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Belated Laos Recap: Best and Worst

LAOS | Friday, 26 April 2013 | Views [1247]

This posting isn't really a true reflection of Laos since we only visited three towns while we were there. All-in-all we spent about three weeks in the country and only explored a small portion of the north and northeast. We hope to see some of the central and southern regions later in our trip, but I want to post a recap before we move on to our posts on Thailand, where we are now. Next up: the beaches of Ban Krut!

Best Overall Experience: Laos New Year parties in Luang Prabang. Wet and wildly different from the quiet, relatively conservative Laos we had seen before!
Favorite Town: We stayed in the sleepy river town of Nong Khiaw for only two days, but we loved lazing away in our hammock overlooking the Nam Ou. The beautiful boat ride to get there is worth the long travel time. Note: there wasn't one town in Laos that we didn't like. Luang Prabang in particular is a really great and welcoming little city.
Best Food: A tough one! We had a number of particularly good breakfasts. Honorable mention to the pickled bamboo dip with sticky rice, the banh mi-like sandwich with chicken pate and omelet, and the chicken rice soup with savory donuts.  But, for the BEST I'm going to pick the Phonsavan market for the best coffee I've ever had and what I think are called banh cuon (steamed rice flour crepes with mushroom/pork filling dipped in spicy chilli sauce).
Best Farang (white people) Food: Geoff is going to do a whole post on this later, but I want to highlight the breakfast special at L'Etranger Books and Tea. A proper pot of Twinnings tea with cream, fried eggs, crispy Laos baguette, herbed mayo, and fresh tomatoes. Very satisfying for this white girl after many weeks of noodles and rice!
Unexpected Pleasure: Ok, not that unexpected, but we love the Laos people! They are warm, easygoing, and so approachable. After the hassle and very "assertive" business acumen of Vietnam it was a lovely change.
Most Humbling Experience: Our visit to Phonsavan was colored by the region's devastation during what we call the Vietnam War and they call America's Secret War. During that time America bombed the communist Pathet Lao military installments to stop their support of the VietCong, and then blatentely attacked civilian refugee camps. The pilots were told to look for white chickens and ducks when choosing their targets. The area remains the most heavily bombed place in the world per capita and about 300 people still die yearly from unexploded ordinance. Naturally, this narrative dominates most tours and sites in NE Laos. Having never learned about this part of the conflict in school it was horrifying to witness the devastation, and the amount of work that still needs to be done. While we were there some American military personnel were visiting to search for MIA remains, but it seems as though the American government is not a significant donor to the UXO cleanup effort.
Worst Overall Experience: Bus ride from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang. It was 6 hours of scary, winding, narrow, bumpy roads. In the back seat of a baking hot minivan. Geoff suffered in particular but did not lose his cookies! My legs and arms were sore from bracing against the back of the seat in front of me.
Worst Food: We had some kinda bland and stale sandwiches along the tourist market. The non-spicy (farang) version of the tasty banh mi I mentioned previously includes ketchup. Yuck.
Unexpected Annoyance: Laos, in particular Luang Prabang, was a lot more expensive than we expected. Locals seem to rarely eat outside the home for lunch and dinner so we didn't have a choice but to eat at tourist restaurants, which are always pricier than markets or street stalls. A lot of things are imported into Laos as well, which raises their price. This wasn't a huge deal, and we were happy to support the local economy, but it was surprising as we expected Laos to be one of the cheapest countries we visited!

Tags: best, food, humbling, laos, luang prabang, nong khiaw, phonsavan, tasty, travel, worst

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