35 Days in Laos

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 27, 2014, 4:06 pm

Thanks to you both. When I was in the capital the English-language paper noted that the use of drugs in Vientiane (Viang Chan) was a growing problem among teenagers.

I forgot to mention that the hotel I stayed in at Oudomxai did not ask for my passport or any other information. They just wanted cash, and did not give a receipt. They handed me the key to the room and that was that.

The growing tourist industry must be adding cash into the pockets of some people, and there seems to be illegal logging and so on. This must be contributing to the growth of a middle class. I could not gauge how much of this new wealth was reaching the Lao and the minorities, but it was evident that some Chinese, and I would suspect Vietnamese, are moving upwards and forwards.

The first time I read the Vientiane Times the headline was that budget goals would not be reached in a number of ministries owing to a lack of transparency. I took that to mean the government bureaucracy is riddled with corruption, and money for modernisation, education and much else was destined to end up in the pockets of certain officials.


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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 27, 2014, 5:02 pm

This was my second stay in Luang Prabang, and I quite like the place. It has tons of atmosphere and the many tourists add to the scene as most of them are very curious, enthusiastic and happy to be there. I spent the two nights and one day at the Philalack Villa 1 guesthouse. It cost around $12/night. Breakfast was not provided but that is no problem as Luang Prabang has many good restaurants, and it is always nice to eat at the morning market.

One highlight is that a seller at the night market hunted down a few vcds I wanted by the singer, Sengnapha Dalanoy. During the day, I visited a few wats (vats). I was still worn out by the long bus ride from Oudomxai so did not have much energy to do anything but chat with a few people I had met the first time in Luang Prabang.

The next morning I took the bus to Xieng Louang (Phonsavan) with the goal of visiting the Plain of Jars. This was the express bus and is the same as the Thai buses that go back and forth between Khon Kaen and Udon and other centres. The best part is that they have leg room and fans. The bus was not crowded at all, and surprise, surprise, it arrived on schedule even though it wound its way through the mountains.

I met a nice Sino-Indonesian couple who were on a two-week vacation. Previous years they have toured Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma.

My room was clean enough, but the lighting was dim and there was a large snail in the bathroom. And the shower hose was very short, thus it kept coming off the water pipe, which was slightly annoying. In addition, the evenings and nights were noisy owing to the karaoke bar next door. This potential problem was easily overcome by turning the fan on high.

Breakfast at the Dokkhoune Guesthouse was tasty and nourishing.

At night I discovered a number of good restaurants, and a small market where they had vcds for sale some of which I purchased.

The main problem was how to get to the Plain of Jars. There was no way around it. Owing to the heavy rain one had to go with a guide. Going alone would be expensive but I ran into the Indonesian couple and we were able to negotiate a price of 25,000 kip/person to visit Jar Site One and the small town of Muang Khoun. I really preferred to see Jar Sites 2&3, but owing to the heavy rainfall the guide would not go as he feared his van would get stuck in the mud as it had earlier in the week.

On the way to the jar site, I got the guide to stop so I could take photos of the rice fields as the plants seem smaller than normal. He explained that this is the best rice in Laos (kaao guy noy - little chicken rice).

The stone jars are scattered all over the Plain of Jars and seem to have been built about two thousand years ago. Scholars have suggested that they funerary urns. Anyway, the site is spectacular as is the scenery. We visited a cave used by the locals to hide from U.S. bombs. In the past, it could have acted as a kiln to create the stone jars. I noticed there were stone markers leading to and from the cave. The guide told us that this used to show that the small path, about 2-3 years wide, had been cleared of bombs, but the area outside the markers had not. Later, some trucks showed up with workers to clear the site. This takes place on a daily basis.

Subsequently, another tour group showed up, and I was intrigued by one young lady. She did not look Lao at all. She was with her sister and two young brothers. Anyway, she had her thick hair up in a pompadour and her face did not look Chinese, Lao, Vietnamese or like any other group I have encountered. We took a few photos of one another, and then she and her sister joined us on our trek for a half hour or so before they got tired walking up the slippery slopes. It was raining heavily by this time. I wish I had got her address. Her family is from Sam Neua, and had come to Xieng Khouang to visit the jar sites.

This is a very impressive region and well worth a visit for anyone interested in history and beautiful scenery.

The next stop was Muang Khoun. This was an ancient capital, and there are some nice attractions. One is of a Buddha, which is remarkably similar to the one at Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai. It turns out that they were built at the same time. This makes me wonder if there is some historical connexion between the two. Although Thais will say that Sukhothai was the first Thai kingdom in present day Thailand, some linguists and historians like Michael Vickery, point out that the inscriptions in Sukhothai contain many Lao words. He and others suggest that Sukhothai was actually Lao and not Thai. In any case there is visual evidence that the Buddha images, and the wat structures, at Sukhothai and Muang Khoun are copies of one another.

During our wait at a sala for the rain to abate somewhat, I struck up a conversation with a lady about 25 or so and her mother (they are ticket collectors at the temple). They were very nice and interesting.

