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Travel to Laos: Luang Prabang and surroundings

That happiness is not in money and not in their quantity, looking at the Laotians, you realize especially clearly.

A country that is among the top ten poorest in the world can honestly excel in the benevolence and equanimity of its citizens.

Irrepressible Nikolai, the Moscow manager of Vietnamese Airlines, who accompanied our journalist herd, sent out an unexpected, at first glance, “soap” on the eve of the trip. It was a reference to the old — 1970 — detective Julian Semenov «He killed me under Luang Prabang» with the note: «I recommend reading during the docking.» Wow zavlekalochka, given that in this very Luang Prabang (usually in Russian, it is written together, and sometimes as Luang Prabang — as it is spoken by the Lao) we had to live.

This is the most beautiful city of Laos, the city-museum, its ancient capital and former royal residence, “Luang” in translation — “royal”.

Curiosity ran the Semenov text diagonally — fiction is sometimes more convincing than guidebooks:

«Hello. How are you? — Thank.

Good. — How did you get there? Not very tired on the road? — she asked him the usual questions here: they were part of the simple word «hello».

If you do not ask all these mandatory questions, you might think that a person is offended at you or not at all happy to meet. ”

The guide who was waiting for us at the airport, an inconspicuous uncle of about fifty, asked the same thing. Word by word.

And even the downpour, the elastic streams of which overtook under unreliable roofs, did not prevent him from delicately demonstrating traditional Lao politeness.

I suspect there were epaulettes under the cotton jacket of the guide, however he was definitely a Buddhist.

In fact, it seems to me, every second Lao is a staunch Buddhist seeking enlightenment. We flew to Luang Prabang from Vietnam, where from dawn to dusk there is amusing crowding and haste, where everyone works like bees and ants. And the Laotians looked like carefree birds: they were chirping in the shade of trees, sipping a beer or playing pétanque in the middle of the day — entertainment from the French colonialists.

And the merchants, and the waiters, and the masseuses, and the rickshaws, and the boatmen are not lazy, but calm and contemplative, self-sufficient and, it seems, they all do meditation around the clock.

This would be a superficial and vulgar stranger’s opinion if our guide himself did not quote a popular saying in Southeast Asia: when Vietnamese plant rice, Cambodians (Khmers) look at them, and Laotians listen to how this rice grows … Laos is called the heart Indochina, and for many years in this heart — silence, peace, calm.

Laos relatively recently, only about twenty years ago, became available to foreign tourists. And there are considerably fewer Russians here than in Thailand — Laos borders with it in the west, or in Vietnam, the border with which lies in the east, or in its northern neighbor — China. Last year only 2,270 Russian tourists visited Laos.

Why do we not have the rush of tourist demand for this country spreading in a shy smile — with its ancient temples, frescoes and mosaics, with generously overgrown hills and mountains, with the great Mekong river — “Asian Volga”, with exotic cuisine?

I have a few simple considerations on this.

First, Laos is cut off from the sea: no beach joys, no resort sins and pleasures, no sea delicacies of the morning catch. A swim in a suspiciously muddy Mekong may turn into a visit to a dermatologist.

The second reason is that the Lao people do not advertise their neighbors ’kingdom of a million elephants and a white umbrella with the persistence of their neighbors (there’s no money for it, and the Buddhist worldview plus a socialist economy is getting in the way: why?). The third is the lack of direct flights between Moscow and Vientiane, the smallest capital in Asia, and the same Luang Prabang. You will have to travel with transfers, for which not many have enough courage, time and money (in general, a flight is the most significant item of expenditure).

The fourth problem is roads and infrastructure in general, which, frankly, leaves much to be desired.

But if you still get to Laos by including it in your Vietnamese or Thai tour, you will be rewarded. At least by the fact that this country is not yet trampled by inquisitive guests.

However, one traditional religious ritual has already become an attraction for travelers.

We would not be journalists if we had not participated in it.

To rise at half past four in the morning for me, «owls» — hellish punishment. And yet, when will there be an occasion to feed the Buddhist monks?

We jump into the bus and drive from our spa-hotel, located a bit on the outskirts, in decorative tropical bushes, to one of the central streets of Luang Prabang.

Along the roadside, the locals are already sitting or kneeling, mostly women, not as sleepy as we are, with wicker boxes full of cooked rice.

