35 Days in Laos

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 21, 2014, 4:11 pm

I can't remember where I posted the thread about this year's occasional trip to Thailand. Since I ended up spending more of it in Laos than Thailand, I will open a new topic here. I had hoped to post every few days with observations, but the internet service in Laos is not very good, and often dies in the middle of topics. I only found reliable internet service at Luang Namtha, one internet cafe in Viang Chan (Vientiane), and the only internet cafe in the small town of Tha Khek.

Laos is a very friendly place, and the people, as in Thailand, are wonderful, cheerful and joyful.

There is double pricing in Laos. Thus to visit an interesting cave in Vang Vieng will cost 15,000 kip (1 baht=250 kip) for foreigners (westerners, Chinese, Arabs et al), and 10,000 kip for AESEAN neighbours such as Thais, Indonesians, Vietnamese and Cambodians. Lao people pay 5,000 kip.

There is no large town of consequence and some places, like Pakse in the south, are more Vietnamese than they are Lao.

There are still many Soviet Union flags fluttering in the pouring rain/tropical sun whether in towns or villages.

Within the exception of flying to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai and from Viang Chan to Luang Namtha, I rode the bus for 10-12 hours between places. The bus drivers are very good and they have to be alert because the roads in the north are potholed and wind their way through mountains with many hairpin turns. Rarily do vehicles stick to their side of the road as they are always trying to avoid potholes. In addition, the trips are made longer by the men who often yell at the driver to stop so they can pee, and by women who see vegetables and fruit by the side of the road they want to buy. This adds to the chaos and colour of the long trips.

By the way, everyone has to pay 2,000 kip to use washrooms at restaurants, which is why you see the bus passengers rushing off to the bushes to relieve themselves.

Yesterday, after I had boarded the bus to take me from Mukdahan to Khon Kaen, I was amazed that we left the terminal with only 6 passengers. In Laos, they wait until the bus is full before they take off, and they use as much space as possible, thus the aisles are used as well for the passengers by plonking down a plastic chair.

When I went from Viang Chan to Savannakhet the projected 7-hour drive on a paved and straight highway took over 11 hours. One reason is that a bus on the same route had broken down so its 30 passengers had to stand in the aisles for most of the ride. Anyway, it gives one the opportunity to speak with the other passengers.

There are a wide variety of tourists in Laos from older people like me, middle-aged couples, solo backpackers, group tourists and young Asians. I also met a group of students from the Philippines who are doing a research study on the success/failure of dams/irrigation throughout the country. They were studying the irrigation efforts around Luang Namtha.

I met people from many parts of the world, and for the most part, I was impressed by all of them. They included couples from Indonesia, groups from Thailand, South Korea, Japan and China, young backpackers from the Canary Islands, Sweden, Australia, the United States, a Chinese family from Vancouver, Canada, young ladies from Poland, and Morocco. The largest number of young tourists seem to be from Germany. And, after their World Cup victory, the most popular shirt worn by young male and female Lao is that of the Germans. Man United runs a distant second.

Outside of the capital, it was very unusual to see any old white men with young women. I suspect these guys were from Thailand renewing their visas. However, you do see old Chinese men with Lao/Vietnamese hookers in a number of places.

For the most part, I communicated by using a combination of Lao and Thai. I picked up quite a few Lao words, and can read most written words in Lao now. I was often thrown off this tactic in the towns as many residents can speak English much better than Thais.

Today in Khon Kaen I found it natural to say 'sabai dee' for hello, 'khop jai' for thank you and 'jaew' for yes. Both men and women in Laos use 'jaew'. In Thailand only the women in the north (Lanna) and Isaan use 'jaew'.

