My tour from Bangkok up to calm and green Chaing Mai, happened via a sleeper train. Very common in so many parts of the world not some much in the UK so, this was my first experience at overnight travelling by rail. Not really knowing what to expect, I’m pleased that it was actually quite fun. We ordered a meal on board which was nothing special compared to what we’d had in the city. There was a dedicated warden responsible for making the beds, top and bottom bunks. Fascinating to watch he was uniformed and very efficient, I passed out pretty quick and was up to enjoy the views leading up to Thailand’s second most populr city through my bunk window.
Chaing Mai is a calmer, greener city compared to loud and over polluted Bangkok. I cycled around the countryside in the south and met wonderful guide who showed us his humble home- a tiny hut made from bamboo. Having been a monk in his youth and worked all over parts of Thailand previously, it was amazing to see he was so content with his small simple environment, especially with a family including 2 young children.
After 2 days we were travelling to neighbouring Laos, via the bloodline of the land otherwise known as the Mekong river. Due to the severe rain the river was muddy and brown but the surounding views were nothing short of spectacular. The slow boat run by a local family was cosy and allowed a seat and table, fruit, tea and coffee as well as a lunch service cooked fresh on board. Daughter of the boat owner, was also our on board chef. Not much order than 17, she prepared about 5 dishes on both days for the 16 of us in the group as well as 5 of the family members.
I was lucky enough to get a peek in the kitchen based at the back of the boat that housed a clean water tank specially for passangers. There was meat being marinated but no smells at the time of prep, which was a good thing for me. She donned a chefs hat and overalls and prepered dishes such as noodles and bamboo shoots, chicken soup, fried fish, pumpkin curry and more. We were on boat for two days and both times the food was fresh and tasty, catering to varying tastebuds and preferences.
Our mode of transport to cross into Laos from Thai territory…the only way in my opinion
I hadn’t heard much about Laos, besides being told it’s beautiful. That is an understatement. Green mountainous views that extend beyond the Mekong river across the land, you are never tired of a bus journey or view from your hotel. I really hope this pace stayed as untouched as possible. It is nature at its best.
Laung Prabang, once the capital city of the country, is one of my favourite towns and was our main stop off in Laos. Alfresco dining, wine bars, street names and hotels are a quiet reminder of the time when the French had power of the country in the 1900s. We found coffee shops serving cappacinos and ice coffee, pizzas and granola as well as a pretty swanky bar close to our hotel, run but a young Englishman. .
Certain things that are still close to Loas tradition however, are still upheld and maintained even for foreigners. All the hotels we stayed in required us to remove our shoes either at the entrance of the room we stayed in or the hotel itself. Dining with a local family and spending a night in a rural village exposed us to the hospitality and warmth of the Laos people, with an evening of dining, dancing and simple but hugely genuine blessings from our incredible host who tied a cotton bracelet on our wrists, speaking words of well wishes and protection against evil. We were even givin the Thai cotton skirts to wear, so looked this part too! It was really very special.
Hands down the best meal in Laos, cooked at home made with love included minced pork or laap, deep fried aubergine, local pork sausages, vegatable and coconut curry, fried seaweed and seseme and the star of the show Laos egg salad. The dressing is made with cooked garlic that is minced with the yolk of a few boiled eggs and sugar. Drizzled over lettuce, cucumber, tomato, boiled egg and finished with fried garlic and roasted peanuts. Delish.
Learning about the suffering of this country during the Vietnam war,was an eye opener. A statistic that is hard to forget is that for 9 years, a bomb was dropped every 8 minutes in certain parts of Laos. Conveniently being the neighbouring country to Vietnam, the U.S decided to bomb the land that was used to traffic weapons and medicines for war, between the North and South of Vietnam. The COPE organisation based in Laos thankfully is doing some amazing work at eradicating risks that are still out there from bombs left from the time, still harming so many innocents.
We leave Laos today for Vietnam, I have seen so much and met some lovely people. It will always remain a beautiful place for me. The images really don’t do it justice.