Catch Up

I realize I’ve been fairly slack on blogging over the past couple of months. No excuses are ever sufficient, but it is largely because I have spent a lot of time with friends recently, and it is difficult to set aside enough time write, particularly when I’ve been doing a lot of off the cuff travel planning. As of last Friday, I finished up about five weeks in SE Asia. Believe it or not, I do things other than eat while I travel. SE Asia didn’t blow me away food wise (other than my eating exploits in Hoi An, which I documented sufficiently a couple of weeks ago), but what I found most rewarding about my time there was reeducating myself about the Cambodian civil war (if you can call annihilating a huge quantity of your own people who aren’t really fighting back a civil war) and the Vietnam war. Anyway, just wanted to write a quick catch up post.

Melbourne foodie posts on the way…

The Luang Prabang Salad, Enough Said

The Luang Prabang Salad is probably my favorite dish in Laos. The dressing is sweet with a little bit of kick (not the spicy kind). The rest is just fresh, simple, and crunchy. This is a recipe I found online. Definitely worth a try!

3 Large Hard Boiled Eggs (do not over cook)
1 Clove Garlic – roasted
1/2 – 1 1/2 Tsp Sea Salt (aka “A Lao pinch of salt”)
1 Tb Canola Oil
2 Tb Water
2-3 Tb Lemon Juice
1 Tb Palm Sugar
1/2 Tsp Sugar
Fish Sauce to taste

2 Cups Romain Lettuce Hearts Chopped
1 Handful tender Pea Shoots, or even better, tender watercress (Lacey’s note — definitely use watercress)
2 Scallions – Green parts only, sliced thin
3 Tb cilantro chopped fine
3 Tb mint chopped fine (optional)
Cherry Tomatoes
Cucumber

1 – Slice eggs in half lengthwise, remove yolks, and slice whites thinly.
2 – Place eggs yolks, garlic, palm sugar, and salt in a mortar and pound into a paste.
3 – Add oil, lemon juice, water, and fish sauce (if desired) and combine. Taste, and adjust flavors, and thin out with additional water if desired.
4 – Combine pea shoots, cilantro, and scallions.
5 – Place Romain lettuce in a layer in the middle of serving plate; mound pea shoot mixture on top of lettuce. Arrange cucumber slices and tomato on plate.
6 – Pour dressing over salad before serving.

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Laos Transportation; Plane, Train, or Automobile: An Analysis

Well, as far as I know, there is no train so that’s out. Anyway, we’ve traveled through Laos on both airplane and bus (and tuk-tuk) and I wanted to share our experiences so you can decide the best way to travel if you ever visit.

Airplane

We caught Laos Airlines (f/k/a Laos Aviation) from Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Luang Prabang, Laos (greatest city name ever). This was the most bizarre air travel experience I have ever had. We arrived at the airport too early. After asking if we were on the Luang Prabang flight before being let into the airport (presumably that was the only flight?), we were checked in and given a sticker saying “TRANSIT” that we were to wear as a badge. Although our itinerary mentioned no stop, my suspicion was that we would make one on the way. We passed through security and I was shocked to find that the airport had free wifi, an impressive selection of duty free, and a nice coffee shop. Remember, this was Cambodia after all, and not a big city. We sat down with our coffees and internet devices and settled in for the 1.5 hour wait for our flight. When we had just gotten comfortable, an airport staff member came to us and asked if we were on ten Luang Prabang flight. When we said yes, she asked us to board — an hour early. Needless to say, we were confused. As we passed the boarding gate, we asked what was happening and were told that “this flight always leaves early.” I also asked about the transport stickers and was told that we had to stop in Pakse to pick up some more passengers.

I must admit that I was a bit nervous in advance of the flight because I knew we would be flying on a turboprop and Laos Airlines had a spotty safety record (which supposedly has been rectified with the purchase of all new aircraft). Anyhow it was clear that the plane was brand new. It was also clear that we had practically chartered our own aircraft, as there were 11 people total on board while the plane had at least 80 seats. I guess that’s why the tickets were $260.

We really did take off 40 minutes early, we stopped in Pakse and picked up five or so more people, then continued to our destination, arriving about an hour early. The plane was immaculate, empty, and without any foul airplane odors. We also were served a meal of little rolls made of sweet bread and bacon and dessert on each leg which were respectively one and one and half hours each. Sure, it was expensive, but the whole experience was pleasant and surreal.

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Bus

For some reason we hadn’t considered flying from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Instead we just signed up for seats on the VIP bus (I have no idea how it qualified for that title), knowing that the ride would be long (we thought maybe 9 hours), but that we would be able to enjoy beautiful scenery along the way. We were told that the roads weren’t so comfortable because they hadn’t been fixed following the rainy season, but I failed to contemplate the treacherous narrow, windy, and uneven “roads” that weave throughout the mountains. The bus also left something to be desired. For the first five or six hours of the drive we drove sometimes as slow as 10 kilometers in an hour on the edge of cliffs. I was close to vomiting on a couple of occasions (and a number of locals actually did). Sadly, once we exited the mountains the speed did not increase much and we blew a tire. In the end it took us 12 hours to travel 386 kilometers (240 miles). We arrived hungry, mentally exhausted, and filthy, but happy to be alive. Oh, and I almost forgot — before left, we found out that a flight to Vientiane only cost about 85 dollars. Slight oversight.

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You be the judge, but I think I am officially retiring from long haul bus journeys.