Markets of Laos

Night food market in Luang Nam Tha. Very tasty!

Night food market in Luang Prabang, Laos. Very tasty stuff!

The markets of Laos come in two flavours – for the tourists, and for the locals. They’re a great example of the bizarre selection of food and crafts you can find on the streets in South East Asia. I wanted to show you what they’re like and I picked Laos because the markets there had some of the most weird selections I’d seen on my travels. They aren’t the best quality photos, most are snapshots I took whilst wandering around and I’ve since got better at this kind of photography – but what matters is the content – hopefully you’ll find it interesting!

Frogs live market Laos food

Live frogs in a food market in Luang Namtha, northern Laos. They are quite popular as food in this area. I did eat frog in Laos and Cambodia and I have to say it is quite tasty! Conditions are pretty harsh for the froggies in this pic though, skewered through the legs with these bamboo strands.

A visit to a local food market in South East Asia is usually a vibrant and noisy experience. Vendors sell fruit, meat and vegetables in all shapes and colours, and you’ll probably only recognise a fraction of what’s on offer on your first visit. Usually it’s women manning the stands (or patch of ground) – and they range from “professionals” who buy from wholesalers and resell in bulk, to housewives selling a small amount of produce from their land.


We had a really good laugh with this lady in a market up in Muang Sing, a town on the Laos border with China. And look – some fruit I recognise! She even gave us some for free, what a darling 🙂

One thing that I love about the less structured markets is how the sellers arrange their food. Check out these neat displays in Luang Namtha, in the north of Laos.

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Night food markets for the purpose of eating, rather than buying goods to take away are very popular in Asia. The big one in the centre of Luang Prabang has some great food at dirt cheap prices and is great for backpackers looking for a cheap eat, as well as the popular with the locals. Many tourists eat in restaurants but often the best food can be found in these steamy eating areas for no more than a few dollars. There’s so much variety – you can get everything from a big bowl of noodle soup to a DIY buffet, and communal tables are a great way to meet people.

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Asia is amazing for fruit juice and smoothies (just check the ice is ok first) and Laos is no exception.


My favourite things at this night market were the little snacks like dim-sum style dumplings, meat skewers and fast-fried desserts.


Back in the countryside though, your food can be bought even fresher. It’s pretty common to see fish sold swimming in bowls, chickens in cages and in the case of northern Laos, the occasional frog bucket covered in netting to stop them jumping to freedom!

Big froggies!

Big froggies! The bigger the tastier?

Yep, they're alive!

Catfish – Yep, they’re alive!

I'm guessing the duck's not for sale, but in this part of the world, anything in a market is fair game!

Duck for sale!

The local markets certainly aren’t a place for the squeamish. In the meat sections you will see butchery in full swing and many parts of an animal up for grabs, depending on your location.


Blood. Yep, in tasty chunks!

Blood. Yep, in tasty chunks!

Rats for sale. I have to say that this market was the only time I've ever seen rats on the menu during my time in Asia. Whether they are bred or just caught, I don't know, but I personally wouldn't be risking eating these!

Rats for lunch? I have to say that this market was the only time I’ve ever seen rats on the menu during my time in Asia. Whether they are bred or just caught, I don’t know, but I personally wouldn’t be risking eating these!

You may think you’ve seen it all now, but for tourists there’s even more. A popular souvenir to buy is the famous “snake whiskey” in the city of Luang Prabang, a rather dubious herbal wine mixture with a special ingredient. I’d like to know the origins of this drink, I was told it was like a local delicacy but I never saw anyone except tourists buying it, and the “Whiskey Village” you can visit seems like an overblown tourist trap. Of course it’s a big hit with the more adventurous backpackers, and I remember being given a shot of it myself from a stall owner I met. Oh, and there’s scorpion options available if snake doesn’t tickle your fancy. It tastes as good as it looks. alanstockphotography-1130751 alanstockphotography-1130748

Craft markets are a staple of tourism income in Asia, and very popular with the tourists in Laos. Luang Prabang hosts one of the biggest, held in the evenings, where you can find everything from clothes to jewellry, art to ornaments. Like any souvenir tourist trap, you’ll see the same items again and again at different stalls and haggling is most definitely required. Of particular note to Laos are the Hmong tribe handicrafts, with their distinctive patterns and colours.

