Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vientiane, Laos 3 - 4 Nov 2012

The journey to Vientiane from Vang Vieng was short, only 3 hours. The minibus drop us in town just 2 blocks from our pre-booked guest house. The city is so much quieter compare to the day when we arrived. The festival is over, no more make shift stores on the riverside. Plus there is the ASEAN meeting starting on the next day. Police standing at every junction and the street looks so clean. 

We checked in to our pre-booked guest house, it was clean but the room was cramp with 3 single bed in it. We don't care as it's only for one night. Our final mission today is to visit the Laos golden landmark - Pha That Luang and the Buddha Park.

Pha That Luang
After lunch we negotiated a taxi to drive us to this 2 places. Pha That Luang is a Buddhist golden stupa, not as big as I was expected. It's only 44m tall but the reflection of the golden stupa from the sun makes it stunning. We could only walk around the ground level of the stupa, there were a few displayed rocks and Buddha heads, not much to see. Outside the compound, there was a small garden and a huge golden sleeping buddha.

Buddha Park
We went on to Buddha Park which is 25km from Vientiane, the road condition was bad and dusty due to the sand removal from Mekong river. Lucky we got a taxi instead of tuk tuk, or else we will end up full of dust and backache. The Buddha Park is a sculpture park the size of football field, it contains weird structure built since 1958. The most enormous is the 120m reclining buddha. The is also a giant ball which has 3 stories representing hell, earth and heaven. One can enter through the mouth and climb up to heaven where there is a view point for the entire park. This place is too far from town and it is not worth the ride.

At the airport, we checked in our 2 bags. While we were getting through the security check. They stop me to check my hang luggage. Shit! I forgot my Swiss Army knife in it! I panic as this was a special gift from my friends, I didn't want to loose it. I plead to them badly to pass it to the crew on board so I could take it when I arrive in Malaysia, but the officer said they can't. I was almost crying, finally one of them said I can put it in a bag and try to check it in again. Wow! I was so happy, now I hope Air Asia won't give me any trouble. I am willing to pay for the extra luggage to check it in. I run down and check with the officer at the check in counter with a pity and guilty face, he asked for my boarding pass and said "Would you like to check in in the existing bag or new bag?",  Huh! I thought in my mind, can I check in into my existing bag? Surely I said "In my existing bag pleaseeee....." He took out his walkie talkie and radio to someone to retrieve my luggage and in 5 minutes, my backpack is there for me to chuck in my Swiss Army knife. Yeah! Superb service! I don't know what to say other than repeating the word "Khop Chai" several times. I was really thankful for the office who suggested this option, and he told me that this is the first time they did it. I was very lucky! :-)

8 days was just perfect to see these 4 important sites, it was not too rush or tiring. I like Laos for it's beautiful country site and the people, their friendliness and great hospitality makes me feel uncomfortable at the beginning because I was too used to harassment and rip off from tout  that I am always ready to defend myself, but hey, I came to realise that I don't need to in Laos. Relax! Chill! Even though I was still on alert with my bags and belongings, especially when my brothers leave their bags and walk away. :-(

Well, this kind of wrap up our trip to Laos and also my trip around the world. Travelling with my brothers was easy as we all like to take photograph and enjoy the laid back countryside. I would like to thank my brother Thomas for suggesting this trip, else Laos will still be in my to travel list.

Mixay Guest house - 150,000kip fan with shared bath and wifi.

Taxi to/return Pha That Luang and Buddha Park 250,000 per car
Entrance to Pha That Luang - 5,000 each
Entrance to Buddha Park - 5,000 each

Taxi to airport - 60,000kip

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vang Vieng, Laos 1 - 3 Nov 2012

From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was just 6 hours, the shortest road journey for us so far. 

Vang Vieng is a tourist oriented town, with guest houses, hotels, restaurant, bar, travel agent and cafes lined the streets. This place as written on any website or travel book is famous for tubing and kayaking plus mushroom shakes, loud music and loads of drunken tourist. But we were here for the beautiful limestone carve mountains and the laid back countryside.

Bountang Hotel
I didn't research much about this place as it was not part of our trip itinerary. We have got a free day after Phonsavanh and Luang Prabang so we decided to make a pit stop here while making  our back to Vientiane. Last minute preparation, I just checked out the map and find out roughly where we should stay. When we arrived at the bus terminal, we decided to walk to town while looking for a nice place to stay. It was about 20 minutes walk, and we found a pretty awesome place by the riverside road(no road name) walked straight to town from bus station and keep right, take the first right turn after the huge temple. As there weren't many tourist around, we were able to bargain and get the best room (top floor with full height sliding window) facing the limestone mountain. The room was the cheapest we've got for the whole trip yet the BEST. We stood and stared from our balcony for the longest time, the view was just breath-taking. We had yet another stunning sunset just from our balcony.

