Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Life is Brutal in Luang Prabang

Eating, walking, massages...when will the madness stop?  Yesterday, New Year's Eve, was another tough vacation day.  More leisurely strolling around.  More good food.  More friendly people.  But really, that woman actually expected me to get up and move after an hour foot massage so that she could massage my head and shoulders.  Without assistance?  What am I, an Olympic athlete?  Seriously, between the quiet music, perfect temperature and great massage I was barely able to move.  Luckily, she was patient.  Here are some more photos of Luang Prabang.

I woke late, dawdled around and then enjoyed breakfast on the patio at my hotel with a view of the river.  Best French bread ever.  The mango (not shown) was also perfect,

Now, this would be a taste of home.  I may try this for lunch today.

The main tourist part of  LP is a small peninsula with the Nam Khan river on one side and the Mekong on the other.  Both sides are covered with restaurants, hotels and guest houses.  In the center of each of these tables is a small barbeque.  Buy food on sticks, cook it yourself.  I want one of these in my house.

This restaurant cooks your food for you.  And offers cooking classes, as do many of the restaurants. 

The restaurants are on the river side of the street.  Houses, hotels, etc. are on the other side.  Even though it is high season, there's not much traffic and it's clean and quiet.

The chairs next to me where I got my foot massage.  It is not easy having to test all these massage places but I'm willing to do.  So far I've found the prices are very similar and the services almost identical.

Ok, no more pagoda jokes.  One of the advantages of having UNESCO World Heritage status is having resources and the responsibility to maintain historic buildings, like this beautiful wat. 

People farm on the banks of the river.  It's a steep hike to get from house to crops.

Or boat.

The confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

Sidewalks.  Clean streets, where people drive on the proper side of the road and not on sidewalks.  Mandalay - are you paying attention??

Creative bamboo Christmas tree.

Buddha, in one of the most ornate and beautiful wats I've seen.

Lunch at Croissant d' Or - a liver pate croissant with lots of veggies.  Along with a frappucino, it was about $4.

Nutella and banana crepe - $1.25 and worth every calorie.  That's why I'm walking so much!

Dinner was at a small road-side barbecue place next to the NamKhan Riverside Hotel, where I'm staying.  I chose sticks of mushrooms, squid, green pepper and chicken.  I wanted the cockles but they belonged to the owner. 

You pick your sticks, they cook them.  Eat in or take away.  True fast food that's delicious and healthy (depending on which you choose).

I'm going back tonight for more of the veggies - two kinds of mushrooms, spring onions, peppes and eggplant.

Open air kitchen, on the river.  It's a family operation and they live downstairs from their restaurant.  Two little boys help with the work.  The older boy (about 10) does food prep, putting stuff on sticks.  His little brother used a small pump to blow up the balloons.  I've seen them there working when I walk by after breakfast and still there working when I stop for dinner.  I'm anti child labor but all for kids doing their part in the family. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in Luang Prabang...

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling alone is because I can do exactly as I please.  Some people like to lie on a beach all day.  Others want to cram in as many adventures as possible.  Good for them!  Today, my day went like this:  eat, walk, walk, window shop, walk, eat, walk, massage, walk, eat, walk, walk, relax.  It was delightful and I plan to do it again tomorrow.

LP is a great town for walking.  Nice views, perfect weather this time of year and very laid back.  For example, I was leaning against a wall, admiring the Mekong river.  A local guy strolled over and asked if I wanted to go on an hour boat cruise.  He pointed out his boat nearby.  I said "No thanks." and smiled.  He smiled back.  We chatted for awhile about the weather and how the town has changed and that was it.

In other Asian cities (including, sadly, in Myanmar), the scenario would have gone more like this:  I'm walking into a pagoda and a lady offers to sell me X.  I say "No thank you." and smile.  She and her comrades follow me, shoving other items for sale at me, even though I continue to politely decline.  Then they start getting angry and yell at me.  I leave before seeing the pagoda.

It's not always that bad, but so far in LP, the "pushy" level is at about a 1.  In other places where tourists flock it's closer to a 9.  Makes for a relaxing day.  Only once today did some massage therapists get a little aggressive as I walked by, but after they asked twice, they politely stopped as I kept walking.

Here are some walking/eating/massage photos.

Just up the road from my hotel.  I liked the flower "roof".

Made my first tourist purchase at this store where they made intricate paper stencils.

Setting up for the big countdown tomorrow to 2015.  You know I'll be at the street party with bells on.  Or, nice and warm in my bed.

Just say no to taro gelato.

Found the market where the locals shop!

Banana flowers for sale.  My Samoan friends didn't believe me when I told them they were edible...and tasty.

"River weed", which women were using their hands to scoop out of buckets and formed these softball sized balls.  I've seen it offered fried on menus - a Luang Prabang specialty.  I'll let you know when I try some.

This made me feel like I was home in Myanmar.

You want your fish fresh?  How about alive?

MMMM.  Giant grasshopper-like insects for sale.  Fried crickets are pretty good and I've heard these are tasty but not raw.

Hoof to tail may be new to America but in Asia they use the whole cow.  These cow hooves would make tasty soup, I imagine.  (Disclaimer - they look like cow hooves but I'm not a hoof expert.)

Grubs anyone?  Yup, still wiggling.

The meat for sale looked really fresh - and this lady was selling bags of blood to go with the meat.  I've had dishes with blood but just can't get past the mineral taste.  BTW, the first blood-included dish was served by my mom when I was a kid.

Most developing country dogs tend to look alike.  Not in LP - dogs like this are as common as the "junk yard dog" variety.

Cat nap.

Well, you can't just walk past a pagoda, can you?  What if it's the only one?  Just kidding.  It's never the only one

It is beautifully and ornately decorated.

The might Mekong river.  Tomorrow I might take the guy up on his two-hour tour offer.

The ferry which goes across the river.  Seems to be able to carry only 2 cars at a time.

I was sitting at a riverside cafe, enjoying a glass of fresh lemonade.  You have to watch where you step.

Golly, another pagoda!

And monks, to boot.  The monks here have slightly different robes than in Myanmar.  These guys wear a sort of cummerbund of different colors.  The color could indicate status?  I don't know.

I liked my meal at Couleur Cafe so much yesterday, I went back for a late lunch today.  Sitting on the terrace, eating a steak and dunking everything in sight into the bleu cheese sauce that came with it.

These folks wandered by while I was eating.  Suppose they're tourists?

The spa where I got a stellar foot massage, which included 10 minutes of back and head massage on top of 50 minutes of foot/leg massage.  $6.50.  Yes, Mary Lou, I will be getting a massage every day on one part of my anatomy or another.

Sorry, flip your computer and enlarge the photos to see the spa menu.  100,000 kip is about $12.

As long as your computer is tilted, check out the giant iced Lao coffee I got after the massage and more walking.  Icy cold, absolutely delicious and about $2.  Bite me, Starbucks.

Why yes, I did have banana fritters (or, as I call them, fried bananas) for dinner.  Remember what I said about the advantages of traveling alone?

Walking back to my hotel, just before sunset, I noticed this line of tourist vans.  The steps to a huge hill, which is supposed to be the best place to see the sunset is here.

Sorry, tilt your computer again (consider it exercise).  This photo does not accurately convey the number or steepness of these stairs leading to...what a surprise!  A pagoda.

I avoided the stairs and still enjoyed the sunset.