Hmong style purses

Hmong style purses

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Jewellery and metalwork is big in Luang Prabang, but most stall owners don’t like photos being taken of their wares.

To the north in Luang Namtha, there’s a much bigger Hmong presence in the nearby villages, and little old ladies in traditional dress harrass/flatter/entertain tourists in the small market area to get them to buy souvenirs, a tactic which worked with my lady friends! I don’t think she’s got much of a choice here – she’s trying this sarong whether she wants to or not!


This market was also full of the colourful Hmong handicrafts I’d also seen in Luang Prabang.


Laos markets really have it all, its a particularly interesting place for them, with its bizarre food offerings and colourful handicrafts. My advice to you is if you’re in Asia, always make time to explore a local market or two – every town’s got at least one and they are always an interesting experience! I’ll leave you with some more Laos market photos. Enjoy!

Red Chillies - in fact these larger one's aren't as spicy as they look, its the little green and yellow ones you've really got to watch out for!

Red Chillies – in fact these larger ones aren’t as spicy as they look, its the little green and yellow ones you’ve really got to watch out for!

Those poppadoms are bigger than those kids!

Those poppadoms are bigger than those kids! It’s quite common to see young children being looked after by their mother running the stall.

Some kind of snails, probably from the river. I never actually tried these in Laos, I wonder whether they're like a snack or if they do them in a sauce or soup? If you know, let me know!

Some kind of snails, probably from the river at Luang Namtha – the river is a popular source of food in the region and spear fishing is also popular with the villagers. I never actually tried these in Laos, I wonder whether they’re like a snack or if they do them in a sauce or soup? If you know, let me know!

Black sticky rice - a Laos staple and pretty tasty.

I think this is Black sticky rice – a Laos staple and pretty tasty. If not, who knows?

Why get a stall when you can just sell out of the back of your tuc tuc?

Why get a stall when you can just sell out of the back of your tuc tuc?

The Luang Prabang Night Market sets up before opening.

The Luang Prabang Night Market sets up.

It's not always tourists at the craft markets, you do see locals buying material and clothes too.

It’s not always tourists at the craft markets, you do see locals buying material and clothes too.

I need eggs. Lots of eggs.

I need eggs. Lots of eggs.

My friend Dave excited to try out a random parcel he bought at a stall. It turned out to be sticky rice. That day I bought something that looked like a Scotch Egg (look it up) - and that turned out to be very, very wrong. I'll never forget that taste... :*( . Dave laughed at me for weeks.

My friend Dave excited to try out a random parcel he bought at a stall. It turned out to be sticky rice with meat. That day I bought something that looked like a Scotch Egg (look it up) – and that turned out to be very, very wrong. I’ll never forget that taste… :*( . Dave laughed at me for weeks.

Yummy dumplings!

Yummy dumplings!

Can you even get this through immigration?

Can you even get this through immigration?

Huge pumpkins, not exactly halloween material though, are they?

Huge pumpkins, not exactly halloween material though, are they?

See you next time!

Travel Article – New Zealand Coromandel Peninsula Visit

Last November, I revved the engine on my ageing camper van and tore down the highway heading out from Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, to visit the often overlooked Coromandel Peninsula. A picturesque stretch of coastline dotted with some of the countries’ best beaches, it also offers great walking, marine activities and some unique and unusual attractions. Considered by many Kiwis to be a highlight of the North Island and a popular local holiday destination, tourists often skip it – but I wanted to explore and see what the fuss was about. You can drive around the peninsula in a long day, indeed some tour buses do. But to do it justice you really need to take at least three or four days to enjoy the highlights – especially if you have to deal with New Zealand’s notoriously fast-changing weather! I’ve also created a Google Maps route with pins in case you’re interested in visiting yourself, you can trace my route and see where some of the photos were taken – click here.

