A travelogue written by Bernhard Heiser
www.asiaphoto.de > Laos Pages > Travelogue Text Version
Facts for Travellers
Travelogue Nov/Dec 98
"Why Laos?", I was asked many times before I left for my trip. As a friend
of unconventional travel, good Asian food and warm climate, the decision
was quickly made. Inspired by the beauty of northern Thailand some years
ago, I decided to travel again to this region.
Laos is the least develloped of the three former French Indochina states
(including also Vietnam and Cambodia). After many years of virtual isolation,
Laos has become more open towards the outside world. However, caused
by the lack of infrastructure, the number of visitors are still low compared
to its neighbours Thailand or Vietnam. There isn't too much
foreign influence, so Laos still represents the old Indochina. Unspoiled
from mass tourism, Laos offers plenty of adventures for the individual
Here's an overview of my route:
Berlin - London - Bangkok - Vientiane - Luang Prabang - Pakbeng - Mouang
Houn - Udomxai - Luang Nam Tha - Muang Sing - Vieng Phuka - Huay Xai -
Chiang Khong - Mae Sai - Chiang Rai - Bangkok
Highlights of history
14th century: Chao Fa Ngum declares himself King of Lan Xang,
Kingdom of a million elephants. Buddhism becomes state religion. Luang
Prabang is made the capital.
16th century: King Photisarat movs the capital to Wieng
Chan (Vientiane). He subdues the kingdom of Lanna. His son Setthathirat
orderes the construction of That Luang, the largest Buddhist stupa in Laos.
17th century: King Sulinya Vongsa rules for 57 years, regarded
as Laos' golden age.
18th century: End of Lan Xang era. River valley around
Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Champasak represent three independent kingdoms.
Burmese armies overrun northern Laos and annex the Luang Prabang kingdom.
The Siamese take Champasak kingdom and expand their influence further north.
19th century: unsuccessful war with Siam. Vientiane, Luang Prabang
and Champasak become Siamese sattelite states. Xieng Khouang and Hua Phan
agree to Siamese protection. French protectorship is installed in Luang
Prabang. Later, the French control the area east of the Mekong river.
||The colonial territory in the today's boundaries is formed
||World War II / Japan occupies French Indochina
||Laos is again declared a french protectorate
||Laos is declared an independant associate state in the French Union
and becomes member of UN
||Full sovereignty (Franco Laotian Treaty), constitutional monarchy
||The Royal Lao Government and The Lao Patriotic Front (LPF) formed a
coalition government (National Union), Rise of the vietnamese-supported
"Pathet Lao" liberation movement
||Fall of the National Union
||PL and North Vietnamese hold northern and eastern Laos, backed by the
||14-nation conference in Geneva signs an agreement to prevent a superpower
confrontation. A Second coalition government is formed.
||Indochina war until 1973
||The Lao People's Revolutionary Party is declared ruling party of Lao
People's Democratic Republic (LPDR). Kaysone Phomvihane becomes Prime Minister
||Khamtay Siphandone becomes Prime Minister after the death of Phomvihane.
Nouhak Phoumsavan is appointed President
After the 1975 takeover, Laos is ruled by the communist LPRP with Prime
Minister Choummaly Sayasone. The national motto is Peace, Independance,
Democracy, Unity and Prosperity.
Prime Minister Khamtay Siphandone is also Secretary-General of the
Politburo, the Permanent Secretariat and the Central Committee, thus giving
him the key role in Lao political affairs. He received political training
in Hanoi, the Vietnamese influence is strong.
Since 1975, about 360.000 Lao citizens (about 10% of the population)
escaped the government changes across the Mekong into Thailand. Many of
them today still live in refugee camps in northern Thailand or in other
Unlike other communist governments, the Lao P.D.R. didn't outlaw religion.
It was a wise choice, as Buddhism is the shape and texture of the country.
Although existing in Laos, dissent and rebel activity is at low level,
as the government more and more opens the country to political and economical
Geography and People
The total area is 236.800 sq km. Mountains and plateaus cover well over
70% of the country, more than half of the country is forest and woodland.
The Mekong river plays a major role, running a third (1500 km) of it's
total lengh through Laos. Landlocked Laos shares borders with Burma, Cambodia,
China, Thailand and Vietnam.
Today about 5 million people live in Laos. The population density in
Laos is very low with only 19 people per sqare kilometer (Germany 246,
Great Britain 237, Thailand 120). The county's ethnic mix consists of 68
different minorities. About half the population are Lao Loum (low-land
Lao). The three main ethnic groups are distinguished by the height they
live at, the time they migrated to Laos and by other cultural and traditional
characteristics. The bigger part of the population lives at subsistence
level in small villages scattered throughout the country.
Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism is the dominating religion in Laos.
Despite its mineral, wood and hydroelectric power resources Laos is one
of the poorest countries in South-East Asia. Agriculture, fishing and forestry
provide 80% of the jobs. About 7% of total land area is used for agriculture,
most of it for family owned rice plantations, mainly in the Mekong river
valley and its fertile floodplains. Other cash crops are cotton, tobacco,
fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee. Opium probably still is the country's
biggest export earner. For many of the northern hilltribes opium is, although
the government supports crop substitution programmes, the only source of
Wood products are important for export. Due to the lack of infrastructure,
exploitation of mineral resources is still on a very low level. Electricity
from the Nam Ngum dam is sold to Thailand, many additional hydropower plants
Compared to Thailand or Vietnam, the number of tourists is still relative
low, but tourism is already an important economical factor for the country.
After the "Visit Laos Year 1999" numbers of foreign visitors are expected
to rise sharply.
Laos has been and still is dependant on foreign aid, in some years more
than 50% of the national budget.
Economy after the 1975 communist takeover wasn't really working well.
After some years free enterprise was partly allowed at village level.
In 1989, private foreign investment was allowed. Private land ownership
is guaranteed by constitution and many people were given back seized land
and houses. The results have been striking - growth has averaged 7.5% annually
Some facts for travellers
For up-to-date and more extensive information I recommend
to have a look in the rec.travel.asia newsgroup. The
remarks below result mostly from the experience during my trip to northern
Laos in December 1998.
Visas and Bordercrossing
Visas are usually issued at the border (land-crossings and airports). At
the Nong Kai / Vientiane Friendship Bridge with a valid passport and US$
50 you will get a visa valid for 2 weeks. Extensions or longer visas are
possible. There is no need for an expensive visa-service supplied by some
travel agents. Just go to the Thai immigration office at the border and
then take the shuttle bus to the Lao immigration across the river.
Another popular entry point is Chiang Khong / Huayxai, where the same
rules are applied.
