The Wattay domestic terminal is located in a small building next to the international building. It took 10 minutes to get there from our hotel in Vientiane downtown. There was no stress or fuss at the airport. We walked in and casually strolled to the check-in counter. The check-in was a manual process. There was a metal weighing scale for the check-in luggage. It was very simple. We arrived early so there was no crowd, and all was done in 10 minutes.
We waited for our flight to Luang Prabang. It departed on time. The plane was a French made turboprop aircraft produced by ATR (Avions de Transport Regional). There were two seats on either side of the aisle. I have flown in a smaller plane from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Fayetteville, Arkansas. That was back in 1982! It was quite an experience with lots of turbulence and bumpy rides along the way. I was glad that our flight to Luang Prabang was smooth and the landing was spectacular with surrounding mountain scapes on either side of the mighty Mekong River. If you are flying to Luang Prabang, make sure you have a window seat. The view is just stunning!
Mekong River is the seventh longest river in Asia. It flows through seven different countries; starting from the top of Tibetan Plateau down to China’s Yunnan province, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Luang Prabang Airport is small, so small that the plane disembarked the passengers less than 100 metres from the door of the arrival terminal building. Quite impressive if I may say. The entire flight trip was so simple and easy.
We had a picked up service from the hotel, Mekong Riverview Hotel. The staff waited for us on arrival. There was a welcoming smile from the young man. It does not take much effort for visitor to be charmed by Lao people. It reminds me of Thai culture and people, which is one of my favourite SEA (South East Asia) destinations.
In Laos, there are printed T-shirts that reads “Same Same”. I can understand why. If you love Thailand, you will love Laos. Think about the place, especially Luang Prabang, as Chiang Mai twenty or thirty years ago. It has a “same same” feel to the place – temples, monks, Buddhist rituals, big warm smile and regular greetings of “Sabai Dee” in Laos, or “Sawaddee” in Thai.
Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos Kingdom, which was officially inscribed by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1995. It has outstanding architecture blending traditional Lao architecture with European colonial structures built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The townscape is remarkably impressive and best explored by foot or bicycle.
On arrival at Mekong Riverview Hotel, we were warmly greeted by Daniel, the residence manager and his staff. It is a small boutique hotel – a ground floor with front courtyard and a top floor with a balcony. Daniel and his staff were incredibly hospitable and friendly throughout our stay. The hotel provides free bicycle hire to house guest, the best way to see the place. Another option is to be chauffeured by one of the staff in a cute white golf buggy.
The view from our room and balcony is quite impressive. The gentle flow of Nam Khan River joining up to the Mekong River. A wooden thatched roofing hut on the verge of two rivers bank. A tree lined street with swaying coconut trees. A few small fisherman boats in early morning – removing their fishnets supported by floating plastic bottles – to discover their prized catch of the day.
The hotel is located within walking distance to several café and restaurants. There are two ends to the streets in the heritage enclave of Luang Prabang peninsula.
The eastern side of the peninsula – quieter, less people and traffic. This side of the peninsula has the expansive boutique hotels and restaurants, interesting architectures and temples.
The western side of the peninsula – more known as the “farang” side with low to medium cost guest houses cater for backpackers. “Farang” is a term used locally in Laos and Thai to refer to foreigners. The tour agencies, Money Exchange, shops, cafes, markets are located in this side of the peninsula.
Went to Lala Cafe for lunch. There was a relaxed feel to the place. We walked in. There were 3 other tables with people using WiFi.
The place is stylish and modern with a contemporary touch. Lovely jazz music playing in the background. There are 3 different sitting areas; all open air. Inside and outside tables, and a few tables across the road in public space next to Nam Khan River.
We wanted a light lunch. Browsed through the menu. It has a mix of Lao and western food. We opted for Lao food, and ordered a vermicelli noodle with Lao spring roll and beef slices, and Lao snack of stuffed lemongrass.
While we were about to eat, two other tourists pulled up with their bicycles. I recognised them immediately. They were on the same flight with us from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane. We began to chat. Michael and Traci, that is their names, live in Penang as expatriates. They were also in the same hotel as us, at Mekong Riverview. We laughed. It was like old friends meeting up in Luang Prabang.
This vermicelli noodle dish was very similar to the Vietnamese vermicelli dish. As I understand, most dishes in Laos are similar to Vietnamese and Thai. The dish was topped with lots of roasted nuts and dried shallots. It was refreshing with lots of mint and coriander herbs. The dressing which came in a separate bowl was sweet, sour, slightly spicy and very nutty. Spring roll was nice and slightly crunchy on the outside. Beef was again probably a water buffalo meat.
This was truly a Lao dish – stuffed lemongrass. It looked beautiful and interesting. The flavour was a bit subtle and blend for me, even with the sweet vinegary dressing. The stuffing was a blended minced meat (probably pork or chicken) with some herbs, wrapped in lemongrass and then deep fried. I was not sure how to eat it at first. I attempted to eat the lemongrass, which was a wrong thing. It was stringy and chewy. Eventually I figured out that I had to remove the lemongrass casing and eat the inside meat by dipping into the sauce. The dish came with sticky rice, which is a staple of Lao food.
The way to eat the sticky rice and accompanied dish is to use the right hand by pinching some of the rice and the left hand to pinch a dish from the plate. The rice is then put into the mouth first, followed by a left hand with the meat or vegetables. Most Lao dishes are dry, which explained how they can be eaten with a hand. Otherwise, the hand and fingers will get too wet and sloppy with sauce and gravy all over. I tried this with another Lao meal at a different restaurant. My left hand was left smelling like fermented shrimp paste for a couple of days. 🙂
Next post features the markets.