Laos the tranquillityIt was quite hard for me to start the story of Laos trip, just a few days ago passed. Why? It was because in one side, there were pictures in Laos I had got used to which simply made me feel quite familiar with them. And that meant that I didn't know how to explain for what I already got used to it.
Nevertheless, a man must have some things among many that appeal or at least remind him of something in the past. And this was like what I had experienced in Laos. The small towns nestled in the mountains of Laos, apart from Vientiane the capital, including Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, also have some things that reminded me of my childhood. This was the first time for me in Laos, with another two friends of mine. We settled all plans for the trip, except the accommodations which supposed to be very cheap choice and walked in only. So this was something exciting, though, for the women like us. Three of us travelled by a night bus (relieved to find it was the comfortable one) from Bangkok to Nongkhai in North-eastern Thailand. The night seemed to last quite long than it should have been. But yes, it was a long way too. At that night on the bus, I just realized that I get older with the physical body not as strong as I had been in the past 3 years.
In the morning of the next day, we were in Nongkhai. Oh my goodness, there were so many drivers approaching to us and other passengers to offer their service. In Thailand, you will often see this kind of situation, so don't be panic. Relax, and just walk to your destination, to the bus station to sit, to wash your face, to find something to eat or refresh yourself, or if you have to leave that place to somewhere, just respond to one of those drivers to negotiate. But bear in mind that the price could be higher than the locals experience it. So if you know how to bargain with him or with other driver until you feel satisfied with that price, this situation would not be too much for you.
After we finished everything about visa upon arrival and all documenting required before entering Laos, we waited until a mini bus arrived to take passengers across the Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mitraphap). The Mekong River is so large but the day we went there got rain so the water was quite dirty with mud. There were not only tourists like us on the mini bus but also local Thai and Laotian people who traveled from Thailand to Laos and vice versa, to do some trades. The bus took around 20 minutes from the Thai border to reach the "Morning Market" in Vientiane. The Morning Market is the place where local people usually come to buy things. You could also see that there were many vendors around there. It is quite a place to stop to buy some things before going into the center of Vientiane. So we stopped here to have "Pho" or Vietnamese noodle, but in Laos style. Pho here looks similar to Thai noodle but it is taken with shrimp paste. It was nice for us to have some hot soup that morning.
After we were full, we decided to head to the center, Nam Phu (Fountain), about which we heard since we were in Thailand, in that there were many guesthouses and hotels ranging from luxury to budget kinds (I mean the real budget guesthouses!). We went around with a map, a Laos guidebook and papers of information we got from the internet, to find a very cheap guesthouse to stay for a night in Vientiane. Finally we got one, Sabaidee Guesthouse around Nam Phu Fountain, on Setthathilath Road, near Joma Bakery and Coffee Shop (and after I looked at the map posted at the guesthouse, I just got to know that Exotissimo Travel, Vientiane office was just around there!). It was really cheap one. We checked in for a triple bed rooms, with the cost per person per night of only (around- couldn't remember the exact price) 100 Baht (around 7-8 USD). This rate was for the room with sharing bathroom but it was ok for us (at least for the first day).
My friend took some sleeps but for me, I went out to find a place for a body massage. I could ask from local people there, because the communication was not a problem for us (we are Thai). After a 5 minute walk near the guesthouse, I could find one. The massage cost for 1 hour is around 35,000 kips or around 3.5 USD (120 Baht), which was not too costly. Laos body massage was a little bit softer than Thai traditional massage, but it could make me feel relaxed after the bus traveling. In the late afternoon, we three started a sightseeing tour around Vientiane. We went to see the highlight of this capital city, the Patuxai or the Victory Monument of Laos. It was very outstanding once we turned on the road leading to it. It was there, in front of us, looked like the Parisian L'Arc de Triomphe in France. We just took photos of it but there was no time to get up at the top of it. Local people in the road traffic looked at us when we did different postures with their Patuxai. It was fun! After that, we spent some time at the Phra That Luang which is the Great Sacred Stupa" of Vientiane, and took a tuk tuk to the Mekong river bank where we strolled along the footpath, seeing street vendors and river. It was a not a good time that day because it got rain. What I got impressed about Vientiane was the dinner, having Laos' specialties with local wine and listening to songs during our "nightlife" in Vientiane. Moreover, the Patuxai was beautiful for me, very prominently standing out, symbolically the center of all Laotian people.
The day and night at Vientiane was left behind after we took a mini bus in order to continue to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is a very small town about mid way between Luang Probang and Vientiane, where backpacker travelers usually make a stop before going up hill to Luang Prabang. Vang Vieng for me was a kind of a relaxing destination, probably because we rented a motorcycle to travel around the town, and our accommodation was quite better (much better) than that in Vientiane. The place we stayed at was on the bank of Song River, with the scene of cliff, mountains and hanging bridge. We saw many travelers canoeing / kayaking along the river, even though it was a bit raining.
The highlight of us was Luang Prabang (at least in our imagination). The road was always up hill and long, long road to go. We took around 5 hours to reach there. It was better that the mini bus was quite comfortable and cool, breeze always freshened us. The driver did not turn on the air condition because, as he said, it was cool outside. The bus stopped a few time, to take a break and to shot some nice scenes, before we finally arrived the destination. We were off at the Post Office, to take a local tuk tuk to town. Luang Prabang was not like that I had imagined. I had imagined that it was really traditional, but actually it was like Chiang Mai dated back to the old days when I was young. There were cars, motorcycles and bicycles on the roads, with old colonial buildings. What remain traditional were temples, the way people dress, people getting up early to offer foods to yellow- robed monks who walk in row (this tradition is very beautiful which we will not see anymore in Thailand), and traditional discotheque, where local Laos people do clubbing and parties, with remaining traditional dance and songs.
In 3 days we spent in Luang Prabang, we had an opportunity to visit Pak Ou Cave. The locals call this place "Ting Cave" (or Tham Ting). Pak Ou Cave is located about 25 km from Luang Prabang. We hired a local tuk tuk, passing cloth weaving villages, where we did some shopping for woven clothes, before reaching the Mekong River bank where we boarded a boat to cross the river to the Caves. The caves entrance is clearly visible from the river. The place is filled with hundreds of discarded statues of Buddha laid out over the floors and wall shelves. It was a very astonishing picture for me to see a large number of statues like this and even was a very much spectacular view when I saw them from the boat as I approached the caves. The statues are tucked into the imposing limestone cliff.
Another impressive and pleasant activity we did in Luang Prabang was cycling around the town to visit temples (we also visited the famous Wat Xieng Thong). There are many temples in Luang Prabang (like Thailand' northern region where you will see if you visit northern Thailand, there are many temples or wats on almost every streets.) There was not much traffic along the streets in Luang Prabang center (the center is like the travelers' resort, where travelers and locals spend their life on different prospects: ones live there, selling foods and souvenirs, renting guesthouses, yet remaining their tradition; another ones make their holiday, taking a rest and learning locals, then getting back with a new mind and perception. This is what traveling plays a role. As I can see, there is something both travelers and local people here have in common: their lives move at a languid pace..
Our traveling was a kind of budget and therefore it was quite tough, yet still memorable. If you want to travel to Laos with a more comfortable way, we can contact some reliable local tour operators or travel agents. One among them is Exotissimo Travel, with the local office in both Vientinae and Luang Prabang. They professionally provide travel services, as much as you can expect to get. They are another quality tour operator providing tailored made travel services including other services clients may need, to Indochina and Southeast Asia regions, especially in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Published on 11/13/07