The official national currency is the Kip. There are still some hotels
and restaurants (most at a higher price level) that charge in US Dollar
or sometimes Thai Baht. More expensive services like package tours or car
rental are usually paid in US Dollar. There are no coins, the biggest banknote
is 5.000 Kip. You will get used to carry a thick wallet...
Banks who change traveller cheques are available in bigger towns, cash
is more flexible in most places. It's a good idea to carry Baht and Dollar
with you, especially when you enter from/leave to Thailand. Credit Cards
aren't very useful except in some upscale hotels/shops in Vientiane and
perhaps Luang Prabang.
Exchange rates in Dec 98: 1 US$ = 4.300
1 DM = 2.245 Kip (T.C.)
To find a bed for the night is no problem, even in the smallest village
there is often a basic guesthouse. In bigger cities as Vientiane or Luang
Prabang accomodation is available in every category. Prices range from
1.000 Kip for a dorm bed up to 100 US$ in one of the (few) more upscale
hotels. The typical traveller guesthouse will charge you 5.000 - 12.000
Kip for a double room with fan and shared bathroom. Many of these have
appeared on the scene during the last year or so, you normally do not find
them in the guidebooks. I was surprised to find many new, good guesthouses
even at remote places like Muang Sing up in the north.
Laos has got a rudimentary road system with a main axis from south to north.
Route 13, which I took from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, was the only surfaced
road of "good quality" I've seen on my trip. It has been completed (a Swedish
and a Korean project) short time ago. All other roads I've seen were in
a more deteriorated condition. See my travelogue for details on road 3
from Luang Namtha to Huayxai. Buses, trucks or smaller pickups usually
leave early in the morning at markets. Longer distances (100-200km) are
normally served once a day, cars for shorter rides leave several times
when there are enough waiting (and paying) passengers. Travel is slow,
it's not unusual to spend the whole day on a truck for a 100 km ride. However,
I could make all my way up to the Chinese border using public transport!
A (sometimes) faster and more comfortable way to travel is by boat.
Mekong, Nam Ou and Nam Khan are the main river highways. On the Mekong
river, there are slowboats (cargoboats), a very relaxed way to enjoy the
scenery. Bring some food along! A price example: I paid 19.000 Kip for
the 1,5 day trip from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng. Smaller Thai speedboats
do the same trip in only 3 hours, but they are less comfortable, much louder
and almost double as expensive.
Even air travel in Laos can be an adventure these times. I heard rumours
saying that NGO workers were not allowed anymore to use Lao aviation because
safety and maintenance is at a low level. Small Chinese (Y12) and French
planes (ATR72) are used. As I heard, they still don't use radar systems.
Travel in Laos is interesting and exciting, regardless of how you do
Excellent and everywhere, as in most South East Asian countries. Lao and
Thai cuisine are similar in many ways. All kinds of vegetables, pork, chicken,
duck, beef, fish are combined with rice or noodles. Lemon grass, mint,
coriander, chilies, tamarind, onions, garlic create the spicy taste. Fermented
fish mixtures are often used for seasoning. Most tropical fruits from durian
to watermelon are available on the markets. French bread (baguette) is
sold in the morning, excellent for breakfast or in combination with fresh
What to drink? Water, fresh fruit juice/shakes, tea, coffee, rice whisky
and (of course) the excellent Beerlao.
Prices for food range from a few hundred Kip for market food up
to 10.000 Kip or more for a meal in a restaurant. A typical foe (noodle
soup) is served at foodstalls on the street for 1.000-2.000 Kip. Softdrinks
are sold for about 2.000 Kip, a bottle of Beerlao costs 3.000-4.000 Kip.
Tropical monsoon climate with rainy season from May to November (south-west
monsoon). A good time for travel is the dry season from December to April.
From November to February the bypassing north-east monsoon creates relatively
low temperatures. A warm pullover can be very useful, especially for early
morning bus or boat rides.
Sunday, Nov 22, Swinging London
Its a cold morning in Berlin, about 0 degrees centigrade and it starts
to snow again. The perfect day to leave for Asia. Everything is white around
me, when I walk through the little park near our house. I take the bus
to the airport and check in my flights to London and Bangkok. What to do
with eight hours until the connecting flight? I decide to buy a day-ticket
and take the underground from Heathrow airport to London City. It takes
about one hour, but is much cheaper than the new Heathrow-Express (15 min.).
It's my first visit here, so a little bit sightseeing wouldn't be bad.
Westminister with Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, a short
look into the National Gallery, Leicester Square with it's many theatres
around. Almost all shops are open on Sunday, the city is festively illuminated
and crowded with people. Interesting shops, nice pubs and restaurants everywhere,
a good place to spend a lot of money. I catch a bus and underground back
to the airport, where I relax in the lounge and have some phone calls.
On the flight to BKK, I get a good seat with space for my legs next to
a girl, who is travelling to Sydney. Although she is only 22, Anne seems
to be very travel-experienced and we spend much time talking. I'm pleased
about the good start of my trip with three weeks of travel lying ahead.
A good position to be in.
Monday, Nov 23, Arrival in Bangkok
At 3.30 pm local time we touch the bumpy runway of Bangkok's Don Muang
airport. I say goodbye to Anne, change some money, put off my warm pullover,
grab my backpack and here we go. As usual, I'm heading to the bus stop
some 100 meters left from the airport entrance, ignoring all touts and
taxi drivers. Lots of girls in their blue and white school-dresses are
waiting there. A bit surprised, they look at me, smiling. The first bus
doesn't even stop, it's too crowded. Two minutes later, another bus of
line 59 (red bus, blue number) stops and I somehow manage to get on it.
The fare of only 3,50 Baht.is still incredibly cheap. This time, it takes
about three hours to make the 15-20 km to the city, most of the time is
spent just waiting in endless traffic jams. When the bus moves, hot, polluted
air is blowing in my face through the open windows, sometimes mixed with
the delicious smell of foodstalls near the road. Wow, welcome back to Bangkok.
