The green hills are daubed red with flame trees at their summer peak. The river flows muddy. The town itself is sharp in the mid-morning sun. Sun that can seem divine when seen from a particular angle, shining on the glossy gold-brown shingles of a building. Not an ordinary building but one that is sheer like a Himalayan peak, either made by a god or constructed with one in mind.
The setting is Luang Prabang in summer, the river Mekong and its tributaries coiling around it, its buildings a range of improbable apexes called wats. And because of the summer, the main street is much like one in country town Australia: blinding bitumen glinting, shimmering air and hardly a person to squint one's eyes at.
We boldly walk at the centre of its camber. The tuk-tuks are idle, parked in shade, owners dazed and prostrate in the back. Brightest orange robes hang in the breathless air of the wat complexes. Bookish monks in twos and threes sit in the window frames of their dormitories. One angles a long bamboo pole at a mango in a tree.
We're heading for our next sit-down after an hour or so sucking up the best breakfast threads in town, for the second morning in a row. On both mornings we eat both noodle dishes on offer. On a weekend getaway, why take a risk on the second morning if you've found perfection on the first?
Opposite Wat Vatsensoukharam in one of the main street's traditional 'doll-house' buildings, a few blackened pots are on the simmer. Wood fired braziers provide the power, the manipulation of logs a constant task. It's hot work on a hot day, made hotter for the women running the show by their attire. Avoiding the sun's rays, direct and reflected, involves all kinds of cover-up in the pursuit of porcelain white skin, a defining characteristic of the concept of beauty in Asian women. Here, glove-like sleeves cover the arms and socks are worn under sandals, giving rise to a sheen of lady-like perspiration on the brow.
But quite sensibly, no-one's rushing. This is not Hanoi. There is no "shunting them in and shunting them out". A slow serving rhythm accompanied by reassuring smiles from the vendor makes for just the right atmosphere for this customer. Big glasses of icy cold water are a welcome welcome.
A variation on Vietnamese phở is put before us first. Unlike in Vietnam, pork is the protein in this soup; in the form of thin strips of sausage (like giò lụa), same of lean pork and dense, heavy mystery pork balls with a cross cut in them. Of more interest is the second dish on the two-item menu. Called kao soy, it is spelled and prepared differently throughout the region in Burma, Thailand and indeed Laos. On top of the noodles this time goes a generous couple of spoonfuls of a rich meat sauce, which puts me in mind of Italian bolognese. Made with minced pork, tomatoes, shallots, garlic and chili, the ingredient which differentiates it from it's European variant is a fermented soy bean paste (tua nao), which gives the sauce an assertive sourness. It is this that makes it addictive.
What makes it healthy is the plate load of green garden harvest provided as a side dish to every serve of noodles. That would be four plate loads in the case of our order, very little of which goes to waste I have to say. Every hue of green is represented; crunchy raw snake beans, a tangle of water cress, a few sprigs each of Asian basil and mint, knives of sawtooth coriander and lettuce leaves; all broken, plucked and torn into our bowls.
And so our Luang Prabang morning ends, two bowls of noodles down, on the main street again, seeking out our next stop on this wat-to-wat, table-to-table itinerary.
Fer (phở)/Kao Soi
main street, Luang Prabang
opposite Wat Vatsensoukharam
7.30am - 1pm (or until stocks last)