian, born in Brazil and has lived in Laos for 11 years – no doubt she will have some tales to tell over a late night beer or two.

The adorable house dog, Lola, came running to greet us with lots of happy woofs, then spent the rest of the afternoon lying on her back in a desperate attempt to stay cool in the suffocating heat. Every morning she trots off to a nearby restaurant, where the owner gives her a bone picked from their buffalo soup – and sometimes even a skull to nibble on, if she’s extra lucky.

After a 2 hour heat-induced nap, we wandered into the local village in search of early dinner and stumbled across a fabulous local restaurant down a rough laneway with fabulous views over the river and hundreds of gekkos scrambling across ceilings and walls.

After a quick look at the menu I chose Buffalo Larb – a cold salad of spicy minced meat mixed with chilli, mint and other fresh herbs, which was sensational, served with a big wicker basket of sticky rice. Larb is apparently the ‘unofficial official’ dish of Laos.

Jim couldn’t decide on a local fish dish or the Buffalo in Testin (which he thought sounded interesting, and Testin must ‘be a local sauce’). After pointing out that if you join the In and Testin together, add an E on the end and take a closer look at the picture in the menu, the fish dish may be a better option (it was delicious also). And all washed down with a large bottle of Beerlao, the local beer brewed with malt, hop and rice.

The restaurant owner’s daughter – still in school uniform – took our order, served our food and beers and calculated our bill – no RSA requirements here. And then back to our villa, to do some more reading and writing and enjoy another large bottle of Beerlao, while watching the sun set over the Mekong.

Tomorrow, we start exploring.

Who knows where ‘there’ is

Departure day has finally arrived. After months of planning, prepping, wrapping up work, dozens of lists and endless discussions on what we do and don’t need for 12 months travelling around Asia – we’ve said goodbye to our apartment, stuffed our last few bits and bobs into our backpacks, and headed to Sydney airport to start our adventures.

The Uber driver asked where we’re headed – our reply was Laos, then Thailand, and after that we’re not sure quite where we’re headed. One things’s for sure – we’ll have great experiences and a lot of fun getting there, wherever ‘there’ is.

Let the adventure begin.