Tag Archives: Laos

Lao Lane Xang 2: simply the best

I have been a loyal customer of Lao Lane Xang 2 ever since it was created. It is my number one choice in the Southeast Asian food category in Paris, and in fact, I could not imagine my life without this divine restaurant, owned by half Laotian, half Vietnamese brothers.

The restaurant is always full and reservations are recommended. However, if you are just two and willing to wait for 15-30 minutes, you usually get a table. But try to call at least one day in advance.

The menu consists of dishes from Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Even if the prices were increased a little bit in early January, they remain very reasonable. For example, we usually order more than enough food, champagne & beer for aperitif and wine with food, and the bill has never exceeded 75€ (for two).

Some of my favorite dishes are the following:

1. Ped Lad Prik (tamarind duck 13€). This is the house special and the most popular dish. It is simply from heaven. Number L43 in the menu (I know the numbers by heart!).Ped Lad Prik

2. Lap Neua (minced beef meat 9€50). This is the famous Laotian raw or semi-raw dish, which exists also in duck at Lao Lane Xang 2. It is one of my favorite dishes in the world (One more time, one more laap) and nothing beats a well-made lap, I reckon. I even learned how to make it in Laos (Cooking class in Luang Prabang).lap neuaI believe that the version made by Lao Lane Xang 2 is as close as it gets to any lap made in Laos and if you like raw or semi-raw meat, go for it! (Tip: I order lap even during summer months and I have never been sick at Lao Lane Xang 2. But if you hesitate, ask them to cook it more for you)

3. Yam Lao Lane Xang (prawn and cuttlefish salad 10€40). This vinegar-based salad is another favorite of mine. It is refreshing and contains raw red onions, cashew nuts, salad, fried prawns and dried cuttlefish slices. Delicious!!Yam Lao Lane Xang

4. Khung (fried prawns in red coconut curry 12€40). My husband loves this dish but since I usually don’t eat fried food, I find it slightly less appealing. Do not get me wrong; it IS very tasty, but one has to like fried food to like it (well, stating the obvious now…). I usually have a little bit, but I could not eat the entire dish alone.Khung

The menu is long and I have tasted at least one third of the dishes. They are all very good, but these four have become my favorite ones over the years. If you are a group of people, then order many dishes and share: the best way to explore Asian cuisine!

As to the wine, we usually have wine by carafe (50cl 10€) and find it of rather high quality. A glass of champagne (Philipponnat) costs 8€50 and it is a wonderful choice of champagne.

I love going to Lao Lane Xang 2 and find the service excellent and fast. Highly recommended!!

Lao Lane Xang 2:

102 avenue d’Ivry, 75013


Telephone. +33 (0)1 58 89 00 00
Metro: Tolbiac, Place d’Italie
Closed on Wednesdays!


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Revisiting Angkor

Today was the last day of the exhibition Angkor, Birth of a Myth- Louis Delaporte and Cambodia at Museum Guimet in Paris. Coincidentally, it was almost one year ago that I visited these ancient temples myself. Angkor exhibition, museum GuimetEven if we spent a rather long time (five full days!) in Siem Reap (Eat Drink Sleep Siem Reap (survival guide to Siem Reap) visiting nearby temples, I still felt it was not sufficient to really absorb and understand what had happened in the past. “Who what why when” became more complicated than ever! There were the Hindu Kings, then Buddhism; there were many different empires. To notice architectural details each religion brought to different temples during different times was not always easy, and having a lousy guide did not help. Indeed, it felt very overwhelming to be honest. And maybe this is why I still have not written anything about the Angkor temples (after one year!!).Angkor, museum GuimetHowever, visiting the exhibition this afternoon enlightened me. It was such a great pleasure to see old drawings, photos, maps, paintings, moldings, replicates, etc. that I now feel one step closer to actually being able to write something about this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Meanwhile, have you ever felt the same about a historic or archaeological place somewhere in the world?

More information about the exhibition: http://culturoid.com/2013/10/angkor-birth-of-a-myth-louis-delaporte-and-cambodia-musee-guimet-paris/ 

Museum Guimet: www.guimet.frMuseum GuimetPS Museum Guimet is an architectural pearl. It hosts one of the best Asian art collections of the world, if not the very best. So pay a visit if interested in Asian art.