For those who want just a quick and convenient ride to the city, the airport
aircon bus to Sanam Luang or a taxi would be the right choice. For all
others, I highly recommend the "slow bus" to get a first, real impression
of Bangkok. There is another farang (westerner) on that bus, a couple of
seats behind me. When the bus driver makes clear that he stops here and
we have to take another bus,we have a look at my map, but are not sure,
where exactly we are. People here seem not to be very familiar with city
maps, noone of the locals can show us our position, even the drunk policeman
is no big help. Finally another bus 59 arrives and we go on to Democracy
Square. Roland is from Cologne and on his first trip to Thailand. We decide
to share a room and walk up Sam Sen Road to the National Library where
we turn into a small sideroad and take a big and clean room in Sawatdee
Guesthouse for 300 Bt. I like it more here than in those crowded
and noisy places in Kao San Road. After checking in, we walk down the small,
quiet roads to the Chao Praya river. I'm surprised about the "low" air
temperature in the evening, the estimated 25 degrees are really comfortable
Tuesday, Nov 24, Bangkok
We get up late and have breakfast in our family-run guesthouse, delicious
fruitsalad (papaya, mango and banana) with yoghurt. The owners are really
friendly and helpful. Every possible service from organized tours to traditional
massage is available here, and they seem to earn good money with it. They
are running that business for many years already, everything seems perfectly
organized to me. Today, I want to check out a tailor who was recommended
to me some time ago. Unfortunately, his shop is far south at the end of
Sukhumvit Road and it takes me a long time to get there. I learn about
the different routes of normal and articulated bus no.11. After changing
buses several times, I reach Sukhumvit Road and make my way down to soi
105. I watch the construction works on the new overhead railway system,
an Italian-Thai joint venture. Huge concrete parts are lifted up to connect
the already built piers. Where the new stations are already finished, Sukhumvit
Road has changed to a "tunnel" now with only little sunlight left through.
I wonder if the project will significantly improve the traffic situation
Finally, I reach the tailor shop opposite soi 105 with a yellow sign
reading POWMAN. The friendly daughter of the owner speaks fairly good English
and soon we discuss the details concerning material, colours and style
of my new, custom-made suit. I choose hi-twist wool, a mixture of wool
and cotton, in dark blue. She tells me her father will make the suit. Unlike
the most tailors in the tourist area, he does not employ lots of cheap
indian workers. I take the aircon 11 bus back to Sanam Luang and walk back
to our guesthouse, where I meet with Roland. We have a delicious dinner
at various foodstalls in the Banglampoo quarter and then take a bus to
Sukhumvit Rd. again. The area is packed with tourists and all sorts of
amusements. Along the road there is a nightmarket with souvenirs and clothing.
Since Roland wants to get an impression of nightlife in Bangkok, we have
a walk down to soi cowboy where we enter a bar with a show coming up. We
take a beer for 80 Bt. and watch the show. It's not bad, but after a while
things start to repeat. The place is not actually a brothel, but of course,
guests are allowed to leave with a girl if they pay a small "lending fee"
to the manager. We leave (without) and take a tuk-tuk back, as there seem
to be no more buses at this time. The fast ride through almost empty (!)
streets is big fun. Although their number has decreased sharply since my
last visit 6 years ago, tuk-tuks are available almost everytime.
Wednesday, Nov 25, Bangkok
My departure for Laos is delayed a little bit, because I have to try my
suit on Thursday. That doesn't matter, it's great to be in Bangkok again
after a long time and there are still many things to be seen here. We have
breakfast in the "untitled cafe" oppposite our guesthouse. Next to it is
a small internet cafe. The strange thing is, it's always closed when we
pass by. We take the express ferry from Thewet to Ratchawong. This is perhaps
the fastest way to get from A to B in Bangkok and very convenient too.
The guy who is steering the powerful ferry knows how to do his job, the
short stops are really efficient. He is directed by a young boy with a
whistle. We cross Chinatown with it's endless small, crowded lanes. There
is absolut nothing you can't buy here. We stop to drink fresh made sugar-cane
juice and watch the action around us. We move on and reach the railway
station, where I buy a ticket for the Thursday night train to Nong Kai.
After my bad experience with a sardine-packed 3rd class train to Chiang
Mai some years ago, I decide to invest 428 Bt. in a ticket for 2nd class
sleeper. Compared to European standards, this is still cheap for a 12 hour
train ride! Since we are hungry, we go back to Chinatown and look for a
good place for lunch. Finally, we end up in a small, pittoresque passage
almost completely filled with a chinese hawker stall. We sit down at a
table after choosing our food from the cooking pot. I have a hot, spicy
soup with vegetables and meatballs. We talk with an old, chinese man at
the table next to us. He spent all his life here in Chinatown, working
in the import/export business. Later, I learn that a big part of the trading
and financial activities in Thailand are controlled by the Chinese. We
take the express ferry again for our way back and enjoy the ride and the
sunset. In the evening, we head off to Ramkamhaeng university, because
I heard there are some non-touristy places like student pubs. After having
excellent (indonesian-muslim?) food in a simple restaurant we have a look
in the MTV music bar in Ramkamhaeng soi 24. Most guests are quite young
here, sitting at tables, chatting and drinking. They play loud, mostly
western disco and pop music, but there is no dancefloor. The place is OK
for a beer.
Thursday, Nov 26, Bangkok
This time, I take the correct bus and reach my tailor quicker than expected.
There is not too much outbound traffic in the morning. I spend the afternoon
with Roland exploring Klong San Sap. We take some pictures in the area
between Phetchaburi Road and World Trade Center, which provided interesting
contrasts between the simple, wooden architecture of klong houses close
to the water and huge hotel skyscrapers in the background. Strange to find
places like that in the middle of Bangkok. From Ratchdamri Road pier we
take a klong boat out of the city and have a pretty long ride for 9 Bt.
Many properly dressed office workers and schoolchildren are on their way
back home. We return with another boat and get off at Golden Mount. A very
nice trip with many interesting views. Back at the guesthouse, I take a
shower and pack my stuff. I say goodbye to Roland and we exchange our adresses.
He plans to stay in Thailand for another two weeks before moving further
south to Malaysia and Singapore. There is no more time for the internet
cafe (yes, it's open this time!), I don't want to miss my train. I catch
the next bus and change at Sanam Luang to bus 25, which passes near the
railway station. When I get to the platform, the train is just slowly pulling
in. I buy a bottle of water and a beer and take my seat in car No.1. A
girl comes along selling food. I choose chicken curry on rice, all wrapped
in plastic. That's what I like about Asia: There is no reason to be hungry
at any time. Good food is available almost everywhere. At 7.20 pm the train
leaves the station, only 20 minutes late. The track out of Bangkok is very
bad, so we move very slowly for about half an hour. At the other side at
the window a Thai girl is studying a french exercise book. Later, at Don
Muang station I ask her about the book and if she likes to talk with me
in French. She moves to the seat next to me. It turns out that her English
is better than her French, so we do not speak French. However, we quickly
get into an interesting conversation. Her name is Jin, she is 19 and a
language student at Bangkok university. We talk about her studies,
living in Bangkok, and, of course, travel. She is going to visit some friends
in Vientiane, so we have the same way. Later, we get white sheets and the
seats are switched to sleeping position. Everyone is busy, prepairing for
the night. We move to our beds. Jil smiles at me, "Bonne nuit". This
is the first time I travel with a walkman. I fall asleep to the sounds
of R.E.M.'s new album "up", mixed with the monotonous rattle of the train.
