This is my first visit to Laos and have been looking forward to discovering something different. My first impression on flying over that it was going to be a very impressive place. The country is covered by jungle, rugged mountains, and winding rivers that are spectacular to behold from the air. We were met at the airport by my friend Joy. It was very good to see him. Joy is one of the managers of Asia Reveal Tour Company and is partly responsible for designing the tour we are on.
Luang Prabang is a beautiful city located along side the Mekong River. The city is about temples and Buddhist history. The first night was a tiring climb up 420 steps to the top of a small mountain to witness another sunset with a lot of tourists. As happened in Cambodia, the sun fell behind a cloudbank and the sunset was missed…… oh well… The next day it was temple after temple and Buddha after Buddha, with some minority villages
mixed in. Joy met up with me later and we had a chance to catch up on things. He is a busy fellow and I tried to get him to come along on the trip with us. Unfortunately, his business is keeping him tied to the office so another guide was to accompany us. The next morning we found ourselves on a long, narrow, but very comfortable boat making our way up the Mekong river to a cave where there were even more Buddha statues. The boat ride also included more stops in Minority villages along the way. After a wonderful lunch we set off for one of Laos’s famous Khouangsi waterfall.
There as a few holes that has been created by the river beneath the falls where a person can jump in and swim. People were swinging on ropes and jumping in off or sections of the waterfall itself. Fun was had by all. IT is a bit unfortunate that the rugged beauty of the area itself has been transformed by the number of tourists that visit, butnit is not unexpected.
The bus we boarded for our drive to the Plain of jars and an overnight in Xienghouang was large with ample room for us and our luggage. What we did not expect was the ruggedness of the country and how difficult it is to travel overland. We twisted and turned, climbed and descended, bumped and swayed for a grueling 8 hours. There were many broken down vehicles and accidents along the way, add we also had a tire blow out on one section of the road. Exhausted, we arrived at
Xienghouang. Our group tried our best to enjoy the sites, (or what were left of them from the heavy bombing that devastated the area) and keep our good spirits knowing that the next day was an even longer bus ride to Vientiane.
I will not describe the bus ride the next day except to say it in on my list of things never to do again. We arrived in Vientiane, me and others in foul moods, however, a good meal and a little walk about was enough to shake off the day and put us back into the holiday spirit. Vanh (our guide) earned his pay that day. I have been told by a number of people that it is not worth going to Vientiane because there is nothing to do. They could not be more wrong! There is a large and vibrant area that revolves around expats, tourists, and people working overseas. The food is amongst the best I have experienced in all of my travels, and there is live entertainment everywhere. You want to listen to classical, jazz, rock, or even Chamber music? You can find it there. The markets are impressive and large and the riverside an interesting place to walk. The one and a half days in Vientiane was not nearly enough time (nor did I have enough in Luang Prabang). I will have to return some day for a personal visit with Joy and spend some more time. Who knows…….. maybe I can get Nghia to come with me.
There are a few noticeable differences about Laos that differ from other Asian countries. Firstly the people. Although pleasant and polite, they are very slow to smile or even acknowledge your presence. They are a very reserved and cautious people. Laos is also surprisingly expensive for an Asian country. The local currency is the Kip however, they will deal in American dollars whenever possible. The change will always be given in kio as people realize they can get a better exchange, so using an American 20 and wanting 19 dollars back is frustratingly difficult to get.
Now off to Hanoi to catch a train to SAPA.