Top Ten of 2013

One year and one week ago I started my blog, encouraged by a friend. I will always be indebted to her as this has been such a wonderful experience and one hell of a ride if I may say. The blog has brought an entirely new dimension to my life; I could have never thought about making so many new friends and attracting so many followers. My sincerest thanks to everyone of you!!

To celebrate this one-year anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what the highlights of the year were. Enjoy, and pick the post that most interests you!

1. The most read postBus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Laos is a fantastic, rewarding country, but traveling inside is not always simple. I am happy that my post has helped so many thousands of travelers to enjoy Laos!

2. The second-most read postEat Drink Sleep Siem Reap (survival guide to Siem Reap). Nothing to add. Angkor temples, initially built by the Hindu kings, continue to fascinate the entire world. And Siem Reap is the base for exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site.Angkor temples

3. The third-most read postKoh Lipe: mixed feelings. Thailand. Well. I did not fall in love with Koh Lipe, a tiny island in the Andaman Sea near Langkawi, Malaysia. I hear Koh Lipe was quite a paradise ten years but to me it seems the word “sustainable” was forgotten along the way…

4. The most-read post about FinlandIce swimming in Finland. One of my favorite posts, too! Have a look if you haven’t already but do not believe everything I say.

5. The most educational postEating oysters in months without “r”. Oysters, this ancient delicacy! A lot of people wonder when it is safe to eat them. Read my post and tell me, “r” or not to “r”! oysters

6. The most read recipeCôte de Bœuf (ultimate French meat dish). A classic French dish; so simple but delicious! Now you know where to get your iron boost.

7. My first-ever post!Thursday night in Paris

8. The most family-oriented postFranco-Finnish Christmas meal. Christmas in Paris with my parents, husband and French delicacies.

9. The best design object portrayedAlvar Aalto bell lamps from 1937 find a new home in ParisAlvar Aalto lamp

10. The post about friendshipMaking friends over the Indian Ocean. A story about friendship that developed over the Indian Ocean and developed in Tanzania.

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Lao Airlines and other means of transportation to and from Laos

Some of the most popular search terms of my blog are related to Laos and how to get there, so I decided to write more about this lovely country that I visited in February 2013.

We flew with Lao Airlines from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Vientiane, Laos, and spent two very pleasant days in Vientiane. To read more about the World’s Cutest Capital, as I call Viantiane, see my previous articles The Sleeping Beauty: Vientiane (part 1) and The Sleeping Beauty: Vientiane (part 2).take off from Luang PrabangFrom Vientiane we took a bus to Luang Prabang (read Bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang) and from Luang Prabang we traveled by air to Bangkok. However, if you are doing more or less a similar kind of itinerary but traveling on a shoestring budget, then you may want to consider visiting Lao Airlines check-inLuang Prabang first, descending to Vientiane by bus and spending few nights there, and continuing to Thailand by land.

The travel time (by land transportation) from Vientiane to Thailand is significantly less than travel time from Luang Prabang to Thailand. A lot of other travelers we met arrived from Hanoi, Vietnam, were using Luang Prabang as an entry point and Vientiane as an exit point.

The national carrier Lao Airlines (http://www.laoairlines.com/) deserves some words, too. The Internet is still full of worrisome questions about the safety but in overall, Lao Airlines is “as safe as it gets”. In the past I used to fly old Tupolevs and other planes with questionable reputation in countries where sanctions often put limits to airplane maintenance. Once in Uzbekistan the plane was taking off and the flames were coming out of its engine. Another time the plane was filled with chicken (talking about avian influenza…)! All this said, I am still here and I felt safer with Lao Airlines than with many other airline I have tried, and I have comparison material!Lao AirlinesFebruary and March 2013 we flew Laos Airlines on ATR72 airplanes, which are French-Italian manufactured twin-engine turboprop planes, thus considered very reliable. In 2011 Lao Airlines purchased two Airbus A320 aircraft and in an interview given in January 2013 with Mr. Sengpraseuth Mathouchanh, Vice President of Lao Airlines, it was announced that the number will increase to four by March 2013. ILao Airlines route mapn the same interview, Mr. Mathouchanh revealed the next new destinations: India and the Middle East. He emphasized that the airline is currently working hard on the safety management system (SMS), aiming at the IOSA accreditation in 2014 (the IOSA accreditation will allow Lao Airlines to fly to Europe). In terms of the pilots, they are trained in Toulouse, France.

