I really, really, really love jaew. I do. Jaew is this fantastic spicy fish-paste dipping sauce that comes in as many varieties as there are cooks in Lao. Sometimes with buffalo skin, sometimes with cilantro and green onion, sometimes with fish and roasted eggplant.
It’s so good, it wipes away the worst of worries and frustrations. Like the day we visit Pa-am (the first time). We return to town too late. Pa-am sits on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which is nothing but rocks, ruts and dirt. Somewhere between Pa-am and the paved highway 16 kilometers away, it gets dark. Our moto headlight is nothing but a whimper of yellow light. We clamp my little flashlight to the basket and Jerry drives with my headlamp on his head, and we bump along so slowly, weaving around and through potholes, dropoffs, broken bridges, dried-up ravines and sandy pits. It’s pitch dark those 16 km, except for the far-off beams of heat lightning and the low flicker of a single candle every mile or so, in the rare occupied huts along this path.
But the air is clear and smells of frangipani and dry forest. Birds cluck, insects call. It’s a beautiful night, if only there weren’t the worry.
When we hit highway, we continue our crawl, for we have no tail light either. Nor do we have a horn, and it’s a struggle to steer clear of all the dark figures on bikes and foot along the way. When we finally reach the bridge leading to town, Attapeu glows like a metropolis.
We eat dinner that night at a little shop that serves grilled chicken, sticky rice, bamboo stew (with ma’ohm) and buffalo-skin jaew.