Laotian experiences

Version française disponible ici.

 a 35-hour journey to change of culture

Flying 10 000 metres above the sea level in a plane, it was like being between two worlds. Like the Rayman character in the video game of the same name, we were moving forward, following the dotted line shown on the map of our screen, without asking any questions. A journey without any turbulences to cross the gap between those two universes. Two universes as much different as the ones of our little character when he is jumping from a creeper to another one in the jungle before to slide between the music notes and the trumpets.

By leaving Uruguay, we left South of America with its history and culture to open the Asian chapter of our trip around the world.

Rayman’s world was interesting to illustrate this big change created by a journey by plane. But a 35-hour journey without any troubles is not really in the DNA of our travel. In spite of a journey “without any turbulences” as described above, let me tell you the true story of our trip between Montevideo and Chiand Raï.

Our story started in South of America, in the Uruguayan capital on a Monday at the beginning of March. Our first misfortune was at the time of crossing the security gate to enter in the international hall of the airport. The aerial police didn’t let us crossing with our motorbike helmets as hand luggage. Surprised by this as we previously did this kind of trip by plane in these conditions, we went back to the Air Europa desk, our airline. Our hold luggage came back and the best solution was to wrap our helmets on each side of our backpacks to avoid paying a supplementary luggage. Finally, that was a good thing to arrive in advance!

The first flight to reach Madrid last 11 hours. We arrived in the Spanish capital at 6am. Once landed, it was fresh but not cold for March. Outside, the Spanish were wearing a winter coat while the four of us were wearing a tee-shirt. We almost forgot it was Winter in Europe during this time of the year.

We collected our hold luggage and looked for the information of our next next flight. We needed a few minutes to find the information. Indeed, the destination of our flight is “Estocolmo” which is actually “Stockholm” in English. At the desk of Norwegian Airlines, we wanted to ckeck-in for the next two flights. Our final destination was Bangkok with a stop in Stockholm. But we have been surprised by the airline requesting the return ticket when we checked-in. We needed to justify we will leave Thailand in 30 days (the period of validity of our visa). As we wanted to cross the Laotian border by foot after a few days of our arrival, we didn’t have any return ticket. A stressful moment… Finally, we bought 4 temporary tickets and show this at the check-in desk. None of us saw the clouds between Madrid and Stockholm as we enjoyed the 4-hour flight above Europe to get some rest. It was snowing when we landed and the temperature was -4°C. It has been a while that we didn’t have a negative temperature.

Our flight to Bangkok left at the scheduled time. However, the flight duration was one hour longer due to the geopolitical situation between India and Pakistan prohibiting our plane to fly above this area. In spite of the 11 hours of flight, we didn’t have any meal. We didn’t know we were supposed to book them in advance and we refused to pay an expensive mini-sandwich offered by the stewards.

We landed in Bangkok at 8am, local time, and looked for our last ticket to reach Chiang-Raï at the North of Thailand. Once the flight booked with Thaï-Smile airline, we enjoyed our first Pad-Thaï. An enjoyable time after fasting for a few hours. We waited until 6:50pm in the airport for our last flight.

We landed by 8:30pm in the small airport of Chiang-Raï to end our 57-hour journey including 26 hours and 40 minutes of flight from our departure of Montevideo, two days ago. A trip ending by a little concert of traditional Thai music while we were waiting the arrival of our luggage. It’s indeed in a new Rayman’s world that we arrived…

 Laos & the banana culture

On the Laotian paths, we crossed many banana plantations. There are one of the main source of incomes of these isolated rural areas. These fields are growing these past few years. Bananas can be harvested all along the year as it’s not seasonal. Therefore, this is the fruit the most exported of the country and sold mainly to China. By taking these roads made of soil, we saw many workers in the fields. It,was hard to say they are farmers as they seem to have the same method as on a production line in a manufacture.

During a break, we stopped after tens of potholes plus a lot of dust. We stopped behind two trucks along the path. Perched on the top of their trailers, men were loading the bananas just harvested. In the shadow of the cabins, other workers were sorting out the damaged bananas and the matured ones for China.