...to be continued.
ເຮົາຈະລ່ວງພັ້ນຄວາມຕາຍໄປ່ບໍ່ໄດ

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 21, 2014, 4:14 pm

I should add that this voyage of discovery to Laos was the most fun and adventure I have had in about 40 years. It was great, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Next I will add some words about Luang Prabang.
ເຮົາຈະລ່ວງພັ້ນຄວາມຕາຍໄປ່ບໍ່ໄດ

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Shado
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Shado » August 21, 2014, 5:31 pm

Good stuff khun Laan Yaa Mo. Looking forward to more narratives. =D>

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Udonhoward » August 21, 2014, 6:00 pm

One interesting note about Laos, once you get off the only north-south highway (Hwy 3) and a couple other main cross roads, outside the cities there are NO paved roads. That's why touring on dirt bikes is popular, you can rent them in Vientiane.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Udonhoward » August 21, 2014, 6:15 pm

OOps. I meant Hwy 13.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by GT93 » August 22, 2014, 2:07 am

I love Laos. I want to have a decent look through Laos. Last time I did that was 1998. More reports on Laos are welcome. Korpjai.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by FrazeeDK » August 22, 2014, 3:42 am

those "Soviet" flags are actually the Lao Communist Party flag..
Dave

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 22, 2014, 4:45 pm

Thanks, Khun Shado, and thank you Frazee DK for the information about the flag. I did not know that.
ເຮົາຈະລ່ວງພັ້ນຄວາມຕາຍໄປ່ບໍ່ໄດ

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Laan Yaa Mo
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 22, 2014, 4:56 pm

Here are a few more general observations about Laos:-

Even though Thailand seems to be a much cleaner country than Laos, I rarely saw any vermin there. No rats, one cockroach in a very popular Viang Chan restaurant and one large snail in the washroom in Oudomxai. The 'x', by the way, is pronounced 'Ch'. This is French. I remember reading the Chronique de Xiengmai by Camille Notton many years ago. So the town of Xienghouang is actually pronounced, Chienghouang.

Getting back to vermin, last night in Khon Kaen there were many sewer roaches darting about, and yesterday morning at the children's park by the front entrance to Central, there was a large rat enjoying the playground.

I have heard that medical treatment is almost non-existent in Laos so if there is an emergency you better be close to the Thai border.

The military and the police keep a very low profile, and one rarely sees a person in uniform.

I only heard one ambulance, but no other sirens when I was in Laos.

I only saw one female, a bus ticket collector, smoke in Laos. The men smoke everywhere except on the bus, and in offices.

I did not see any Lao women with tattoos.

With the exception of offices, almost all Lao men and women wear sandals.

I must be exhausted from bus travel over the past week because it was actually a 38-day trip, not 35 days.
ເຮົາຈະລ່ວງພັ້ນຄວາມຕາຍໄປ່ບໍ່ໄດ

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Laan Yaa Mo » August 22, 2014, 5:33 pm

For the most part, with the exception of Savannakhet, I booked hotel/guesthouse rooms in advance through Agoda, and once with Expedia. There were some great deals. The downside was it meant I had to move on to the next destination or lose the money I had spent on the booking.

I got the runs on the bus from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai, which prompted me to take Lao Airlines to Luang Prabang instead of taking the bus for 12-16 hours. I stayed at the Luang Prabang Legend Hotel, which had discounted rooms on Expedia from $80 to $24/night. It worked out well. I stayed in Luang Prabang for 11 nights. The service was great, the staff was great, and breakfast was delicious and filling.

The first day I took a tuk-tuk to an advertised far-away wat, which turned out to be just a 30-minute walk. Thus, I realised I could get to most places in Luang Prabang by walking or 'boots on the ground' as the saying goes.

The historic and interesting wats kept coming. There was one after another. Sometimes, there was an entrance fee of around 5,000 kip (20 baht), and sometimes it was free. At the more important ones, you could get your photo taken by a professional for 20,000 to 30,000 kip (80 - whatever 30000 divided by 250 is).

