Category Archives: Laos

PB Travels… Mekong River

Onward to the next destination – North Thailand, but at a leisurely pace. I’ve been to Bangkok and some islands but never to the northern part. Everyone carries on about Chiang Mai – so that is where I’m eventually heading. How? On a slow boat down the Mekong river. We checked out of Laung Prabang pretty early to catch the 7am slowboat. And what a magnificent beauty she is, and rightly so, seeing that I’ll be spending almost 10 hours a day for two days 😬. 

I didn’t stay on the boat overnight, but in a quaint little hotel in Pakbeng, a sleepy town along the way. 

Where am I staying? 

By the time we got to Pakbeng it was 6.30pm and minutes before a spectacular thunderstorm – pouring rain, lightening and thunder – the works. BKV Villa is a 3 minute uphill (and I do mean uphill) drive from the banks of the Mekong.  And the reward for being up so high? Stunning views. 

The bedroom was lovely but dark, but I didn’t mind as I was there to sleep. Fluffy towels, complimentary water, loads of sockets. Nice. Along with what I’m realising are the standard Laos hotel room amenities – a fan, a good air conditioner and bum jet. 

Ratings: 

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent. Or too dark for me to see 
  • Bed: 10/10. Comfy bed, comfy pillows and the reason for the high score is a duvet! No bed sheet, no horrible blanket (usually the standard issue), but a fluffy duvet. Niiiiice. 
  • Shower: 5/10. Lukewarm water, did the trick, nothing else to report. 

What did I eat… on the boat? 

Breakfasts was soft, fibre free, white bread out of which I made banana and PB sandwiches.  There was this excellent Loatian tea too – of which I drank copious amounts. 

Lunches were really good. One day we had a Laotian Minestrone with fresh silken tofu – jam packed with veggies – carrots, mushrooms, pumpkin and fresh herbs followed by a veggie stir fry with mushrooms, carrots, onions, chilli, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato. Excellent with a bit of rice. 

What I absolutely loved was the local river weed. Sheets of mildly flavoured seaweed, topped with sesame seeds. Crispy, flavoursome, and easy to eat, I may or may not have eaten about 12 sheets. 



Lunch the next day? More of that river weed, this time with a spinach soup bad bamboo shoot and glass noodle stir fry. I haven’t had proper greens for a while, these definitely hit the spot and I added more to my noodles which were also super tasty. Well balanced and textured. How this lady cooks such amazing food on the back of a boat is beyond me. But go girl!

What did I eat… in the hotel?

Breakfast in the hotel was lots of nice fruit – the most variety I’ve seen in a while, along with my PB. No complaints. 

Dinner the previous night was included too. I tried the local Lao beer – very light and fresh tasting. There was another soup to start off, similar to the minestrone at lunch but this had potato. Just as delicious. Rice paper deep fried spring rolls – when these babies are hot and crispy (as these ones were) they are super yum. Crunchy, soft and an excellent peanut sauce.

I got stir fried pumpkin (omnis got the same but with oyster sauce). But the winner of the night was this yellow coconut curry with potato, carrot and green beans. Accompanied with some purple sticky rice it was a super meal. That curry was so good that even the omnis were fighting over it. Maybe their Buffalo Laap 😔 didn’t hit the spot. 


What did I do? 

Watch the same scenery going by for 9 hours a day for 2 days. It was very beautiful but what struck me was the lack of wildlife in the area! There were a handful of egrets and sea ducks, but absolutely nothing else. This river was like the Rio Dulce in Costa Rica – whereas that one was teeming with birds, animals and reptiles, this one wasn’t. What I did see a lot of were cows, goats and buffalos. Hmmm. What I liked though were miles and miles of forest and greenery.. hope that remains… 



We also stopped by the Pak Ou caves – there are two, and upper and a lower cave, lots of steps but all very civilised with handrails and proper steps. The upper cave is in complete darkness, I needed a torch to get around. Lower cave has steeper steps and is better lit. I loved visiting these caves, and it was interesting to understand the various Buddha positions and what they all mean. Hands out in front? No violence, thank you. Hands in lap? Meditation posture. 


It was really nice to relax and watch the world go by on this part of the Mekong in Laos, I’m glad I did it and I’m glad it was only 2 days – wouldn’t have been able to do it for any longer! 

PB Travels… Luang Prabang

Next stop? Laos! Never been here before and was really looking forward to it. The flight from Hanoi (super slick airport, I’m impressed with something here!) was over before it lasted, and the ride from the airport to our hotel was only 10 minutes – the shortest I have ever experienced! 

Where am I staying?

Villa Kieng Kham, a 10 minute walk from the town centre. Nice spacious room, equipped with tea/coffee making facilities, a fan and a powerful air conditioner and free water courtesy of the reception water cooler (tip – always travel with a water bottle, most hotels will have free water.. Buy less plastic!). I did chuckle when I saw the sign in the bathroom. The hotel reminded me a lot of an Indian hotel room. 


Ratings:

  • Grubbiness factor: low. A few threadbare towels but that was it mainly 
  • Bed: 7/10. I slept well, apart from the last night when there was a thunderstorm at 3 in the morning.
  • Shower: 9/10. Powerful, hot water, no complaints. The loo even came equipped with a bum jet. Whoo! 

What did I eat? 

Breakfasts in the hotel, it was time to whip out my peanut butter (thank you pip n nut) and a miso soup (thank you King Soba). 

