Here we go again !
Trip Start Jun 16, 2011
69Trip End Nov 10, 2011
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Chanthavong and I agree on a 5-day trip to the north where it will just be him and I and his minivan. I can't wait.
He picks me up the next morning at around 9 am and the first destination is Nongkiew where he owns a guest house called Sunset View... Mmmhhh. I like the name already... The trip is beautiful. It's not far away, around 60 Km, but it still takes us three hours to get there. His wife, niece and daughter are traveling with us and we stop at numerous villages to check out the markets and buy some food to replenish the guesthouse stocks.
Let me stop a while to talk about Lao food. Honestly, I am not too much of a fan. When it's good, it's because it's Vietnamese or Thai. And even then, it's better in Thailand or Vietnam. Here they will eat basically anything. With anything. And smells are strong. And tastes are rough. And I basically don't like it too much :-( but there is a lot to say about it :-)
Here we go
This morning I had a noodle soup with chicken (fat pork is still a bit tough for me in the morning straight after coffee...) and I couldn't eat it really, because the chicken was full of bones that were badly and roughly cut (nothing's better than some small bones stuck in your teeth for breakfast) and they try do do Vietnamese Pho but they prepare a quick soup and add..
Last night was a terrible papaya salad, the worst I've had so far and very very fatty roasted pork. I said no to the delicious temptation of chicken feet for dessert. I don't know why :-) and the night before I was served an absolutely horrible bamboo shoots soup. I hated it. Yuk yuk yuk.
Thank god for sticky rice, for black rice with coconut milk. That was a relief. And please remind me never to smell this absolutely horrible paste they put in their soup in the morning. The smell of it can make you faint. Do not ask me what it is. I don't know. And considering the smell, I am not sure I want to know.
I said no to trying the fried "rhino" scarab. I said no to toad and also to mole (they use the blood of the latter to prepare black pudding) . The more I taste and the more I want to say no to anything I don't know because honestly... It's NOT good (or should I say I don't like it... Because Lao people seem to love that stuff). Oh you know that rattan is not only for furniture here ? Yes, you guessed right. They eat it too ! And... I haven't tried it either.
Thank god there is fruit. And even then... Tangerines are tough to handle
So yeah. If only for the food, I could not live in Laos for long... Unless I could spend all my weekends in Thailand :-)
Apart from that, landscapes are absolutely spectacular. Honestly, forget Vietnam. Laos blew me away in one day and I have seen next to nothing. Remember the road story in Vietnam ? Well here, it's like this everywhere. I must say "wow, it's amazing" a hundred times a day. Superb superb superb landscapes. Must see. Absolutely. Definitely. No jungle is greener, no river is browner. With a blue sky and white clouds, my camera is struggling with the contrasts and I am moaning about it because the photographs don't even start to render the sheer beauty of this country.
Add to that the absolute kindness and simplicity of people here and you get a great country. Just please, give them some cooking lessons...
My first evening was spent at Chanthavong's guesthouse, with an amazing view (on the sunset of course but also) on the Nam Ou river and it's surrounding mountains. We got hit by a very strong thunderstorm and it was simply beautiful to watch. I spent the evening with a lovely French couple who has been traveling in Asia for the last 20 years : China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, India... They had stories to tell and they even raised my curiosity on several places I have already been to, especially the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam
These two French people had also some other amazing stories about everything and everywhere. Their experience of India is like I can imagine it and the reason why I don't want to go at all. Their stories convinced me even more not to go. They hated it. I mean I was laughing so much my ribs were hurting because the guy had a talent for storytelling with loads of humor. His story about the bank in India and the international bank director explaining him he cannot exchange euros for roupies because there are only two countries in the world, i.e. USA and India. All the states were part of the USA and their local currency was not accepted in India :-))) OK, that was 15 years ago but still... All he described, the dirt, the smells, the fight for survival, the absence of any value given to life made this country a dreadful experience and they never went back. Neither did they in Vietnam. However, it's the third time they are coming to Laos... Doesn't it say it all ?
After they left I was invited by Chanthavong to join him and some Lao customers. These guys were all in the Lao administration or banking industry. After a couple of beers, I decided I wanted to go to bed. One of the guys followed me and asked me if I wanted to come to his room ! Just like that ! Plain and simple ! I had thought Asian people to be more shy than this... Oh well. I rushed to my room and locked the door really really well :-)
More soon !
PS : as you may have noticed, this is not going to be a chronological storytelling for this northern Laos road trip. What we do every day is too much of the same so I opted for a thematic approach ! But I split it in four so that you know where I went each day :-)