At this point, I was at the entrance to Phousi, the famous hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. It was early afternoon and the hottest part of the day. I made many stops and went through 3 bottles of water before I got through the 393 winding steps to the top. Meanwhile young kids and old ladies were passing me by and leaving me in the dust. The view, once the top is reached, is breathtaking. You get a magnificent view of the town and the two major rivers - the Mekong and the Nam Ou. Phousi is a site not to be missed.

From 5 to 10 at night, there is a large market with many different items of interest for sale. For me that meant adding to my collection of Lao Lum and luk thung VCD's. But there is much else. T-shirts, silk, silver, footwear, tea, coffee, alcohol (some of the Lao ladies imbibe Beer Lao as the potential customers wade their way by), et al. And there are tons of tourists and locals at this night market. But, it is all to the good. The backpackers are curious and interested and full of youthful energy. Older couples and families all can enjoy this.

I ate at a restaurant called, The Coconut. The food was tasty and cost a whopping 20,000 kip (80 baht). Later, my server struck up a conversation with me and we exchanged phone numbers. She does not have a computer. This reminds me that internet service in Luang Prabang and tempermental. The computers might work for 15-30 minutes before they break down.

Over the next few nights, I discovered a small soi in which Lao ladies sold all kinds of delicious food. One can eat a filling meal (duck, pork, chicken, fish, beef, vegetables) here for 10,000 - 15,000 kip (40-60 kip). For lunch I often ate near a parkade at the far end of the main street from the night market where various sandwiches and crepes were on sale. I liked the avacado, cheese and bacon ones. In addition, mayonaisse, cucumbers, tomatoes and various other things are added unless you let them know, 'please don't add that.' I think these crepes and sandwiches cost around 15,000 kip.

Well, folks that is enough for now. I am a bit tired from helping a 21-year old university student with her English homework this afternoon. She is a friend of a lady who sells fruit on the street near the Roma Hotel. I was really impressed with her grasp of English. Her homework focused on the future perfect tense. For the most part, she did not need any assistance from me. Her spelling was almost perfect. She did have a problem with the term 'read', and was a bit confused until I explained that 'I read a book', and 'I will read a book' have different pronunciations. Tonight, after class, she will go to Tawan Daeng with her friends for some serious drinking. 555+
ເຮົາຈະລ່ວງພັ້ນຄວາມຕາຍໄປ່ບໍ່ໄດ

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Shado
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35 Days in Laos

Post by Shado » August 22, 2014, 6:36 pm

Excellent update Khun Laan Yan Mo. Making the trip in the way you have really helps to connect to the true nature of the country. I suspect the locals were duly impressed with the fact that you could communicate with them. That always makes for more satisfying experiences.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by parrot » August 22, 2014, 7:18 pm

There are a lot of luxury cars from Laos plying the streets of Udon. Luxury cars=luxury phones, no doubt. Aren't the 3G networks in Laos capable of carrying a fair amount of internet traffic?
There's not much worse than an expensive smartphone that can only be used as a phone.

Thanks for your insight into all-things Laos. Very interesting.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Udonhoward » August 22, 2014, 7:44 pm

I lived in Laos for five years, moved back to Udon Thani last year, and was very happy to do so, for many reasons. Laos is beautiful, and the people are warm and friendly, but it has a lot of problems. I don't have time to go into detail , but I'm glad to be here. If anyone has any specific questions, I'll be glad to try and answer them. Tourists just see the "unspoiled" beauty, but most people live in poverty. People in the countryside have little or no access to health care or education. The average Lao worker earns $180/month, if they're lucky enough to have a real job. This is the reality that is often overlooked.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by Zidane » August 23, 2014, 9:38 am

Very interesting trip reports,Uncle Tilo.....an excellent read.
I've only really been to Vientiane in Laos but,certainly,Luang Prabang is on the "to do" list !
Just when I thought our chance had passed,you go and save the best for last.

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35 Days in Laos

Post by GT93 » August 23, 2014, 11:55 am

Udonhoward you're very welcome to make some posts, even if brief, about Laos. You must have some very interesting perspectives.

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