(Interview can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbMc3fa_oi8)

An Englishman we met at Chokdee Cafe in Vientiane said he had flown from Luang Prabang to Vientiane on an A320 aircraft and it was excellent. I bet that the more you stick to the more touristic routes, the better your chances of getting the newest aircraft is.

Lastly, Laos being one of the only remaining Communist countries in the world provides tourists with one benefit: the price fluctuation is weak. Each time we flew Lao Airlines we purchased the tickets one day before (and this was during the high season!) and the price had not changed at all. For example, Luang Prabang-Bangkok (one way) costs 120USD and Bangkok-Vientiane round trip  135USD.

ຍິນ​ດີ​ຕ້ອນ​ຮັບ​ສ​ປ​ປ​ລາວ! (welcome to Laos)

One more time, one more laap




If you have been following my blog, you know that I rank the national dish of Laos, laap (also called larb) very high on the list of world’s best dishes. To show one more time my admiration for laap, here is one more photo of it. This photo was taken at a restaurant called Boat Bar Restaurant on the main street in Luang Prabang, Laos. Yummy! Should you want to to make it yourself, see my previous post for the recipe (Cooking class in Luang Prabang).laap



Cooking class in Luang Prabang

My first contact to Laotian food took place in Paris many years ago, at a restaurant called Rouammit in the 13th arrondissement. The same owners nowadays have three restaurants on the same street and since they opened Lao Lane Xang 2, we have been going to this one (http://www.viamichelin.com/web/Restaurant/Paris_13-75013-Lao_Lane_Xang_2-233365-41102).  We usually go there at least once a month and in my opinion it is one of the best restaurants in Paris, and I am not only talking about the Asian food category. Needless to say, I was excited to take a cooking class in Luang Prabang to learn more about the culinary culture in Laos. A country that has exported such an excellent restaurant to Paris must have a lot to offer, I figured! IMG_1449

We chose to have our first Luang Prabang lunch at Tamarind, a restaurant our friend who knows what good food means had recommended to us (http://www.tamarindlaos.com/). The lunch was so tasty that I had no more hesitations about where to do my cooking class, so I booked myself into a one-day cooking class for the next Saturday (classes fill up fast, so book in advance by email!).

Just before 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning everyone met at Tamarind, from where we were taken to a market to learn about the local ingredients. From the market we moved to a beautiful, green setting a bit outside the town, where the culinary secrets were about to be revealed to us.

We started preparing Jeow Mak Keua (eggplant dip). The fact that the ingredients (eggIMG_1472plant, onion, garlic and chillies) were grilled on an open fire gave the dip a smoky taste, and the peeling easier. (The moist should come out while the eggplant is being grilled, so don’t forget to puncture it beforehand!) After peeling these grilled ingredients I pounded them together with coriander, salt and fish sauce in a mortar (a stone bowl). When the paste became soft, our breakfast was ready: apparently Laotians like to eat sticky rice with this dip! So, the next time you fancy a break from your daily croissant or cereal, you know what to do… and you may even not need coffee to wake you up afterward!

The next dish we prepared is called Mok Pa (fish steamed in banana leave). In Cambodia it is called amok, and I have seen tIMG_1463his dish (with different name variations) in almost all Southeast Asian restaurants I have been to.

In a mortar I pounded 1 teaspoon of sticky rice powder, 3 shallots, 1 spring onion, 1 kaffir leave, 2 chillies, 5 thin slices of lemongrass, a bunch of dill and basil, plus a pinch of salt. A generous amount of fish sauce helped the pounding. The next step was to place banana leaves on a fire for few seconds (it makes them softer and more flexible to work with). I then cut the fish into rather large chunks and mixed them with the paste. Lastly, I placed the fish chunks on the banana leaves and folded and tied the leaves (use toothpick to close your banana leaf packages). These packages were then steamed. The next time my father says he has caught too much fish and doesn’t know what to do with the quantity, I tell him to surprise my mother with Mok Pa.

