Luang Prabang and the Spiciest Thing I’ve Ever Eaten

Hazy rays of sunlight peered at us through the thatched walls of the bungalow as the humidity crept through the air snatching us away from the comforts of our single electronic fan.  Stepping onto the balcony, the sun burned like hot coals in a sauna, while dampness from the river hung in the air like a steamy towel.  The clothes I had left out overnight to dry, hung limp and moist from the line, but as moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty*, I quickly gathered my belongings and donned what I could in hopes of capturing their wetness.

Since I had washed more than half of my clothes the night before, I was forced to throw everything into a plastic bag to avoid a persisting odor of moldy suitcase- ain’t nobody got time for that.  But seeing as we had a few hours on the bus before arriving at the Pak Ou Cave I used the time to hang my jeans out the window and roll/bounce my shirts on my arms like a Conga line version of low (body) heat tumble dry.  Surprisingly, for the most part, it worked.

While we took our bus through small towns with wooden houses on stilts, children ran to the side of the road and waved at us.  North Cyprus made a comment about how most of the parents had decided to selectively clothe their children in shirts rather than pants which sparked a conversation as to why this was the case.  Ultimately we reached the consensus that it was for facilitated potty training – or lack thereof.  I would insert a picture of the kids but I’m pretty sure even taking pictures of a baby in a bathtub qualifies as child pornography in my country.

By the time we arrived at the river crossing for Pak Ou Cave, the majority of my clothes were dry, though I feared they wouldn’t be for long as the skippers loaded all of our bags onto a low riding boat.  Fortunately we made it safely to the cave, and then from the Nam Ou tributary to the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.

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Once we arrived safely in Luang Prabang and checked into our rooms, I was famished.  A group of us headed to a restaurant that appeared to only serve one dish…noodle soup.  And while drinking spicy noodle soup on a day so hot even Khaleesi would feel the burn, may not seem like the best idea, it was damn worth it.  There is nothing better than tossing a pile of this into delicious broth.

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Once we were done with lunch our group decided to explore the town as it was North Cyprus’ last day with us.  The Australians, Germans, Belgian, Maracely and I had opted to stay for a few days to explore Luang Prabang, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.  Once the capital of Laos, and home to the royal family, when them Chinamen invaded, the Lao people were forced to enlist the help of Le French for defense, and the capital was ultimately moved to Vientiane, but some of the French influence still remains.   The former Royal Palace turned into the National Museum, and there is hilltop temple which was rumored to be great sunset spot.

The Royal Palace complex was super pretty, but as none of us had our knees covered, and we were all being cheap backpackers about renting wraps, we only made it into one of the temples as the rest required a dress code.  It ended up not being too much of an issue though as we were pressed for time to go make it to the hilltop temple for sunset. In my head, and as a resident of a non-equatorial country, hot weather usually means late sunsets, but in Southeast Asia, I kept forgetting that sunset comes around 6:30 pm.

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We had been told that the hilltop temple was
a) a lot of stairs and
b) required proper dress
…so we rushed back to our hostels to change and cover our knees and shoulders.  Having limited options since my clothes had not in fact dried and all smelled like musty backpacker, I threw on black leggings and a sweater t-shirt in preparation for the climb.

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Needless to say, I sweated more than pedophile in a playground.  And the best part was after climbing the 320-something steps and paying 20,000 kip to get to the top, it turns out the temple was the size of a ping pong table and had optional entry – meaning I didn’t have to put long pants or a t-shirt on.  FML.  On the bright side at least the view was stunning and well worth the three gallons of sweat I exuded.

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That spectacle being over, our group made plans to meet back up for dinner at Laolao garden for some Lao food and laolao with our Lao tour guide (back to Smurf Village).  When we arrived we found out that Sigh, our tour guide,  used to work there and had created some of the drink menu.  We also found out that most of the drinks were buy 1 get 1 free which, you really can’t argue with.  Not being super hungry since I had snacked on a Lao Sandwich earlier (vache qui rit, chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, sweet chili sauce and hot sauce on a baguette- delicious!), I just ordered a papaya salad.  After easily handling all the food in Thailand, I ordered the salad, “Lao spicy”which was the highest level of heat you could order.

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I almost died.  This was by far the spiciest thing I had ever eaten in my life, and also one of the best tasting spicy dishes I had ever had. The crunch of the fresh papaya, with the salt from the fish sauce the sweetness from the peanuts, acid from tomatoes and the sharpness of the onions, ughhhh I’m getting so hungry just thinking about it.  I couldn’t stop eating it.  I also couldn’t stop my nose from running, or my fingers from pinching stolen bites from everyone’s sticky rice to keep my mouth from spontaneously combusting.  The cabbage was also sort of refreshing, but really the chilis reigned supreme.  I finished every bite of my dish thought my tears of pain.  

After dinner, a group of us headed over to Utopia, which the Worst Tour Guide ever had recommended to me.  It was basically a big bar/club/hostel/hippie lounge where everyone went until the town closed for curfew. After the midnight curfew, everyone headed to the disco bowling alley via packing a tuktuk like an English phone booth.  I actually never made it there for my entire time in Luang Prabang which I was later told makes me the sole weirdo to never go bowling in Luang Prabang.  Oh well…I guess I’ll just have to come back.

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Just some Strays

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2 comments

  1. The Global Recipe Project is seeking recipes from Laos. I hope you’ll consider contributing a recipe – it’s for a good cause! Details and a submission box are available at http://crowdedearthkitchen.com/global-recipe-project/

  2. dear lemon, luv being a part of ur traveling adventures! keep it coming sista. luv, olive!

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