Back to traveling as a family of 3!  Hazel sat this one out, while Tim, Miles and I spent 8 days between the cities of Luang Prabang, Laos and Siem Reap, Cambodia.  This was a much-anticipated trip (we booked last July!), and a direct itinerary copy from our good friends who did the trip last June.  They had such fun, the expectations were high, but were surpassed by leaps and bounds.  Going with only one kid made it even more of a vacation.  (Tim did bring his baby along, but she was very quiet and good.)

20130122-IMG_3522First stop, Luang Prabang.  Laos was a new country for me and Miles, Tim spent a day or so here on his banana pancake travels in 1999 but didn’t really remember much about it.  LPB is a pretty chill place.  It is small (walkable to everywhere), and there are no big hotels or restaurant chains (yet).  Each day started with the alms giving: a processional of 200 saffron-robed monks collecting the staple sticky rice and other small food offerings from believers who line the streets at dawn.  First we would hear a deep drum, then a pot banging, and the monks would soon come barefoot and silent along the road, opening their metal pots discreetly to accept the offering that would make up their two meals for the day.  Very photogenic, very serene.  By 7:15 it was over and we were settled in the garden of our guesthouse ordering omelets, baguette and coffee for breakfast.  Temps were in the 60s (brrr!) and life felt pretty good. Can you see why we liked it here?

We had two outings planned.  The first was so wonderful, I could have gone straight home after and called it a trip!  It was a “rice experience” put on by the cooperative farm called Living Land Lao.  After 7 years of living in Asia, we finally learned everything there is to growing and harvesting rice.  We germinated seeds, guided a plow behind a water buffalo (one member of our party rode the buffalo), stood knee deep in a paddy to plant seeds and weed, used a sickle to harvest the grain, beat it free of the stalk, removed the husk with a pestle-mortar, sifted it and steamed it.  Then ate it. The guides were fantastic, enthusiastic local young lads (with heavily muscled calves) who loved Miles and took him on as a little mascot.  Certainly a highlight.

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Halfway through our stay, our two-year-old turned three!  For his birthday, he rode an elephant.  And fed the elephant.  And continued to talk about it for the next 2 weeks.  Guess what Miles’ trip highlight was?  We’re going to have a rough time keeping up this level of birthday in the future!

Tim loved the photo ops, Miles loved the elephants, we all loved the rice…my personal highlight was the food.  Who’d have known, Lao food is spectacular!  As I mentioned, the staple is different to other parts of Asia – it is rice, but sticky rice that is formed into balls in the hand and used to soak up the delicious sauce of the dish.  Other key components to the cuisine included buffalo meat, smoked eggplant, tamarind, lemongrass and bitter greens. Oh bitter greens, how I’ve missed thee!  There is also a noodle soup called khao soy that is served all day, even for breakfast, which is a spicy broth with rice noodles, pork mince, and lots of fresh herbs mixed in.  Yum!

We were happy and had full bellies and memory cards, but it was time to go.  Miles had a nearly-tearful goodbye with the guesthouse receptionist (his best buddy in the red shirt), who came in on our last day just to see Miles off (it was his wedding day, can you imagine!).  Time for Cambodia!

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