Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Location: BLR, DXB
|Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2020 8:18 pm Post subject: Laos and Cambodia (part 1)
|Covidwhat? Why Southeast Asia Ö itís next to China Ö donít go there Ö India/Europe are safer? A lot of Qs leading up to this trip as you can imagine. But ok seriously why pick Laos/Cambodia? Our friends were getting married in Phuket and we wanted to be in the vicinity. Holiday then wedding celebrations kinda plan. Options narrowed down to Myanmar and LC (pre virus scary times) and both itineraries were lined up. The downside of Myanmar was -a- (oddly enough) losing a day getting in and out and -b- Iíve had Laos on my mind for a while.
LC also had no cases and were Ďbetterí at containing the spread. This trip had us start in Laos and end in Siem Reap (no time for anything else in Cambodia) before flying straight to HKT. Obviously the last part didnít happen.
The usual disclaimer Ö. some Ďfactsí might have been misunderstood or just typed badly so please mind it.
This 2 part TR has lots of pics, a lot more than usual. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Day 1 and 2 - Getting to Vientiane
Flight left Dubai bang on time. Watched half of a movie and nibbled at some stuff didnít eat much, then managed to sleep for a few hours. I wanted to shower before landing (just because) and they had a spot 1 hour before top of descent which was perfect (you need to book a shower Ďslotí). Shower then breakfast (strawberry smoothy, omelette with a side of spinach + some pastries and tea) finished the movie and we were in Bangkok. Thankfully landed early because we had a tight connection.
Landed and parked 20 mins early, BKK airport was quite empty.
Thai Visa on Arrival is now free for Indians theyíve waived the fee (apparently temporarily). You can go thru the Fast Track lane for 200 baht (saved almost :30 mins today which was crucial) but yea if you wait in line itís completely free.
We got our luggage and went straight upstairs to check in for the flight to Luang Prabang. I logged onto the free airport Wifi and tried to check in online (Bangkok Air website) but I made a boo boo. Instead of Ďpassport numberí I chose ĎID numberí ..... and I couldnít undo that 🤷🏼♂️ weird system. O well. Normal check in line was 5 mins longer. By the time we checked in and security immigration yada yada + longish walk to C gates it was almost time for boarding. Yup Ö. cut it a little fine.
We could have flown direct BKK-VTE, but I wanted to fly the MA60 and that was only doing LPQ-VTE Ö also doing BKK-LPQ-VTE added another airline and type to my list
LPQ ó Luang Prabang International
My first time bus boarding in BKK! Ok fine not like Iím a frequent traveller thru this airport so that statement doesnít mean much 😁 Twas a short 5 mins drive to the aircraft.
Two 787s taped up sans engines, 1x 772 in the same sorry state and another 773 😳. And that was within 300m of us. All TG aircraft yikes.
First impressions were good, friendly crew and clean aeroplane. Push back 5 mins early.
I could barely hear the welcome (or any) PA over the engines, but I picked up the important bit. Flight time 1:50. Laos immigration cards were handed out on the ground and they had the form for the visa on arrival as well (we had done our eVisa online)
I pre booked a seafood meal. I confess when I was booking the tickets it said Ďmeal requestí and listed a bunch of options. So I picked one. I didnít think it referred to a Ďspecial mealí request. What a noob 😂. Anyway it was free. And I got my meal first. And I got something different. Not like I care Iím just making excuses for my stupidity.
Breakfast was good, however good aircraft eggs can be I guess. Overall a good meal + croissant served later. Lastly the tea was served with real milk not those half & half sachets. I was impressed 😜. Downside was you couldnít pick how much milk you wanted but Iím not fussed. I liked the service touch.
Iíve flown Bangkok Air before, donít quite remember it. They position themselves as a boutique carrier with the ATRs and 320s being all economy (320 has 162 seats) and their 319 have 8 business class seats. Seat selection + meal + 20kg baggage all included. With all this and the service I would definitely pay a bit extra to fly these chaps.
When we got off the plane they gave us umbrellas for the 100m walk in the not at all hot sun. Across the tarmac up the aero bridge and into the small terminal. They had an unusual visitor as well.
There were 2 lines, one for Visa On Arrival and another for eVisa. Surprisingly the VoA had a lot more chaps. The eVisa was pretty simple, fill out the form and pay ($30 iirc?) online and the visa was emailed in a day. Take a printout of that visa, hand it along with your passport + boarding pass + landing/immigration card and thatís it. A minute of the officer typing + one picture and youíre thru.