After the sunset, we had a stroll and dinner in town. The famous FRIENDS sitcoms were playing in a few bars/restaurant. We picked one that was playing Gang Nam Style music, with a few groups of foreigners but not the party type. I was expecting something worst than this but it was pretty quiet. Not sure if it was due to the low season or the recent news of the Government closing down bars by the river. Anyway this works for us! :-)

"The early bird catches the worm" My brother Thomas who is awaken everyday at 6am spotted a hot air balloon flying by. It was super cool! We could hear the sound of the flaming fire firing up in the balloon. The ride take about 40 minutes at the price of US$70. There is only one company that does this in the entire Laos. (

After breakfast, we stroll around Saysong Island. A little island size of a football field that formed in the Nam Song river connected to the main land with 2 wooden bridge. The island is filled with chalets and guest houses but the scenery around it was nice to photographed. 

We continued to the paddy fields on the north of the town, taking tons of photographs. November is the end of harvesting season, most of the paddy are ready, yellow or gold in color. That makes a beautiful view with the background of the limestone mountain. The heat was killing us, by noon we got back to the hotel to chill out.

After 2 hours rest, we now headed to the south. This time across the Nam Song river. There were many kids playing by the river, some were fish hunting with a diving mask, some were  jumping off from wooden boat, some were catching fish or shrimp with a net, some were playing in the mud and some were floating on a tube. The kids were adorable. They reminds me of my childhood time. We were also playing in streams, catching fish or just out and about in the afternoon. 

We finished the day with another amazing sunset and a eventful day. This little town has it's charm that captured my heart. :-)

The next day we took the earliest minibus back to the capital city-Vientiane.

Bountang Hotel ( - 110,000kip (Tripple) with attached bathroom, aircon, wifi, coffee and water refill.

Toll fees to cross the bridge (2 way) - 4,000kip each

Minibus to Vientiane - 40,000kip each incl pick up

Friday, November 9, 2012

Luang Prabang, Laos 29 Oct - 1 Nov 2012

The journey from Phonsavanh to Luang Prabang was long, we took the minibus option because it will be faster than the bus but it still took us 7 hours. The guy sitting next to me was vomiting the whole way, yuk! He is a local. I thought as a local one should be used to the local road. :-( All 9 other foreigners in the minivan were ok. The 7 hours ride was bumpy and windy, passing top of mountains with amazing scenery. We arrived to the minivan station, 5km from town. The Lao government is pretty smart in creating opportunity to the local, they built the station far away from town so to create work for the tuk tuk and taxi driver. Good thing is they don't quote us crazy price like any other place in SEA (except Myanmar) we don't have to bargain very hard, sometime it's even reasonable to pay that amount.

Ban Vat That street
We found a guesthouse at Ban Vat That street, here almost every house is converted to a guesthouse. Looks like the only income is from tourism. The family of the guesthouse was very nice and humble people, in fact the daughter was married to a Malaysian, she could speak malay with us. :-) What a coincident! We settled down and Thomas is already in patient to go take his sunset shot at the Mekong river. The best thing about this place is that it is near to everywhere in town. 50m to the left is the Mekong river, 50m to the right is the Alms ceremony in the morning and 100m away is the night market yet it still lies in a quiet and charming little street. We highly recommend this guesthouse to everyone who is visiting Luang Prabang.

The Mekong river and Nam Khan river made a peninsular out of this town. That means in most direction you walk you will end up at the river bank. :-) Mekong is the 7th longest river in SEA. It runs through 6 countries - China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I wonder if there is a boat cruise that leaves from Yunnan, China where the river begins and finished in South China Sea.

Night market
We had a beautiful sunset by Mekong river and stroll to the night market. Wow! Now I understand why the Night Market is so famous here. There were lines of stalls, hundreds of them selling souvenirs, handicraft, tea, painting, stones, etc. All at a very reasonable price depending on your bargaining skill.

Alms ceremony
On the 2nd day, we woke up at 5:30am in the morning to see the well known Alms ceremony. Just before dawn, hundreds of locals and some tourist lined up on the street kneeling down to prepare for the alms ceremony. They prepared food like rice, fruits, cookies, sweets, cakes, etc to offer to monks. There were only about 100 monks from several different monastery came walking in line. Each of them have their alms bowl filled with food, they even have extra to give to kids that were following them with a huge basket (the basket is bigger than the monk's alms bowl)

Vat Xieng Toung
We then rented a bicycle for the day, I don't remember having seen my brother Thomas on bicycle. :-) Good thing is everyone ride gently and politely here, so even thought Laos is a Left Hand drive country, we could still manage. We visited the oldest monastery in town - Vat Xieng Toung and just cycled around town to take photos. In the evening, we hiked up to Phou Si Hill to see the sunset. The top was packed with tourist waiting to take a good shot of the sunset. The local food market just by the entrance of the night market has some really awesome food at 10,000kip per plate, fill it up as much as you can.

Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill

The 3rd day, we rented a scooter to Kuang Si Fall, about 29km south of Luang Prabang. As usual, we had our daily noodle soup breakfast and local coffee before heading out. The way to Kuang Si Fall was very straight forward, we just missed one turn and the local already shouting at us "Kuang Si Fall" pointing the the correct direction. :-) We arrived at the entrance full of souvenirs stalls, parked at the "secured" parking spot, even though we could just park it by the street.

The park is well kept and maintained, we took the jungle path to the fall where it lead us to the Bear Rescue Center, it has an enclosure for endangered Asiatic Black Bears that have been rescued from poachers. They are much bigger than the Sun Bear in Malaysia. We saw one of the bear relaxing in the huge hammock, that must be Kayasin, the oldest and the biggest in the care center.

Kuang Si Fall
We proceed to the waterfall, pass several turquoise blue pools, picnic area before arriving at the main fall with a 60m cascade. The area is surrounded by thick forest, really nice to chill out and spend the day. We took our time taking photos of the fall, pool and insects hidden in the forest. On the way back to town, we decided to go to the golden temple that we saw across from Phou Si Hill. It wasn't difficult to find it as it was on top of a hill. In the temple, there were display of hundreds of golden Buddha statues.

Today is a big festival day called Awk Phansaa Festival and also a public holiday in Laos.We were told that it is the 2nd biggest celebration day after the Lao New Year. Everyone is celebrating the big day, they made many banana leave boat to be lighted up at night and release into the river. There was a parade at night where lines of banana leave boats were lighted up by candles followed by music, fireworks and offering of incense and small flower boats that were release into the river. Some believe that the offering is an act to pay respect to nagas that lives in the rivers, while others send the lighted boats down the river to ask for blessing and to float bad luck of the past year away enabling the good luck to flow in. This colorful ritual was an eye opening event to me.

Banana leave boat

This ended our 3 days in Luang Prabang, we are moving on to Vangvieng, a small town which is famous with young foreigner partying and drunk, floating down the river. But we are not there for this, stay tune and find out more about our next destination.

Wat That guesthouse ( - 130,000kip (tripple) with aircon, attached bathroom and wifi

Bicycle rental for the day - 35,000kip for 3 bicycle
Wat Xiang Thong entrance - 20,000kip each
Scooter rental for the day - 140,000kip each
Kuang Xi WF entrance - 20,000kip each
Parking at Kuang Xi WF - 2,000kip each

Tuk tuk from Minivan station to guesthouse - 40,000kip
Tuk tuk to bus terminal - 30,000kip
Bus to Vangvieng - 150,000kip each

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Phonsavanh, Laos 28-29 Oct 2012

We arrived at Phonsavanh around 6am, when we step out from the bus, the cool temperature welcome us. They were no tout around. We were obviously the only tourist that step out from the bus. The bus station is 5km out of the city. We took a taxi to a hotel, a hotel which I picked from the internet. We checked the room and price and it was ok. Our room was huge with an attached bathroom. As it was still early, we took a nap.

Phonsavanh town

Around 8:30am we were prepared to leave. We plan to visit the Plain of Jars site today and then leave to Luang Prabang tomorrow morning. The tour agent at the hotel offer us a package, as the price was reasonable after some negotiation, we took it. Our day trip package includes visiting the 3 Plain of Jars sites, Hmong village and the crater site, all entrance fees and guide included.

The city was small with a huge main street, almost every shop or hotels have some kind of bomb shell on display, like a victory medal. It was shocking for me! Slowly I discover the history about this place. My god! 2 million tons of bombs were dropped in Laos during The Secret War (1953 – 1975). I can’t even imagine how much is that. Out of these 2 million tons, 270 millions were bombies, and out of that approximately 80 million were left unexploded leaving the country massively contaminated, as dangerous now as when they fell 30 years ago. Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) accidents in the period 1964-2008. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents post war period, 1974-2008. So it was not a Victory Medal, it was to commemorate what happened during the Secret War and how they are still suffering till to date.

Watch this documentary to find out more about the Secret War.

