After a few days of recovery at “Mike’s house” in Vientiane our family of four was off to our next stop on our around the world adventure. North, to the city of Luang Prabang. We had planned for the city to become our base for four days, we ended up staying eight. So far, we tend to slow down rather than speed up.
The city and the surrounding area is home to about 50,000 people and until the communist takeover of the country in 1975 it was the seat of government and royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos.
The city is also home to a number of temples and monasteries so encountering groups of monks is a common occurrence. The old city sits on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. Over the last eight to ten years it has become a more frequent stop for travelers who previously would skip northern Laos in their travels through Vietnam and northern Thailand. It seems as if nearly every resident has either opened a guest house, small shop, or restaurant. The ambiance is relaxed and the people are as friendly as anywhere we have been.
The city also has a few characters as well.
One of whom is Ruth Borthwick an Australian who runs a book exchange and one of the nicer restaurants in Luang Prabang along with a cooking school which we attended. Ruth’s uncle was the Australian Ambassador to Laos in the 1970s when Ruth’s parents were assassinated in a bus between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. One twist in the story is that her father was the twin brother of the ambassador. Of the 35 passengers on the ambushed bus only four were killed. It seems quite likely that the real target was the ambassador.
Ruth is a woman of strong opinion, many of which we agreed with while others we did not. It was an excellent experience for the boys to encounter someone who was of strong opinion and willing to engage in a discussion on the state of the world.
The book exchange is set up as a one-to-one trade with a small fee that goes towards putting books in Lao schools. Or, if one doesn’t have a book to exchange the books can be purchased for a reasonable price with the proceeds going towards school books. We left Ruth with all of the hard copy books we had devoured in China and tried to minimize the number of new ones we added to our packs.
The cooking class was excellent, as you can see from the photos. We met some great folks including a fun couple from Vermont. Colin was gung-ho from the start while Bryce was a bit hesitant at first and then stepped it up on the second dish. By the end of the second round of meals both boys were clearly in charge of our respective teams with Colin directing me as his “sous chef” and Bryce giving Aleix directions on what to do next.
Before we got to the cooking, we of course had to source ingredients. This involved a short ride to the market and a detailed tour of the market. As many of you know, Aleix and I have been vegan for the last few years but have abandoned that constraint (please don’t tell my cardiologist) for this trip.
A walk through the meat section of the market did push Aleix back towards the vegetarian end of the spectrum for several days. The photos don’t sufficiently reflect the variety of ingredients to be had and the sheer number of individual vendors.
Also in the photos above is a bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan river bridge, lit with a long white ribbon of lights at night. There is also a shot of it from the shore during the day. The bridge is put up at the end of the rainy season and replaces the 5 people at a time ferry boat that crosses the river during the rainy season. In the neighborhood across the river down a dark residential road past a temple is a wood fired pizza restaurant. You know you have arrived when you see the “pizza” sign in the front yard. The restaurant is around back in the rear of the house that doubles as an English language school. The owner is Canadian. He teaches school during the day and five nights a week cooks pizza and serves beer to customers who eat at tables in his garden. And, such is the reality of Southeast Asia.