Later, we visited the remains of a couple of Khmer temples, and a hospital. The hospital was large and looked modern. Maybe people need to upgrade their remarks that there is no health care available in Laos.

After returning to Xieng Khouang, I spent my time wandering around the day market, and walking down by the river striking up conversations with anybody I met (Hello, saibai dee), but mostly females.

Next up is the backpacker's paradise, Vang Vieng.

Tomorrow morning at 10:30 in the morning I will be taking the Chan tour bus to Bangkok. My return flight to Canada starts at 1:20 in the morning to Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific where I have a 4-5 hour wait for Finnair to take me to Helsinki. I will switch planes again in Helsinki for the final push to Toronto. I trust the good people at Finnair have decided to avoid flying over the Ukraine and Iceland as they did on the incoming flight.

On Labour Day, 1 September, I was be at Varsity Stadium watching the Varsity Blues take on the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks. 55+
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 31, 2014, 10:01 pm

So I left the cool air of Xieng Kouang and began my journey to Vang Vieng. It was on one of those smaller buses in which every small space is used to sit passengers on stools in the aisles. I did not get a good seat this time and had to sit sideways for a bit of comfort. Again the scenery along the way was spectacular. This meant that the bus would be moving slowly to wind its way through the mountains and to avoid potholes. It also meant the inevitable handing out of plastic bags for women and kids who threw up along the way.

There was one unscheduled stop. This was owing to the fact that a truck got into an accident with a car. Since the roads are not wide, only motorcycles could get through. It was pouring rain, but everyone tumbled out of the bus to get a closer look at the accident. There was nothing anyone could do until someone showed up to fix the situation. Lao people, in a situation like this like to sleep or eat or both. I had some French baguettes that I had bought for the journey and gave one to the female ticket collector. Later, I distributed some crackers I had to her, the driver and a number of passengers, including a German couple.

A number of enterprising Lao from a nearby village set up some temporary stalls and sold fresh, delicious pineapples. There were now three buses trying to get past the accident so a brisk and profitable trade was made by the vendors.

Finally, after 45 minutes the way was clear for traffic to move. We did not get far when the bus halted so that the Lao ladies could stock up on lam yai from roadside sellers. The vendors appeared to be from one of the hill tribes.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and myself and the German couple were dumped by the side of the road outside of Vang Vieng. There was one tuk-tuk waiting to transport us into the town.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 1, 2014, 4:08 am

As usual, I left out something from this bus trip.

When we stopped for lunch, I found a vcd/cd store and bought a record by the famous Lao singer, Latsamy Phoudindong. On the bus an old man asked me what I got and he was suitably impressed by my purchase. He then announced to the other passengers that this falang know about Latsamy. This earned me nods of approval.

After making my purchase, I wandered over to a bridge to get some photos of the scenery. From a distance, it seemed a young lady was bathing in the river...and she was topless...and she was waving to me. Excited,I got out my camera as quickly as possible and took some pictures. Sure enough, when I viewed the photos with the zoom feature all of the above turned out to be true. If I had been younger I would probably have stayed in town and have tried to reach the young lady. Well, she was not that young, maybe in her mid-30s.

Sometimes one can be at the right place at the right time, and this was one of those.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 1, 2014, 4:20 am

This video will give you a bit of an idea of life in Laos. She is singing about the Phu Lao/Thai people,

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35 Days in Laos

Post by 430xc » September 1, 2014, 11:58 am

Laan Yaa Mo:

Thank you very very much for this wonderful trip report. Also thanks to others who live in Laos or have experience.

I admire your adventurous spirit. I am interested in exploring Laos in the future, but your bus experiences are not so inviting to me. I have seen a number of youtube videos about motorcycling around Laos and that may be more for me. What do you think about motorcycling through Laos? Is it better to rent a motorcycle in Vientiane or bring my off-road capable motorcycle from Udon?

How safe are the buses in Laos? With the apparent poor roads, are there a lot of accidents and injuries?

Did you set up your itinerary and hotel reservations before your trip, or did you do a lot of extemporaneous short term planning?

Thank you again and best wishes on your next trip.

430xc

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 2, 2014, 5:09 am

Sorry, I have no answer to your questions about motorcycles as I have no experience with them. I met one guy at the Chinese hotel in Oudomxai who was motorcycling to Viang Chan (Vientiane). It was raining fairly heavily and he was worried about the unpaved roads, but he forged ahead anyway.

The Lao government does not publish statistics about bus accidents, but I would imagine it is like most countries in the world in that there are tragic accidents from time to time. I thought the drivers were excellent as they had to be alert all in the time, in particular, in the hills and mountains where they had to make hairpin turns, avoid potholes and try to get back on their side of the road when another vehicle was approaching. I enjoyed the bus travel even though it was slow as I got to meet a lot of people on the bus.

