Caroline has worked with Fiona and Craig for over a decade, so knowing what they love – soft adventure with cultural and culinary immersion thrown in – she put together an exhilarating journey through Laos and Vietnam.
Fiona and Craig began their Asian adventure by flying into Bangkok, where they enjoyed an evening exploring the city’s frenetic flower and food markets. They also visited the world-famous golden Reclining Buddha in Temple Wat Pho, which they were lucky enough to see while there were no other tourists present. “One of the many wonderful things about Caroline organising our trips, is the guides that she knows and trusts,” says Fiona. “A guide can make or break a trip and in this case, the temple was closed, but our guide spoke to the cleaner and they let us in to see the Reclining Buddha by ourselves. It was amazing.”
The following morning, the couple flew to Luang Prabang Province in Northern Laos, which was founded over 1,200 years ago and sits where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. Here the Hotel Sofitel Luang Prabang was their luxurious base. Built as a French governor’s residence it is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. The hotel is a mecca of relaxation and style, and their villa had a private plunge pool surrounded by tropical gardens in which a stone bath allowed them to bathe under the stars.
Another guide that Caroline organised took Fiona and Craig on a fascinating architectural and heritage tour; they were blessed in a ritual at a local monastery and then trekked to the Botanic Gardens – which entails a clamber up a steep hillside. “At the top we enjoyed a delicious and truly memorable dinner in a private gazebo as we watched the sunset” says Fiona. “The Lao people are so gentle and kind. They really want you to enjoy their country, culture and their food.”
Caroline knew that the couple had been to Hanoi before, and had seen the main attractions, so she organised something that they’d never dared to do — a street food tour. “Again, the guide that Caroline knows well made it so special for us” says Fiona. “He also no doubt saved us from having Asia belly!”
They ate in busy Vietnamese BBQ cafes set up on sidewalks; were led down winding side streets bursting at the seams with people, food and animals, and were welcomed into tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries and poky alcoves where they perched on plastic stools and dined on delicious dumplings, handmade noodles, traditional sausages and coconut-based soups. “We had the most wonderful night exploring and eating as the locals do every day,” says Fiona.
One of the highlights of Fiona and Craig’s trip was visiting a Hmong village near Sapa, where the couple walked through the forest and little villages to go swimming at the base of a waterfall. Along the way, they were ushered into a home where Fiona and the grandmother of the house sat together and sewed. There they were — two women from different cultures, one in a colourful traditional handmade dress, the other in jeans and a t-shirt. The Mhong woman with her cheeky smile of missing teeth spoke volumes with eyes that sparkled like a young girl, despite her well worn weathered skin, as she captured the many threads of her rich culture. “She laughed, pointed at me and then at herself,” Fiona recalls, “Then she said: ‘Same same, but different.’”
Here are some of the delicious Lao dishes that Fiona and Craig discovered during their journey: