Luang Prabang and the Mekong River
Taking the “slow boat” down the Mekong into Laos gives you a chance to see the country-side, and it’s gorgeous. Just be aware It’s 2 days of sitting on a hot boat. You’ll spend the night in a village with 1 street that’s maybe a 100 yards long and an overwhelming prevalence of opium. Bring a book. The end of the ride lands you in Luang Prabang. It’s a small town and the old town center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s quaint, but I can’t quite see what make’s the city unique and unlike any other small village. By all means there is Kuang Si Falls nearby worth checking out. There are portions of it you have to climb a little with your hands to get to the top, but ultimately . . . you can’t get a good view from the top. Don’t make the climb. Swim in the lower waters and get a good view.
Back in town there is a great little spot for food. It’s at the end of this bamboo bridge in the bushes to the left. I didn’t expect to find it there, but the food was what I was looking for at the time: traditional Laos food done well. They offer some Western food and drinks as well, but for this trip I stayed local.
Starting at the left there is river weed toasted with sesame, peanuts and shallots. The sausage was a pork sausage with slightly less of the ginger and lemongrass I’ve had elsewhere, but with a detectable difference of liver in the sausage. In the middle is a sweet chili sauce made with buffalo skin, then sweet sesame pork jerky and roast eggplant dip with mint. All served with sticky rice. I’d recommend Dyen Sabai to anyone coming here.
At the center of the town there is a night market that reminds me of markets in small towns back in the U.S. There are a few hidden gems of talented folks here, but for the most part it’s duplicative souvenirs for tourists. It’s pretty much the only thing to do at night here besides drink. There are juice stands here, about 12 all in a row and all serving the same juices and sandwiches. It’s very difficult to tell where one shop ends and the other begins, but they all make great sandwiches which I allowed myself to eat because it’s old enough to be traditional now I guess.
This one is “Laos Style” which I don’t know if that is real or something this stand invented, but it’s a sandwich I’ll be sure to revisit: fried egg, strips of tofu, dried pork, lettuce, chili sauce and mayo. The dried pork is what makes the sandwich, it’s that jarred harry stuff you’ve seen at an Asian grocery store and wasn’t sure how to use. No preparation needed, just put it on a sandwich.
Now for Laap. I ate a dozen or so versions ranging in quality and this place was by far the best. There was no sign and they had no name so a map will have to do if you want to check it out. It’s a minimalist’s dish for sure. Minced meat of your choice with fish sauce, lime juice, toasted ground rice and mint. Other accoutrements can play a roll or not; it’s dealers choice on this one. Although buffalo was always suggested as the best, this woman made mine pork. The buffalo is very fresh and as a result has quite the chew to it.
There are street stalls with grilled food as well, even a street-side buffet (not suggested) but there are only a few streets and few options. If you’re into seeing nature then check it out.