Everyone knows hangriness is something to be avoided at all costs, especially when it could disrupt the relative calm of a holiday. When Matt is hangry on holiday there’s a kind of desperation to it and he might push for eating raw crustaceans from the beach (‘you’re supposed to eat barnacles raw anyway. Either that or you never should, one of the two. Stop questioning me!’), or clobbering a passing pigeon (‘when we had it at the gastropub that time it was delicious. Have you got a better suggestion?’), even going to Wimpy (‘it’s a British institution’) and so on.
Having done more walking in two days than in two months of Bangkok, we’re at risk of hangriness, and so we cross the bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan to Dyen Sabai, a tree-house style restaurant constructed among the branches where you can sit cross legged beneath a bamboo roof and eat delicious soups and fresh smoothies.
Taking in the temples
Fully refuelled, we head for the temples of Luang Prabang. There are 34 of them in this city, housing more than 1,000 monks. Many of them are young novice monks from rural villages – monkhood here gives them access to education and helps them learn new languages.
Waiting for god?(oh)
I’m standing in front of one of the temples alone, admiring the façade, when I hear a disembodied voice echoing around the temple complex. ‘You speak English?’ followed by lots of giggling. Is this my moment? A spiritual awakening?
‘Yes.’ I reply hesitantly, feeling vaguely like a madman.
‘Where you from?’ More giggling and guffawing.
‘Um… England.’ If this is Buddha, he/she is definitely defying my expectations of religious enlightenment.
Then lots of whoo-ing, but ‘whoo-oo0’ in the way that kids ‘whoo’ each other when they’re trying to embarrass their friends in front of someone they fancy. I scrutinise my surroundings more closely, and manage to make out the toothy grins of a group of teenage monks beaming from the shadows of a far outbuilding.
In the early evening we head to Garavek, the traditional storytelling theatre, tucked into the backstreets of Luang Prabang. (There weren’t many seats so I’d recommend getting tickets early if you want to sit down).
The performance takes place on a simple stage and is a two man show. There’s a young Laos man who sings songs and tells stories in English. He has a tremendously animated and engaging style. He is accompanied by an ancient Laos man in a robe and bandanna. One of those musicians who looks entirely at peace with themselves and the world, playing his khene (a mouth organ made of bamboo) with great skill. Me and Matt spend a lot of time speculating on how he spends his performance earnings, and whether he’s a massive player (we nurture the hope he is). Lo and behold in researching this post I found this picture of him on Facebook which is just perfect.
Wherever I’ve travelled I’ve found the folk tales really bizarre and Laos is no exception. There’s a story of an evil giant which transforms itself into a beautiful woman, seduces the king and orders him to remove the eyes of his other 12 wives. A story of a Queen with a mushroom habit who sends a talking monkey man to another part of the world to fetch them for her.
Overall it’s pretty fascinating and a well spent hour of your life.
Feasting Laos style
Our final dinner of the trip is at Tamarind Restaurant. The staff here are young and exceptionally friendly. I manage to astound one by ordering fruit juice with a shot of Lao Lao. ‘You like Lao Lao?’ he asks me, eyebrows launching to the mother ship. He seems thoroughly amused by my positive response, and chuckles continuously as he places the order at the bar and traipses back with it. I stand by my order – pour some Lao Lao into your lemongrass juice it jazzes things up nicely.
We order the traditional Laos tasting menu and it’s totally unlike any other cuisine I’ve had. There are spicy sausages, cured strips of beef, skewers of fragrant lemongrass stuffed with chicken, stir fried young pumpkin, and various pickles. Really delicious food.
Sadly this is our last evening in Luang Prabang. The following morning we pack up and stroll around town, enjoying the cold weather and the last of the peace and quiet before we head back to Bangkok.
We’ll be back.