Lunches? Went to Garden Restaurant, a cute little place after the King’s museum. There was a section for vegetarian food, but I still had to reiterate that I didn’t want any fish sauce. I went for the summer rolls, filled with carrot, noodles and lots of coriander with a really good dipping sauce. Refreshing and cooling in that heat. I also went for a papaya salad which was just as refreshing and also very spicy and perfectly balanced. YUM YUM. They also do smoothies (anyone for a mongo smoothie?) and home made ice cream, but I didn’t try.. well, couldn’t try any. 

Coconut Garden was another excellent place. I ordered a giant coconut water, so sweet and delicious. I also decided to try the Laap (national dish of Laos, usually made with beef) just to see if it would beas bad as the one at Utopia the night before. This Laap was made with mushrooms and tofu. STUNNINGLY GOOD. full of lemon grass, garlic, fresh chillies, dried chillies, mint, coriander, meaty chunks of oyster mushroom, thick slices of tofu. It was a generous portion and so so so tasty, I didn’t need or want the rice. 


There are lots and lots of brilliant restaurants in Luang Prabang, but I made the mistake of agreeing to go to Utopia. Beautiful restaurant at night, would be gorgeous during the day, yes, there is a but. But.. It was full of teeny bopper backpackers and I was with an older crowd. Loud music and almost complete darkness – don’t mix. I went for the Laap, also made with tofu and mushrooms, served with sticky rice and herbs. What I got was a tasteless mound of tofu scramble with spring onions and mushrooms. The redeeming factor was the big pile of watercress. The others has Luang Pra’bangers and mash – very witty – with the local spicy sausage, another national dish, and loved it. I would have liked to have gone back to check the place out during the day, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. 


Tamarind is another popular restaurant with tourists, they also have a cooking school attached. We had some complimentary fried bamboo shoots to start. Who would have thought how tasty they would be? So delicious! I started with a lemongrass and ginger cooler. Very cold and sweet but just what I needed.


I chose the ‘trio of salads for my mains. – Laap (once again for comparison purposes – Coconut Garden still wins), papaya salad and a warm green salad. They also had frog and buffalo on the menu, if you are that way inclined. It was a giant portion. The Laap was vey restrained. The green salad with river weed was amazing. I can’t describe the flavour, but I felt very righteous eating it. The papaya salad was stellar. Now apparently you wrap it in the (raw) cabbage leaf and pop that in your mouth. I tried it but preferred my salad neat. There was also half a rice cracker (not those horrible polystyrene discs but made with proper puffed rice) thrown in for good measure. Sadly too full for dessert or I would have gone for their purple sticky rice with mango. 

Snacks? Those tasty coconut pancakes I’ve had at borough market (5 for 50p) made out of rice flour and coconut milk. Yummy. I also found a bakery – Ori Bakery – in front of Indigo Cafe that had a vegan chocolate cupcake, so had that too. Pretty crumbly, yet moist at the same time and not too sweet. Yummy x2.

What did I do?

I knew I would like this place while walking to the town centre. Wide streets, beautiful French influenced buildings, NO traffic, beautiful flowers everywhere. 

I walked up and down the breadth of the town – in the middle, by the Mekong river, by the smaller river. So picturesque, even the 35 degree heat with 50% humidity didn’t stop me.

I went into lots of temples, some I needed to pay to get into, some were free with donation boxes dotted around. They were all really peaceful and the monks very polite. 

I also woke up at 4.30am one morning to watch the monks on their morning procession to get alms. What I didn’t want to do is what other tourists were doing – giving the monks sticky rice that local women were selling to them just so I could get the money shot. I was told that this ceremony is carried out by locals virtually every other day primarily to offer respects to their ancestors. So I maintained a respectful distance, look a few photos and let the monks (and intrusive tourists) get on with it. 

Morning market after that… Bursting with amazing fruits, vegetables, mountains of green herbs… And also rat on a stick, fried crickets, boiled worms, buffalo skin… and buffalo legs – which I couldn’t get myself to even look at. Wowza. This market is only open from 5am – 9am, and I would recommend it to everyone. It was a riot of colour, sounds and smells.. excellent experience. 

I though I’d do one museum, so went to the Royal museum, the residence of the king who ruled Laos while the French were there. What opulence! So much gold! So much china! Enough there to hold my attention, I thought it was worth doing. Things to remember – you can’t take pictures in the museum itself and it is pretty hot inside.  

I also went to the Kuang Si falls. 45 minutes from the town centre to the falls (I paid 50,000 kip – travelling in a shared yuk yuk ). Very beautiful and picturesque. It was exactly like Agua Azul in Mexico. We left at 8.30 so when we got there it was relatively empty.. Perfect. The water was cold, but once in, I didn’t want to get out. 

En route to the waterfalls was the sun bear sanctuary, with a whole load of rescued bears. There are pathetic people out here who cage these beautiful little bears and extract their bile for medicinal purposes. May those people lose their gall bladders in a painful accident. 😡 It was sad to learn about it. But good to see how relaxed and happy these bears looked. Really really lovely, another definite recommendation. 

Sunsets on the Mekong river were also very very beautiful, we wandered down there, found a bar with a good view and took in the sun with a sundowner. G&T in a jug for only £4? Don’t mind if I do! 

The night market is another stop for all the souvenir shopping. It’s on the main road, starts at 5pm every day until 9pm, you can get everything. Clothes, magnets, sarongs, scarves, books, tea.. How much time do you have? I bought a few more money purses (lightweight and they make good gifts) and a couple of dresses for my niece. That was it. 

I really enjoyed this town, and I would have been happy to spend longer here. Laid back, relaxed, cultural, full of character. To be honest, I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t like it.. and I now understand why!