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Lovely Dichotomy of Luang Prabang

Lovely Dichotomy of Luang Prabang

Last week Halie had Thursday and Friday off for Makhabucha Day. We decided to use the long weekend to travel to Luang Prabang, Laos. Not knowing much of anything about the city but only hearing great things from friends who’ve been, we we’re excited to see what the mountains and hills of northern Laos had to offer.

As we descended through the surrounding mountains, we could already tell this ancient city bordered by rivers would be different. During the taxi ride to the homestay, a hodgepodge of architecture passed by us. French colonial buildings, wooden homes, temple ruins and thriving monasteries. We quickly checked into our hotel and decided to go explore the city. Right around the corner was the night market so no better place to start.

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So if you notice the title of this post, I called Luang Prabang a “dichotomy”. Before I continue with our trip, let me introduce the first part of the dichotomy since it was the first night there that I was confronted with it. Tourist. So many of them. Half the city is 22 year old backpackers. The other half is wealthy, retired Europeans. Initially, it was somewhat of a turn-off to me. Most cities awash with tourists are structured cultural experiences. There’s a facade put in place to appease the masses and hide the authentic nature of the location. This is common across the world and at first glance, I thought Luang Prabang was another casualty.

Until the second day. Using Backstreet Academy, we were picked up by a translator and brought to a Hmong village to learn the art of embroidery with a lady and her daughter. Backstreet Academy is a company that connects travelers with local craftsmen and women to learn traditional techniques of all kinds of things: embroidery, bow making, brewing beer and wine, cooking and woodworking. The list goes on.

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Halie and I spent the afternoon embroidering with two Hmong women. They begin learning this craft at the age of 7 or 8 and spend their lives making beautiful clothes and accessories to sell at the night market or use in local ceremonies. After finishing, we walked around meeting some of the other men and women of the tribe and learning about their lives and language and culture.

Let me get back to the dichotomy I was speaking of. I’ve never been to a city that had so many tourist but was so integrated into it’s own history and culture and local tribes. The night market wasn’t a tourist trap to get our money but a life-line for the Hmong and Khmer tribes surrounding the city to continue the crafts and traditions that they’ve been doing for hundreds of years. The well-kept French colonial structures weren’t a facade but an example of a city that appreciates it’s architecture and history whether it represents colonization by a foreign power, a powerful tribal king and kingdom or the current communist government.

Okay, back to our trip. Getting back to the city, we began exploring around a bit more.

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The city is on a peninsula surrounded by two rivers coming together (Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers). The Nam Khan has a bamboo bridge that is only up 6 months of the year (they take it down for the rainy season). So of course we had to cross it. Who knew on the other side was going to be the greatest meal in my life!?

We were recommended a restaurant named Dyen Sabai by a friend. With benches, chairs and ground level seating all facing the Nam Khan, this place had atmosphere. Reading through the menu, we decided on what the menu called “Lao Fondue,” learning afterwards that this is a popular dish in Luang Prabang called “sindad.” The best way of describing this incredible food experience is a mix between Chinese hot pot and Korean barbecue. You have a pile of hot coals with a grill above. The grill is rounded with a moat for the broth. The meat, vegetables, noodles and eggs all come raw and it’s your job to cook them. Don’t forget to start with the spicy chilis and garlic before adding everything to the broth. Then use the grill to cook the meat (after adding a chunk of fat on top to grease the grill). The broth was the best broth I’ve ever tasted and everything coming out of it was just as good. IMG_9210.jpg

Okay, this is getting too long. Next day, beautiful waterfalls. Afterwards, we walked around to see a few temples and the mountain in the middle of the city. The views were stunning:

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Last day, UXO Museum (blog to follow). Then flight home. Luang Prabang, when can I return?


To see a few more pictures, check out this Google photos album. Thanks!

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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Life, travel

 

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Thailand – One Month In

สวัสดี!
(Hello in Thai, pronounced “sawadee”)

Sorry it has been so quiet around here for a few months. We’ve been crazy busy with preparations for the move. We sold a lot of our belongings in Philadelphia. Packed what we wanted to store for a few years in boxes. Packed what we wanted to bring to Thailand in suitcases (Halie and I each had two rolling suitcases, a duffel bag and a backpack). Then we moved out of our Philly rowhome and spent a few days driving to Texas. We had four weeks in Texas to spend some time with our families, go on a quick vacation to Mexico, finalize last minute documents for visas and prepare for the big move. Finally, a month and a day ago, we loaded up on a Korean Air flight and headed across the world. One day later, July 23rd, we were in our new home: Bangkok (or in Thai: Krung Thep).

It has now been a month. We’ve moved into a condo downtown. I’ve set up my desk area at home for work. Halie has two coworkers that she shares a cab with every morning and evening for work. Next week the Thai tutor we hired will begin seriously teaching us the language. We are finally settling in to our new lives as farangs in Thailand.

So what does that mean, our new lives in Thailand? Well, we get up really early because Halie’s school is out in the suburbs and we live downtown. We walk to the end of our “soi” so Halie can grab a taxi for school and I can grab breakfast. This lady makes these incredible crispy pancake things with sugar and condensed milk on them. And they’re only 5 baht (15 cents)!! I start off every day with at least two. If I need to grab some water or cokes for the house, I go across the soi to another little shop for that. My walk back brings me across food stands selling prepared lunches and whole fish off a grill, past monks receiving donations from the devoted, fruit and vegetable stands and many other shops. All the while I’m dodging taxis, bikes, motorcycles, soi dogs and other vehicles. What a way to start every day!

In the afternoons we sometimes will meet other teachers for happy hour or dinner. We use the foodpanda app to order dinner some nights. Other nights we either walk to a restaurant or pick up dinner from a food stand. There’s one particular stand on our soi that for only 35 baht (a little over a dollar) you can get rice with two different dishes on top. My favorite Thai dish currently is the minced pork stir fried with basil and peppers, called pad kra pao. It’s so tasty and spicy and also good with chicken.

And of course, the weekends. This is when we really get to explore the city (or attempt to, it’s so freaking huge). The major road we live off of, Sukhumvit, is a perfect place to begin. One reason is because the BTS sky train is on Sukhumvit so using that (and it’s connection to the Airport link and the metro), we can reach much of the city. Sukhumvit is a shopper’s paradise. Everything from fancy, stupid-expensive malls to street markets line Sukhumvit from one end to the other. This is also a large expat area so any type of food at any price is just a few kilometers away. You can get anything you want and pay anywhere from 35 baht to 3500 baht (if you prefer). Farther down the BTS is also numerous Buddhist temples (called wats), cultural landmarks like the Victory Monument and museums aplenty. Many nights, we end up at a rooftop bar because they’re incredible for viewing the night skyline, there are so many of them and… we like bars.

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Day trips are also easily accomplished on weekends. We recently took a trip to Ayutthaya, the capital of Bangkok from 1350 until it was burned down by the Burmese in 1787. It’s a great collection of ruins of temples, stupas, royal buildings and much more. We also visited the current royal summer palace at Bang Pa-In then finished the day off with a riverboat cruise back to Bangkok. Here’s a collection of a few pictures I took that day. 

Another major reason for living in Bangkok is our close connection to the rest of Southeast Asia. Suvarnabhumi Airport is a major international hub with cheap flights all over SEA and the world. A second airport, Don Mueang, will get you places even cheaper. As we get settled in, we’ve been planning our trips around holidays and long weekends. In September, we have flights up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. With a week off in October, we’re planning on spending most of it in Vietnam. October also has a three-day weekend that we want to go to one of the numerous islands along the Thai coast that contain some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Anyway, I’m not completely sure what I was trying to accomplish with the blog post. I just felt obligated to give you guys an update and felt bad about not posting anything for a while. Hope you enjoyed my update and I’ll make sure to include more pictures next time. If you want to see pictures more often, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. I’ll post something somewhere…

Until next time!

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Life, Original Work

 

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