Locals nowadays make used of the war scrap from the bomb shells and tanks to make spoons, fences, tools, pump, BBQ fireplace and support for the house. MAG (Mines Advisory Group) has been working with the locals to remove landmines and unexploded ordnance from the contaminated area. They also create awareness by teaching the local how to identify the UXO items, how to report a dangerous item, what to do in an emergency, how to keep others safe etc. We stopped by the office in town to find out more about their work in this area and made some donations.
Site 2
Plain of Jars Site 2

Our first visit is to the Plain of Jars site 2, hidden on top of a hill under a big tree. There were about 80 jars scattered around. They come in all shapes and sizes, carved out from sandstone. All of them have a lip rim, which presumed to be covered by a lid. We found some lying on the ground. The view from the Jar site 2 was awesome, we were surrounded by paddy fields, forest and mountain. Our guide gave us an explanation why these jars are here. The archeologist believed that these are Iron Aged burial sites. However the local legends said that there was once a race of giants who inhabited the area. Some said the jars are used to brew and store huge amounts of lao lao rice wine. Some said it was for storage of rainwater. I believed more that this is a burial site. We visited the rest of the 2 sites, I especially like the walk to Site 3, where we pass thru the paddy fields and cows to get to the hill. Site 1 is the biggest having the most amount of jars and the biggest jar.

Site 3
Plain of Jars Site 3
Hmong Village

We moved on to the Hmong village, this small village is unique because they turn war craps into everyday used. We saw the giant bomb shell used as a vegetable planters, fences and pillar to support the house.

Our last visit is to the crater site, where we saw many huge craters just few meter apart from each other. We had a long day and for me an emotional day knowing what had happen to the Laotian.

Ban Khai Crater site

We leave to Luang Prabang on a minivan the next morning at 8am. There was no choice of night bus.

Dokkhoune Hotel - 120,000kip (Tripple) with attached bathroom, fan and WIFI

Day trip to 3 Plain of Jars sites, Hmong Village and Crater site (Private van)
- Include all entrance fees and guide - US$40 each

Taxi from Bus Terminal to town - 20,000kip each
Minivan to Luang Prabang - 120,000 each

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Vientiane, Laos 27 Oct 2012

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos, we flew in to Wattay International Airport, just 4km west of the city. We were surprised how clean and organized the city is, for a capital city, I think this is the most relaxing one in anywhere I’ve ever seen. 

The currency exchange is US$1 to 8,000kip.

Our plan was not to stay a night here in Vientiane as there are more to see out of the big city. We couldn't find any map in the airport, the hostel sells it for 10,000kip. Lucky I had one printed out from Lonely Planet, even though it is dated 2007 nothing much changed except for the blooming of guesthouses and hotels. We got to the city center, walk around looking for a ticket agent. We found one at Francois Ngin Road where we could drop our bags for the day while we go sightseeing, we bought our overnight sleeping bus to Phonsavanh. Then we found a guesthouse for our last night in Vientiane and pre-booked it. After which we hit the road, trying to see as much as we can for the day.

We found out that the Boat Racing festival is around the corner. Lots of make shift stores were setup by the riverside, it completely destroyed the charm and view of the Mekong river but we found many types of street food. :-) It seems like BBQ is the way of cooking here, almost everything is BBQed, fish, chicken, sausages, eggs, banana and coconut too.

Wat Si Saket
We pass the Presidential Palace and arrived at Wat Si Saket around noon, it’s one of the oldest standing temple in Laos. The place is now a museum. It is closed from 12pm to 1pm. We walked around the outside, it is surrounded by very nice courtyard with Buddha statues and stupas. We can’t bear the heat any more and took a nap under a tree.

After an hour rest, we continue to walk to Patuxai (Victory Gate) Laos version of Arc de Triomphe. It is dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. From the top of the tower(7th floor up), we get a beautiful panoramic view of Vientiane.

That Dam
On the way back to the riverside, we pass That Dam (Lao for Black stupa) Local believe it is inhabited by a seven-headed nāga who tried to protect them from an invasion by the Siamese army in 1827.

Our bus to Phonsavanh leaves at 8pm but due to the festival and traffic congestion, the agent sent us to the terminal at 6pm. We will leave Pha That Luang the golden landmark when we return at the end of the week. We got a quick shower at the agent office before the long haul night bus. The Northern Bus Terminal is far away from the city. When we bought the ticket, transfer to the bus terminal is provided. The extra 50,000kip is worth paying for.

Sleeping Bus from Vientiane to Phonsavanh
We got the sleeping bus to Phonsavanh, as the other option is Local Bus (without aircon). We were surprised to find the bed arrangement in the bus, there are double decker bed on both side with a small walking path, the width of the bed is as big as a single size bed or size of 2 seats in a bus, the length is around 4 feet, not even long enough for Asian and we have to share the bed with someone! Normally they will try to put the same sex together. My brothers were not happy, how is it possible to sleep in this bed with another person! Luckily the bus was not full, they got 1 bed each for themselves and I moved to the front where there is a bigger bed for 3 but I shared with another gal. :-) I slept pretty well even with the bus rocking and bumping around. This is the result from the training I have got from Central and South America.


Taxi from Wattay International Airport to city – 52,000kip/US$7
Sleeping Bus from Vientiane to Phonsavanh - 180,000kip
Note : Ticket price at the terminal cost 130,000kip

Entrance to climb up Patuxai - 5,000kip