Laos Part One: a productive cycle, pancakes and the only restaurant in town

Dates I was there: 10-11 September 2011

It was an early start as my tour group left Vietnam for Laos. Apparently, the Laos border closed at 5pm so we had to firm deadline to meet. Thankfully, depending on your point of view, our mini-bus preceded to bomb around the country roads, overtaking any car or bike that got in our way and beeping at anything in sight- standard driving practice really. Beeping in Vietnam essentially means, “I’m here, watch out”, unlike in England where it tends to angrily mean, “what are you even doing?!”

We stopped off at a cafe for lunch but had already stocked up on food the night before so we just got some hot water for pur pot noodles instead, which we were charged 25,000 VND for (almost one whole pound). We soon arrived at the Vietnamese border and got through pretty quickly before having to wait to be picked up by our new Laos driver, who drove a little slower.

At the Laos border we had to fill in our visa forms by candlelight before trying to track down the money exchange man as there was not going to be a cash machine at our overnight stop and none of us had any local currency. Finally, we were all sorted and soon we arrived in Lac Xao where we stayed at the only hotel in town, where the six of us split into three separate double rooms, which was to be our setup throughout the tour. I hadn’t expect hotels and private rooms.

After a bit of a rest, we all headed out to look around a local market before going to a pool hall before dinner. I only played a quick game because, lets face it, pool is not my forte, still I won by default when the black ball got potted. I also sampled Laos’ own beer- the creatively named Beer Lao. My tour guide informed us that it is hard to find anywhere else, except maybe some places in neighbouring Thailand, because it doesn’t really exported. However, I found it in a bar in Nottingham one time.

For dinner, we went to a the only restaurant in town called, again creatively, the ‘Only One Restaurant‘. The highlight of the night however was the discovery of a pancake stand in the street outside. This was to become one of my main sources of food during my stay in Asia. Their delicious and I found them across Laos and Thailand. On this occasion, I didn’t buy one myself- just picked at others. I wouldn’t be making that mistake again.

We left Lac Xao at 8am for the Laos capital, Vientiane. We arrived at, what I think was called, the Phasouk House hotel, and went for lunch at an American bakery chain that our guide was a particular fan of- Joma. I treated myself to a very cultural tuna melt. Afterwards, we took a slightly more cultural bike tour around this city, which came complete with a basket on the front, stopping at a golden building (the Pha That Luang) and Laos’ answer to the Arc de Triomphe (the Patuxai Victory Monument), as well as the parliamentary buildings. We also went down to a park next to the river, where Thailand sat on the other side and a temple, where us girls had to don long skirts to cover our knees before we went inside.

Later we all went off to a restaurant for dinner, where we were joined by a guy who had left the tour in Hanoi. He decided to order everything- erm- different on the menu and had a dinner of crickets, duck’s bill and chicken cartilage. We all gave it a try. The crickets tasted a bit like chicken, the duck’s bill was just hard and slimy and the chicken cartilage was just a bit unpleasant, although bizarrely it was the second time I’d tried it. For my main course, I ordered pork larb– a traditional, local dish that comprised of mined meat and herbs. It wasn’t the best dish I’ve ever tried but the tower of Beer Lao we split between us made up for it.

After dinner, we went for drinks at the bar opposite. Laos has a curfew of midnight so most places closed by 11.30pm, so we went to find a pancake stand before bed. Chocolate wasn’t an option so we bought a bar and the vendor melted it over the pancakes for us before adding in some banana. Happily fed and watered, we all headed off to bed.


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