I recently had the privilege of traveling to Thailand and Laos with Kay Tran, founder of V’Explore Tours and expert in Southeast Asia destinations, on a small group tour. Our group was also hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. With an emphasis on visiting emerging destinations, this was a very special opportunity to see things few Americans do through the eyes of locals.
What an experience! This tour immersed our group in food, culture and customs, and even hands on crafting. Our 11-day exotic adventure took us from Bangkok to the northeast Thailand cities of Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom – from whence we traveled into small villages; then over the Friendship Bridge 2 to Savannakhet, Laos and on to its capital city of Vientiane and finally to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang.
Food is central to the Thai way of life. Every day, we ate exotic tropical fruit – either displayed beautifully in our hotel room, picked up at local markets, or as the ubiquitous end to our delicious meals. And we sampled a vast array of food – my favorite being the soups (ranging from very spicy curries to a phenomenal black chicken soup with a light and flavorful broth) and chicken or fish wrapped in banana leaf. In the small village of Baan Nhon Hom, we participated in a cooking class (and competition) – learning how to make green papaya salad, grilled beef (we picked up the famous local beef at market) with spicy sauce, soup with pork ribs, and a grilled fish chili paste (perfect for dipping).
Every meal was an embarrassment of riches – so much food and so little capacity for eating it all! But we sampled everything (and those with special dietary requirements were graciously offered alternatives). In Laos, the food was milder and more subtle in flavor – with the French influence thanks to this country’s history as once a part of French Indochina. We especially loved the Mekong seaweed – sometimes chewy and sometimes crispy. In Luang Prabang we had the opportunity to share dessert at Paste, the Laotian outpost of the famous Bangkok Michelin starred restaurant. My dessert, the coconut noodles, was one I’ll crave and sadly be unable to re-create. It’s a great reason to return to this part of the world.