About 10 of us in the eVisa line and 25 or so using the VoA. Bags were already on the (small) belt and no surprise we didnít have to leave the terminal building to check in for the domestic trip. Another tight connection done without a hitch!
VTE ó Vientiane, Wattay International
A 1:50 connection in BKK (immigration and baggage and check in and everything) and 1:40 in VTE just to make this fight.
Single desks and lines everywhere, no waits. We had to show our passports before security, some lady sitting at a desk. Security check was simple didnít have to take out iPads and shoes etc etc.
Hereís the waiting area, oddly enough the same for domestic and international.
The downstairs departure area felt a bit cramped, upstairs was very spacious and bright. International and domestic departure from the same area. Free and easy to login WiFi throughout the airport.
Tarmac walk to the aircraft. Our flight and this other one started boarding simultaneously. Ours from gate 1 and crossed right, the other from gate 3 went straight-ish. Passengers criss-crossed one another other and airline staff were going to ppl individually (or the confused looking ones) and pointing out the aircraft 😜.
My first time on the MA-60. Funny stairs and smallish door too bad my picture sucks ..... and for some reason cold air was blowing on my foot. Maybe 30 passengers on board? Pretty soon after we sat down doors were closed and we started taxying 4 mins later. The engines were very very loud on the taxi out, but why donít I remember the engine starting hmmmm? Seats were red cloth but surprisingly comfortable, mine even auto reclined on TO. Served a snack + water, flight time :45 mins. Nice cookies but no pandan flavour. Sad face.
I was wondering where the seat numbers were.
Nice and bumpy during descent. Yay
No idea what Vientiane airport looked like, couldnít see nothing out the window except the landing gear 😑
Airport looked pretty big ..... only 1 baggage belt tho. Must have been the domestic part?
A quick not even 15 mins drive into town thru the city center (which was tiny). Stayed at Hotel Family Boutique. We took a short afternoon nap then roamed around that evening, thereís not much in Vientiane. Local markets and the usual small restaurants but basically one main road and a few side roads which are not busy at all.
Our guide recommenced a place for dinner, it was good but relatively expensive. Didnít mind tho it was a nice setting and good food and one of the best mango sticky rice desserts I've ever had. Got a back/shoulder/head massage, looked for bubble tea (unsuccessfully) and called it a night.
Vientiane then Xieng Khoung
Started with a nice breakfast at the hotel, fruit + some coconut jelly thing + fried rice and veggies.
- A brief history of Laos.
The French Ďruledí from 1893-1954 Ö. baring a year during WW2 when the Japanese occupied the territory.
After that French came back for a few years then got kicked out when Lao became a constitutional monarchy.
Lots of fighting on and off between Lao and the communist backed guerrillas. The Americans were involved (they were interested in keeping the Soviet backed commies out of area) and bombed the heck out of everyone.
in 1975 the Communist backed regime came to power and called themselves Ö.. the People's Democratic Republic. They stayed and over the the decades diluted their Communist ideals and became a Socialist state.
Population 1 million. Practically all industrial and commercial activity is based in the capital.
- Currency is the Lao Kip. Exchange rate is almost 9000 to a USD (8885). $150 gets you about 1.33 million Kip after rounding off.
- No coins thankfully.
- Notes are a bit hard to figure out whatís what 😂
- Lao is landlocked. Donít know if they miss the beaches but all their shrimp + squid are imported 😜. They produce their own fish tho, they get from their rivers.
- Main religions
Buddhism = 65%
Animism = the second most prevalent. A belief that objects and places, even ones ancestors posses a spirit.
- The older Laon people speak French. Young chaps not so much Ö they speak English
- Ancient Lao used to be Hindu (Khmer Empire)
- In 1560 the King moved the capital from Luang Prabang down south to Vientiane because he was scared of a Burmese invasion.
Pha That Luang (biggest stupa) complex. They believe the breast bone and hair of Buddha is kept here.
The top of the main stupa is real gold (recently renovated). Everything else is normal paint, as high as 45m.
In 1882 the Thais invaded Lao and burned down everything (all these temples). They took the gold/silver and other valuables but left the relics behind.