I used Expedia and Agoda to reserve hotels initially. I got great deals as I did this about a month prior to arriving in Laos. Now, however, I would do it differently. There are some places that I wanted to stay longer but owing to the hotel reservation had to move on. Next year I will stay in a place for 5 days or so if I like it so I can get to know the town, people and surroundings better.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 4, 2014, 6:45 am

At one time Vang Vieng was known as party destination #1 in Laos with bars and drugs (ganja, yaba and opium) readily available. Apparently, the locals complained about the loud and out-of-control foreigners who wore little in the way of clothing and often acted in a lewd way according to Lao standards. So, the government shut it down, and Vang Vieng is much tamer than in the past. There are still many activities available, but the focus is on the scenery and tubing, rafting and kayaking, not on getting stoned or drunk out of one's mind as in the past. It is a great place for family fun.

However, a number of Australian males did parade around the streets without shirts and shouted and hollered until they noticed no-one was paying them any attention.

I stayed at Ban Sabai right on the river in a cabins with a balcony and spectacular view. It is right across from a hospital. It is possible to bring Lao ladies to the cabins as they are situated in a dark area far enough away from the main office to notice. Breakfast at Ban Sabai was very good

Western, Lao, Thai and Chinese food is readily available from the many restaurants in town some of which were totally empty. I heard that many of the guesthouses were empty too since the government crackdown in 2012.

There are also a few quality internet cafes available for those who want to keep in touch with family and friends.

Again, heavy rain at times played havoc with hopes of visiting some sites. But, it did not stop me from walking the 3 km. to the market where a wide variety of goods were on offer including 3 stores selling vcds.

I walked to one attraction, Tham Chang, in which one has to pay a small fee to pass through the land of a resort. There is an entrance fee to view the cave: 15,000 kip for foreigners, 10,000 kip for Thais and 3,000 kip for Lao. There is a strenuous climb, up stairs, to the cave entrance. It is a big cave and easy to get lost inside. Of course, I got lost and walked around in circles a few times before finding the exit. There are some very nice rock formations, and a stream that you can jump in for a swim. In addition, there is a second cave mouth where one gets a magnificent view of the surrounding rice fields and hills.

On the way out I met a Lao guide from Viang Chan (Vientiane), and some Sino-Thai tourists. I took some photos of them together, and, in return, they took some of me and the Lao guide. She also had some older Japanese men in her tour group. It had started to rain heavily again so I shared my umbrella with the guide, and we had a good talk together and joked a bit.

The next day I took the VIP bus to the capital, Viang Chan. Most of the passengers on this bus were falangs, but there were some middle-aged young Lao on the bus too.

I am sure most of you know about the 'do not point your feet at people in Thailand' rule. This holds true for Laos too. So the ticket collector and baggage handlers were somewhat shocked to see a French woman point her feet about 2 inches from their faces. She was sitting in the first row and probably felt uncomfortable, thus she decided to stretch her legs over the metal bar directly at the workers. I took a photo of this. In due course, her husband let her know this was a faux pas, and she removed her feet from in front of the Lao men.

When we reached the bus station at Viang Chan some touts herded all of the falangs into a sawngthaew to deposit us at a central spot in town. One loud-mouthed young Canadian (not me)...he might have been from the U.S, started yelling at the driver for charging us 20,000 kip when he said 15,000 kip was enough since it was only a 5-minute ride into the centre. The difference, 5,000 kip, is equal to 20 baht. They the loudmouth started complaining because the driver would not leave until the sawngthaew was full.

As it turned out, the drive in to the centre of town took 20 minutes. Once on the street I did not have a clue where I was or how to get to my hotel. One kind Lao came over and helped me out. He told me that I was on the street of the hotel, and just had to walk 3-minutes to get to my destination. Welcome to the capital! 555+
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Zidane » September 4, 2014, 8:59 am

This has been an excellent thread,Uncle Tilo.....one of the most interesting on Udon Map for quite a while. =D> =D>
Just when I thought our chance had passed,you go and save the best for last.

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 4, 2014, 10:14 pm

Thanks, it was the most fun and adventure that I have had in years. I almost feel young again.!
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 8, 2014, 2:50 am

In total, I passed through Viang Chan (Vientiane) three times and got to know the city well enough to elevate myself above novice status. For the most part I stayed at the Manoram Boutique Hotel, but I also stayed right by the Mekong River at the Inter City Boutique Hotel. Both places are excellent, although the latter hotel is a bit older and rough around the edges; however, I had an excellent view of the river and no complaints at all.

It took me a couple of days to learn that I could get to most places by walking including the major vats (wats) with the exception of That Luang, the Talat Sao was nearby (market), where I bought a telephone and VCDs) the Riverside Night Market (by the Mekong where I got more VCDs, t-shirts and souvenirs for the folks back home) and restaurants that serve very delicious food. In fact, I had the best spareribs I have ever tasted in Viang Chan near the Night Market entrance, and really good duck, noodle and vegetable soup on Setthatilat Road.