One of the highlights of our lunch at Tamarind a few days earlier had been Oua Si Khai (stuffed lemongrass) so I was pleased to hear it was part of our cooking class program. AIMG_1460s with the previous dish, we started with the mortar and pestle: pound 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 4-5 chopped spring onions, coriander to your taste, 2 kaffir leaves and salt (apparently the blender won’t release the flavors as well as the mortar and pestle). I chose to stuff my lemongrass with chicken and added the minced chicken meat to the paste, but only the imagination is your limit (try fish, shrimps, beef, tofu, vegetables, etc).

Before I could stuff the lemongrass with the chicken paste, I had the most difficult task to accomplish: cut the lemongrass! Actually I will copy paste the instructions from Tamarind, Restaurant & Cooking School, Exploring Lao Cuisine leaflet we were given in the end of our class, as tIMG_1476he cutting technique is quite challenging. “Using a sharp knife, and starting about 1cm from the base of the lemongrass, make a cut right through the stalk for about 4-5 cm, ensuring that both ends of the stalk remain intact, as these ends hold the filling in place. Rotate the lemongrass stalk a quarter turn and repeat. This will give a central hole or cage to hold the filling.”

I managed the cutting part quite ok and after one missed attempt, the chicken paste entered the lemongrass rather neatly. Before I could fry my oua si khai, I dipped them in beaten egg. I asked the chef why we cannot add the eggIMG_1481 directly to the chicken paste, but he said the stuffing part will become very slippery (maybe I will try it anyhow one day).

I would definitely like to prepare stuffed lemongrass in Paris, too, but my only concern is where to find such large lemongrass?

While our stuffed lemongrasses were left to cook in the frying oil, we moved onto the last dish: laap. I cannot over emphasize my love for laap (sometimes also written larb) –it is one of my favorite dishes in the entire world. This minced meat (or fish) salad, a national dish of Laos, has several variations, but one of the most common variation comes with beef. We followed the tradition and started putting ingredients together in a bowl.


First we put together everything that you can see on the left-side board (minced beef meat, sticky rice powder, chilli powder, salt and fish sauce) and cooked it on a frying pan during few minutes. Secondly and separately, we finely chopped and mixed garlic, shallot, lemongrass, galangal (LaoIMG_1480tian ginger), chillies, (Chinese) long bean, mint, saw tooth, coriander, banana flower and spring onion (the right-hand board). In the end I added beansprouts and lime juice. For the adventurous ones, there was beef bile duct juice to make it more Laotian. In the end I only had to mix the ingredients of these two bowls, place the laap on salad leaves, and voila, my very first laap was ready!

It was around 2 o’clock and we had made the eggplant dip and three main dishes. It was time to sit down at the table and enjoy the results of this pleasant day. I liked the crispiness of the chicken-stuffed lemongrass and I IMG_1482found the laap very good and subtle, and various herbs made it taste very fresh and aromatic. Banana leaf package was intact and I was pleased with my folding skills. It was maybe the least tasty dish, but at the same time it compensated for the tanginess of the laap. And when I felt like something more pungent, I had the eggplant dip.

Overall, the day was excellent. Our chef was professional, explained with patience and took time to show cutting techniques in person when needed. Tamarind also organizes an evening course where you do one dish less and there is no market visit, but otherwise it is a convenient choice for those limited with time.

Tak Bat and Buddhist Monks in Luang Prabang

I wanted to title this post Save the Monks but that would maybe be too provocative. EveIMG_1087n if it would better describe my feeling about something that is happening in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Prior to going into my personal sentiments and reasoning, let’s begin with some facts about Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang, a Unesco Heritage Site since 1995, is an Exquisite small town, with a capital E. Unesco website introduces this former capital of Laos like this: “Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.” (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479).

It is going to be difficult for me to properly express my admiration for Luang Prabang, especially since I already nominated Vientiane the cutest capital in the world and used so many supIMG_1137erlatives to describe it. So, let me just say this: I believe Luang Prabang will be the Next Big Travel Destination. I truly believe honeymooners will soon be putting together a trip which combines some precious time between Luang Prabang and Thai (or other regional) beaches. Luang Prabang is very romantic, surrounded by lush mountains and located by the Mekong River, and one can even arrive in Luang Prabang by boat.