This working atmosphere offered us a nice sharing time. Our break in this banana plantation stopped their daily life. The workers were curious. The most courageous were intrigued and moved forward to offer some fruits and to show their work. A smile was on their lips when they tried to communicate with us and noticed we didn’t understood a word of Laotian. A curious situation which brought some sunshine in this dusty situation.

The Laotian pop culture 

We looked for a karaoke for the evening of Gilles’ birthday to celebrate the end of the day. In Laos, like everywhere in Asia, karaokes are very trendy. The Laotian people, more or less young, are meeting to sing the last hits.

After enjoying a Tuk-tuk trip, we arrived by the municipal stadium where there were no tourists and where Laotian enjoy their evening. We chose the “Sun”. But like the other local karaokes, there were private rooms to sing between friends. We were not able to sing the classic French hits to the youngs. We opted for a drink in the main room of the bar. We were the first clients. The room was huge with only ten cocktail tables. There were only the lights of the stage. The staff invited us to go around a cocktail table. “The Sakhan” band was on stage. Each member of the team just ended their adolescence and, like the singers of K-Pop, they had nice look with bandanas and bleached hair.

Step by step, the room was getting full. The friends of the band arrived to encourage them. They sang, without a break, each title of the band. An unusual experience which ended when they have been replaced by a DJ with a techno music for which we were not very sensitive.

 The noodle-soup of the breakfast

The breakfast is a key moment of our day. But during the trip, it became a privileged moment – take the time to take pleasure. We sat on the terrace to enjoy this moment and to observe the busyness in the streets, early in the morning.

Due to the globalisation, they serve a continental breakfast in most of the hotels or hostels. Everyone tries to copy it at their best… Composed by a coffee, a hot chocolate or tea with bread, jams and pastries. It’s however difficult to get it right without a great knowledge in bakery. But that allows for the travelers to start their day of adventures, with serenity, even if this is against the traditions of the country they are visiting.

In Laos, as most of the neighbour counties, the local people eat similar dishes from the breakfast to the dinner, often composed with noodles or sticky rice served with chicken and vegetables. 

The noodle soup (Pho) is the most famous street food. Standard for the breakfast in Laos, eaten in a few minutes, by schoolchildren before the courses, but it can also be consumed all along the day.

Never mind where we are, it is always possible to find a shed for ordering one for the equivalent of 1,50€. We ate this dish, main dish of our diet in these countries, once or twice a day.

So when, in the middle of the Laotian mountains, we felt the effect of the  “noodle soup overdose” and were starving  a continental breakfast, we needed to be very creative for finding the ingredients. To find eggs in a tiny shop and to negotiate with a restaurant for getting them cooked. We found the ingredients and a restaurant agreed to cook an omelette. Gilles jumped behind the curtains with the Chef. He gave her the secret of his recipe. She improved it with some coriander leafs. This feast was served with an instant coffee, the individual instant coffee serving, pure product of the  globalisation are sold all around the globe. A breakfast far away from the standard of the luxury hotels and from our French breakfast, but a great moment of culinary sharing in the middle of the Laotian mountains.

Smoking Laotian tobacco

During a trip on a pirogue alongside the Nam Ou river, Nudo our guide brought us to a small village where the tobacco is growing. The plantation was irrigated by the river along the village. The large leafs were sun-dried on bamboo trays. Next step, they were rolled and thinly sliced by hand with a machete and a wooden poll. During our visit, we discovered this handcraft. The woman working on the diecuting stopped and offered us to test. She didn’t have a cigarette paper, she went away and came back with a sheet from a notebook. She distributed a little piece of paper to each of one us and we started a “cigarette rolling” contest. None of us were smokers. The results were not good at all… Then, came the moment to try this handmade tobacco. Unfortunately, we couldn’t said if it was a finest tobacco. After a few coughing, one thing was sure: the notebook paper gave a surprising value to this experience!