From the near coma that was our last few days recovering from a punishing travel schedule, yes there is such a thing, today we’re peeping our eyes above the trenches, braving the world yet again and ready to change the guns. Being brave again in literal terms means gathering all the piles of stuff, yes stuff is a thing and it needs organising; we need to organise stuff. So boring. We’re planning a few days boat ride up the Mekong towards Thailand, that’s one pile of stuff; then there’s the cooking class we want to do, breakfast, checking out, second breakfast, checking in before another meal. So much stuff. Surprisingly, like so much in Luang Prabang, it’s all pretty easy and in no time there’s beautifully arranged piles of stuff everywhere. Must be time for more food surely.
Lo and behold, it is time for food, who could have possibly predicted that? Laos is rapidly feeling like we’re in a series of Luke Nguyen’s greater Mekong cooking show but this time we’re not reduced to just drooling at the images on a screen, this is truly reality TV. Plonking up at a table in a fairly un-noteworthy restaurant smack bang in the middle of a touristy main street is so often a venture fraught with danger best left to those with the taste palates of a spoilt child, but this is Laos. True to form the yellow curry is hot, smooth and balanced so perfectly it punches us in the face with no trace of any single flavour dominating another. There’s another pork dish that demands eating but we can’t determine exactly why it’s so good, it adds more sweat to our bodies already soaked in the tropical sheen but if this is a chore then I’ll take two thanks.
All these piles of stuff organised and now full bellies we have an hour or so to kill before needing to be fed again so it’s back on the tourist wagon we jump. Past buildings which mash together facades of French colonial grandeur with rustic Asian antiques, jewellery and arts we stroll a main street that may at other times be a bit too loaded with tourists but now carries us with calm and charm in equal measure. Just a hundred metres or so up the road we’re in the small window of opening times for the royal palace museum which simply must be gawked at; in we go.
Before the museum though there is the small matter of another outrageous temple, it feels like we should be done with these things by now but we can’t not look. Mixing fantasy theme park outrageousness with historical merit and artisanal craftsmanship the temples of Luang Prabang are impossible to avoid and equally enticing to be near to. Similarly the royal palace opens up as a work of art more than a museum, gilded timber carvings, delicate gold adornments, swords, fine brocades and all manner of treasures make this museum more art gallery than historical musing. There’s even a boomerang gift from Australia on show. In the midst of this spacious elegant building it’s impossible to avoid realising that Laos is far more than I had ever paid mind to before visiting. Similar to Ecuador and Botswana it has more famed neighbours but this little country is punching above its notoriety as a place to visit, unexpected surprises are always the best ones.
After all the gushing, the soaking up of food and local vibe there is a dark shadow in the corner we cannot avoid any longer as a sort of shame awaits. We have spied, I hate to even say the words, an Aussie sports bar complete with a boxing kangaroo banner draped gaudily over an otherwise cute timber building. Foul is the thought if retreating to the life vest of a bogan version of home we avoid even when we are home, the resignation of any failed travel. But there’s rugby on so with the self excusing mantra that we’re only popping in for the rugby we take a deep breath and plunge in sadly a little excited to be hearing the familiar voices of the commentators and feeling the usual excitement of the pre-game coverage.
After scurrying out at the sound of a full time whistle it’s unsurprisingly food time again, amazing. Perched on a balcony over the river the broken record skips back into its well worn track: spicy, balanced, clever, healthy and most of all plate lickingly tasty. The rain does come down as we scurry back into the guesthouse to finish our meal on the coffee table of a reception foyer. It’s an odd setting but the sincere warmth of the waiters makes us feel completely at home, we could be staring at the fire in our living room. Tonight we have no infinity pool to retreat to, there is no apartment sized room or big granite bathtub, we’re in a nice little place in town closer to all the piles of stuff we need to get sorted, out of the trenches and into the breach of travel once again. I hesitate to use a sobering wartime metaphor, this food, this place is not exactly charging at guns; if it were though sign me up and send me over the top.