By the way, an exercise class is held by the Mekong at the Night Market every evening. The class is large, the instructor is relentless, and sometimes the participants are exhausted and fall in a heap. Anyone can join and the members called out for me to do so, but it is far too strenuous for this poor soul. I would only last a few minutes at best. 55+

The fastest and most efficient internet cafe is on Setthatilat Road too although the prices in this coffee/cake shop are on the expensive side. One of the girls working here can usually be seen asleep near the back of the cafe.

I met a number of Lao in the city including one 25-year old reporter for a Lao-language newspaper. She did not get much training for her position. As I left Laos, she told she was going to Vietnam to upgrade her skills. 55+ I will talk more about the 'Vientiane Times' later.

I met one Sino-Lao guy at the Lao Airlines office when I booked a flight to Luang Namtha. Later, we ran into each other at the Riverside Night Market, and he introduced me to his wife, child and mother. His family is very nice. He also set me up for whatever rewards are available with Lao Airlines; however, my card was not available until after I left Laos. He promised to save it for me when I return next year, and I bet he does too.

Also, I met a number of Lao on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Patouxai (about a 20-30 minute walk from where I stayed), which is a favourite, and popular, gathering spot for the locals and tourists (Lao, foreigners). There are beautiful murals here, and the view from the top is excellent, there is a nice water fountain and a park with another fountain. I met a number of people here, and it is great for taking photos.

The That Luang is a magnificent vat, and is one of the symbols of the nation along the national flower (dok champa). I met up with my two Sino-Indonesian friends on their last day in Laos before they returned to Jakarata. In addition, I ran into a tour group from Thailand and we wandered around together for awhile, and took some photos together.

The most popular vat in Viang Chan is, Simuang. It houses the sacred pillar (lak muang) of the city. There is an entrance fee of 3,000 or 5,000 kip, but the gatekeeper waved me through. There were a large number of devotees here looking for good luck in their lives, and asking Hindu fortune tellers to tell them about the road ahead. Beside a large 'no parking' sign, there were many parked cars and motorcycles. I met two very beautiful ladies, and their brother. They were very friendly and we took some photos together. Stupid me forgot to get their names and addresses...that is of the girls.

There is a massive statue of former individual Sisavang Vong located in the gardens. It has been permitted to survive in this communist paradise most likely because it was made by a Soviet artist.

Near the day market, Talat Sao, is located the Foreign Ministry where one goes to renew their visa. I did this for an extra week in Laos. It takes one day and costs a paltry sum. I should mention that the Talat Sao consists of a department-style part where you can get electronic items, clothes, luggage, ice-cream, cakes and do banking. Outside is the more colourful and vibrant market where food stalls are prominent, as is fresh food, and my main interest, vcds.

Oh yes, around 8 at night near the good internet cafe, the duck soup restaurant and some vats, the ladyboy brigade makes an appearance. They might be half-good looking if not for their prominent adams' apple and 5 o'clock shadows. 555+

Anytime I was near the night market by the Mekong, and sometimes during the day, one needs to run a gauntlet of 5-6 tuk-tuk drivers who will advertise the availability of young Vietnamese girls with very white skin. They also offer to drive you anywhere in the city you want to go. They got to know me after awhile, and knew that I walked everywhere. But, I would stop and talk to them and we would joke together. When it was time to go to the airport or to the bus station, I let them know so they could meet me and finally make some money from my coffers.

It rained some of the time I was in Viang Chan; however, for the most part it was sunny and hot, but not humid.

I cannot say much about the entertainment available as I was usually pooped out by nine at night. I got up early to watch baseball. As for news it was mostly CNN in Gaza or Ferguson, Missouri asking people questions that had the answer the reporter wanted in the question. Strange. Later, in Khon Kaen, I had the pleasure of listening to Fox News reporters yelling about this and that. They sure are an angry lot.

I could see myself retiring here some day.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 13, 2014, 10:45 pm

From Viang Chan (Vientiane), I took the 5-hour express bus to Thak Hek. It was a rollicking, fun ride with lots of jokes and laughter. There were a few other falangs on the bus also wanting to visit the caves at Mahaxai, not far from Thak Hek.

With about two hours outside the town, two middle-aged Lao ladies began to ask me a series of questions such as, where do you come from, where are you going, do you like Laos, are you married and so on. At this point, I decided to have some fun and enjoy the ride by asking the same questions of them. Well, one of them was unmarried and about 50 years old. Her name is, Vieng Xai. Her friend asked if I was interested in having a bad-tempered, sometimes sweet, great cook as a longtime companion. Vieng Xai was embarrassed by this talk and suggested that this was all nonsense. But then the other Lao passengers, the ticket collector and the driver began getting involved and half the bus was filled with jokes and laughter about the falang and Vieng Xai. By this time Vieng Xai had got into the swing of things and was demanding that I must be a loyal and faithful husband who could help her with the chores on the rice farm. It went on like this until we arrived in Thak Hek. The journey took seven hours, not five, but the time flew. It was great fun. The nice part was that a number of Lao passengers came and said good-bye and wished me luck in my travels.