Friday, Nov 27, Crossing the border to Laos
I slept better than expected. Before we reach Udon Thani with the first
sunlight, the beds are folded away. Jin is reading a newspaper, I content
myself with the pictures (it's in Thai...). When we reach Nong Kai at 7.30
am, lots of tuk-tuk drivers are already waiting to get their share of the
passenger load. I take a tuk-tuk to the border (40 Bt.), which is a few
kilometers away. The driver stops in front of a shop with the sign "Visa
Service". A young, french-speaking couple is waiting there too, undecided
what to do. I tell them the border will open at 8 am and walk over to the
Thai immigration office. I get my exit stamp and after a while I get on
the shuttle bus to cross the bridge (10 Bt.). The 1240m Australian-financed
bridge is, except for our bus, totally deserted. There are no cars or pedestrians
crossing it. The bridge is the second along the Mekong's entire lenght,
it was erected in 1994. On the other side, we stop at Lao immigration and
customs, where I get my visa for US$ 50. I pay another 20 Bt. stamp fee,
I suppose it's for the entry stamp of Vientiane province. I wait for the
two french and we take a "jumbo", a bigger version of a tuk-tuk. We negotiate
150 Bt. for the 20 km to Vientiane. I tell the driver to go to the Vanasinh
Guesthouse, which was recommended in a rec.travel.asia newsgroup posting.
We pass the outskirts of Vientiane with simple wooden houses and children
playing on the dusty street. We reach the morning market and get stucked
in a small traffic jam. The vehicles are mainly tuk-tuks, bicycle samlors
and chinese pick-ups. My first impression of Laos is not that of a communist
country. There were no political signs, no massive statues of leaders in
peasant shirts, no red banners. The owners of the Vanasinh speak fluent
English and French, the place is quite busy when we get there. I take a
large, clean single room with fan and bathroom for US$ 8. [ That turned
out to be the highest rate for a room I payed on the whole trip.]
I don't check out any other guest houses, because I'm not going to stay
long in Vientiane. I have a rest in my room and fall asleep for two hours.
When I wake up, I'm very hungry. First I go to a bank to change money.
I cash a 100 DM traveller cheque, but they don't give me the expected plastic
bag full of money. However, my purse gets pretty thick when it's filled
with 225.000 kip. 5000 kip is the biggest note, they come in bundles of
ten. In a supermarket I buy a croissant, yoghurt and ice tea. I pay 5.000
kip for all. Is that much? I still do not have the right feeling for the
Lao currency. On my way to the patuxai (Victory gate) I pass many foodstalls
and have another snack. It's getting dark already and I go back to the
Mekong river. Many westerners are on the streets, I suppose many of them
are just short-time visitors in the capital who do not go further north.
A beautiful sunset lets the river shine in a magical pink and blue light.
Later, I try to find the Dong Palan nightmarket. No success. Probably it
moved to another place due to the road construction works. I don't want
to search any longer and go back. As I haven't seen much of the city yet,
I decide to stay here for another day.
Saturday, Nov 28, Vientiane
Beds seem to be harder in Laos. I didn't sleep really good this night.
Besides, I got my first mosquito bite. For breakfast I cross the street
and walk over to Sweet Home Bakery. After fresh croissant and tea I feel
fine again. The French left a lot of their culture here, fresh baguettes
are sold everywhere in the morning. I walk again to the patuxai monument.
After climbing the stairs and enjoying the view from the top I proceed
to Pha That Luang. It's my second day in Vientiane and many of the travellers
I've seen already somewhere yesterday. Pha That Luang is the most important
national monument in Laos. In the present form, it has been reconstructed
in 1935 by a french university. The golden stupa is 45 m tall and reflects
magically the sunlight. Near the northern temple a small, unpaved road
leads to the next village. After walking for ten minutes, nothing reminds
me at a capital anymore. It's quite and peaceful here, children are playing
with marbles. From time to time a motorbike passes by. Fishermen work near
the ponds, I hear someone playing a guitar. On my way back to the temple
I sit down at one of the foodstalls under a huge tree and try foe, the
local noodle soup. It is served with a plate of fresh lettuce and mint.
Hmm, delicious. But it's quite hot and I gratefully accept the offered
glass of cold water. I take a samlor back to the city. The planet internet-cafe
is closed, they have no connection today. Wat Si Saket is closing in five
minutes. I can have a short look inside without having to pay. The total
number of Buddha statues and images in the temple is more than 6.000 !
The Plaza Hotel offers internet service and I check my mail. They charge
2 US$ per 10 minutes. I send mail to my friends and collegues home and
to Lucia, a girl from Italy who I want to meet in Luang Prabang. She takes
another route, travelling down the Mekong from Huaxai. I hope she will
receive my mail, probably she's already in Laos now. After 30 minutes "office
work" I walk down to the Mekong, where I meet Doug from California and
Jane from Boston on the new buildt embankment. Jane just arrived here from
trekking in Nepal. We watch another spectacular sunset. In a nearby open-air
restaurant I order a Beer Lao. Wow, the best beer I ever had in Asia! They
also serve good food here, so I stay for dinner. Fried noodles with chicken
and egg seems to be the special dish here. Sugar, salt, dried chili, chili
sauce, tomato sauce and fish sauce are put on the table for additional
seasoning. I share the table with Jan, who introduces himself as employee
of an Australian company which is engaged in agricultural development.
He lives in Australia since 18 years and just came here yesterday to work
four weeks in Vientiane. We talk about travel in Laos and I learn that
most NGO employees are not allowed to use Lao aviation anymore, because
flying with them is considered to be unsafe. They are behind with paying
the leasing rates for the aircrafts, so some (the newer models) are already
hold back abroad. We check out two so-called nightclubs, but there is almost
noone in and we prefer to drink another beer outside. I return to the guesthouse
and take a shower after the long, warm day. At 10 pm I try again to find
some entertainment, this is the capital after all. The time seems to be
alright now. When I enter the Victory club, the place is crowded with young
people, among them two or three foreigners. Many are dancing to lao and
western disco music. Anouk Cabaret in the Anou hotel is next. A live band
is playing lao folk, people seem to be older here. By law all discos and
nightclubs are supposed to close by 11.30 pm, at midnight everything is
Sunday, Nov 29, Road to Luang Prabang
Somehow I manage to get up at 5.30 am, it's still dark outside. I walk
over to the evening market, where a bus is already waiting. The ticket
to Luang Prabang is 25.000 Kip, I get one of the last seats. I'm surprised,
because I expected to find one of these old trucks with benches mounted
on the back. We leave Vientiane at 7 am. The road is in good condition
and we pass several small villages. Tree-covered limestone cliffs come
in sight. The landscape is getting more and more bizarre. Following the
winding road uphill, we reach Vang Vieng, where some guys from the States
and a girl from Austria join us. All are really enthusiastic about this
place and the beautiful nature that surrounds it. At a checkpoint - I suppose
it is a provincial border - all passengers have to get off and show their
passports. Later, we have a break at a small restaurant. The road is still
winding up, for a short time it's raining. The rain stops and we climp
the rooftop, where is space for us to sit behind the luggage. Hey, that's
much more fun up here! The panorama is really overwhelming, all along our
way we're treated to marvelous views. We enjoy it for about half an hour,
until the bus has to brake sharply, when a truck suddenly appears in the
middle of the road behind a bend. Our driver avoids a crash by keeping
extremely right. To our luck, we have the mountain to our right, but unfortunately,
there is a deep ditch between road and mountain. The bus slowly topples
over to the right side. The other passengers have to climb out of the windows,
we simply jump off the roof. In the following four hours nothing much happens.
