You’ll likely read about it in guidebooks ahead of time, hear it spoken from fellow travelers, and see it printed out on brochures and travel ads before embarking, but as soon as you touch down in Laos, you’ll realize that the idea behind what seems like the National motto — “LPDR: Lao, Please Don’t Rush” – will begin to rise beyond the mere cleverness of the phrase and seem to invade every aspect of daily life. It is a marvelous mindset on how to live one’s life, a perspective that seems as though it should only be reserved for sleepy beach towns and tropical islands, but somehow it still shines through in landlocked-Laos.
Of course, for those of us who are accustomed to letting our watches dictate our lives, this laissez-faire attitude towards the passage of time can be more than frustrating at times (for example, if your bus leaves within an hour of the time stamped on your ticket, consider yourself lucky). Getting into the flow of things is easier than it seems at first however, so feel free to take an extra hour leisurely strolling through the French Colonial facades, read a few extra chapters of your book while sitting in that cafe, and stick around on that park bench to watch the sunset disappear over the mountains — you’ll be glad you did.
As an intro to my Lao adventure, I first started in the capital city of Vientiane: a city that won’t win any architectural awards nor will it command your attention with jaw-dropping sights, but isn’t yet without its own charms. It is a perfect city to start practicing the “Please Don’t Rush” philosophy, with its many luxurious hotels and guesthouses, European-style cafes and bakeries, far less traffic than many of the other capital cities in the region, enough Wats to keep the history buffs busy, and a seemingly endless riverfront walk along the Mekong River.
Given that Vientiane marked an additional new country for me (Laos), it was time again for me to dive into another new cuisine. And as has been the theme with my last few food posts around Southeast Asia, the Lao cuisine has many similarities with its neighboring countries — most specifically, the Issan region of Thailand, though many influences can also be found in Vietnam and Cambodia. For example, the typical breakfast food is known as Foe, which is yet another version of noodles served in a chicken or beef broth (a la Vietnamese Pho or Khmer Kyteow)
One characteristic of Lao food that differentiates it from its neighbors is that most dishes are served with significantly fewer liquid components (such as coconut milk in curries), as each dish is accompanied with a bamboo container of sticky rice and is intended to be eaten with the hands (thus, less liquid equals less of a mess). The most distinctive dish in the Lao repertoire is that of Laab, which is a salad-like main dish of minced meat (chicken, fish, beef, and pork are most common) mixed with a plentiful portion of chilies, lime juice, shallots, and mint. Here are a few of the dishes I was able to try:
With the few days I had available now leisurely spent in Vientiane, I’m next off to take in the beautiful scenery of Vang Vieng with Luang Prabang on deck. Though I’m heading into the mountains with both locations, I’m still pretty sure that the slow pace of life is still going to be present, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Until then, Jook from Vientiane!