Food / Laos / Travel

Oodles of Noodles and a Riot of Rice: Luang Prabang’s Morning Market

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Early mornings in Luang Prabang are quiet, unhurried affairs. The highlands surrounding the town bless the day with a delightful long-sleeved respite from the heat, and it’s the perfect time for a jog and a meandering, cool-down walk.

Which was precisely what I was doing when I discovered the Morning Market. 

The Highlands

Luang Prabang has two street markets: a famous Night Market, and the not-so-famous Morning Market. Every foreign visitor to LP makes at least one trip to the Night Market. In the cool of the early evening, a long section of the main street is closed to traffic, and local vendors set up tents selling handicrafts, food, clothing and an incredible array of things that tourists need – or think they need. It’s festive, entertaining, and mutually beneficial for all.

Noodle Vendor

But what most foreign visitors don’t seem to discover is the 99% tourist-free Morning Market. Squeezed into a long, narrow alley next to a – Wat else? – Buddhist Temple, the morning market is an assault on the senses.

Wat Wall

The crowd, noise, smells, and smoke wafting around enveloped me. Shoppers and sellers totally ignored my presence – a good thing so I could casually take it all in.

Marigold Votives

The Night Market is all food, crafts and tourist bric-a-brac, but the Morning Market is no-nonsense; selling practical things that locals need.

Practicalities

There was a hodgepodge of necessities for sale: produce, meat, rice, noodles, takeaway food, household goods, and haircuts alfresco.

Noodles Galore

And for carb-cravers, there were oodles of noodles and just across the way was a riot of rice.

Takeaway Food

One sidewalk chef was preparing the most environmentally friendly takeaway food imaginable. Cooked noodles were mixed with scrambled eggs and spices, then the whole concoction was stuffed into a banana leaf and tied with some sort of organic string. It not only looked delicious, but after eating, the container becomes compost. Styrofoam was never close to this take-away food; a message for us litter-happy westerners.

Then came my favorite … the grill meister. A husband and wife team had a huge selection of meats cooking over glowing charcoal; an irresistible culinary treat.

Grill Meister

Grilled Meats

Luckily, I carry a little emergency cash with me when I jog, and suddenly my growling stomach signaled an emergency. A grilled pork chop with fried rice was the perfect Laotian brekkie. Of course, these delicious calories totally negated the positive effects of my jog, but it’s the classic jogger’s conundrum: Do I eat to run or run to eat?

A show and a meal; the ideal start to the day.

Happy Trails,
James

Wat

53 thoughts on “Oodles of Noodles and a Riot of Rice: Luang Prabang’s Morning Market

    • Thanks Amit. Strangely, I hadn’t read anything about the morning market, and I’m so glad to have stumbled into it. For a growing tourist city, the locals seem to be keeping it all in perspective. ~James

    • To be honest, the one smell that caught most of my attention was the BBQ. Everything looked wonderful, but in this part of the world, when it comes to meat, one has to choose carefully. I opted for the safety of a tasty pork chop. ~James

    • Laura, one of our rules of the road has seriously impacted what we buy. The rule, which is ruthlessly applied, is that you can buy whatever you want, but it must go into YOUR suitcase. We each travel with small rolling backpacks, so that cuts way down on the bric-a-brac. ~James

      • That sounds like one of our rule as well. When we move full-time into Waldo, obviously we will not be able to cram the contents of our house into the confines of Waldo’s 38 feet. So now, buying is only allowed if it will 1) be used up before we leave 2) is imperative to have on the road or 3) will fit in YOUR space.

    • As I said Ina, the grill certainly grabbed my attention. And your observation about clean is correct. Even though the stall floor might have been dirt, it had been swept and things were tidy in the booth. ~James

  1. Much better prices at the morning market, too. I have wondered whether all the trash in India is because people used to use biodegradable (probably cow-edible) packaging, and just haven’t adjusted to the change.

    • We were in a hotel so cooking wasn’t an option, but I’m sure that the prices for food in the market were dirt cheap. Interesting thought on the trash situation in India Kathy. And I suspect that you’re right. It wasn’t so long ago that Americans pretty much dropped their trash where they stood. Luckily, that has all changed, though there are still a few inconsiderate jerks who do it. ~James

    • I’m with you Joanne. It’s hard to escape using styrofoam in our culture, but I’m always appalled when I read how long it takes to break down in the landfill. Glad you liked the title. Our philosophy at Gallivance is to have fun when we can. ~James

    • Thanks Darlene. I hope that the photos convey how peaceful and calm the market was. As I said to someone else, it was also nice that the locals totally ignored my presence – always a plus for snooping around and snapping photos. ~James

    • Ahh – another kindred spirit. Carol, when it comes to exercise and calorie intake it never pays to read the “walking X minutes burns Y calories numbers.” It just never seems fair. I’ve never needed an excuse to eat, but exercise is a certainly a handy one. ~James

  2. ‘Wat’ a great post. You crack me up James with your titles and plays on words. I am so with you on discovering markets of the locals. Truly like a treasure hunt won to avoid the tacky tourist stalls . The bonus of not even being glanced at because the locals are busy with their own buying and selling is an added bonus.

