We've just arrived in Luang Prabang by way of an ill-advised detour through Vang Vieng, the so-called adventure capital of Laos. Although the area boasted some absolutely magnificent scenery, it turned out that Vang Vieng wasn't for us. We weren't really digging the tubing vibe (floating/drinking your way down a river) and the only street food in sight was a series of identikit stalls selling banana pancakes served with side orders of cynicism and regret. After 50 dollars was pinched from our room, we decided it was time for a speedy exit stage left.
Enter Luang Prabang, Lao's cultural and historical centre, and an altogether better place to be. The old town here is located within a thin peninsula created by the Nam Khan river's circuitous journey to the mighty Mekong, and is a truly unique place. A scattering of ornate Buddhist monasteries blend seamlessly with a predominantly French colonial style, and the surrounding tree covered mountains gleam with the occasional gold painted stupa. All this makes for a bona fide feast for the senses.
Man can't live on beauty alone however (trust me, I've tried) and this is where Luang Prabang's night food market comes in. The market provides a refreshingly diverse range of traditional Lao style food, and despite Luang Prabang's heavy tourist bent, seems to remain largely locally geared. It's a real maelstrom of smoke an engines as people ride up on their scooters, order, then zip away into the night with their food in little plastic bags.
Although minus a scooter, I put my legs to good use and embarked upon my first wandering graze for a while.
I started off with what has to be one of the best street food finds of our trip so far, the 5000 kip (about 40p) vegetarian buffet. I realise I just used the words best and vegetarian in the same sentence, but this thing was seriously good. For less than 40p, you can fill your plate with a range of rice, noodles, and curried vegetables. Standouts included a pumpkin dish that had been cooked to a perfect consistency, and a fluffy yellow rice packed with flavour.
Feeling somewhat healthy after my veg-fest, I decided to rectify the matter with some good old fashioned meat on a stick. I'd read a little about Lao sausage before I arrived and was naturally intrigued. These ones resembled the thin Denny sausages we get at home, so my interest was additionally piqued. When I bit in, I discovered a meaty centre surrounded by a sweet, glazed skin. This was naturally a little confusing, but an interesting (though one off) experience.
Lastly, I went for something a little different. It's been a while since I tried anything adventurous, and while my stomach keeps telling me I'm not a nose-to-tailer, my brain has a habit of forgetting. This time barbecued buffalo intestines were the culprits. These started off well enough with nicely grilled outer skin and a meaty flavour, but things became increasingly dubious when they turned out to contain a strange mystery filling. If someone had told me there and then that it was sage and onion stuffing, I would have gubbed the lot, but my imagination is unfortunately a little to active for my own good. I ate about half, then discreetly dumped the rest.
Luang Prabang is a great place, definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far. We've decided to stay here for a while, so I reckon a return trip to the market is in the offing.