Contrary to Vientiane where the future and the past meet and compete, Luang Prabang is aIMG_1135 town where time has stopped. It would not be fair to stay Luang Prabang lives in the past, as it has all modern facilities any traveler would want from upscale hotels to hip bars, but there is something so old school (in a good way) there. In fact, what makes Luang Prabang so special is the wats (temples). And the monks that live in them.

32 temples remain today in Luang Prabang and according to estimates, some 2000 monks inhabit them. At least until recently, it was very common for parents to send their son to a monastery where he would receive free education and free food during few years. As everywhere in the world, the world is changing, and not every son goes to the monastery, but in Luang Prabang the time seems to move slower. Wherever you go, IMG_1131you can see monks and some of them are very young (not even 10 I reckon). They seem content, composed, calm and those who looked at us, smiled. It is very uplifting to watch them: one rarely sees such inner calm in the big cities in the West.

The problem, if I may call it so, is that these monks are very charming and photogenic. I would even say cute and I don’t mean this in a patronizing or sexual way (and I certainly hope no one does!). But it is very pleasant to observe them. They transpire beauty and you become tempted to kidnap one to take home with you (half-kidding now).

In order to get a glimpse of their life without too much interference, we decided upon soIMG_1525me basic rules: we would try not to look at them too much, and if we did, we would try to do it from the distance. We would not approach them unless they made the first contact. If they did, it is only then when I would ask for a permission to take a photo. As you can see, I have only very few photos of their faces, and now you know why. After all, they are living an ordinary life, and I just don’t believe someone should be there all the time harassing them. I would not want that for myself…

Temples and monks are surely one of the top reasons why a tourist comes to Luang Prabang, and it was one of ours, too. And to add even more charm to all this, there is something called tak bat that Luang Prabang is also famous for. Tak bat is an ancient Buddhist ritual, where hundreds of monks walk in a line, silently of course, and IMG_1030receive alms (food) from local people (usually elderly women). Normally the monks start walking around the town at 4 in the morning and finish around the sun rise.

Before we traveled to Laos, I consulted a dear friend of ours, a very cultivated, intelligent and respectful Hindu woman. Together with her husband, she is also one of the most-traveled person in the world I know. She had been to Luang Prabang one year earlier and this is what she had written to me about tak bat: “Just before sunrise, the monks from all the monasteries walk the main street asking for alms. You can buy cooked rice and dry biscuits (sold on the streets itself a bit earlier) and offer it to them. I had bought a big basket of cooked sticky rice and you put a large spoonful in each monk’s bowl as they walk past you.”

Needless to say, we were excited to wake up one morning to witness this ritual. BIMG_1189ut as soon as we walked into the event, we were shocked. It was still dark (after all it was 5 in the morning) but hundreds of camera flashes used by tourists made it look like a day. Tourists were literally chasing the monks, like one chases animals in a safari in Africa. The only thing missing was a guide yelling “look at this monk, run this way to take a photo”.

I felt sorry for everyone. For the monks as surely this conflicts with the monastery ideology (they are supposed to be meditating!). For the tourists as some of them obviously had no consideration. Some of the tourists placed themselves right in front of the monks (blocking their path), right at their face, to take a closed-up photo to bring home. Ok, I am going to stop here because otherwise I don’t know what I will say next, but what were those tourists thinking?  Imagine yourself getting married in a church and the priest giving you his blessing, and then suddenly a tourist walks in and comes right to your face to take a photo of you without asking your perIMG_1203mission (and even if he did, you would certainly say no). Imagine that.

In fact every single Laos guide book talks about tak bat and they also tell you very clearly how to behave should you want to observe it or even participate in it. There are very strict rules: for example, no flash should be used, and a woman should not touch a monk and should kneel. When you walk along Luang Prabang streets you will surely see some notice boards put up by travel agencies who educate tourists about responsible traveling. What puzzles me is that most of the tourists cIMG_1293ome to Luang Prabang from very literate countries, but obviously their reading skills are not put into use.

(I found a blog writing that talks about this bad behavior, and I found it quite interesting to read: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Laos/West/Luang-Prabang/blog-479534.html).

I didn’t begin this post with Save the Monks title, but I will end it with a plea: please, do respect the local culture and don’t let your egoism to destroy this centuries-old tradition. Buy a post card (in many cases the photo will be much better than any of your amateur photos taken in dark) or take photos from distance.

Bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang

You are tempted to take the bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, and have read about the beautiful scenery, but are worried about the insecurity and the poor condition of the road? Do not think twice: if you have a day to spare, do it!the bus in Laos

going to Vientiane by bus in LaosLonely Planet (2010) still talks about the armed attacks by the Hmong insurgency that took place in 2003-2004 on the Route 13 from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, but when we bought tickets, our travel agency based in Vientiane (DD Travel) had never heard about these incidents. The French guide book Le Routard also talks about the “bad reputation” the road has and the attacks that have taken place on it. road from Viantine to Luang PrabangTo be absolutely sure (or as sure as one can ever be), we ended up questioning DD Travel a lot and the only incident that he remembered included a Frenchman called Vincent, who “treated the Lao people like shit” and who owed money “all over”. An another local source confirmed that it was no surprise that “he got what he had asked for” (he was eventually killed on that road, but that was in the end of the 90s and had nothing to do with insecurity or road condition…)Vientiane Luang Prabang bus routeAssured, we purchased the tickets. We were asked to be in front of our hotel at 7am. A mini van came to pick us up and drove us to the Northern bus station (this took almost one hour!). After some waiting around, our rather old bus finally left at 9am. The long journey begun. There were a lot of stops and often we had no clue why. There seemed to be just one driver and he liked to smoke a lot. The road kept turning left and right, went up and then down, so maybe he needed his cigarette in order to concentrate? Once we stopped in front of a monastery to pick up two young monks. food along the bus routeWe had been warned about this road so much in advance that we were expecting much worse but in fact it felt quite safe. The road was quite flat during the first two hours, and the climbing up begun only around 11am. We had been advised to sit on the left hand side (when the destination is in front of you) as this way we would not see how dangerous the road is, but in our opinion it made no sense: the cliffs were all over, on both sides. Sometimes on your left, sometimes on your right. And honestly, if you have done a little bit of driving in the Alps or other mountains, you will soon realize that this road is a piece of cake. The only advise we followed was to sit close to the security exit: an easy way to get out can become handy!Vientiane Luang Prabang bus routeThere were plenty of stops to buy water and drinks, noodle soup and fried rice (we didn’t eat as we had had a decent breakfast before taking off). One could even buy fried frog legs and dried fish… and something else we did not recognize!village people in LaosHonestly, when you hear about the insecurity on the road, I think the only thing you should be worried about is the quality of your bus.  Many people we had talked to in Vientiane had said that they had a flat tire (some even twice during the same trip). It didn’t happen to us, but even if it did, it would have probably only meant an hour delay. The only thing that could worry me is the brakes, but that is something difficult to verify before you jump onto the bus… right?Laos busWe arrived in Luang Prabang at 8.30pm, almost 12 hours after we had left Vientiane. Was it worth it? Yes, because we saw some beautiful scenery and dramatic-looking mountains. Yes, there were many stops, but we were in no hurry. Would I recommend it –yes. For 160,000 kip, the journey is worth every penny.

Updated on February 2014: I wrote this piece one year ago and it is today the most-read article of my blog. I am happy that so many people find it useful! However, I have received a lot of questions and I think it is important to clarify some points.

  • Yes, there are night buses, but I would personally take a day bus just because it feels safer. If there is a problem, you would need sun light, right?
  • In case you choose to take the overnight bus, have a torch and warm clothes with you.
  • You cannot really check the bus condition (brakes etc.) but you can be on the safer side if you travel under good weather conditions. If possible, do not travel by bus under the monsoon and extreme weather conditions. Vientiane and Luang Prabang are both lovely places to be stuck in, so wait a few days for better weather is my suggestion!
  • Many people have asked me about DD Travel, so here you have the business card I was given in February 2013:DD Travel and Ticketing contact information

Lastly, other interesting articles about Laos:

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The Sleeping Beauty: Vientiane (part 2)

VientianeI decided to label Vientiane The Sleeping Beauty, but I may have as well called it The World’s Cutest Capital. This tiny capital is very quiet and traffic jams are unheard of. Instead you hear birds and see butterflies. You see monks wondering around the temples and some tourists, mainly independent it seemed, and you are pretty much without hassle while visiting the town. My first impression on Vientiane wasIMG_0810 “what a cute capital”!