In Buddhism the snake/serpent is a symbol of protection. As the folk tale goes (of the Naga snake and Buddhism) the snake wanted to follow Buddhism and become a monk. He changed shape and lived in the temple however when they found out heís an animal they said no. The monks told the serpent if you leave the temple we will tell people about you and remember you so he was happy. The serpent offered his service as a protector and sheltered Buddha for 7 days while he was deep in mediation.
- Snakes and dragons look the same. Snakes have no legs 😜
The place where the monks have lunch. Painted just 7 years ago. All the temples and buildings were destroyed and rebuilt multiple times.
Patuxay or Victory monument built in 1962, influenced by the French Arc de Triumph. It was built by Laons based on French architecture .... itís a war monument commemorating their independence. Mixed Lao + French + Hindu/Buddist art.
It was honestly quite blah (probably since it was never finished), just poured some concrete with minimal artwork on the lower levels. Not particularly well maintained either.
- The Lao flag. Red represents blood (freedom fighters sacrifice). Blue is the river (Mekong river and agricultural prosperity). White is I forget. Google says the white represents the full moon as well as unity.
- The old flag had an elephant (during the Monarchy)
In 2004 the ceramic elephants were built by the Chinese. And the fountains.
10 years ago there was no China town. Now Vientiane has one.
A lot of Chinese money (and the influence that comes with it) as you can imagine
A government building.
(Vat) Haw Phra Kaew
Built in 1560 the Royal Temple or the Temple of Emerald Buddha (Ö actually it was jade.)
Only 30% was left standing after the Thais burnt it down during an invasion when they took away the Buddha statue.
3 heads of elephants on top (can't really see) represented the 3 kingdoms of Laos.
The French renovated the temple in 1934 ..... brought some artefacts back from Thailand. The original opium pipes, some foundation stones etc. They even have some old manuscripts which were written on palm leaf. The original emerald Buddha is now in Bangkok.
Significance of lighting 2 candles in Buddhism = one for the mother and one for the father.
You bow 3 times. Once for the monk. Another for Buddha. The last for Buddhas teachings.
The orange marigold is placed around the statues.
The original temple was 50% wood, now itís obviously concrete.
- The Lao language is similar to Thai. It has Sanskrit and somethingelse origins.
- Khmer (Cambodian) is completely different
- Vietnamese is also completely different.
- PDR Ö. The Peopleís Democratic Republic of Lao are Communist Socialist.
Confusing, letís clear it up?
Elections are held every 5 years Ö. but thereís only 1 party 🤷🏼♂️
People vote for parliament.
Parliament votes for President.
The President picks the Prime Minister Ö. who is the most powerful.
Happy doggie followed us around for a bit. We also have these funny garbage bins in India hehehehe
We had an hour to kill after visiting the temple. Got some lunch. Had a crepe with spinach mozzarella fried egg and ham. Was good, buckwheat crepe. Quite dosa-ish but nice. The restaurants name was Suzette so I had to get it right? This was a normal crepe and twas very yuummm.
Also like India ....
- They donít drink much bubble tea in Laos 😱😱😱 How is this possible! You get it every 50m in Thailand I figured Iíd be gulping it down here. Sad I am.
Time to head to the airport. The domestic side of VTE is tiny, check in downstairs then go up one level to Ďimmigration controlí ehhhh 🤨. You show your passport and boarding pass and then go thru security? Hmmmm the same thing at LPQ. Anyway security is super relaxed they let water bottles thru and stuff.
Departure area, small coffee shop and mini mart. No WiFi tho. Two gates 6 and 7.
XKH ó Xieng Khouang Airport
I had never heard of Xieng Khoung. Got me thinking- there arenít many airports Iíve been to recently which require 3 connections from Dubai.
XKH is connected domestically to both VTE and LPQ but thatís it.
Aircraft registrations are RDPL-xxxx wow thatís long 😬
Boarding music was super loud. Very clean plane maybe 70% full. Quick taxi out and flight time :30 mins.
Smooth flight. No bumps. Nice small snack. Tiny airport and terminal on arrival.
Possible .... you can fly. Great tag line!
Our guide met us at arrivals (itís basically just one room) for the short drive to the hotel. There was no sightseeing today, he gave us our pickup time for tomorrow and a quick rundown of what we would be doing.
4 minutes after leaving the airport our car broke down 😂. The right rear wheel locked, o well we got to play with doggies. First mama then her 3 puppers. Friendly stray dogs everywhere
Mechanics doing their thing.
Got a replacement car and finally on our way to Vansana Plain of Jar Hotel.
Huge rooms and a nice spacious hotel but thereís nothing here, as in you canít walk around anywhere. Town is a :25 mins walk on a dusty road but the hotel had a free pickup/drop in case we wanted to have dinner out.
We just ate in the hotel. Ground beef with lime + ginger pork + jasmine rice. Good food very reasonably priced but nothing spectacular. Desert was flambeed crepes with banana that was wow!! Really good, tasted way better than it looked.
Plain of Jars + long drive to Luang Prabang
Early morning start 0545 wake up. Breakfast was so so.
Plain of Jars comprises almost 50 sites but tourists only have access to 3. The rest have land mines 🙄
These Ďjarsí are only found in Laos not anywhere else. The inhabitants back in the day were the Khmu, very alike to the Khmer in Cambodia.
You could see this statue from the airport as well. We didnít visit it.
First we visited Site 2.
Nobody knows what the jars are for, why were they built?
Some (very few) are carved from stone, but most are comprised of ground buffalo skin + sand + sugarcane water + gravel.
Not much is know about who built them as well, estimated around 2000-2500 years ago.
The Jars come in different sizes. They think they were built here (not transported) but there is no sign of any settlement etc. Some Jars had lids.
One possibility is they were a part of funeral rights? They found bones underground at some spots. Maybe it was a burial zone but the bones were not found everywhere.
One folk take is some General (I forgot who) won a battle and ordered these vats (jars) built to store whiskey
- The Americans bombed Laos between 1964-1973 (to wrest control from the Pathet Lao who were allied with the Soviets and Communist in Vietnam). But thatís a gentle way of putting it, it was the heaviest bombing of a country (by that metric) and there are still many many unexploded bombs lying around. The US dropped over 2 million tons of ordinance over Laos with an estimated 30% never detonating. Thatís more than all the bombs dropped over Europe during WW2 😱😱😱
- Why bomb Laos? The northern Vietnamese made their trails thru Laos to support the Vietcong so the US wanted to bomb the supply lines.
- Most unexploded ordnance are smaller bombs lying around in rural areas which kids come across Ö hence the high accident rate to this day. The Americans have given over $30 million to help clean up the mess.
We finished with Plain of Jars a little after 1000, now for the long drive to Luang Prabang. Itís only 263 km but windy and crappy roads can bump the journey to 7 hours.
Lunch was simple and tasty. Fried vegetables and beef with sticky rice. They asked if we wanted MSG in the food (naahhh). In the big cities they donít add any but the rural areas still do.
Stopped at a petrol station for a bathroom break, they were free and fairly clean, urinals + Indian style toilets. Clean sinks and running water and working flushes Ö. but no soap. Still way better than petrol pump toilets back in India.
- The Chinese are building a railway line, part of their Belt and Road Initiative. We saw the tunnels and bridges under construction on the drive, itíll connect LP to wherever. High speed 😶 (no pic today, there's one from tomorrows trip)
- Itís very safe in Luang Prabang, girls can roam around alone late ... midnight. No issues. Vientiane hhmmmm not so much, they say after 10pm walk in pairs.
We reached Luang Prabang that evening and checked into Sala Prabang Hotel. Great location - by the river, close to the market and food joints and whatnot. Did the usual roaming around that evening, coconut water + coconut pancakes. Roamed around some more. We did the souvenir and silly stuff shopping. By we I mean she.
Dinner was an assortment of things, egg roti + basil pork + bubble tea. Finally found bubble tea!!!!!
Dessert was 2 types of crepes. Thatís going to be my thing if you havenít noticed. Local food followed by dessert + crepes.
More street food
Pak Ou Caves & Kupang Si waterfalls
Another early morning, today we didnít start with breakfast tho we left the hotel at 0545 and walked to the monastery to give alms to the monks.
People wake up at 4 to cook and offer the food to the monks. Otherwise you can wake up at 6 cook and give it to the monastery.
- Monks eat twice a day. Breakfast and lunch.
- Every morning they walk the same route, tradition is women offer food sitting and men while standing or kneeling. But they provide chairs coz a lot of other foreigners also take part.
- Rice or snacks or candy. People give cooked rice but monks steam it all over again when they get back (clean and all that) and each temple shares amongst its own.
