The waiter who looked after us during the Amantaka cooking course we did on the organic farm in the Luang Prabang countryside was brilliant. His service was impeccable. He was so good at his job that when we asked him what his future plans were, whether he had a dream, we expected he would say to manage a restaurant.
We could even see him one day becoming a hotel general manager, a prestigious position in the hospitality world, especially when it’s heading a fine five-star hotel brand. “Maybe you’ll be the Amantaka’s first local GM?” I asked.
So it surprised but delighted us when Khamhack Duangphachit, nicknamed ‘Hack’, said he wanted to save money to return to his village Xieng Ngeun, two to three hours from Luang Prabang, to teach the village children English. This was a guy who was following his heart.
As Hack served us the delicious meal that Terence had cooked with Chef Anousith, the 27 year-old son of farmers and one of five siblings, told us how learning English had changed his life.
“I left home at ten to go to the temple and I begged the monks to let me stay, but they said I was too young,” Hack told us. “I persuaded them. I knew it was best for me, for my education. When I was old enough I went to the Teacher Training College and then I got a job at the Amantaka.”
“Now I’m saving money to return to my village and teach the children English, because I know that English is the key to getting a good job in Laos. It’s important to getting ahead here,” Hack said.
In the meantime, when Hack returns to Xieng Ngeun to see his family, he told us, he takes them fresh produce and ingredients like fish sauce, which they don’t have in the village. “I also cook them food,” he said with a smile.
When I asked Hack for his “best souvenir from Luang Prabang” for this interview, he said – interpreting ‘souvenir’ to mean ‘memory’ as in the French sense of the word – “Wat Manorom. Because I was a novice monk there for 6 years and that is where I first learned English.”
“Does ‘Hack’ mean anything?” I asked him.
“It means ‘love’,” Hack grinned.
What do you most love about your work?
I love to make the guests happy because when they are happy, it makes me happy and proud. And also I love Amantaka because it feels like it’s my home.
Why should people come to Luang Prabang?
Because Luang Prabang is a small town but it has a huge cultural heritage, which you can experience at its temples and ceremonies.
3 words to describe Luang Prabang?
Natural, cultural, calm.
3 ways to describe the people?
Always smiling, team workers (always helping each other), with big hearts.
Your top recommendations for visitors?
Experience Tak Bat, the alms offering, as it shows people’s generosity and Lao culture, how people should dress with the traditional skirt and scarf. Visit Pak ou Caves, because it shows how important religious beliefs are for Lao people, with its hundreds of Buddhas. Go to Kuang Si Waterfalls, one of the most beautiful and natural sites near Luang Prabang. It’s also very entertaining for the kids, thanks to the swimming areas and the bear centre.
Best souvenir from Luang Prabang?
Buy the traditional scarf that is used for Tak Bat, Baci, and Sou Khouan, all the different ceremonies that are characteristic of Laos.
Must-do eating experiences?
Don’t leave Luang Prabang without trying jaew bong (chili paste with buffalo skin) with ohai phan (fried river weed), or lam (traditional stew), or tam mak hung (spicy green papaya salad). At the morning market, try khao tom (sticky rice with coconut milk steamed in banana leave) or khao lam (sticky rice with coconut grilled in bamboo). Also do a cooking class, because it is where you will learn how Lao people cook and eat their food, with their hands. Especially with our cooking course, where we cook in a traditional kitchen, and we are very flexible, so according to guests’ preferences we can adjust our menu.
An essential thing to know before coming to Luang Prabang?
Before coming to Laos, people should learn a bit about the culture. Because it is very important here, for example, that people should wear modest clothing – covered shoulders, reasonable length for skirts and trousers – to show respect to the monks and older population.
Most important phrase to learn in Lao?
“Sabaidee” (hello, good morning, afternoon or evening) is the most important phrase for me, because here in Laos people like to say hello even to people they don’t know. It is a custom here to say hello to everybody and it is good to say it back.
Any other advice?
Visit the Hmong and Khmu villages because there are three ethnic groups in Laos and they are each very different. So it is nice to see how each ethnic group lives.