On arrival in Thak Hek it was pouring rain. I exchanged photos with Vieng Xai and the instigator of all of this. She told me to wait with them and called her husband. When he arrived, he drove me to the hotel, which saved me money and from getting drenched. We waved goodbye forever in the downpour. Nice memories.

The constant rain over the next two days meant that no-one was going on the muddy route to the Mahaxi Caves. So the purpose of the trip to Thak Hek was out. But, the rain let up a bit and I went with a Frenchman (he had lived in London for 35 Years, and in Canada for 15 years) to one of the most important vats in Laos - Vat Pha That Sikhotabong - about 6 miles south of Thak Hek at Muang Kao.

It was a Buddha Day so the place was packed, which meant that a number of beautiful Lao ladies were out and about seeking good fortune. This made for a pleasant and enjoyable morning. I met three of the Lao women and we walked around together for awhile and took some photos of one another.

There were a number of mae chee (Buddhist 'nuns') staying at this temple. From across the Mekong one could see Nakhon Phanom.

For one of the few times in Laos, I was able to have a political discussion. A man was selling a photograph with the three important Lao Princes - Pethsarath, Souvanna Phouma and Souphanouvong. The former was one of the originators of the modern written Lao language and helped found Lao Issara (Free Laos) vs. the French. Souvanna Phouma, as Prime Minister, tried to be like Sihanouk in Cambodia and weave a neutralist path to keep Laos out of the Vietnam War but politics did him in. The latter Prince was the figurehead leader of the Pathet Lao to win support of the peasants. This was the only time I saw a photo of Souvanna Phouma in Laos. Pethsarath is starting to make a comeback and you can see his photo at some temples throughout Laos. It is used as a talisman or good luck symbol much as Rama 5 (Chulalongkorn) is in Thailand.

I bid adieu to the Frenchman, who is enjoying his retirement spending most of his time in Southeast Asia going from country to country. He had spent 6 months in Indonesia, and about 3 weeks in Cambodia. His advice about Angkor Wat was to stay around for ten days or so and get off the beaten track away from the hordes of tourists and you will find much to enjoy including important temples as well as very friendly Cambodians.

Later, in the day, before the onset of the heavy rain, I walked around town and came across some very interesting ladies fishing from a viaduct with those big, wide nets. They were friendly and liked to joke as most Lao do. I would have liked to join them but I was not properly equipped. You need big waders to be in that water. Nice people.

Also, I went to a couple of very interesting vats in the vicinity of the town.

I stayed at the Inthira Boutique Hotel, which was very clean and comfortable with a balcony that overlooks the tiny fountain square. They served a very good breakfast and at dinner time they were packed with tourists. This led me to the Mekong River waterfront to have dinner where one can buy great food at minimum cost. Many of the local people eat there. Thak Hek also has one of the fastest and most efficient internet cafes that I used in the country.

Oh yes, my real main purpose in coming to Thak Hek was to meet an up and coming young Lao singer who had just won an award as most promising new singer in Laos. I had been in contact with her and her brother when I was in Canada. She was performing in Thak Hek and her brother suggested I meet them for lunch and the concert. One problem arose. He got the date wrong. She was actually performing at Viang Chan when I thought she would be in Thak Hek. 555+ No matter, I had a great and memorable time in Thak Hek.

The caves, remember, are the attraction and I have yet to see them, which means I will return!
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 14, 2014, 11:38 pm

I left Thak Khet for Savannakhet on 4 August and had a largely uneventful 2 hour bus ride. The only interesting part was to be swamped by street sellers hawking drinks, chicken on sticks, sticky rice and sweet treats. They not only board the bus in droves but hang around when you dismount for a 10-15 minute break. I thoroughly enjoy them as they add colour, sound and soul to the trip.

I wrote about Savannakhet on this site a year or so ago; therefore, anyone with a keen interest in the town, perhaps on a visit to renew your visa can take a look at that thread too.

In total, I passed through Savannakhet three times as a rest stop after longer trips to and from the south. I always stayed at the Hoongthip Hotel, which costs 800 baht/night. Agoda offers deals that permit you to stay at the Hoongthip for $42 U.S. a night. It is not worth that much but 800 baht gets you a clean, spacious room with hot water, free breakfast and tv. It is located near some good restaurants and a new night market. The hotel also has an attached night club, which can be noisy depending on your room and its proximity to the music. Ladies of the night are employed for dancing purposes. I never tried to bring anyone to the hotel, but I think it would not be out of the question with the men on duty at night. With the women guarding the desk during the day, there might be problems.

I had two purposes in coming to Savannakhet other than to rest before embarking on longer journeys north or south. One was to visit, once again, the historic temple, That Ing Heng, which is about 16 km. away. You can get a thuk-thuk for 6,000 baht to take you, wait, and bring you back. The second, and more important,
reason was to meet the young Lao singer who lives near the temple.

