Monday, November 21, 2016

on returning

There is a deep pleasure in knowing a place that has never been your home. You are then at home in the world, and the world can be yours wherever you go, once you have learned that magic. I had already learned the domestic magic, before I started traveling with Marc in 2005, at home wherever I happened to find myself around the country. But now Southeast Asia is home, too, and there are places where we know exactly what's around this corner, exactly how to get to that great little hidden restaurant, where to buy motion sickness tablets.

Luang Prabang is one of those places for us (as is Hanoi and Nong Khiaw). When we landed at the small Luang Prabang airport, it felt like a homecoming. We stepped out of the plane into the familiar smell, the familiar feeling of the air, the familiar landscape. (Oh....but first.....our getting-there was kind of amazing. The only empty seat on the plane was between us, so we had that tiny bit of steerage-class luxury. The connection in Taipei was generous, but the connection in Bangkok seemed like it might be tight -- but everything went so fast, so smoothly, we had lots of time to spare. We had an empty seat between us on all three flights, amazing.)

Ordinarily we arrange for the hotel to pick us up, but we decided to just get a taxi ourselves -- which turned out to be more like a bus, filled with people, and we'd been traveling 28 hours and just wanted to get straight to the hotel. Marc had read that we could walk beyond the airport and get a tuktuk, and that's kind of what we did (streamlining for storytelling, here).

so happy -- one of our favorite places to be: in the back of a tuktuk in SEAsia
As we left the airport, we were like kids coming home, pointing to places we recognized, telling each other where we were, what was going to be around the corner, spotting landmarks. This was our third time in LP and we know it well enough now to recognize what has changed, what's new, how the tenor has shifted with increased tourism. The Hmong night market is just a clogged part of the street to get through, now, and the food alley that thrilled me so much on our first visit isn't on our itinerary.

We stayed in a different hotel this time, Villa Ban Lakkham, and it was as charming as it could be, and right on the Nam Kanh. We just wanted to eat dinner at a wonderful little place we'd found the time before, Joy's, and then crash. So we changed out of our travel clothes, rested a tiny bit, and then headed out.

Joy's is not near our hotel, and we were there two years ago, but we knew exactly how to get there -- such a pleasure. We walked down the main street, winding through the crowded Hmong market, through the roundabout, on to the next roundabout, turn right down a very dark block, and there it was. And the cook said she remembered us from the time before -- whether she did or not is irrelevant, she treated us like old friends and laughed and smiled. Marc ordered the set menu, fried eggplant coated with garlic and with a dipping sauce, and a chicken and fish coconut curry with sticky rice. I got fried veggie rice and a giant Beer Lao, which is my favorite beer on earth ("The Beer of Wholehearted People"). The electricity had been dicey all day, and in fact it blinked off while we were walking through the Hmong market, but we had a candle on our table so we were fine no matter what happened. It didn't lend itself to great photos, though, so we'll just have to remember how delicious that curry was. Marc said it was the very best curry he'd ever had, anywhere.

We crashed hard and slept all night (and me with my giant red polka dots again, as always in SEAsia), and the next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then took a walk before our ride was to pick us up at 10.

Lao soup for breakfast

Buddhist Archives, with a Meditation Exhibition. What does that mean? People meditating?

one of the many little guesthouses along the main road
so happy to be here

most monks are young men and boys, but this monk was older, and chilly
the Nam ["River"] Kanh -- the Vietnam River, I just learned!

looking the other direction

giant Buddha

LP is full of temples (Vats)
This is one of the fancier vats -- but by no means the biggest or fanciest
Light Beerlao -- my preference is the dark version but it's all so good
Our hotel in Nong Khiaw was supposed to have arranged a car for us, at 10am, but we waited and waited and finally called the hotel owner. There had been a death, the father of one of the cooks had been killed in a motorcycle accident and they were all at the Hmong ceremony, quite devastated, so we couldn't get clear information about what happened to our ride. Luckily this wasn't our first rodeo, so Marc arranged a car and we set off for the 3-hour (but only 75 mile) trip.

Always when we leave Luang Prabang we feel like it's probably our last time there. We definitely felt that last time, but this time in the wake of the nightmarish US presidential election and the wave of hate crimes and president-elect awfulness, we looked differently at Luang Prabang. Could we live here (yes!)? How would it be, would we live near the river or along one of the charming cross alleys, could we make that work? It was certainly a different leaving than any other trip.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful start to a wonderful trip. How lovely it is to see place through a dear friend's eyes. Xx


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