Blog // Tales from the trail
By Keith & Looie
Sensing a slight relaxation in the aggressive whirring of the propeller blades and feeling the plane descend yet further into the lush green valley approaching Luang Prabang, I couldn't help but hum a verse or two from the Indiana Jones theme tune...thwack, as the in-flight magazine was rapped against my chest; NOT HELPING, Corallie told me.
Still, once safely on the ground, a far less painful journey than the prospect of a 20+ hour bus ride from Hanoi and through the mountains we had just swiftly glided over; by now the sprouts intrepid or otherwise were sick and tired of Vietnamese bus journeys, Vietnamese driving and perhaps just traffic in general. Thus we felt instantly calmer when our lift from the airport stopped and patiently gave way to an oncoming vehicle at the very first junction we intersected - no horn, no macho-chauvinism, no trusting the other guy would yield in our wake. Just quiet and patience.
The next big plus was to find out avocados were in season and busting out of every display in the fruit stalls, each plump fruit ripe for smearing into a crusty baguette or popping into a blender with some other fruity friends for an equally delicious fruit shake - just make sure you time your visit after the bread man has visited...
Town reminded us a little of Hoi An, perhaps its prime location on the Mekong attracting similar traders to build similarly impressive brick and timber trading houses that still dominate the streets, the majority now taking on the role of shop or restaurant.
As the sun set seductively on our first evening, we followed a recommendation to head up Mount Phou Si, a popular [very popular it turned out] sunset spot. At one point it felt that most visitors to town were up there, clamouring for the best shot of the view. For me though, the most impressive view was looking the other way, just as dramatic as the low sunlight was crawling out of the valley, overhead dark and foreboding clouds were rolling in creating a stunning contrast.
The following day we were up early as we had preparations to make, the 'Looies', aka Mother and Poppa Hunt were due in that afternoon. These included scouting for and reserving accommodation, as well as finding some activities to keep them out of trouble. Fortunately our current guesthouse hosts, Andy and Venus, had rooms available for the evening and also informed us of the annual boat-race due to start inline with our important guests' arrival. On our various trips in and out of Luang Prabang, we stayed at Manichan guesthouse a number of times and they were always welcoming; Andy a former teacher from Boston and the business brains behind the operation, whereas we suspected if Venus was solely in charge there would most likely be parties every night. Meanwhile their daughter, Marli, kept us all entertained and stubbornly refused to wear anything but her 'Frozen' dress. As a team they were the friendliest hosts one is likely to meet and full of useful advise on the area; also if you stop by be sure to try Venus' Khao Soi, a yummy, hot-sour, fermented bean and noodle broth.
Thus our plan was to spend a couple of nights at Manichan with the 'Looies' and watch the boat racing, before heading out to (and difficult to say in a hurry) 'Ock Pop Tok' a little way out of town. All we needed to do now was collect them from the airport.
Day 1 in Luang Prabang, our special guest blogger piece:
...and so having made the two hour flight from Bangkok, being met by Corallie and Keith (with traditional arrival sign) followed by a ten minute tuk-tuk bus ride to the Manichan Guest House in the old part of Luang Prabang. A little siesta, and then off to the 'BBQ Night Food Market' for our first taste of Laos food. The night market, food stalls and eatery is something else! Even now, in the low season, this busy very smoky alley-way provides a unique dining experience. Select from an incredible array of BBQ meats, fish and salads including their highly sort after pork sausages (little lemon grass, coriander, soy, salt and pepper!). All delicately served with large bottles of Lao beer! Delicious! A delightful end to a very special day.
Poppalooie, Oct 2015
They had mentioned the boat race was a big event, but not on the scale we expected; market stalls lined the streets on the riverbanks, make-shift bars lined the banks themselves, the local brass band had taken over a sizable restaurant on the finishing line and colourful streamers marked out the 800m or so course along the river, through which, now 50-strong crew vigorously powered their dragon boats down. It appeared they were completing qualifying runs to seed a 64 strong main draw of a knockout tournament.
Bizarrely, the race started on a bend, teams drawing lots for the noticeably shorter inside line. Stakes were high and allegedly some teams calling in ringers from Thailand to join their local village team. For us, whilst many subtleties were lost, a grand day out and best spent on the riverbanks sharing a few beers with the locals.
The next day, as chance would have it, was Poppalooie's birthday and as a fellow keen cyclist (and upstanding member of Phuket's mountain bike hashers) it was only fitting we went out for a morning ride. Following Andy's detailed instructions, we hopped onto the ro-ro ferry across the Mekong and after summiting a particularly steep incline out of the other side, Luang Prabang vanished from view and we were treated to an impressive vista of rural Laos. A breath-taking 10 mile ride followed (including more hills, views and even a river crossing!) and after a brief stop for directions from some local farmers, we found the secret waterfall. Or at least the waterfall we shall henceforth call the waterfall formerly known as the secret waterfall, as some entrepreneurial locals were in the process of erecting a zip-line course in the tree canopy beneath the falls. Still we were treated to a view in its former glory and managed to make it back in time for a pre-lunch birthday beer - you know!
Some much needed R&R was taken that afternoon at Oct Pop Tok. Meaning east meets west, Oct Pop Tok was founded in 2000 by Englishwoman Joanna (Jo) Smith and Laotian Veomanee (Veo) Douangdala with the aims of promoting Laos textiles and empowering the artisans. Starting as a small shop, OPT now have a number of stores across town in addition to the beautiful Living Crafts Centre where we were staying. The centre provides facilities for both the village weavers to practice their crafts and for visitors to appreciate and learn about the techniques used, in addition to the beautiful river front rooms that we were currently lazing in.
The day was rounded off with a celebratory birthday dinner at Bamboo Tree, whose specialties included fried river-weed and of course stuffed bamboo shoots, all finished off with a few shots off his rice-wine homebrew- yum!
Our final day with the Looies was spent mostly trying to get to the pottery village on the other side of the Mekong. After a failed attempt to cross to the nearby resort, we headed back into town proper to try and persuade one of the local boat men to take us. Miraculously onto the scene of disorganisation appeared our skipper, happy to transport us across at a reasonable fee and even show us around a little.
The village was a collection of cooperatives rather than an attraction in its own right, but they were more than happy for me to make a fool of myself and have a go a 'throwing a pot'. Vaguely respectable I thought, however we noted that my pot got placed in a separate pile to the saleable wares heading to the village kiln.
Sadly time had come for the Looies to depart back to sunny Phuket, but it had been fun sharing some adventures and writing on the trail! Next stop for us some volunteering at the Kuang Si Butterfly Park and our first experience with 'Workaway', which promised to be an experience for sure!
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