I got to That Ing Heng, but I never got to meet my lady friend. As mentioned above, she was performing in Viang Chan during this visit (Vientiane), shopping in Mukdahan during my second stay and taking a driver's test, which she failed, during my final visit.

The new night market is small and not that interesting with the exception of the booth selling various VCDs. However, they have a few places to buy delicious food although some of the nearby restaurants have better food.

There is a very good internet cafe on the same street as the new night market, and a bank that will exchange traveler's cheques nearby. Actually, you cash them at the Western Union office within the bank.

On my second trip to Savannakhet, my plan was to renew my Lao visa. I went to the Immigration Department by the Mekong River, but they said I had to do this at the nearby police station. I met a very nice Police woman there who acted as my guide and explained my wishes to the police clerk. This was on a Friday afternoon. I was told that it was possible to extend my visa; however, the police would have to hold my passport until Wednesday of the next week. I decided to go to Viang Chan, which only takes a day to process the visa. Note that Lao immigration is closed on weekends.

This was a bit disappointing. My day was made brighter by the owner of a restaurant near the Lao tourist office in town. She invited me to sit with her and her girls to drink beer. I informed her that I don't drink alcohol owing to diabetes. Whatever, drink water or nothing, come and sit down, she said. So I did. The lady was quite interesting and had come to Laos from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. She was alone in life, and, well, you know the story. Nice place, nice lady, nice girls.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 15, 2014, 3:08 am

Make that 600 baht to go to and from That Ing Heng. I am still thinking in large numbers after using Lao kip. 600 baht=150,000 kip.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 20, 2014, 11:03 pm

I left Savannakhet for Pakse (ປາກເຊ) in southern Laos on 5 August. The bus heading for Salavan was less than perfect with a small hole, but one to be aware of, in the centre of the floor and fans that did not have any iron guards. The fans did not work but the fans had screws protuding from them, which I learnt later much to my chagrin. In fact, I banged my head on those screws three times and only later in Pakse did I learn that the top of my head was bleeding and a huge scab formed there. Not only that but the bus was a few hours late and dropped me off by the side of the road leaving me having to negotiate my fare to the hotel with the only tuk-tuk driver available.

About an hour north of Pakse it was clear that the recent heavy rains had caused much damage and many homes and the rice-fields had been flooded.

In Pakse, I stayed at the Pi Dao Boutique Hotel, which was very clean and comfortable. The attached restaurant served excellent food, but I usually ate at a market about 10-15 minutes away from the hotel.

My plan in Pakse was to go to the Bolaven Plateau and see some waterfalls such as Tad Lo. The only way to get there was to join a tour. A guy signed me up along with three French couples, and young ladies from Sweden, Poland and Tunisia. There was also a 17-year Korean kid who lived in Saigon, Vietnam. We headed out at 8 in the morning and returned at 6 in the evening.

By the way, the guy who got me on the tour was very friendly. We talked and joked for 30 minutes or so. At this time I noted that I had not got a receipt for the tour. He told me not to worry that the van would pull up at my hotel the next morning. Also, he noted that the police would arrest him if he tried to cheat me, as the Lao police want the tourists to feel welcome and comfortable in their country. Great. So I warned him that if the van did not show up I would go straight to the police and have him tossed in jail. He asked me where I was going, and I told him that I wanted to go to the Champassak Shopping Centre. So he drove me over there on his motorcycle, and when we found it was closed, he took me back to the hotel.

Our first stop was a tea plantation, which was interesting enough. We noticed that the temperature was cool compared to most places in Laos. Next we went to a 'spectacular' waterfall. The problem was that we could not see anything owing to the mist and owing to the onset of heavy rain we had to don raincoats or use umbrellas. This did not bode well for the rest of the tour.

However, things took a turn for the better when we got to a coffee plantation. There was a small waterfall there that made for some nice photos. While the other people were drinking coffee I went off by myself and met a number of workers (Vietnamese) and had a nice conversation with them.

The next destination prior to lunch was to an Alack village where we were not permitted to take any photos. We did not see anyone in the village at all, but some of the tour group got a few photos of the many pigs that were wandering around the muddy grounds.

After lunch we visited a Katu (Mon-Khmer) settlement, which was the highlight of the tour. These people were very friendly and welcomed us warmly. But, the people are extremely poor with the exception of the village head. Many of the boys and girls were walking around stark naked, which made one wary of taking photos to avoid the pervert label.
I talked with a 55-year old lady who suffered from kidney problems. I told her that I was much older than her but she pressed my skin and then hers to show me that she had leathery skin and was not in the best shape. The young South Korean kid kept saying 'thank you (ຂອບໃຈ)' to her. The lady told me, in Lao, that she was sick of him saying thank you, and what she was really interested in was for him to give her money. 555+

After leaving the village, we went to a few waterfalls - Tad Lo and Tad Hang. A middle-aged French couple and the South Korean got lost at Tad Lo, which slowed us down at bit. These waterfalls cannot be mistaken for Niagara Falls (Canadian side), but they are impressive nonetheless.