Coromandel Peninsula Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula

Arriving late afternoon after a nice straight drive through the flat farmlands of Waikato, the windows open in the hot spring weather and some classic tunes on the stereo, my first stop was the attractive campsite Tapu Camp in the tiny village of Tapu. After passing through the small town of Thames to pick up supplies, the road here winds along a narrow and twisting road just meters above the sea, passing rocky beaches and through hamlets with hilly forest and roadside cliffs on the right and great views across the Firth of Thames on the left– the landmass of the Whatakawai area just visible across the ocean. I’d found the campsite through the useful WikiCamps mobile app (CamperMate is the other popular choice), and it didn’t disappoint. The main camping field sat right on the edge of a deserted beach with lovely views and seabirds out in full force. Strolling along the beach I even found a protected nesting area for some waders where a mother sat on her eggs, the Department of Conservation in fine form as usual. Some dramatic clouds made for a great sunset and the sea breeze kept the mosquitos at bay as I tucked into fish and chips bought from the very local pub across the road.

Coromandel peninsula

Sunset at Tapu

The next day was a stunner and I continued north, following the winding coastal road admiring the views and dodging trucks and huge boat trailers before climbing steeply inland, the summit opening out to a great viewpoint overlooking the north of the peninsula. The usual mix of New Zealand tourists were present – older couples in massive campervans, backpackers with ageing cars and campervan hybrids (like me), wealthier groups in shiny rental cars and Kiwis out for the day. Winding down the hill I soon arrived at the nice little town of Coromandel.

Coromandel peninsula

Coromandel Town

I popped into one of the trendy cafés for a much needed caffeine fix and pottered around looking at the old buildings on the main street. The helpful man at the Tourist Information recommended the nearby Driving Creek Railway to me. It’s a popular attraction so I called to reserve a place and a five-minute drive later I arrived at the visitor centre at the base of a densely forested hill.

Coromandel peninsula

Driving Creek Railway

In the grounds, I explored the rather eccentric station populated with sculptures and watched a video about this mini narrow gauge railway’s inception. A labour of love for over thirty years, the creator Barry Brickell (who sadly died earlier this year) had constructed much of this railway by hand (with a little help) as a personal project and eventually opened it to the public. He’s now bequeathed it to the community so they can continue to enjoy the steep trip up the mountain through the forest. One of the cute little trains trundled into the station and I took a seat.

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The other train crosses on a double bridge of the Driving Creek Railway.

As we chugged up through the forest for about half an hour, the entertaining driver alerted us to the many sculptures hidden along the route, and a number of times we glimpsed the other train as the narrow one track system only passing at certain points. We were dropped off at a viewing tower at the hilltop boasting an impressive vista reaching out to the sea, with the peaceful sounds of the forest drifting up from below. Although I wouldn’t normally go in for this kind of attraction, I actually really enjoyed it and what an achievement from one man!

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The view from the Eyefull Tower, the railway’s destination.

Hopping back in the van, I drove to the other side of the Coromandel peninsula, which involved some grumbling engine sounds whilst ascending a long and steep climb to a viewpoint followed by a plummeting descent. I wasn’t the only one struggling, but thanks to the wise Kiwi passing places I wasn’t held up by the poor huge trucks straining up the hill. A lovely rocky coastal drive followed with white sand beaches lined with green Pohutukawa trees, entering flowering season with their distinctive red bristles adding colour to the scene. I stopped briefly at the harbour town of Whitianga.

Coromandel peninsulaIt seemed too touristy and developed for my liking, but I enjoyed the peaceful views from the flower-lined shore of Whitianga Harbour, a large inlet where kayakers battled the strong wind on the flat water and shags perched on rowing boats. Continuing southward inland, I crossed rolling hills and green farmland as the shadows drew longer, arriving at the small touristy coastal town of Hahei and checking into the pleasant Tatahi Lodge Resort, a lodge/hostel with luxurious facilities for a backpacker like me. After a tasty pizza and lager at the busy brewery restaurant Pour House Bar, I drove up the steep road behind to see Hahei’s famous sight – Cathedral Cove, where a large cave in the white rockface links two beaches. The striking bright cliffs and rock formations in the sea were immediately visible from the car park and I arrived just in time for an amazing orange New Zealand sunset as the large sun dipped beyond Hahei.

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Sunset at Cathedral Cove, Hahei.