We adjoin ourselves nearby — “our” rice was ordered the day before, although it is possible to buy it on the spot.

Minutes of waiting.

The fog has not cleared yet. A drum roll is heard in the distance. On top of the temples, which in the city about three dozen, orange streams begin to flow, lining up in a string.

The monks are coming!

They are usually still teenagers. These skinheads are serious, humble and focused. Bright saffron cloth and light sandals — that’s their whole property.

Each has a box on its side, in which the people of Luang Prabang and tourists throw a handful of rice. The chain moves in a brisk pace, barely manage to scoop up the rice and throw it at the next one.

Then, they say, the whole «harvest» will be gathered into common boilers and warmed up — this is a monastic meal.

The ceremony itself — the collection of alms by the monks — has existed since time immemorial.

After the excursions, we visited some monasteries and could have a closer look at the simple life.

Someone from colleagues compared him with a pioneer camp, the other with an army. By the way, male Laotian believers have to live in a monastery for a while, sometimes for several years, joining Buddhist virtues.

Someone from time to time repeats this experience, briefly leaving the monastery.

Upon learning that you are from Russia, many Laotians will wonder innocently: “And where is it?” With the information and literacy in the country, this is not very good, and our compatriots here are not the most frequent and numerous guests.

There is no sign in Russian yet.

It is all the more surprising and, why hide there, it was more pleasant for us to find three canvases in the national museum located in the former royal palace, signed as follows: Ilya Glasunov, an artist from Moscow.

The master of ceremonial portraits visited here in 1967 and wrote the last king of Laos, Sawang Wattan, the queen and one of their sons, heir to the throne Suliavong Sawang. Portraits are exhibited in the reception hall of the palace.

The portrait of the king is “with a secret”, our guide paid attention to it: when you look at him from different points, it seems that the head of the monarch and his left boot seem to be turning in your direction.

When I wrote this note, I found Glazunov’s memoirs about “the king of Laos, who has strangely disappeared from the political life of the world.”

There was nothing strange: in 1975 there was a revolution.

According to one version, the king abdicated the throne, according to another, more believable, he was forced to do it and imprisoned with the whole family under arrest.

“He was a giant, especially for Laos,” our artist recalled the king. — And he told me how a student, being at the Sorbonne, went to every play by Chaliapin. And it was a great honor for me to paint his portrait. ” By the way, when Indira Gandhi saw this royal image, she wished to invite a Russian artist in New Delhi to pose for him.

But that’s another story.

In Lao it is “thank you very much.”

The first thing to remember. Why do you thank especially sincerely? That’s right, for good food.

Do not expect culinary frills from the Lao table.

Although any guidebook will assert that the local cuisine has absorbed the traditions of neighboring countries, which has been influenced by French gastronomy, do not believe this blah blah blah, but your receptors. Lao food is fairly unpretentious or, let’s be politically correct, democratic. After Vietnam, with its freshest B-food, an impressive parade of lobsters and shrimps of XXL size, with exotic in the form of roast hedgehog (not sea, but forest!) Lao dishes will seem simple.

Even located in our hotel restaurant The princess, having the reputation of being the best in Luang Prabang, he did not hit something boundless and artistic.

But again, let us remember Buddhism: food should support the body, and not serve as a source of pleasure. In this sense, the Lao cuisine is impeccable: a lot of greenery — from coriander and mint to lotus stems, vegetables and fruits, sometimes unknown inches and roots, many spices that transform any dish — the same noodles cooked in various ways river fish — Mekong gift. And, of course, the basis of the meal is steamed sticky rice, it is called khau niau.

The country grows many varieties of rice, and it is prepared both solo and with vegetables, meat, chicken, fish.

Laotians wash down their often burning, spicy and pepper dishes with fruit juices, local beer Beerlao or rice brew.

They say that among the local delicacies there are dishes from snakes, lizards, deer, squirrel, and civet (these are such animals that look like a cat). They are dried, dried, fried, boiled, stewed, salted, pickled … But this whole Noah’s Ark floated past us. Neither tarantulas, nor frog legs … Maybe we were just not very lucky with the host party, it was personified by a guide who, it seemed to me, ordered our dish-prone group to culinary experiments, focusing solely on its own taste and its own concepts of luxury and extreme?