The drivers are loudly discussing who's wrong and right, the passengers
are sitting on the road, some having a picnic. When two policemen finally
arrive on a small motorbike, five more buses and trucks have lined up.
Nobody had passed us, although the road isn't blocked. It's getting dark.
We take our luggage off the roof, move to one of the other buses and finally
go on. We arrive in Luang Prabang about 9 pm with some difficulties to
get a room. Most places are fully booked, the town is surprisingly quiet
and dark at this time. Finally, we wind up at the Viengkaeo hotel (not
recommended), where I realize for the first time that we are in a communist
country. The whole place looks run-down, the girl ar the reception desk
shows not much interest in doing anything for us. However, we get rooms
and I take a double with bathroom for 15.000 Kip and share it with Ken.
He is from south Laos, but lives in the States, holding an US passport.
After a long time abroad he is on a two-month visit to his home country.
As we're really hungry after the long ride, we have dinner in the restaurant
just opposite the hotel. The chicken with ginger is OK there and with a
bottle of Beer Lao on the table I feel better now.
Monday, Nov 30, Luang Prabang
In Luang Prabang immigration is very strict when it comes to officially
checking in and out of the province. So we first go to the immigration
office to get the in-stamp in our passport and then have breakfast at the
Khem Karn Food Garden. A beautiful garden restaurant with a nice view on
the Nam Khan river. Ken has a hot noodle soup for breakfast, I prefer bread
with butter and jam. Now it's time to look for a better place to stay.
We check a few guesthouses in the sidestreets of Thanon Photisalat, one
of the main streets in town. I decide to take a room for 9.000 Kip in Si
Khoun Muang Guesthouse, just round the corner from Wat Nong Sikhunmuang.
Ken is undecided yet, maybe he will come around later. The large room has
two big windows in different directions, so there is always fresh air coming
in. The view down to the Mekong is nice. The room is very clean and furnished
with a comfortable french bed. I immediately feel at home here. If you
go there, say hello from me to Louis, the friendly owner. I relax for a
while, listening to R.E.M., writing travelogue and watching cargo boats
go upstream. As I get hungry again, I walk down parallel to the river and
find a restaurant with a nice veranda to the Mekong. It's a bit cloudy
today, but suddenly the sun comes out and the scenery is put into a warm,
golden light. I head southwards and reach Wat That Luang. On my way back
on Thanon Wisunalat I take some good pictures of playing children, a whole
family riding a bicycle, shopkeepers offering their goods. The light between
3 pm and 5 pm is really fantastic for that purpose. There seems to
be no internet available here. In a small computer store they had a sign
at the door "No Internet, no E-Mail". I leave a message for Lucia at the
Viengkaeo hotel, in case she will come here in the next few days. To get
an overview of the city, I climb the stairs to mount Phou Si, passing the
Tham Phu Si temple. The entrance fee is 2.000 Kip. At the hilltop is located
That Chomsi with a large golden stupa. Maybe a dozen people are here, also
the Austrian girl from the bus. Some of them are waiting to take pictures
of the sunset. Unfortunately, there are too much clouds now. In the evening,
I meet again Dennis and Chris in a restaurant opposite the Rama nightclub.
Ken moved to the Rama hotel. After eating a very hot version of a chicken
salad with rice, I slowly go back to my room, taking the road along the
Mekong. A guy sits in front of his house, playing acoustic guitar, everywhere
around it's absolute quiet. I stop and listen to him while watching the
stars and the moonlight reflecting in the river.
What a peaceful night.
Tuesday, Dec 1, Luang Prabang
I wake up after sunrise, it is cloudy and still quite cold in my room with
glassless windows. While having breakfast in the guesthouse, I talk with
the young Canadian couple from the room next to mine. They plan to leave
for the Plain of Jars, but are still undecided which route to take.
I start my day with a brief visit of the Lao Royal Palace Museum, once
the residence of King Sisavangvong. The building was constructed during
the early french colonial era in 1904 and converted into a museum later,
when Crown Prince Sisavang Vatthana and his wife were exiled to northern
Laos. Portraits of the last King and Queen hang on the wall. In the throne
room, I'm fascinated by intricate wall mosaics on a deep red background.
When leaving the museum, the sky is blue and I feel the strong sun on my
skin. I decide to make a trip to the Kungsi waterfalls. Yesterday I've
seen the meeting point where jumbo pickups depart. I walk over to the parking
lot opposite Phousi hotel. Hmong women sit by the roadside, sewing red
and blue geometric patterns. Two guys from Slowenia are already waiting
there for more passengers to show up. We wait another 20 minutes until
two Germans (Udo and Gabi) arrive and then share the 30 km-ride south.
We pass small villages lined at the dusty road. We reach the impressive
falls after 90 minutes. The water is tumbling over limestone formations
into turquoise-green pools. Bathing in those pools is not allowed, so we
follow the steep trail to the upper pools, where I jump in (not too cold,
but very refreshing) and find a small cave right behind the falls. We spend
about two hours at the falls and return to LP. We make an appointment for
dinner at the Phousi restaurant, which is located close to the museum.
Now, it's again the right time to take some pictures in the warm afternoon
sunlight. My termination point is the same as yesterday on top of mount
Phousi. This place magically attracts people when the sunset is near. Today,
I'm well prepared with a bottle of cool Beer Lao. Ken and the two sweet
Japanese girls from Kyoto are there too. The sunset ist perfect and we
stay there talking for a long time. It's almost full moon, so there is
at least a little light when I walk down the steps. With Gabi, Udo, Nirit
and Aaron (the latter two are from Tel Aviv) I enjoy an excellent dinner
at the Phousi restaurant.
That was my second day here in this relaxed, friendly and tranquil
city. The former capital of Lan Xang, Kingdom of a million elephants, still
possesses a noble mystique. Wats are on every corner, monks wandering through
the streets, palm trees line the narrow roads. Time seems to have a differnt
Wednesday, Dec 2, Luang Prabang
Breakfast in the Luang Prabang Bakery with Udo and Gabi. Westerners usually
converge here at this time of day, almost all tables are occupied. Ken
comes along, who tried to find me at my guesthouse. We decide to explore
some places across the Mekong river today. At half past ten I wait for
him at the small pier, where small longboats wait for passengers. The boat
fills after short time and we go for 300 Kip each. The sun burns hot from
an almost cloudless sky, when we walk through the little village on the
other riverside. 2nd december is Lao National Day. This celebrates the
1975 victory of the proletariat over the monarchy. Lao national flags are
flown everywhere, even in this small, poor village there is one at each
house. People are preparing food in front of their houses, cooking on open
fires. There is no electricity here. We climb a hill, where Wat Chom Phet
is located on top, and enjoy the view on Luang Prabang and the Mekong.
At Wat Long Khun, which is not far away, we talk with two young Lao girls
(Ken is translating), who are visiting the temple. Back in the village
we find a small restaurant where noodle soup is served. We add more spices
to the soup and ask for some water. There is no more ice. Back on the Luang
Prabang side, we meet a journalist from Norway, who is writing about fishing
in the Mekong and wants to make pictures of fishermen, but cannot
find any. Ken suggests him to rent a boat very early in the morning.
On the edge of town, perched above the riverbank, is Wat Xieng Thong,
Luang Prabang's most magnificient temple, built by King Setthathirat in
1560. A quiet place with only a few tourists. Just to the right of
the entrance is a gold-faced pagoda. The perfectly polished gold facade
depicts scenes from the Ramayana. The main sim represents classic Luang
Prabang temple architecture. The roof is terraced so that each level
sweeps down and reaches out farther than the last. At the rear wall I take
a picture of the impressive "tree of live" mosaic. Another mosaic on a
smaller temple, made of polished glass and stones, depicts local village
life and magically reflects the sunlight. Inside a house near the east
gate I admire a 12m-high funeral carriage.
Before leaving the temple complex I pay my 1.000 Kip admission fee and
walk down the steps to the river. A boatman offers me his sunset-trip,
but I'm not interested. Instead we talk about his business with tourists.
He is a former army soldier and learned to steer a longboat some years
ago. He 's glad to earn his money in a more peaceful way now and is very
optimistic about his country's future. Learning English is one of his daily
activities. He offers his trip every day at 5 pm.
At 7.30 pm I meet again with Udo, Gabi, Aaron and Nirit. Today
we have dinner at the Villa Santi, a hotel owned by the Crown Princess
Khampha. In 1991, the government returned the building to her, and
she and her husband renovated it and decorated the place with Lao art and
antiques. We sit down at a nice terrace overlooking the garden. The menu
is in Lao, French and English, main courses are from US$ 2,50 to
4,50, a lemon juice costs US$ 1. We are the only guests (at least
on the terrace). Furnishings and service are excellent, there is
classic music playing in the background. I order a soup and rice with chicken
and ginger. The food is not bad (very mild though), but somehow we expected
to get something more special in this place. Later we visit another french
restaurant (La cave?), which turns out to be a popular place to drink cheap
Beer Lao. It comes in large jugs of 1,5 liters for only 4.500 Kip. We share
a few of them and have a look at my map. Nirit and Aaron are planning to
take a speedboat upriver, I'm undecided yet what to do. However, I abandoned
my plan to go to Xieng Khong (Plain of Jars), because it takes a long time
to get there and the road is still not safe. We heard that the area around
Muang Sing in northern Laos is very beautiful, maybe I should go there?
Thursday, Dec 3, Mekong river
Today, I have to get up early. No problem, my new neighbours already make
at lot of noise anyway. At 7 am I walk up to the main crossing and look
for one of the moneychangers and change 20 US$ for 87.000 Kip, not bad.
This black market is widely tolerated here as all transactions happen visible
for everyone. At the boat pier I decide to take the cargo boat to Pakbeng,
which is halfway upstream to Huay Xai, and buy a ticket for 19.000 Kip.
Aaron and Nirit do not show up, they probably do the speedboat ride, which
departs a few kilometers upstream. (Why, because of the noise?) I'm sure
we will meet again later on our way up north. I hurry back to the guesthouse,
pack my stuff and say goodbye to Louis. The boat is supposed to leave at
9 am, so I have to be quick now. I buy two frech baguettes, a bottle of
beer and some fruits for the trip. It's 10.30 when we finally leave Luang
Prabang. There are about 15 passengers on board, including a small baby
and a chicken. Tom, Patricia and Ben are from Australia, we are the only
foreigners on the boat. We pass the Pak Ou caves, on the opposite side
the Nam Ou river flows into the Mekong. Now the Mekong is more narrow and
the landscape gets more interesting. I grab a towel to protect myself against
too much sun and climb on the roof. This is the place to really enjoy the
trip. During the next hours the view is changing very slowly but steadily.
We pass some rapids, where our speed over ground is reduced to almost zero.
From time to time speedboats pass by and disturb the peaceful scenery.
Before we can see them, we already hear the strong noise of the engine.
These really fast going, colourful painted Thai speedboats look as if they
come from a different planet with their passengers wearing helmets and
life-jackets. I do not regret my decision for the slowboat. We stop now
and then to let people disembark in small villages. A hilltribe family,
dressed in their traditional clothing, comes on board. It's almost dark
when we arrive in a small village where we stay for the night. We are directed
to a small bamboo hut with small, separated beds. They even have mosquito-nets
out here. The dinner is included in the price (9.000 Kip). A woman brings
us instant noodle soup, sticky rice and a few bottles of beer. About 20
small children, quite amuzed, watch us eating in the candlelight. We seem
to substitute the non-existing television program (there is no electricity
in the village). We take our torches and go for a short walk. Most villagers
are busy inside their simple houses, preparing food. I go back to write
postcards. The view over the moonlit river is marvelous.
Friday, Dec 4, Pakbeng and Muang Houn
At 6 am someone wakes us up "Breakfast ready". It simply consists of a
can Lao coffee, so I don't miss much. One hour later we are on the boat
again. Six more hours to Pakbeng. The mountains are still hidden in the
mist, it's quite cold. Later we move to the roof, where I try to sleep.