On the way back to Pakse, the driver, guide and myself had a long conversation about Lao popular music. Sadly, I learnt that there were no morlam concerts in the town owing to the rainy weather.

In the evening I wandered around the night market shopping for VCDs' and met a wonderful family (husband, wife and 3-year old daughter), talked to some ladies selling vegetables and fruit, and then ate upstairs at a popular restaurant, and spoke to some of the workers there.

That night, after finding an excellent internet cafe - Miss Noy's - I went across the street from the hotel for a crepe. The moment I made it across to the stand, the heavens opened and it poured so hard that I could not get back across the street for 45 minutes.

Most of the residents of Pakse are Vietnamese although there are a number of Chinese running businesses too.

The next morning I left Pakse for Champassak to visit the popular and ancient Angkor temple, Vat Phu.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Aardvark » September 21, 2014, 6:32 am

I'm enjoying your Travels. Keep up the good work ... :D

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Shado » September 21, 2014, 8:39 am

What Aardvark said. =D> A very entertaining narrative of your experiences in Laos. The posts are enjoyable as they are descriptive but don't become rambling. Your use of proper punctuation and grammar makes the account easily understandable and a pleasure to read. Nicely done. :D

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 21, 2014, 9:33 pm

Thanks Khuns Shado and Aardvark. This trip is implanted in my brain, and I wanted to share my memories with others for entertainment or for some who are thinking of visiting various parts of Laos.
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35 Days in Laos

Post by sgt » September 21, 2014, 9:57 pm

Thank you for a great narrative. I got a laugh out of the "car/bus sickness". I've known a couple of Lao ladies and they couldn't go 2 city blocks without hanging out the window. I'd like to relate a story a friend of mine that visited Lao some years back told me. He is a writer and very political. He spent some time with a Pathet Lao Colonel and his family and was quite impressed with his knowledge and humor. At one point he asked him why he and his wife had 13 children. The colonel replied that "you Americans kept bombing us so much we had to stay in the caves most of the time. We had nothing else to". And laughed about it. I met a youngish Lao man while waiting for my Thai wife (shopping) some years ago in Vientiane and the coffee conversation turned a bit political. He figured I was the right age and made a good guess. He was pleasantly surprised to find out I was Vietnam Veteran Against the War. I like the Lao people. And, am constantly amazed at how the people of SE Asia forgive us. Thanks again for a great read. Please keep it up.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » September 21, 2014, 11:06 pm

I left Pakse for Champassak (ຈຳປາສັກ) early in the morning of 7 August. The trip was 20 minutes by tuk-tuk to the boat landing at Ban Muang and 30 minutes by boat to Ban Phapin on the other side of the Mekong. As usual, when entering the boat, I banged my head on the roof.

There were tuk-tuks waiting at Ban Phapin to transport the 3 falang passengers to their hotels/guesthouses. I stayed at the Inthira Hotel. My cottage was on the opposite side of the street from check-in. The floors were brick and there was a bathtub and shower with hot water. Nice. However, the tv did not work for which the hotel apologised. Instead they offered their guests movies to watch, but I had many vcds that I had bought to keep myself entertained after dark.

My main purpose in coming to the small town of Champassak was to visit the 5th-century Angkor temple, Vat Phou (ວັດພູ). You can read about this most impressive structure here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vat_Phou.

From the hotel to Vat Phou and back was a daunting 16 km. walk. Consequently I rented a pink girl's bicycle for 20,000 kip for the day. As the skies were growing darker, I bought a raincoat too.

It was the first time that I had been on a bike for over 40 years, and occasionally I was wobbling all over the road. This happened whenever a Lao adult or child called out Hello (sabai dee), which was frequently. Then I would swerve trying to keep my balance as I looked up to converse with the people. Happily, there was very little traffic. Along the way, I stopped to drink some water or to take photos of the rice fields.

By the time I reached the temple site, my legs and bottom felt rather saddle sore. But I had made it so this was a great accomplishment for me. Now the hard part began.

The complex is beautiful and well-planned out by the ancient Khmers. The whole idea is to replicate the Hindu idea of the universe. There are two huge ponds near the entrance and lotus-flowers were in bloom. Next one comes across two ancient structures dedicated to Hindu gods. They have impressive architecture including buxom female deities (devis).

From here one climbs to a higher level, which I suppose is to suggest the way to enlightenment as one moves from one level to the next. The next stage is the difficult one. One encounters a series of steps up the very steep hillside. Some of these steps were very difficult to negotiate as they were slippery and narrow. Furthermore, I was feeling a bit dizzy as my blood sugar level was low that day (I have diabetes). Nonetheless you relentlessly move up and up the stone steps toward the top level.

On my way up, I met the middle-aged French couple who had got lost near Tad Lo waterfalls. They were having a hard time with the steps and paused every few steps to catch their breath and to hold on to nearby branches.

