Thursday, 29 December 2011

Laos the land of smiles and kindness

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

How many times had I passed through Asia, a quick or a long plane connection......lounges and terminals were pretty much all I had seen or knew about in this part of the world. Stopping in Asia  was always just a means to an end..... my final destination, Europe. Little had I seen of the treasures existing outside of these airports.

As the opportunity to travel to the Southeast Asian country of Laos presented itself I was intrigued even before I stepped foot onto the tarmac of my 'new' and exotic destination..... the town of Luang Prabang. The name alone sounded so foreign and exciting to me that I could hardly arrive there quickly enough.  

This fascinating town was to be my introduction to the beauty of this landlocked country sitting tightly between Thailand and Vietnam with Burma and China to the North and Cambodia to the South.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011
Crossing the Mekong River, Luang Prabang

The physical beauty of Laos is surpassed only by the magnificence of its people.  I have  never met more beautiful people; their sweetness, kindness and goodness melted my heart every single day of the two weeks I was there, their smiling faces and generosity of spirit were the absolute highlight of my trip.

Luang Prabang (translated means royal Buddha image) is situated on a peninsula between the fertile banks of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.  It  is a town bursting with magnificent golden temples, each sitting proudly in the grounds of its monastery, home to over one thousand novice and fully fledged monks.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

Luang Prabang (classified in 1995 as a UNESCO world Heritage city) was once home to Lao's royal family (the once Royal Palace now houses the Royal Palace Museum) until 1975, the year the King was forced to abdicate to the Pathet Lao party (communist party) and the family were sent to caves in the North of the country and finally to  're-education camps' where they were to sadly perish.

Laos PDR (Peoples Democratic Republic) is one of the few remaining communist states in the world today, and only opened its doors to foreigners in the 1990's.

My days in Luang Prabang were spent meandering the streets, (by foot and by bicycle) soaking up and photographing the daily life of these gentle people.  One of the first sensory sensations that hit me when I first took to the streets was the smell of smoke; the streets are dotted with small open fires surrounded by Lao families cooking and eating their meals together (any sort of cooking inside would be a fire hazard in the small wooden houses that are their homes).

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

The daily produce market was a favourite place to wander, so many sights and aromas, an absolute hive of activity and foodie heaven.  There were however a few personal tense moments,(the clubbing of live fish will always move me on quite quickly as will the sight of unprotected fresh meat and animal blood in plastic bags!  More positively, the fruit I tasted including bananas, papaya and mandarins were second to none.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

The selection of food is endless and includes produce and ingredients used in their specialty dishes such as, buffalo sausages, minced meats; porc, chicken, buffalo and beef, fresh Mekong river fish, river weed and a huge selection of various spices and of course a lot of rice (sticky rice being a big part of the staple diet in Laos).  The street food is varied and copious, these food stalls are seemingly located in every street of the town and include grilled meats and fish, minced meats wrapped in banana leaves, spicy soups, noodle dishes and grilled bananas....amongst others.

The restaurants are numerous and most are fabulous, a mix of Gallic and Lao dishes makes eating in Luang Prabang  a treat.  It is a city also known for its abundance of top quality cooking schools, wonderful boutique hotels, guest houses and relaxing and zen like spas with every treatment imaginable.

Laos has affected me in ways I never guessed it would and has snuck quietly and surely under my skin.  I have many reasons to return and return I shall.  In the meantime I have  many stories to share and so until the next post......Millie xx

©copyright Millie Brown 2011

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