At 1 pm we arrive in Pakbeng, nothing much to see, just a few houses line
a street, half a dozen speedboats anchor in a small harbour. Patricia and
Tom want to stay here for the night and take a room in a guesthouse. I
have a foe with Ben at a small foodstall. I go back down to the river,
where pickups are supposed to leave. Indeed, there is a pickup with two
soldiers in the back, waiting for more passengers. They go to Muang Houn,
a small village about 50 km from here. The price is quickly bargained from
60.000 Kip (for the whole car) down to realistic 6.000 Kip. 20 minutes
later we go. I'm the only farang, nobody speaks english. The bumpy, chinese-built
road doesn't allow much speed. That is more than compensated with gorgeous
views on mountains, valleys and primary monsoon forest. It's already dark
when we reach Muang Houn. The pickup stops not far from one of the two
simple guesthouses here. I take a room without asking for the price (4.000
Kip). I take a mandi (the asian style shower) and feel much better after
two days without a shower. When I look for some food, I realize a lot of
small lights (candles?) arranged in a semicircle on a field. I get closer
and see many people standing in front of a stage, music is playing. The
lights stand on small tables where locals serve fresh food and sell all
kinds of sweets and chewing-gums. I sit down to eat the ultra-hot version
of a noodle soup and a piece of dry cake. I have no idea what kind of festival
this might be. Later I learn from a boy who speaks a little English, that
the Udomxai army is celebrating their 21st anniversary or something like
that. On a table, schoolboys play the Lao version of pinball: Just nails
and pits on a board. They try to shoot a little metal ball into the pits,
which are marked with the number of points. Right next to it a large wheel
with painted-on numbers it is turned and people put banknotes on a roulette-like
gambling-table. On the stage, men in uniforms hold speeches, scetches are
performed and young girls dance to Lao folk music. Nice show.
Saturday, Dec 5, Road to Luang Nam Tha
At 7 am it is time to move over to the little marketplace. Another pickup
goes north to Udomxai. It's quite chilly in the morning hours and I'm
glad to sit near my backpack, so it's easy to reach a warm pullover. We
reach the Udomxai bus terminal at 11.30 am. The search for the bank is
finally succesful, but it is closed today. The blue bus (yes, a real bus
this time) is supposed to go to Luang Nam Tha so I get on and wait what's
going to happen. We are leaving soon, picking up more people in the village
here and there. Again we return to the bus terminal to wait for 10 more
minutes, then we finally leave Udomxai. at 1 pm. Another 117 km of all-weather
route 2 lie ahead. The chinese-built bitumen road consists mostly of big
potholes and travel is slow. Up in the mountains the clouds get darker
and heavy rainshowers come down. Brownish-red water runs down the road.
I hope road conditions will not get worse. Half an hour later the cloud-burst
stops and the sun shows again. Most mountains are still coverd with clouds
and I enjoy the scenic view out of my window. We have a short break at
the Boten junction. It's almost 6 pm when we come down to Nam Tha valley.
The view is really breathtaking. Rice paddies in yellow and brown colours,
rising smoke and dark mountains in the background. I should come back here
to take a picture. We arrive in Nam Tha and I ask for a room. The Darasawath
guesthouse is completely booked out, but the friendly women offers me to
sleep in a kind of garage, where they have a single bed with a mosquitonet.
I decide to take it and put my stuff in. I walk up the main road and pass
a dozen foodstalls, lit by candles. Children offer fried bananas, soup,
sweets and sate. Many locals wander around on the dark road, there is almost
no traffic. Back in the guesthouse, I have dinner. They make excellent
fruit shakes here. I join the Australian girls for a beer. At the next
table, I hear a German guy discuss the Y2K problem with some elder Lao
or Chinese men, funny, isn't it? I grab a candle and go to my garage to
spend the night with two motorbikes. During the night I can hear strong
rain beating on the roof.
Sunday, Dec 6, Muang Sing
I enjoy the fresh baguettes for breakfast and prepare everything for leaving.
I dont't have to pay for the accomodation, the night in the garage was
free! It takes about ten minutes to walk to the small bus terminal. It
takes two hours to get to Muang Sing. The small road is full of bends and
seems to exist only of large potholes. During our ride, many of the locals
spew out of the windows. Seems to be a quite common habit here, nobody
pays much interest to that. There are about ten guesthouses now in Muang
Sing. Together with Tom from Norway I take a room for 6.000 Kip in the
guesthouse next to the morning market. We have lunch in one of the restaurants
at the main village road. My beef laap with sticky rice turns out to be
quite hot, I feel a slow but insistent burn in my mouth. Laap is a typical
Lao salad of minced meet tossed with lime juice, garlic, green onions,
mint leaves and chillies. Down the road there is a small bicycle shop and
we rent two old, black chinese bikes for 2.000 Kip each. Although it's
only 10 km to the chinese border, we decide to go in the opposite direction
to have a good view from the mountains. Out of the village, we turn left
in a small path leading to the fields. We try to walk down to the river
to cross it, but it's difficult to get there. Later, we find a good view
down to the rice-paddies after we went up to a small village and took a
jungle path to climb a hill. On our way back we stop at a meadow to collect
magic mushrooms. I try to take a picture of a group of small children in
a village, but each time I take my camera they run away screaming. In the
warm light of the late afternoon sun we enjoy the easy ride back to Muang
Sing. The surroundings of this remote place are really beautiful and perfect
for short bike or hiking tours. In the evening, I meet Aaron and Nirit
in the restaurant. They took the speedboat from LP to Huayxai and arrived
here Saturday afternoon.
Monday, Dec 7, Muang Sing
When I wake up at 6 am, the morning market is already in full swing. I
have sweet rice and fried coconut-balls(?) for breakfast there. The talaat
nyai market once was the biggest opium market in the golden triangle.
Today it's a venue for fresh produce, meats and clothing, sold by various
hilltribe people from the region. The market is crowded with people, there
are all kinds of sounds and smells. Vegetables, piles of freshly chopped
meat, hawker-stalls everywhere. After one hour I've seen it all and go
back to the room. It starts to rain, so I sleep for another hour. Its noon,
the rain hadn't stopped yet. Everything is packed, I exchange my email-adress
with Tom and go. A pickup has already filled up with some passengers, 30
minutes later the car is full and we go. After some more stops in the village
it is more than full. We all get more or less wet on our way to Luang Nam
Tha. In the Darasawath Guesthouse everything is booked out, so I take the
bed in the garage again. I'm already familiar with the place, the owners
with their small daughter Mimi are really nice people. The rain doesn't
stop, it's definitely no day for taking pictures. I spend the afternoon
under the roof of the garden restaurant, reading and having some excellent
food. Children on bicycles on their way back from school pass by, most
of them holding umbrellas against the rain. Ben shows up for dinner, he
came down here from Udomxai yesterday and stays in another guesthouse.