- The first few monks get the most food obviously. There are baskets where they can drop excess food (for the last few monks who donít get much) and the monks can even give some to the poor people.
- Some monks eat meat. They canít kill animals but they can eat if given (they are always offered meat with vegetables). The older monks wonít eat meat.
- Buddhists here are largely non vegetarian .... tradition vs religion.
After that we walked up Phusey hill, itís just a nice view of the city.
The mighty Mekong river. No bridge nearby to cross it the closest one is 55km away. They have ferryís for cars trucks etc.
Why not built more bridges? Firstly itís too expensive, secondly LPQ is a UNESCO city so building stuff = more cars = more traffic blah blah = bad.
The city is very clean. Even the markets, I was expecting it to be like Thailand but it seems cleaner. Not many trash bins around the city tho.
You can tell thereís not much commerce/business activity, LP has a relaxed sleepy vibe. At 0730 the streets were still empty only people walking around no cars or bikes. Practically no traffic lights as well.
Walked thru the morning market. Meat section. Lots of fish, catfish and fried fish and shrimp. Some clams type thing. Surprisingly it didnít smell much at all, obviously at the stall but a few feet away it was gone. impressive.
White grainy thing = ants. They steam them in banana leaves.
Caterpillar wriggling around.
Some poor kittie ☹️ Our guide described it as some jungle cat (nyin? .... similar to civit) ☹️☹️
Cooked Mouse (hidden) and live moles inside the bag. Squirrels. ☹️☹️☹️
Frogs and beehives (the bottom part has the larvae, they heat it up and eat that bit) and eels.
In the league of 'tilting towards normal things to eat' ..... fried intestine. It's all relative I guess.
- Lao people donít routinely eat dogs/cats but they do in China and Vietnam.
- here's some normal stuff ...
- When they receive/give money itís with both hands. Iím used to giving with my right hand so I forgot a few times. Don't know why I thought of that now.
After walking thru the market (and eating more coconut pancakes) it was breakfast time at the hotel. Wow .... what a setting. I only have one picture so ill put it in tomorrows slot
It was gong to be a long day, no time to chill after breakfast it was time to hit the van. We stopped at a little craft village on the way to Kuangsi Falls. The craft village was touristy. Meh.
Kuangsi Falls and the Bear Sanctuary.
The bears are hunted for their bile. These are Ďrescuedí but wonít be released into the wild. Firstly they canít fend for themselves and secondly there's the danger from poachers.
The Kuangsi Falls
Ö. I'll let the pictures do the talking. Clear ... blue .. wonderful. We could swim in one part, but the water was very cold so ditched that idea
After spending some time at the waterfalls we took a boat ride up the Mekong. I was expecting a ferry sort of boat system but surprisingly we got our own private boat. Twas actually quite silly for a 1:45 trip.
The river was littered with plastic bottles Ö. everywhere. Hmmmmm whatís going on the city is clean but the river isnít? Turns out those were fish traps. They tie the nets to plastic bottles.
No real current, the Mekong has dams all over so itís kind of lake ish.
Here's some BRI construction. It's a high speed rail line.
The Mekong is huge (wide) and still wherever you looked you could see plastic bottles bobbing up and down 🙈
Left at 1300. Got there at 1430
Pak Ou Caves
Pak means mouth. Ou is the name of the other river.
So pak Ou cave = the cave by the intersection of Ou and Mekong river.
The lower caves.
The cave was built to worship the river god. They used to sacrifice animals as well around 14th century?
In the 16th century when King Setthathirath (?) was in power and people were getting converted they started adding Buddhist statues. So youíll see idols from the 17th century onwards and even some from last year.
Fruit for dessert.
A quick stop at a whiskey village before heading back to LP.
The ingredients were leaf of something + rice? mashed up? Fermented for 2 weeks? Sorry wasnít giving it our full attention we were preoccupied with a doggie.
We tried 3 whiskeys (not that I know anything about whiskey) ..... 2 were nice. Sweetish. The third was a bit deadly 😂
Slept a bit on the boat ride back. It was still long. Good thing it dropped us off right by our hotel. Quick shower and back to the food spots for dinner!
Dinner was amaazzeeeee lots of stir fried morning glory and minced basil pork. And chicken donburi with bubble tea. And a banana Nutella crepe and more coconut pancakes.
We both got a half hour head+back massage which was quite crap but it cost $5 each so canít complain much.