Here’s a bit of what we got up to we weren’t hiding from the overwhelming heat in Savannakhet.
We went out for dinner one night with Antony. We were wandering along the Mekong trying to figure out where to eat when we saw an outdoor restaurant on the riverbank that seemed to be popular with the locals. Communication with the wait staff was limited pretty much to sign language, but apparently there was only one thing on the menu anyhow – a fun, interactive, Lao-style fondue.
A heavy brazier full of red-hot coals is set in the middle of the table. On top, a metal pot with a rise in the middle. The “moat” part of the pot is filled with a simple broth, the middle “grill” area is topped with some sort of thick lard that melts slowly, keeps meat from sticking and adds flavor to the broth as the meal progresses.
Everyone is given their own bowl of superbly delicious peanut and garlic based dipping sauce, and then the “ingredients” show up – one plate of all sorts of meat, from shrimp to liver, even some eggs, and one piled high with awesome mystery vegetables and packets of dry rice noodles. A metal kettle full of broth is on standby when a refill is necessary.
Add some tasty BeerLao and good conversation and you’ve got yourself an awesome meal.
I only took one (quick and bad) photo, which doesn’t do it justice, but hopefully it gives you some idea of how it works.
Breakfast and company
We were searching for a place to eat breakfast our first day and happily were beckoned by a friendly, smiling face to take a look at the menu of a restaurant called Bounnam Natalie.
The owner of the face and the restaurant was a lovely older woman called Vongsot. A gynecologist by training, although she no longer has a practice she is still using her extensive knowledge to educate Laos about reproductive health and prevention of STDs, as well as nutritional health. Her husband is an engineer and she travels with him when his project takes him to different parts of the country, using it as an opportunity for outreach. When she’s in town though she also runs the family restaurant. She was absolutely lovely and welcoming, inspirational and interesting to talk too. We also really enjoyed her young (we think) grandson, nicknamed Lemon, who she was looking after. About five months old, he was a butterball of cuteness with an infectious smile.
The food was simple but good, and her fresh pineapple juice was a dream – creamy and refreshing. Needless to say, it became our regular breakfast spot in Savannakhet. 🙂
The sign outside the restaurant, in case you might want to find it. 🙂
Delicious pineapple juice, in an Arsenal glass no less!
Wat Sainyaphum was a lovely monastery that we visited. It had a quiet, peaceful atmosphere and beautiful grounds full of impressive flora. We timed it wrong though, stumbling upon it at mid-day, so the brutal sun made for a shorter visit. 🙂
A dinosaur of a museum
Apparently Savannakhet Province has been the site for some significant dinosaur finds over the years. Lonely Planet informed us that Province’s captial had a “small but well-presented” dino museum, which we were keen to check out. Even that description didn’t properly prepare me for just how small and simple this place was – but it was cute and we really got a kick out of it. The clear highlight for me was the life-size outline of a Brontosaurus that was sketched across three of the museum’s four walls in colorful Christmas lights. 🙂
The left hand corner and back wall with display case are missing – otherwise that is pretty much the sum total of the museum there in that picture. 🙂
We took time to research and get signed up for a two day bike trek and home stay at one of the eco-tour places in town. More on that later, but here are some photos of a poster the place had up on the wall. All very sound advice on how to behave while interacting with villagers, but I really get a kick out of how Westerners are portrayed.
I wonder what religion, exactly, he is representing? The Brotherhood of Barefoot Christian Warlocks?
Do I look like that? (love the sunburns on the pic on the left!)
Little things I want to remember
The amazing ninja cat that scaled the bamboo framework as we ate dinner at Cafe Chez Boune.
The super cute, super cheeky puppy at Bounnam Natalie Restaurant
The site of a street full of moped drivers, all shading themselves from the sun with dainty plastic umbrellas.
Just how quiet the place was on Sunday – parts of the city felt like a ghost town.
The mounds of sugar palm husks piled on the ground by the river. Still sad I missed the chance to try some!