Photo of the Day: Paris bakery run

You might have been able to guess the location of today’s Photo of the Day without a title. Advanced use of scarves? Check. Frou-frou dogs? Check. Delicious-looking loaf of bread? Mais oui, it is Paris. The French have a closer relationship to their bakers than most Americans can understand, picking up a fresh baguette daily. Even with the advent of baguette vending machines, you can be sure that the le pain quotidien (daily bread) remains a major part of French life.

Thanks to Flickr user wintkat812 for the great shot. Add your favorite travel photos to the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day.

French baguette vending machine provides fresh bread on demand

For many travelers, a baguette loaf of bread is synonymous with France. A new innovation could make getting a fresh French baguette easy and accessible 24/7 to anyone with a Euro coin. French baker Jean-Louis Hecht has developed a baguette vending machine capable of taking precooked loaves and producing piping hot baguettes in seconds. So far, he has two machines installed near each of his bakeries in the northeastern town of Hornbourg-Haut and Paris and hopes to expand operations throughout France and Europe.

The baguette is a quintessential part of any French meal, yet many bakeries shut down early and for much of August for vacation, depriving many of a fresh loaf on demand. Hecht’s machine could serve as a solution for small bakeries who want to maintain business without being open all the time. Hecht’s machines have sold up to 4,500 a month and he reasons at that rate they pay for themselves in one year. The French may be buying, but they’re still skeptical. “It’s definitely convenient – but it’s just not quite the same as fresh bread,” said Parisian customer Tiphaine Ath. “Five seconds and it’s ready? I have my doubts.”

Would you try a baguette from a machine? What foods have you found in foreign vending machines? Check out our round up of crazy vending machines from around the world – from pizza to pets!

South by Southeast: Exploring Luang Prabang

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking in Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. As travelers, we have a tendency to overload our trips with adventure and movement. This is especially true in Southeast Asia – as I’ve discovered in Thailand and Laos, there’s no shortage of motorbikes to ride or zip lines to catch. But if you truly want to understand this part of the world, it’s not a vigorous itinerary you need. Instead, you need to spend a few days on foot, letting the pungent smells, vivid colors and urgent sounds of the Southeast soak into your subconscious. And there’s no better place for this to happen than Luang Prabang.

Located in the sleepy nation of Laos, Luang Prabang is truly a crown jewel of Southeast Asia. This former royal capital, atmospheric river port and UNESCO World Heritage Site has emerged in recent years as one of the region’s newest must-see destinations. It’s not the blockbuster sights that make Luang Prabang such a fantastic place to visit. It’s the simple act of walking and observing that becomes the focus of your stay: exploring fading French villas and evening handicraft markets, sampling the town’s fresh-baked baguettes or watching a procession of orange-robed monks silently march down the road.

This sensory overload is what makes Luang Prabang a must-see for any Southeast Asian traveler’s itinerary. Curious about visiting this underrated Laotian capital of French/Asian style, vivid color and Buddhist serenity? Let’s take a look at some of the essentials and highlights of any Luang Prabang visit. Keep reading below for more.

Getting There
Luang Prabang is located smack-dab in the middle of Northern Laos, making it easy to reach from points North or South. Overland travelers from Thailand will often stop in the Laos border town of Huay Xai, where a two-day “slow boat” plies the Mekong River all the way to Luang Prabang. From within Laos, frequent buses connect Luang Prabang with the nation’s capital in Vientiane and backpacker hub of Vang Vieng. Luang Prabang’s airstrip is also served by a number of Southeast Asian regional airlines including Bangkok Airways and Lao Airlines.

What to Do
Due to its unique location at the confluence of two rivers, Luang Prabang has long been an important religious, political and economic hub. You’ll find the town reflects this historic grandeur, dotted with ornate Buddhist temples and lavish royal palaces. The main highlights include:

  • Wat Xieng Thong – in a city studded with important Buddhist “Wats,” Wat Xieng Thong is perhaps Luang Prabang’s most ornate and well-known temple complex.
  • Royal Palace – until they were deposed by the Lao Communist Revolution in 1975, the Lao royal family made its home in Luang Prabang. Visitors can tour the ornate royal complex, peering into the King and Queen’s teak-lined living quarters. Out back is a collection of vintage cars gifted by the French and American governments.
  • Night Market – as the sun begins to set each evening, Luang Prabang’s main street is crowded with an huge array of vendors, selling everything from grilled fish to locally made textiles to handicrafts.
  • Kuang Si Falls – about an hour’s ride outside Luang Prabang you’ll find an impressive series of waterfalls at Kuang Si, as well as a swimming area and a “Bear Rescue Center” for mistreated animals.

Keep in mind that “seeing the sights” of Luang Prabang is only half the story: the longer I spent wandering this picturesque river peninsula, the more I enjoyed simply soaking in the town’s unique atmosphere. Make sure to leave some time to simply explore without purpose.

Where to Stay
There are accommodation options in Luang Prabang to suit just about any budget and lifestyle, from luxurious boutique resorts housed in ancient French villas to clean no-frills backpacker haunts. For those on the thrifty side, you’ll find plenty of simple and clean guesthouses (under $10/night) clustered around Sisavong Street near the Joma Bakery. Those looking to splurge should check out 3 Nagas, a beautiful mansion nestled in the heart of Luang Prabang’s historic district (rates start at $125/night).

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

French trains go for British baguettes

In a country so proud of its culinary heritage, it’s hard to imagine any foreign versions of local specialties ever being sold. I’m talking about France, the country where the capital city organizes the Baguette Grand Prix, just to determine which boulangerie makes the best one (it even makes the French national news). Surprisingly enough, even in a place with such high bread expectations, somehow British baguettes managed to make their way onto the trains of the French railway.

The Guardian reports that Fosters of Barnsley, a Yorkshire bakery, has started exporting truck loads of baguettes across the Channel to be sold on trains. The move has made baker John Foster deemed the “most hated man in France,” according to French media.

With a well-known background of Franco-Anglo tension regarding food, the fact that British baguettes are being sold to French railway passengers is rather humorous. Maybe Sarkozy will see it as an attack on his country’s culinary heritage, or maybe the French will just start exporting fish and chips.