March 09, 2007

Nine Days in Laos

To view a Laotian
slideshow, press HERE.

Day One on the Mekong
Mekong River Boat
Day Two on the Mekong
Mekong River
Sunset Over the Mekong
 Sunset Over the Mekong
Luang Praban: City Sights
 Luang Praban: City Sights
Sunset the Sacred Hill - Phousi
 Sunset from Phousi Hill
Phra-Lak Phra-Lam Cast
 Phra-Lak Phra-Lam Cast
Rickety Bridge in Vang Viang
 Bridge in Vang Viang
Victory Arch: Vientiane
 Victory Arch: Vientiane

Wednesday, 28 February:
It cost about $36 each for our van and boat rides to Laos, which included several meals and one nights lodging on the Thai side. It did not include the Lao visa. The company made us pay another $ 49.50 each. At the boarder we discover that the company had cheated us, as the visa only costs $ 35. We would expect to pay a $2 to $3 service fee beyond that, but no mater how you cut it they cheated us out of more than $20. We are hoping that our friend Alan will turn them into the tourist police when he returns.
Despite this financial snafu, almost every other part of the journey was enjoyable and went smoothly. We traveled by van to Chiang Khong and spent the night in a guesthouse. We were served both a buffet dinner and breakfast. Chiang Khong is a very little village. We walked around a bit on Wednesday night.

Marijke, Alan and Betty in Chiang Khong
 Marijke, Alan and Betty

March First:
Thursday morning we took a ferry across the Mekong River to Houeixai, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. After immigration, we were taken to another boat landing and got aboard boat 53. We departed about 11:30 and traveled on this long narrow boat for seven hours. The scenery was wonderful from glorious rock formations to Laotians working, swimming and playing in and around the river. At least four times Thursday and even more times on Friday, I saw women panning for gold along the river banks. As the sun was about to set we landed in Pakbeng for the evening. We had booked a room before leaving Houeixai that turned out OK but not great, mainly because there was not electricity hooked up to the water heaters – which means there were no showers that night or the next morning.

Friday morning we were back on the river, this time on boat 23. It left at 9:30. Like the day before we got a chance to meet many westerners on the boat. We spent a long time talking to Dani and Mike from Austria. They have been traveling for a year, taking sabbaticals from their fresh water biologist jobs. I am always on the look out for Danes and had seen almost none in Asia. Surprisingly enough, there were more than a dozen on the boat. They were mostly women who were about to enter the university. We talked with one a lot but did not get her name. I hope she writes us. The young Brits were hoisting beer after beer both days. The second day the boat ran out of beer twice. The beauty of the Mekong was just as evident the second day as the first. We arrived in Luang Praban just before dark, and set out looking for a guesthouse. The one that we got into was nice but expensive compared to the rest of SE Asia. Still it was only $15 per night. The four of us looked the next day for two nice rooms in the same guesthouse. The more we looked the more we realized that we had gotten excellent value for our money, because $15 was cheap compared to the rest of the town. In the evening we enjoyed the sights and the sounds of the night market with some of the best handicrafts in all of SE Asia. We had Indian food that was excellent.

Saturday in Luang Praban:
Several times since entering Laos, we had disagreements about the exchange rates, because we were using Thai baht and US dollars. Restaurant owners wanted to take an extra bite when paying with dollars and it was worse with baht. Never before had we experienced this sort of behavior. At breakfast that morning we ran into the problem again, even when the price was posted in dollars. So, one of the first things that we did was change money. The banks here were also taking a very large bite. The exchange rate on the international market is about 10,070 kip to the dollar, but the bank was offering only 9,620. Worse yet was what they would give for Thai baht. They should be offering 300 kip to the baht, but they only offered 270. The good thing about having made the exchange was that there would be no more quibbling about the rates.
Betty and I wandered around the town. We found several lovely spots to enjoy the feel of the place. Luang Praban is a very nice old and little city. The children play on the sand flats along the Mekong or in the cleaner other river where they can swim and play in the water. In the evening we enjoyed the sunset along the Mekong. The red orb was brilliant. It left a wonderful reflection on the Mekong.

Grilled Fish and Chicken at the Night Market
 Grilled Fish

Sunday was another relaxing day. We spent the whole day walking along the edges of the two rivers. At 4:30 we met up with Alan and Marijke. We climbed the 328 step to the little temple on the Mount Phousi that overlooks the city. The view was great. And we waited here until the sun was again very low in the sky. I should mention that Phousi is pronounced just like Alan’s last name, Puzey. He likes to think of it as his mountain. We walked down to the river for a bite to eat and some beer. We walked back through a street littered with food sellers. They seemed to have everything. We got a chicken leg along the way.

Monday was a day of getting it together to move on. We got bus tickets south for our next stop. We also got tickets for the Royal Palace Museum Theater to see Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, a folkloric ballet and music show. After we got the tickets we had lunch and played cards and enjoyed some time by the river where we always try to have a pineapple shake.
The ballet was much better than anything we have seen thus far, even better than the shows that we saw in China. The actors and dancers were very young, some were children. The musicians were good. The singers were older and sat with the folk orchestra and sang with a PA system. We enjoyed it a lot. After the show, we met Alan and Marijke for a meal of Indian food, which I enjoyed and Betty tolerated.

Tuesday we were off to Vang Viang, which is half way to Vientiane. The road is very, very winding. You have to hang on to your stomach most of the way. The hills and the villages that we saw were beautiful, but they also showed how horridly poor this country is. I am not sure how many road miles we covered in our six hours to Vang Viang. We only stayed in the village the one night. There is a little river that runs through it. Many backpackers stop to enjoy a day of tubing on the river or to hike to the many caves in the hills around the village. The place is cheap, slow moving and easy to get into. Maybe we should have stayed longer.

Wednesday we were off to Vientiane. The journey was much shorter than the previous day. We booked into a guesthouse and rested a while. Then we walked down to the Mekong to have some beers and enjoy the sunset. The river is quite low this time of year with large stretches of sand exposed. After the sun went down we headed back to our room, stopping only for a light dinner of a spicy cucumber salad and Phad Thai, one of our favorites.

We got a late start on Thursday, I had not been feeling well and I wanted to take it easy. In the afternoon we saw a few of the major sites of the city. At Haw Pha Kaew we saw some old Buddhist art. This was the sight of where the Thais took the emerald green Buddha, which was taken when they ransacked the city in the 1800’s. Then we visited wat Sisaket, the wat of ten thousand Buddhas. Since most of the Buddhas were very small, it is quite possible that all ten thousand are there. Then we walked up to the Arch of Victory, which is Lao’s version of the Arc de Triomphe.
My impressions of the city are very positive. There are broad streets with wide uncluttered sidewalks. Trees line the boulevards. The food is good the place is small, slow and seems comfortable. But, like Luang Praban, there is not much to do here.

Tomorrow we will go back to Thailand after ten days in Laos.

Warning Sign in Luang Praban
 Warning Sign in Luang Praban

Posted by bill at March 9, 2007 11:58 AM

hola bill y betty, just back from mar del plata, where i laid on the beach, and watched the surfers at work in the waves. i re-visited your blogs and found them wonderful as always. thank you for allowing me to travel thru blogs with you. ciao luke, buenos aires

Posted by: luke rader at March 10, 2007 10:34 AM