On arrival at the top, the view from whence you came is stunning. I can see why the adherents would think they had arrived at a kind of heaven on reaching the summit: one is exhausted from the climb, the architecture is breathtaking and there is a real sense of accomplishment. Even the rain is no problem as big leafy trees protect you from the downpour.

At the top there is a former Hindu temple with beautiful architecture that is now used by Buddhist devotees. Mostly, they are praying for good luck to the Buddha image that is now the centre of attraction. I wandered off the main path for about 100 yards or more and met some women who were gathering fruit from the trees. Close by, on a tree trunk, were a number of stone structures that reminded me of those constructed by the Inuit in Canada's Arctic.

The walk back down was almost as difficult as the climb up as some of the steps were not close together so they was the danger of striding too far and tumbling down. One Lao man grabbed my hand as I was skidding down the path and kept me from injury.

At the second stage from the bottom of Van Phou there were three ladies sitting at a table. I went over to talk with them and found out that they were there to say religious phrases and offer the traveler good luck and to tie the string on one's wrist. I thought this would be a fitting conclusion to my adventure, and one lady tied a pink and white string around my wrist as she chanted. At the end, she sternly advised me, 'No Boom!!!' I wonder what she meant by that. 555+ I asked how much of a donation was required. She said it was up to me to donate or not, but to remember, 'No Boom'. It is 'hard enough' to perform at my age let alone with a 'No Boom' warning hanging over one's head.

Finally, I got to the bottom and was met by an Australian lady yelling at her young girl. The little girl was in tears. She might have been 6 or 7. In addition, she got shaken and slapped by her mother at the same time. The Lao ladies were staring in wonder seemingly shocked by this behaviour. It was clear the young child did not want to venture on the main pathway that was not covered in mud and puddles to the entrance. I did not want to either. I noted the Lao were walking a different roundabout way that took longer but was not so dirty and wet. Therefore I followed them.

I caught up to a Lao family. One of them who was about 30 years old and her mother decided to wait to talk with me. We joked and discussed many topics, and I got to ride with them and the family back to the main entrance. The other family members asked if I was interested in the 30-year old (I was), but said no, the lady that interested me was the 60-year old widowed mother of them all. This brought laughter and joy and I got some photos with the mother, and goodwill from everyone. It is so easy to meet people in Laos.

I stopped at the restaurant and had something sweet to boost my sugar level before the bicycle ride back to the hotel. By the exit, I asked one of the tuk-tuk drivers to take a photo of me with my pink girl's bike.

The ride back was really nice and eventful. One father, with his many kids riding on an open cart, stopped so I could take photos of them. I also got a good photo of two youngsters playing in the rice fields.

There were a few vats to investigate on the way back where I ran into some children who were very curious about this strange falang in their midst.

Also, I found the only internet cafe in town. It worked for about 10 minutes before it froze, but one cannot expect to much in a small town. Actually, Champassak is a series of villages.

Of course, I continued to swerve near the other side of the road near the ditch whenever anyone called out to me.

After returning to the cabin, I went out back and met the hotel owner's wife and her mother and her children as they gazed at the Mekong River flowing by on its journey to the sea. The kids made a necklace of dok champa (the national flower of Laos)

NATIONAL FLOWER, DOK CHAMPA
You might know the Dok Champa by its other name, the frangipani. This evocative tropical flower, with its sweet romantic fragrance, is seen everywhere from north to south in Laos, most especially decorating the vats and monasteries. You might even receive a string of these white-and-yellow flowers around your neck as a welcoming gesture, or see a bunch of them used to decorate a ceremony, But everywhere the meaning of Dok Champa for Laotians is the same : Joy in life and sincerity. http://www.tourismlaos.org/show.php?Cont_ID=334

I was tired and lay down for a few hours, but before I slept, I realised I had not been this happy for many, many years. It was like a spiritual awakening in Champassak. I was utterly content with my life and looking forward to the future.

By the time I awoke it was pitch dark outside. Most towns in Laos are sparingly lit and Champassak was basically dark. So I started walking and walking with some light from homes and the odd street lamp to guide me. Also, a few motorcycles passed by. Eventually, I came to a restaurant that looked closed for the night, but I saw a lady and her young daughter making pastry of some kind, and asked if she was open. The lady made me some of the best noodle soup I have ever had. The ingredients were relatively simple, but it was delicious. What a perfect day this had been.

The next morning I was waiting to flag down the bus to go to Pakse and onto Savannakhet again where I wanted to renew my visa as I had decided it was too soon to leave Laos. I wanted to visit the northwest before I left the country.

There was no bus, but there was a sawngthaew (truck with benches for the passengers in the back). The driver invited me to sit in the cab with him, which I did. We had an enjoyable talk on the 45-minute trip to Pakse. Oh, before I left Champassak, the son and daughter of the hotel owner gave me some more dok champa, and the owner got the bus to stop when he realised that I had left my backpack by the side of the road.
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