After tip-toeing across most popular stops in Laos, I have learned the basis of Laotian cuisine. The taste of Laos is a combination of flavours, spices and greens. Some dishes are so identical such as laap or sticky rice as side dish. But some, you cannot miss the recognition of the Thai influence. When I first arrived in Laos, I was already impressed by the Lao kitchen in Vientiane. However, it has turned up to be a better food experience once I got to Luang Prabang.
The day could start as early as 5am. Waking up that morning, I quickly got ready to go out to check out the monk procession. The sun was yet arisen and the whole town was covered in the dark. Some lamp posts were still on lightening up the street. During the winter, Luang Prabang’s morning could be a chilly which a light jumper would be needed. To compare to most cities in South East Asia, Luang Prabang seems very quiet and sleepy at that hour. However, monks start to depart from several temples to gather their daily food. The second I got out of my guesthouse, I already found a group of 10 monks passing by. Just like most curious tourists, I shadowed them and hoped to see the alms giving ceremony. Some people were already prepared sitting on the pavement with their food supplies. Once the monks crossed, people gave out to one by one some of the sticky rice which they prepared the night before.
I was like a stalker, standing from far watching the monks collecting the food. Sometimes, they gave ritual prayers to people who just gave them food. The whole scene was spiritually beautiful and somehow everyone could feel the peacefulness. There were the quietness and the sound of prayers. However, a group of Korean people running after the monks for photos seemed to be a disturbance and broke that tranquil moment. It was somehow ridiculous and I wondered how all the monks felt being after everyday during the procession. Oh well, tourism!
6:30 A.M Morning Market
Luang Prabang’s morning got a bit more lively when the clock ticked 6 o’clock. Local started to pack their things and get ready for the day. However, most shops were still shut but the morning market which was at the corner of the National Museum began to open and got crowded in within 10 minutes. Many people came here for their fresh grocery. I wandered in the market and noticed some food stalls selling Khao Soy. This noodles soup dish is originally from from Burma but served widely in northern Laos. I quickly got a bowl of Khao Soy served. The bowl looked amazing with flat rice noodles, minced meat and a red looking broth. The first spoon of that stock overwhelmed me by the strong fermented soy bean flavour. It could be not in many people’s taste but once you overcome the first few bites, you would start to find the distinct flavour that might soak you in an interesting culinary experience. A squeeze of lime would freshen up the dish and ease up the strong fermented soy bean taste. Don’t forget all the greens which come with it, they bring the best of the dish for you to explore.
8 A.M Coffee at Dexter
If you have followed my journey for a while, you know so sure how much of a coffee nerd I am. Laos might not have a big coffee culture but not many people know that coffee is one of the biggest export products in this country. Dexter cafe is a cute cafe on the main street Sakkarine Rd and appears to be the most hip place in town. It has been brought up there from Bangkok and for me it was a perfect hiding gem on a rainy day. And for your information, Dexter cafe has the best wifi connection in town!
Luang Prabang is a beautiful town that time flies while you just wander around. Small but cosy houses are the charming things that I could not stop myself laying my eyes on every time. Walking Luang Prabang is not just about seeing the two rivers flowing along the town or walking up to Phousi. What I found the most exciting experience in Luang Prabang was to enter to small alleys. I was lucky to have met a Laotian old man and he showed me around Luang Prabang. He told me many stories about this place and the history of Laos. Little did I know, he used to serve the army when he was young during Indochina period.
Once you enter those alleys, you would see more of Lao living. Laotian traditional houses are made from wood and designed as stilt houses. I visited one Lao house and learned that their common area is actually outside on a front deck which they welcome guests and hang out with some tea. Most houses have a small garden to bring out the green atmosphere for the house.
You can also let GPSmycity help you get around with their app.
1 P.M Lunch at Coconut Garden
Luang Prabang has a hand full of great restaurants which offer amazing culinary experience for you. One of the most appealing restaurants in Luang Prabang must be Coconut Garden. With a cosy garden in the front, it has an inviting atmosphere that could lure you attention. I reckon L’elephant is another restaurant that they own.
Coconut garden offers a great menu with so much Lao goodness. I went for Mok Pa – a dish of herbed fish steamed in banana leaves. Still remember that fragrance coming out of the banana leaf wrap and the flavour that they put in that dish. The fish meat was firm but seemed to melt in my mouth and left an amazing scent that you would feel lost in wonder. There came the next dish which was lemongrass stuffed with chicken & herbs. I was blown away by the playful mouth of flavours – lemongrass, sweet herbs, and the sweet and sour dipping sauce. And you could never forget to give yourself a hand of sticky rice or khao niew.
3 P.M Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene
Just a short walk from Coconut Garden, you will find this French style cafe Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene. It is located on the main street but much quieter side. Have a cup of coffee and a slice of cake here will definitely brighten up your day. Apparently, this place has several cake options that you could not stop yourself from having one.
4.30 P.M – 8.30 P.M Cooking class at Tamarind
Just behind Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene, Tamarind is a restaurant which offers cooking classes from Monday to Saturday at a cooking school. If you are a foodie, you should not miss the chance to learn about Lao cuisine as well as cooking some typical Lao dishes. You can simply register (better in advance) and show up. Tamarind will arrange transportation for you to the cooking school.
Full day class: 9-3pm, 285,000 kip,
Monday to Saturday
Evening class without market tour, cook one less dish:
4.30pm-8.30pm, 215,000 kip, Monday to Saturday
8.30 P.M Night market
Luang Prabang is a quiet town but you can find the crowds at the night market. Long rows of handcraft shops are open for business. The whole town seems to be more full of life than ever.
I strolled around and noticed some great artists selling their magnificent looking paintings. Some stalls sold coffee, clothes, handbags, etc. Then there I found in an alley, there was a guy having his sign on said “10,000 kip/plate”. I knew that I had read on some blogs about this, which you can eat everything for 10,000 kip and as much as you can stuff on your plate. All dishes were vegetarian. Even though you might be stuffed after the cooking class, it is still totally worth a try.
The further you go, you more you could find more food stalls. Also, some delish sweets are offered. Great street bakery is just in front of Indigo Cafe.
The most popular sweet in town is the coconut puffs (look very much alike to the Dutch poffertjes). They look good and they taste amazing. The bouncy texture combines with the fragrant coconut flavour that makes you fall in love with this dessert.
List of all restaurants and cafés
Dexter cafe and bar
Address: 98 Unit 2 Xiang Muan (Sisavangvong Road)
Opening hours: 7:30 – 23:00
Address: Sisavangvong Road
Opening hours: 10:00 – 22:00
Cafe Ban Vat Sene
Address: Sakkarine Road
Opening hours: 6:30 – 22:00
Tamarind Cafe & Cooking school
Address: Ban Vat Sene
Opening hours: 11:00 – 21:00
Address: Sisavangvong Road
Opening hours: 6:30 – 22:00
Address: Kounxoua Road
Opening hours: 10:00 – 22:00
Novelty Book Cafe
Address: 126 Ban XiangMouane, Sisavangvong Road
Opening hours: 9:00 – 22:30
Address: 63/6 Sisavangvong Road
Opening hours: 24 hours