And all the same — “Cop tea barking!” It was delicious.

“Listen to the author! — the patient reader will sigh. — Fly to distant lands to give a handful of rice to young monks, eat papaya salad and gaze at Glazunov’s paintings. No, perhaps, the game is not worth the candle! «

Do not rush, do not rush. In ancient Luang Prabang (our program did not provide a visit to Vientiane, so there is not a word about the capital) there are so many places worthy of attention that I begin to list their intricate names, there is not enough space. It is not by chance that UNESCO included this city in the list of world cultural heritage.

Will you forget to climb Phusi, is it Holy Hill (or in another translation — Wonderful Mountain), one of the main attractions of which is the imprint of the three-meter foot of the Buddha? From the top of Phusi, the city is in full view.

A beautiful temple complex Sieng tong, which entrance is guarded by dragons?

Or cozy and neat, like a glossy magazine, villages of artisans — Ban Phanom and Ban sang hai, to which we stopped in a long boat on the way to the caves Pak-U. And in those caves there is an incredible set of statuettes and bas-reliefs of Buddha of various sizes.

And forever imprinted in the memory of the sunset over the Mekong — what a surrealist artist portrayed him, interfering with the colors of paint right before our eyes.

The most interesting here and the most inexplicable — the atmosphere. She is mystical.

It cannot be conveyed, it is impossible to retell poems in your own words. When you just feel good and comfortable with every step, from the breath of air, from the opposite look. And I want to break the return ticket.

Yes, yes, in Luang Prabang and pulls to ask for political asylum. Well, or not political — after all, the one-party system in Laos and the party with the frightening name — people’s revolutionary (formerly called communist), and just asylum run the charge.

Call it spiritual if you want. To abandon the Moscow rush and smog, from rising prices and the depreciation of feelings.

From middle age.

From myself, so sprinkled.

To stop, look around, put in order the thoughts and nerves, set up a lost scale of values, Luang Prabang, in my opinion, is one of the ideal places on the planet.

In 1995 Luang prabang was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

Among its main attractions are 32 ancient temples.

Royal temple Sieng tong (Wat Xieng Thong), or the Temple of the Golden City, built in 1560.

Here were the coronations.

Palace Museum, former royal palace (built in 1904), with a large collection of personal items of the royal family.

The complex of statues and bas-reliefs depicting Buddha, located in caves Pak-U (Pak Ou) 25 kilometers from Luang Prabang, on the banks of the Mekong.

Artisans Village Bang Sang-Hai.

Waterfall Quangxi (Kuang Si), one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Southeast Asia, — 30 kilometers from Luang Prabang.

Tam-Mak-Hung — Fresh papaya, garlic, chili, peanut, sugar, fish sauce and lime juice salad.

Sushi Dad — River fish cooked in coconut milk.

Soup pho — several types of meat, transparent rice noodles, germinated soybeans, garlic and greens.

Nok-kho-hum-sai-kalampi — quail stewed with cabbage.

Khao-nyeu-ma-muang — sweet rice with mango pulp.

Nam-mak-phao — coconut juice.

From May to October in Laos — it is wet and hot, from November to February — it is dry and cool, in March-April — it is dry and hot.

There are no direct flights from Russia to Laos.

Can be reached from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with local airline flights. Lao Airlines or by land transport — by bus and train.

In Luang Prabang, the main place to buy souvenirs is Hmong market on the street Photkhisalat, it is also called night.

Products made of wood, fabric, leather, jewelry, religious items.

Products from silk — scarves, scarves, bedspreads, tablecloths, hand-embroidered.

Coconut dishes inlaid with lacquered egg shells.

Notebooks and postcards from paper made by hand.

Rice moonshine (drink on the fan, quite strong).

Antique vessels for smoking opium.

David Ricardo Rosario, Family Doctor, American Medical Center:

— If the path to Indochina’s heart lies through the stomach, take care in advance about the absence of annoying troubles on this path.

For example, infectious intestinal diseases are widespread there. Therefore, do not take the example of the local people tempered by the tropics — do not buy food and water on the street. Do not swim in the Mekong Delta, it is dangerous to health.

Before the trip, go to the doctor. He will direct you to the necessary vaccinations, give you recipes for travelers on drugs against diarrhea.

Do not forget about the prevention of malaria, you need to start it at home.

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