Here we go again !

Trip Start Jun 16, 2011
Trip End Nov 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sunset view guesthouse

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, September 8, 2011

met with Chanthavong on Wednesday evening at Tum Tum Cheng (a restaurant recommended by Odanie. Good but expensive ! Spending 12 euros in two appetizers and a lime soda is not what I call cheap in Laos !). He had just come back from Vientiane (the capital city of Laos) and had been delayed for 5 hours because of a huge mud landslide on the road. Now this is not an exceptional event. During rainy season, erosion is a wide phenomenon. During the dry season, Lao people uproot trees quite a bit and burn soils in order to plant stuff. This has huge consequences, the most disturbing of them being those very frequent landslides. You see, Laos is a country of mountains and plains, but mostly mountains. It is not easy for people to domesticate this wild nature and agriculture can be a challenge. Planting on burnt soil is very productive (I was so surprised to see, in my trip to come, all those rice fields on hills, when I have been used to see them in Cambodia and Vietnam on flat grounds) and to do that, they need to... burn soil ! So yes. Landslides are a huge thing in Laos during rainy season and I have been quite spared in my trip so far...

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. At the time I write those lines (Saturday evening), i had very cautiously ordered a plate of noodles with vegetables for dinner. (Oh yeah, and they fry everything by the way so... It's FAT). The thing is that the Lao people from the guest house invited us to their table to taste their food... So, mmhhh, I had the pleasure of tasting squirrel tonight (kids sell them to you on the road for 1.5 euros a piece. They capture them with bamboo traps). Yup. And well, the thing is they minced it and then drowned it with aubergines, plenty of herbs and lemongrass, and therefore, they could have cooked rat or mice or cat or dog or snake instead, I couldn't say. But it wasn't bad (in the sense that, unlike some other times, it didn't make me want to throw up). To make it go down better they served me some of their local rice wine, which has a special twist (I know already some of you are going to love this) because it is mixed with... wild buffalo bile. Yummy ! Yes, it has this clear bitter aftertaste and you tell yourself "mmmhhh, that must be the bile part".

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... powdered pork stock in it. It stinks. Even my favorite herbs don't taste the same here. Well they do taste the same but the texture is much rougher. Not nice. On the table, four small pots to season your soup : sugar, salt, chili and... glutamate. Yummy ! They put glutamate in absolutely every dish in Laos. I put that on the Chinese influence, again not a nice one.

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. Guavas are strange (not like in Brazil !) and even apples taste funny. So I eat bananas, rambutan and papaya. Oh yes, I forgot to say but I am close to a nervous breakdown : mangousteen season is over. I nearly cried.

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. I didn't know this road was build in total secrecy by the Vietnamese to trap, with heavy artillery, the French in Dien Bien Phu. I don't know the details of the story but the mere thought of "OK guys, we're gonna build a 500 Km road now" and off they go with axes and picks... as I said previously in my blog : in the heart of the jungle. I mean these guys had guts. If you know of a book about Ho Chi Minh's life or the Ho Chi Minh trail, I want it.

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 :-)
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odanaille on

et benh, gonflé le lao bourré!! ah ah ah j'hallucine! bon j'espère que tu vas trouver de la meilleure bouffe, essauie de te faire une fondue à base de jus de coco, et boulettes de porc ça défouraille, par contre je ne connais pas le nom.
un autre truc que je l'aime de le manger: le nem ta deua, mais comme le porc est fermenté mon père m'avait déconseillé d'en manger sur place, par contre quand tu seras de retour je me fais mon devoir de t'emmener dans un bon lao, paske y a quand même de la bonne bouffe... d'alleurs au cas où... si un jour tu aimes un petit plat, pour dire que c'est bon l'expression c : "Seb' lay" et si c'est très bon (si si ça arrive jti jure) "seb lalay", d'autres expressions: kin kao > manger (du riz)
Kin nam > boire
en gros c'est kin (avaler) tu rajoutes kao (riz) pour signifier manger, et nam (eau) pour boire

je sais dire "arrête" Bo héét!!! et pleure pas "Bo haïïïï" après un séjour dans une famille lao avec des gamins en bas âge dans ...l'illinois!! hi hi hi!!!
sinon si tu veux jouer à la pétanque (ils adorent ça) c'est "petang" (un peu comme falang
et comme on dit là bas: Oyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!

bon je continue la lecture du bog youpiiiii!!

ah au fait je suis enfin en congé mater !!!

profite à donf ma poule!! j'aimerais être avec toi!!

koptchaï lalay pour ton blog!!!

nadegeb72 on

Yes ! Merci ma Odanouille ! J'avais complètement oublié de parler de la petang ! Ils adorent ça effectivement, en s'enfilant des litres de BeerLao avec des glaçons et en mangeant des cacahuètes au lait de coco :-))
Je vais essayer de trouver cette fondue au lait de coco et les boulettes de porc... Fichtre ! Pour le moment je fuis... Ce soir : tartine poilane (dans le style quoi) végétarienne avec salade verte, puis tarte au citron et espresso... Tu vois comme je fuis... Mais je vais quand même essayer encore :-)

supet-toutounet on

Je vais me repeter...mais je voulais juste te dire que je trouve que ton blog est a chaque fois meilleur et meilleur... Il est tard, je sus crevée et en te lire avant d'aller me coucher c'est un peu comme suçoter un bonbon : c'est tout doux, c'est vraiment bon et ça réconforte...muhmmmmm.... merci Nadège....

Lauréline on

Je ris Nadege :)) J'adore la description de la nourriture, ça fait peur!!!!
En tout cas tu découvres plein de choses et c'est bien là le principal. Bisous de Paris

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