My favourite town is Luang Prabang in Laos. Built on the conflux of two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan, Luang Prabang has spread far beyond its origins. The part of town I like, is the old part: snugly located on a peninsular between the rivers there is a night market which I avoid and many temples that I haunt, shops selling high class, and expensive, handicrafts, mostly silk and many good restaurants. Luang Prabang has a cuisine of its own, more delicate than elsewhere in Laos, fresh and tasty. Some of my favorites are, Mekong fish steamed in banana leaves known as Mok Pa, with dipping sauces or chicken stuffed with herbs and lemongrass or Laap which is minced meat or minced fish salad.
But my hobby is nostalgia and I seek out the Colonial experience when I travel. Luang Prabang is a civilised town reflecting, European and Asian cultures and mores. It is the only place I know where coffee with baguette or croissant is available for breakfast and gin and tonic offered for aperitif in the evening; with ice and lemon, of course.
There is French architecture here and enclaves of European life. On the main, but traffic free, street there are several French colonial restaurants. I like to visit one on my way home in the evening and sit outside with a glass of red wine and gateau of the day. I sit in the shadow, look at the softly lit temples and watch the private world pass me by. Occasionally I eavesdrop on ex-patriot conversations. One time I sat a few metres away from two ladies of a certain age; well into their seventies I would have thought. Obviously travelling together they had gone their separate ways for a few days and were describing their different adventures.
One had stayed at a luxury spa, with other ladies of her class. She had four days of facials and hot tubs, aromatic massages and haute cuisine. The other had chosen a different path, spending a week in an elephant camp. She described her day:
“We were up early in the morning, we fed the elephants, then took them outside where we hosed them down and scrubbed them with a stiff brush. Then we cleaned out their pens and carried out their dung in wheelbarrows.”
The first lady asked what the accommodation was like.
“Oh, very simple, we slept in dormitories.”
The first lady was shocked. She could not contemplate dung and dormitories. There was a pause in the conversation. Then:
“But, why on earth did you do it?”
And the reply:
“Well, you see…, I just love elephants.”
And sitting in the dark, I smiled and thought to myself that the world would be a better place if there were more people who just loved elephants.
Copyright ©2020 Roger Jinkinson