Above the Clouds in the Mountains of Laos
Driving through the mountains of Laos can be a harrowing experience. The bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang can seem perilous to say the least with its narrow roads and steep mountains. The bus rumbles along through dirt, mud, veering around smaller vehicles and rolling past villages that appear lost in time. But it is all worth it. The views are indescribable and it is underwhelming for those whose job it is to illustrate them with words.
Large limestone mountains jutting out of the earth layered with thick impenetrable jungle and tipped with clouds, floating so low it seems you could reach out and touch them at times. Passing through the hills and mountains are small villages, houses made of wood with thatched walls and tin roofs. Each village thriving on its nearby resources, lakes, valleys full with golden rice stalks ready for harvest and small mountain towns encamped along the road with no visible source of income or sustenance except the baskets of red and yellow chillies left to dry in the sun.
About four to five hours into the journey there’s a stop for lunch. Those who’ve travelled SE Asia are familiar with the typical bus stop. There’s the small canteen serving stale food, a store shelved with preserved and processed foods and a lingering smell of latrines that seems to permeate the other worldliness between destinations. This stop was nothing like that.
Stepping off the bus there is an immediate rush of cool air, light with perspiration and fresh with the smell of the surrounding vegetation. Small pebbles crackle under your feet and you’re greeted with a small unassuming pink building filled with tables and looking like scaled down version of any other bus stop (minus the smell and mediocre views).
And the food is out of this world. No, actually it is so profoundly this-worldly that it cannot be found in a city or suburb or any other countryside that is not nestled deep in the mountains of one of the most undeveloped countries in the world.
Fresh local steamed rice that’s grown, harvested, threshed and husked in the villages where it’s grown — a delicious, albeit difficult to describe flavour. Piled on top of the rice is an assortment local greens with accented by garlic and ginger; beside them a few pieces of stewed and caramelized pork.
Sure you could fly or float down the river to Luang Prabang, but then you’d miss the little unexpected moments of joy like finding delicious local food or seeing cloud covered mountain tops that make long bus rides worthwhile.
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