Laos, Part 2

After getting back from our trip to Kuang Si Waterfall, we would have liked to relax for a little bit. But we only had two full days in Laos, so we had to keep going to see as much of Luang Prabang as we could! We changed out of our still-wet clothes and biked into town for lunch. We stopped at one of the many restaurants in town that overlooks a river – the main downtown area of LPB is flanked by the Nam Khan river on the east and the Mekong river (the world’s 12th longest river) on the west. I ordered a traditional Lao sausage, while Julia got a coconut curry. Delicious food and a beautiful view!

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Lunch with a beautiful view!

After lunch, we got back on the bikes and quickly discovered Wat Xieng Muan. We have seen many, many temples in our time in Southeast Asia so far, and we’ll probably see many more. You may think that we would get a bit bored of seeing “just another temple”, but each of the temples we have seen are unique and amazing in their own special way. It’s interesting to see the difference in style, not only between temples in Thailand and temples in Laos or Cambodia, but just the differences between the temples on opposite sides of town in Chiang Mai! Wat Xieng Muan’s special charms were the hydra statues in the main temple and the colored mirror mosaics decorating the inside and outside of all of the buildings!

We walked by a small market – this area would later be completely full of merchants for the night market – and Julia bought a beautiful dress. Unfettered by our hike up the waterfall that morning, we decided to walk up the 370 steps to the top of Phusy Mountain, right in the middle of town. This tourist attraction, like most in town, charged a $2.50 per person entrance fee. The walk up was much easier than the waterfall, and though the temple at the top was relatively lackluster, we were rewarded with beautiful views of the city.

We headed back down the mountain and biked back to the Mekong River, where we had reserved a longboat to take us on a “sunset cruise” – really just a one hour ride on the river while the sun sets. We had a good time chatting with a traveling couple from Belgium as we waited to disembark, and then sat in peaceful tranquility as we watched the sights around us – locals, tourists, and nature.

We biked over to the other side of LPB and sat down for dinner at a place we had made reservations at earlier. While waiting for our food to arrive, I went up to use the bathroom and wash my hands. Heading back to the table, I saw one of the biggest spiders I had ever seen in the wild in my life, resting on a web just by the check-in table at the restaurant. I asked a waiter if it was a real spider or not – I knew in my heart the answer but I didn’t want to believe that we were going to be sleeping in a city where spiders that large can live. I went back to the table with the intention of gathering my camera to get a picture of it, when the waiter destroyed the web and brought the spider away! I can’t really blame him – I was kind of freaking out when I was asking about the spider, and he probably thought it would make me feel better. I’m not sure what the name of the spider is, and frankly I don’t want to do a Google image search for various types of giant spiders, but this thing was at least as big as my hand. Thankfully, that was the only such spider we saw in Laos.

The actual meal was very nice! We split a bruschetta appetizer, which is probably the best bruschetta we’ve ever had. I got Pad Lao (as opposed to Pad Thai – Pad Thai is better, in my opinion, though both are fantastic) and Julia got a beef salad with lemongrass.

After dinner, we biked to the park where we had played Pétanque the night before, to hopefully meet the same locals that we saw. Unfortunately, nobody was there – but there was another Pétanque court nearby with different locals, so we sat down and watched them for a little while. Unsurprisingly, these locals were also very friendly! The local we spent most of our time talking to didn’t speak English very well, but he did speak French and Spanish, so Julia and I both got a good chance to practice the languages we learned in high school! After a little bit, he poured us each a drink in a glass – home-distilled Lao Whiskey! It was quite delicious – Laos is well known for producing quality whiskey. It was a lot of fun hanging out and watching them play – especially a boy that we guessed was about twelve years old, who was clearly the best player of the group! We didn’t stay too long, as we had been exploring all day and had another early day in front of us!

We got picked up at 8am to go to the Living Land Company, a rice farm that allows tourists to have an interactive experience. Along with eight other tourists, and our tour guide Lauk Lee, we got an in depth lesson on how rice is made, and participated in every step along the way! After learning how to select the best seeds for planting, and how the irrigation systems work, it was time to plow the field – with a water buffalo!

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Meet Rudolph (our guide Lauk Lee is on the right)

While most farms in Laos in modern times use “gas buffalo” to plow their fields, up to a quarter of the rice produced in Laos is grown on fields that are plowed by water buffalo. After watching the farmer drive Rudolph around the field, it was our turn! The buffalo is very smart, and knows the commands for “go”, “stop”, “turn left”, and “turn right”. The buffalo was the easy part – the difficult part was trying not to fall down in the knee-high mud!

Once the fields are plowed and the rice planted, the rice is left to grow for a week. Once it sprouts an inch or two above the surface, it is moved to a submerged field further from the house where it spends the rest of its life growing, until it’s time to harvest. This part of the process is done by threshing machine on nearly all farms in Laos, but we got to try our hand at the manual process that has been done for thousands of years!

The manual process shakes all of the raw rice grains out, but also gets a lot of the rice straw mixed in, so that gets separated by blowing it with a fan! Then, the rice grains are collected and brought from the fields back to the home or market – but the work still isn’t done yet. The rice grains still have husks that have to be removed, which is done by basically pounding it with a giant foot-operated mallet. Then the rice/husk mixture is sorted out by a process that is even more difficult than it looks.

Finally, the rice is ready for consumption! In addition to eating the rice normally, much of the rice will be ground into rice flour to make a wider variety of rice products. We sat down to a delicious lunch that consisted of various food items made only from rice!

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Considering that only one ingredient was used (and chili sauce), it was incredibly delicious.

Taking part in every step of making rice really made us realize how much work goes into the entire process – it’s amazing to look at a giant bag of rice and see how cheap it is, because there is a lot of manual labor involved! We will never look at rice quite the same way again.

With less than twenty-four hours left in Laos, we set off to make the most of it!

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Rudolph keeping watch over his fields

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