By this point in my trip I was quite tired from days of driving and non-stop action, so I wasn’t planning to do sunrise at Cathedral Cove the next day and treat myself to a lie-in. However, I roused when I heard some of the hostel head out around 5:30am and thought, hell, you only live once, let’s have a look. The weather was clear and I arrived at the clifftop car park just as the sun crested the horizon, the cliffs bathed in golden light. Hoisting my camera gear and some water, I set off on the path down from the cliff top to the Cathedral Cove beach. It was a nice walk and a steady descent through forest, brushland with windswept trees and some final steep steps down to the white sand of the cove, if a bit tiring at 6am with no breakfast or coffee inside me!

Coromandel Peninsula Cathedral Cove

The arch of Cathedral Cove as seen from the car park viewpoint.

My early bird behaviour was rewarded though, as the beach, usually swarming with tourists, was practically deserted. Aside from another friendly photographer and a couple, I had the serene place to myself. After photographing the huge arch and taking in the peace and quiet as the sea lapped on the sand, I walked through the arch (it was low tide, it’s partially submerged at high tide) and came across a strangely shaped spire on the other side, and some snorkelers kayaked ashore from a motor boat which had arrived. The cove sits in the protected Te Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve with plenty of sealife opportunities to spot for those with the budget. The photographer I’d met told me he was enjoying some time off to explore the hidden gem beaches of New Zealand and had already spent three weeks travelling the coast in search of them, giving me some insider tips on some well hidden spots.

Coromandel Peninsula Cathedral Cove

Coromandel Peninsula Cathedral Cove

The rock spire at Cathedral Cove.

Coromandel Peninsula Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove archway, you can just see a tiny person on the left giving it some scale.

A steep climb back to the carpark had me ravenous, solved by a hearty English fry-up at Hahei Beach Café. The next stop was the Coromandel’s other big attraction, the Hot Water Beach. Only a twenty minute drive from Hahei, this long beach boasts a particular spot where a thermal spring flows from inland into the sea. People dig holes in the sand here with shovels (which you can hire everywhere in Mercury Bay) to enjoy a personal hot pool – though finding the perfect place where the sea water mixes to make the temperature just right is difficult. As I expected, it was crazy there, with every inch covered in people digging, sitting in holes or playing in the sea. As the day was scorching, I failed to see the attraction in sitting in the boiling water, dipping my feet into a few was enough – the temperature ranged from scorching to tepid, but it was a cool thing to see – only in New Zealand!

Coromandel peninsula Hot Water Beach

Chaos at the Hot Water Beach.

On the way back to the other side of Coromandel peninsula I made one last stop – one of the top rated beaches in the world – New Chums. It was a half hour detour into the heart of the countryside to the settlement of Whangapoua and then a half hour walk along the coast and through the forest over a small headland to reveal a pretty, long white sand beach lined with forest and cliffs. The Department of Conservation wisely keeps the car park far from the beach so it’s unspoiled, and high tide prevents you from crossing the headland for hours at a time. The Pohutukawa trees’ red flowers at the beach edge were in full bloom here and it was a nice peaceful spot with lots of cubby holes for the visitors making it seem much quieter than it was.

Coromandel peninsula New Chum beach

New Chum beach

I concluded my trip on a leisurely drive retracing my route all the way back to Tapu, making frequent stops at lay-bys and viewpoints to soak in the coastal views and sunny weather. It’s a wonderful area to potter around with something nice to look at every few miles. Back at Tapu Camp I rejoined some French friends I’d randomly ran into at Hahei and we enjoyed some beers in front of another moody sunset as the clouds rolled in. Now that’s what New Zealand’s all about.

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Another moody sunset at Tapu.

One day I hope to revisit Coromandel, it’s a beautiful place with lots of variety in coastline and there’s still much more to see, like the wild north which has some great walks and the plentiful east coast beaches. On a larger budget there’s also tons of activities like cruises, kayaking, snorkelling and some fine seafood restaurants. But you don’t need to spend much to enjoy Coromandel Penisula, there’s plenty of budget options and campsites, although it’s wise to book in advance in the busy summer. The trip was certainly one of my highlights of the North Island, so if you go to New Zealand, at least take a day or two roadtrip there and don’t miss out!

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Pohutukawa tree with its red flowers

I’ve shared a Google Map with the route I took and pins showing where the points of interest and photo locations were, you can check it out by clicking here.

Here’s a gallery with some more photos from the trip – just click to enlarge.