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Rice is life – Laos up close – a travelogue

Rice is the staple food of Asian cuisine – as much as we know in Europe about the little white grains. If you want to know more and do not shy away from a bit of dirt, you can become a rice farmer for half a day. "Rice is life" is the name of the program of the Living Land Company, an organization dedicated to the preservation of traditional lifestyles and income security of the indigenous Lao people in Luang Prabang.

In January of this year the time had come: The visit to a friend in Luang Prabang was on my travel plan. The charming city in the north of Laos on the banks of the Nam Ou and Mekong already fascinated me on my first visit a few years ago. Time seems to be almost silent and you think you are far away from the usual hustle and bustle of the 21st century. There are no skyscrapers, instead bicycles and scooters compulsory for Asia shape the streetscape. The sights of the city can be easily explored on foot. However, the word city is almost exaggerated – we would call Luang Prabang a bigger village, but that's what makes it so special. The night market is still dominated by local crafts and in the shops you get locally made products instead of the usual Chinese mass-produced goods.

Umbrellas Laos

This is also the topic of my half-day trip to the Living Land Company. Our small group of 10 visitors from all over the world becomes rice farmers for half a day. In a fun way, we learn how rice is grown. The first step is to take off your shoes and roll up your pants, because we'll go straight to the field. Mr. Lee, our guide, lists the 13 steps from the selection of the good rice seeds to the ready-made rice grain and on to the rice flour. Mischief complements step 14, the food, because that 13 for Europeans is a bad luck, we now know in Laos.

Before the pleasure comes the work and that's how it starts. With the help of ice, salt and water, we separate the good from the bad rice grains and start sowing. The growing seedlings are planted according to strict instructions in the previously plowed by hand field. Mr. Lee starts a Laos peasant song and asks us to sing along – we end up with "Old McDonald had a farm". A sophisticated irrigation system in the terrace construction ensures the right amount of water at all times. If the grain is ripe, it goes with the scythe to the harvest. After drying and bundling, the rice is beaten out of the ears – a real bone job. With a kind of fan, we then try to generate enough wind to separate the chaff from the rice – which is quite exhausting. What remains are the rice grains, which can now be stored or further processed.

Separation of the good and the bad rice grains

The hand-operated mill is the most popular fitness machine in the community, Mr. Lee laughs. After a few tries with one hand and in the end even balancing on one leg we agree with him – we had a lot of fun, but we are also pretty k.o. The sifting out of the flour requires a lot of skill and is traditionally a woman's business, but emancipation is also approaching in Laos, and so the men of the village are now learning it too. We look forward to step 14 and look into the kitchen. Glutinous rice, because we have grown, harvested and processed it today and steamed it in a bast basket. From the rice flour the women bake crackers and biscuits. Everything tastes different and should definitely be tried. My conclusion after half a day as a rice farmer: a bone job that is more diverse than I imagined.

<img class = "aligncenter size-full wp-image-12179" src = "https://www.fti.de/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Reisprodukte.jpg” alt=”Rice products Laos” width=”1200″ height=”300″ srcset=”https://www.fti.de/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Reisprodukte.jpg 1200w, https://www.fti.de/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Reisprodukte-300×75.jpg 300w, https://www.fti.de/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Reisprodukte-768×192.jpg 768w, https://www.fti.de/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Reisprodukte-1024×256.jpg 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px”/>

By the way, the adventure is also ideal for families. Children are welcome and can help everywhere. There is also a herb garden and if you want to know more about the fascinating traditions of the Laotians, you can Take a batik course with Ock Pop Tok or complete one of Tamarind's many cooking classes.

Laos is always worth a visit – I'm looking forward to the next time!

Tip for arrival: For several months, Silk Air, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, flies from Singapore via Vientiane to Luang Prabang several times a week. This made it possible to combine the unique metropolis of Singapore with the charming Laos – a fantastic itinerary full of contrasts.

► More about Asia can be found here

► Book the next Asia trip here

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