My second impression was that the future and the past of Laos use Vientiane as a playground. It felt and looked very Chinese and Communist. At the same time the devoted monks were seen with iPhones and other devices for listening music. It also became obvious very soon that there is plenty of money in the capital (or was it remittances sent into Vientiane by Laotians living abroad?). We saw an abundance of expIMG_0863ensive four wheels and white seemed to be the color à la mode. There was at least one white-colored four-wheeled Porsche and an Englishman we met said he had seen a yellow Lamborghini! Furthermore, Russian influence was present in the streets and a cellular phone operator Beeline seemed to be advertising everywhere. But Russia was not the only country present. France had left its legacy, too, and there are many lovely and good-valued cafes in Vientiane serving all types of coffees and croissants. An interesting battle field of influences I reckon!

After a cup of Lao coffee (filtered coffee mixed with conIMG_0868densed milk) we started our walking tour. The itinerary we did followed the Lonely Planet “Monument to Mekong Cycling Tour” except that we did it by walking and chose a different restaurant to eat lunch at. Note: If you are interested in visiting the temples, do remember that most of them close between midday and 1pm, and close again 4pm. IMG_0864Of all wats (temples) on this route, we liked particularly Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan and Wat Si Saket. Our lunch stop was Makphet, the famous non profit restaurant run by an NGO called Friends International (http://www.friends-international.org/) and where former street youth are trained to wait and cook.  IMG_0828

We chose two main dishes: Lemongrass Spiced Chicken, Young Bamboo & Mushroom Stir Fry and Grilled Beef Salad with Apple Eggplant & Young Lemongrass. Both were excellent, but the beef salad was divine. I find it IMG_0832very interesting that they had added dill in it -dill is very much used in my home country Finland and also in the Eastern Europe and Russia, but I have not associated it with Asian dishes. Will need to do some research on the origin of dill once I get back home.

After the lunch we had two more important places to go to: we hired a tuc tuc to take us to Pha That Luang before its closing, also at 4pm. This is considered to be the most important monument in Laos and legends of the site’s origin vary (http://www.laos-guide-999.com/pha-that-luang.html). The second place we wanted to go to is Wat Si Muang (open until 7pm), where the spirit of Vientiane is supposed to reside. This temple felt very much alive and we could seeIMG_0874 people praying and asking for help. In fact there is a Buddha made of stone and locals believe that by lifting it three times from its pillow, while at the same time asking for something, your wish will come true. We saw an elderly woman  doing this and the statue seemed very heavy. Outside the temple there were many stands where on could buy offerings –something you are supposed to do if your wish comes true.

For the dinner we could not resist the temptation and returned to Chokdee Cafe (read yesterday’s The Sleeping Beauty: Vientiane (part 1) to hear more about this restaurant). I still believe their duck breast laap is one of the best in the entire world! I keep looking for a better one, but in vain…

We spent two full days in Vientiane and could have stayed a bit longer. It really is a pleasant town and in my humble opinion much of its charm lies (in addition to dozens of sacred temples) in Chokdee Cafe and interesting stories you hear there (not forgetting their laap!)…

The Sleeping Beauty: Vientiane (part 1)

(A more detailed story about Siem Reap and visiting the temples will follow at the latest from from Paris, if not before. The connection was so bad in Siem Reap that I could not do any writing and uploading).

After five full days it felt like it was time to move forward from Siem Reap. We had seen the main temples and even hired a car for a day to visit the sites further away. We appreciated the temples and the transformation they had made from Hinduism to Buddhism. We also loved havingLao Airlines meal a morning coffee in the center of Siem Reap at Le Grand Cafe, but in the evening the center became a Western Drinking Factory and this is not why we came to Asia… We had looked into Siem Reap – Vientiane airplane tickets from Paris and the price seemed stable: around 200USD per person one way. On Saturday afternoon we visited one of the Siem Reap travel agencies (www.europe-asiatours.com) and found out that we could buy a one-way ticket for 157USD including taxes and all fees (payment only in cash). Unfortunately the flight was full for the next day, Sunday, so we returned to the hotel to do some googling hoping to find something for Sunday. On http://www.lastminute.com we found a bit more expensive tickets for the next day, and the decision was quickly made: it is time to leave Cambodia for Laos.

During the flight from Siem Reap to Pakse we met a lovely couple from Finland (if PDD hotelirjo & Teuvo from Jyväskylä are reading this, all our best greetings to you and thanks for those nice discussions!). In Pakse, where everyone had to go through the visa and passport control, we were supposDD Hoteled to wait for two hours for the connecting flight, but as soon as we arrived we asked if there is a possibility to get onto the next flight, leaving in just 30 minutes. After some waiting around they said yes, and without any extra payment we checked onto Pakse – Vientiane flight. Our first contact to Lao people was very sweet. They seemed shy and reserved, but a smile was never very far away. We also found out that they like sweets: during the flight we were served two different types of cakes, one of them in the picture with some green filling… (not bad!).

Upon arrival in Vientiane we shared a taxi with Pirjo and Teuvo (7USD a car to the center). Our stop, Vayakorn House, was full but eventually we found something near by and closer to the Mekong River, Douang Deuane Hotel (25USD). Later on the day we read some reviews on http://www.tripadvisor.com and agreed with them: our fifth-floor view from the hotel roomroom was very clean, the bed was comfortable, and we even had a small balcony looking over temple roofs on the right and the Mekong River on the left. The quality of the bathroom was slightly inferior to the room, but it was still clean.

After checking in at the hotel it was time for a late lunch. Our dear friend who had been to Vientiane last year had recommended Tintin-inspired Chokdee Cafe (http://www.chokdeecafe.com), which turned out to be around the corner from our hotel. Chokdee CafeChokdee CafeI do have to admit that I can be quite reluctant about the touristy bars and restaurants, but I immediately fell in love with this restaurant that has a huge selection of Belgium beers (and even mussels on the weekend!!) and Western as well as Lao dishes. Chokdee Cafe is not your usual touristy bar, it is an expat hang out place where you are sure to meet very interesting people. During our first visit we talked to a European man learning Lao language and explaining the pronunciation difficulties to us, while we overheard a discussion on how to invest in Laos. All thispapaya salad and minced duck salad happened while a nice Dutchman (in the picture) was singing old French and English songs, and some songs composed by himself about living an expat life and going to Embassy parties… During our second visit we met an Englishman who had just bought an apartment in Thailand and his new Scottish friend, met on a Luang Prabang-Vientiane bus.

The food at Chokdee Cafe was delicious, too. Papaya salad was a bit too spicy and it is rare we cannot finish a dish… However, my favorite was the Laap Phet: the minced duck breast mixed with mint leaves and chili. DELICIOUS!!! (As I am writing this, it is the best Laap I have had in Laos so far!).

by the Mekong

We could have stayed an entire evening at Chokdee Cafe but once our mouths were burning from the chillies and stomachs full from excellent BeerLao we headed back to the streets. Walking by the Mekong is walking on a border: Thailand is just on the other side of the river and this is why you get messages “welcome to Thailangymd” on your cellular phone. (However, if you curious about crossing the border by the river on your own, do not try. A local guide told us that the Thai soldiers/customs officers are quite corrupted and will fine you very heftily should they catch you…). We also realized that the Lao people are very sportive: there were many skate boarding and jogging along the river, and we even saw an outdoor gym by the river.

Eventually the sun set, but we continued walking. The temples looked very different ftemplerom the ones we had seen in the center of Siem Reap and against the templedark sky they for sure held special magical power.

The Lao people dine early and many places close at 9pm. In addition there is this sort of unofficial curfew at 11pm, so the dining hours have nothing to do with the Mediterranean way of life… The restaurant (Makphet) where we had wanted to go was closed  but we found a food court on Th Chao Anou Street. street food

My husband had some pork sausage (I don’t eat pork) and he said it was a bit sweet but good and interesting. Together we shared grilled squid and a grilled fish (see the photo) that they call “panin” (at least this is what it sounded like to me). They stick a lemongrass inside the fish but if you do not know what it is, you may mistake it for a bipanin fishg spider or something! Panin was clearly a river fish, but the meat was consistent and tasted good.

I think the next time I visit our summer house in Finland I will catch local lake fish and serve it stuffed with lemongrass!! A great barbeque idea.