We spend the whole evening in the restaurant, having more food and drinking
a couple of beers. Music and (political?) speeches are transmitted via
loudspeakers all over the village. Sounds like a shortwave transmission,
sometimes the quality is very bad. 9.30 pm, time to have a last fruit-shake,
because at this time electricity usually is turned off in the village.
It's still raining.
Tuesday, Dec 8, Rough road to Vieng Phuka
By morning it was clear and sunny again. I walk over to the bus terminal
where Aaron and Nirit are waiting already. Another traveller from Israel
joins us and we get on the old Russian army-truck. The price to Huayxai
is 30.000 Kip. At first I think that would be far to much, but the locals
pay the same price. We leave Nam Tha at 9.30, packed with passengers, big
bags filled with vegetables, heayy sacks full of rice, small cages with
chicken and a pig. After yesterday's rain the narrow road is terribly difficult.
We have to pass knee-deep mudholes and are glad to have a four-whell drive.
Without it, it would be impossible today. At a steeper passage we have
to get off and push. About a dozen times we stop to fill up water and oil.
This engine almost needs more oil than fuel ! At one of our minor break-downs
we have to fix a spark plug, wrapping it up with a thin metal sheet and
hammering it into the motor again. Perfectly done! Our driver is quite
experienced, he stays cool even when we almost overturn with the whole
truck. At 5 pm we reach the small village of Vieng Phuka, where we have
to stay for the night. Our truck driver is the owner of a basic guesthouse
here and he stops right in front of it, what a coincidence ! It took us
eight hours to do about 100 km, that's 12,5 km per hour, not bad...
In Bangkok I bought a sheet with about 30 different little Snoopy stickers
and I decide it's now the perfect place to give them to the cute children
playing on the street. The effect is impressive. They are a bit shy at
first, but then I see myself surrounded by maybe 40 little hands grabbing
for my dogs. I distribute them one by one after demonstrating how a sticker
"works". What a fun! Together with the family of our driver we watch the
Asian Games on Thai TV (they have a large satellite dish in the garden).
Wednesday, Dec 9, Huayxai - Chiang Khong - Mae Sai
Still 100 km lie ahead, but today the road is much better. There are less
people on the truck and we have, compared to yesterday, a very pleasant
ride. We are still in an amazing jungle, the weather is good today. We
stop for lunch in a small village and taste another version of foe. We
arrive in Huayxai at 5 pm, much later than we expected. The others stay
here for the night, I want to cross the border and head on to Bangkok the
next morning. I give my last 1.000 Kip to a moto driver to bring me from
the market to the passenger ferry. The ferry landing is just below the
Manilat hotel. A small immigration office is next to the ferry and it takes
just one minute to check out from Laos. I wonder if there would be any
problems on the Thai side without this stamp? The ferry actually is a small
longboat, for 20 Baht we cross the Mekong. Goodbye Laos, I hope to be back
soon! Back on Thai soil, I quickly realize that I'm back in civilisation
again. At the immigration desk I have to wait in a long queue of Belgian
package tourists who just arrived with a minibus. There is no more bus
service today to Bangkok or Chiang Rai, so I walk down the main road and
try to find a guesthouse. I want to check out the area at the bus
terminal, still a long way. There are no guesthouses at the terminal and
I go back to the center. From a passing-by pickup a young woman asks
me where I want to go. They give me a lift to the next guesthouse, not
far away. She introduces her friends to me, two woman and a man. They are
from Chiang Mai, students, a doctor and a nurse who are on a trip. I tell
them about my route and they offer me to go to Mae Sai together. Why not?
From Mae Sai it's not far to Chiang Rai and maybe it's going to be a funny
trip. It is. Their English is quite good and we have much fun on our way
to Mae Sai. I sit in the front with Nuek, Nong, Sa and Kung are in the
back. Kung, the nurse, is 28 and seeking a foreigner to marry her. I politely
decline...What a difference a good road makes ! In only one hour we reach
Mae Sai and have dinner together. A foodstall at the main road offers fantastic
pad thai and sate. I want to invite them, but they already paid for me,
they are really nice. We take two rooms at the Mae Sai Plaza Guesthouse,
a number of simple bungalows gathered on a hill.
Thursday, Dec 10, Bus to Bangkok
From the guesthouse we have a nice view, overlooking the Burmese village
on the other riverbank. My bus to Ching Rai leaves at 8 am. Nuek
takes me to the bus terminal, which is quite far out of town. I say goodbye
to him and get on the bus. At 10 am, there is another bus from Chiang Rai
to Bangkok. No aircon, that's good. The price is 162 Bt. for the 13-hour
ride. I take a seat near the backdoor where I can put my legs on the backpack,
quite comfortable! A boring ride as regards scenery, nothing much to see
except a beautiful sunset. We stop several times at crowded and loud bus
terminals, always a good opportunity to pick up some snacks. From
the BKK northern bus terminal I take another bus and arrive at Sanam Luang
at midnight. Because of my dislike of Kao San road, I try to find a room
in the small road behind the wat. Not easy at midnight, the places I check
out are already closed or booked out. Finally, I end up in the Sawasdee
hotel (not Sawatdee GH). The girl at the reception smiles: "No rooms, sorry",
but she can arrange something for me. A tuk-tuk brings me to a nearby massage
parlor, where I can get one of the massage-rooms with aircon and TV for
250 Bt. They even have a hot shower here. Seems to be a way for them to
make some extra money. After the long busride I fall asleep quickly.
Friday/Saturday, Dec 11+12, Bangkok
In the morning I move to one of my favorite guesthouses at the National
Library. I check in at the Sawatdee, where I'm welcomed very friendly
again, it's a little bit like coming home. I spend a busy day with sending
e-mails, wandering through various shopping malls and markets and enjoying
the variety of good Bangkok food. I take the bus down Sukhumvit road to
my tailor and pick up my new suit. Looks like he did a good job. Saturday,
I visit the newly opened restaurant at the Bayoke II tower. From the 78th
floor I have an excellent view while enjoying the mixed european/asian
buffet lunch. I take the express ferry back to my guesthouse and check
out. Bus 59 is really fast today, only 1,5 hours to the airport. I spend
the remaining time until departure in the BA Executive Club lounge. The
big headline in the Bangkok Post says: "Thai airbus crashed in Surat Thani".
The crash happened last night, after two previous failed attepts for landing
in bad weather. Some of the passengers survived, exact figures were
still not known. I have more luck with my flight back. After sleeping most
of the time, I reach the European winter again.
That's the end of my story, I hope you enjoyed it. Of course I'd
like to read your comments. You can access my guestbook from the mainpage.
If you go to Laos, remember that we are only guests (from a different
world). Please help to preserve the friendliness and dignity of the country
and it's people.
For comments and questions:
mail [at] asiaphoto.de
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