    • Glad you liked the title Sue. I’d like to say I took the the literary highroad and worked on it for hours. But like Isaac Newton, my inspiration came while standing on the shoulders of giants: which in this case may have been Dr. Seuss. Didn’t you just love the markets in Peru? And did your acquisitions fit in your carryon? Come on now – be honest .~James

      • James for this trip we were told by the cycling company we had to check bags. For the various side trips of Peru, not to mention the next section on our own in the Galapagos, we needed SEVEN pieces of luggage. Two day packs, two cycling packs, two duffle bags and then suitcases to carry it all. It really was a gear gong show. Not the way we like to travel. Anyway it did allow for buying all kinds of scarves and hats in the markets of Peru. 🙂

      • I actually thought about it when buying mine James. I said to Dave that every time I went to shovel snow I would pop my Peru hat on and think about our amazing adventure rather than how cold I was. Check back with me to see if it lasts come December/January.

    • Thanks Lynda. Whenever possible, we make the local market one of our stops in any new place. The tourist markets are fun as well, but we learn so much more about the culture at the local market. ~James

  3. I was drooling just reading this post James. Are you at home right now or out traveling? I just saw on the news yesterday all the rain that KY is getting right now.

    • Thanks LuAnn. We’re at home putting the finishing touches on a full kitchen reno, and planning a Sept trip to the Balkans. This is our first summer in KY in a long time, so it’s hard to know, but even the old timers are shaking their heads at the amount of rain. The upside is that the new plants in Terri’s new garden are growing like weeds – as of course are the weeds. ~James

    • The cooler mornings and evenings make the perfect time for some shopping and socializing Susan. In addition to these markets there are a few flea markets that are worth a visit. The humongous Chatuchak market in Bangkok is a hoot. They sell just about everything, and even though it’s crowded, it’s still worth a visit. ~James

    • Aren’t these the coolest food containers Dorothy. Another place that does wonders with banana leaves is Bali; everything from food to lucky charms, to offerings to the gods. ~James

  4. The traveler is always rewarded for waking up early. Thanks for sharing. LP is one of my favorite places but sadly in the 10 days I spent there I only got up early once. I’ll have to go back and do it right like you did.

    • Ten days in LP must have been nice Jeff. We were only there a week and could have spent another. After all my time living in hot climates I’ve gotten into the habit of early morning jogs. And I’ve discovered there’s an entire world up and about early that I wouldn’t normally see. There’s an ambience that just doesn’t exist later in the day. ~James

  5. I really enjoyed your wonderfully colored photos of the market – now I’m hungry! We spend half our year in Oaxaca, Mexico, and it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities of the markets. No noodles but lots of corn!
    The building (temple?) in the last photo is so graceful and lovely.

  6. I actually hope you run to eat; after all, it’s more fun that way. Great pictures. Love markets especially when I don’t even recognize what’s cookin’. Makes it more interesting. But are you able to eat everything? I’ve been kinda cautious — not sure if this Tennessee stomach can handle the rich offerings we see in other countries.

    • Rusha, like most long-term travelers, I’ve had my share of maladies. I don’t obsess about what I eat, but I don’t do anything dumb either. Most of it’s common sense, and being careful. But having said that, sometimes I’m just unlucky, and BAM! down I go. On our last RTW we changed our policy a bit and had lots and lots of street food. The key is to find the busiest place, because: A. the locals know the clean places and B. lots of food turnover means less chance of problems. I just pray that I don’t have the trots on a transit day. 🙂 ~James

      • Great tips! I hadn’t thought about the turnover aspect, but you’re so right. We weren’t sure which food trucks to patronize in Portland OR, so we avoided all. Not being good travelers, I suppose. But we avoided the scourge!

  7. I’m taking notes James; I’ll need to get my butt out of bed and out early to fully experience the local cultures and a hearty breakfast on our RTW travels. Unlike Gord, I like to sleep in and later regret my decision. I’m working on changing this bad habit now:) -Ginette

    • Ginette, after years of living in hot climates, I’ve gotten into the habit of early morning exercise, which carries over into my travel life. I suspect the most people fall into the “up early or not” category, with both camps thinking the other side are kooks. I just know that every city I’ve ever visited feels totally different in the very early morning. The pace is slow and deliberate, everyone’s rested, and with so few people around, they seem friendlier. Pick a good spot and go on an early morning walk with Gord. You’ll love it. ~James

      • James, I know you’re right. Like you, Gordon will exercise or when travelling wander in the early hours taking photos, and the few times that I did set out with him, I think “wow, I should get up early all the time!”. But more often it’s “I’ll look at your pics later.” 🙂

  8. One of the reasons I like wandering off on my own is to find things like this. With a guide you’ll always be shown the tourist friendly places but alone you stumble up the real place.

    • I feel the same way Marie. If we have a choice, we never take the guided tour. Not that there’s anything bad about guided tours, but we just prefer to go at our pace and see what we want to see. This usually requires some research in advance, but it works best for us. ~James

    • Thanks very much Louise. The next time that you and Tom are in this part of the world, you really should visit Luang Prabang. Laos isn’t the easiest place to get to, but it’s definitely worth the effort. ~James

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