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Laos - some observations from 3 weeks there

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    Hello,

    following on from my popular post on Vietnam - I've decided to do something similar for Laos, although 9 months on...

    1) Use Travelfish! Coverage of Laos in the guidebooks was pretty shabby and out of date. I found most of my places to stay through Travelfish, and I was v happy with ALL of them.

    2) Even with Travelfish and the Guidebooks it can still be quite tricky to work out how to get around. I went to Kong Lo Caves, which took around 2 full days from Don Khong - and a lot of rather panicked arm-waving conversations with bus drivers. Thank God I ended up next to an English-speaking Guest House owner who helped me out (and to his credit he didn't even try to sell me his guest house!).

    3) Public transport - rather than the tourist buses - is really good fun, and might give you some special memories.

    4) Vientienne has nothing to it. It's got good places to eat and drink, but apart from that I wish I'd not bothered. The temples are nice, but Luang Prabang 's are better.

    5) From my 7 week holiday in SEA, Luang Prabang was my favourite place. I wish I'd had longer there to explore a bit further afield.

    6) Laos Airlines is actually pretty good. To save time I had to use them quite a lot. (Siem Reap-Pakse, Vientienne - Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang - Bangkok). There's a bull sh!t website run out of Paris or Bangkok or something - don't use that, the proper one works fine (http://www.laoairlines.com/)

    7) You can't do anything with your Laos Kip outside of Laos! No one told me this! I have around $100 dollars worth of Kip waiting for my next holiday.

    8) It's pronounced without the 's'!

    #1 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 15:12

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  • wilfried

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd October, 2008
    Posts: 5

    hello karimster
    some 6 months ago I also had wonderful time in Laos (and Vietnam as well) so.... I intend to go back there end of this year and I want to add Cambodia this time.
    I read you flew from Siem Reap to Pakse. Could you give some details (price of flight, airport tax, lao visa etc). Any info as to that pretty welcome. Thanks, Wilfried

    #2 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 15:37

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    "Vientienne, (sic), has nothing to it."

    Talat Sao,
    The new China Market,
    Two of the oldest and most important temples in Laos,
    Buddha Park,
    Side trips to Thalat and Thanon,
    Some of the best restaurants in the region,
    Interesting French colonial architecture,
    Laos National Museum,
    Kaysone Phomivan Museum,
    The quaint War Museum.
    Better shopping than Luang Prabang.

    Yes, "nothing much to it", I guess

    Btw. "It's pronounced without the 's'!" Not really....depends.

    #3 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 15:56

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    Wilfred,

    it cost around a hundred dollars. Visa you had to get before arriving - I don't think they issue them at Pakse (although that might have changed by now. The website is good - look at that for more details.

    Rufus,

    I'll give you the food. And it IS pronounced without the 's'!

    #4 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 22:43

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    karimster

    On Vientiane, I'm with Rufus on this. Like you, I loved Luang Prabang.

    What people enjoy is subjective. Being a grey hair, I like history and learning/experiencing culture. But, that's just me.

    There are heaps of younger people who travel that like 'adventure', parties, etc. That's cool too.

    I'm sure you'd agree that everyone travels for reasons that are (largely) personal, and they (hopefully) each find enough to make their journey enjoyable.

    For me, it's not the journey (though, in part, it is) it's the memories I bring away from the journey.

    Cheers

    #5 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 06:18

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    Karimster, as i live here, am married to one and teach the laos, I think I might have a little idea how the country name is pronounced. The adjective does not use the "s". The noun frequently does.

    #6 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 07:32

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    I should also state the noun is frequently pronounced with an "s" by many Lao. I mistyped in the above post.

    #7 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 07:56

  • fondo

    Joined Travelfish
    23rd June, 2006
    Posts: 163
    Total reviews: 19
    Places visited:
    At least 98

    I like Vientiane too. I also actually like reading posts from pups saying that there's nothing there, or it's worth a day at best whilst passing through.

    Congratulations on ending up with some kip. Never let research ruin a decent adventure, that's what I always say.

    #8 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 08:09

  • agarlao

    Joined Travelfish
    13th June, 2008
    Posts: 30

    I've been trying for years to get Lao students to pronounce Laos with the 's' when they speak English - it never seems to stick.

    Never heard a Lao person use the 's' when they speak Lao, and it wouldn't be correct anyway. It's only correct in English.

    #9 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 08:53

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    agarlao, it was originally added by the French, not English. Many Lao have adopted it and ues it. That is why I said, "it depends". Many of my students, including Government Ministers, pronounce the "s".

    #10 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 10:03

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  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
    12th February, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 2415
    Total reviews: 47
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    i thought Rufus might step in and correct the comment that Vientiane has nothing to do. and he's right. Vientiane has gotten better and better on each of my visits over the last decade.

    in addition to the fun list of worthwhile stuff Rufus mentioned, i remember that on our last trip to the city we also enjoyed bicycling along the river towards the northern end of the city, buying fresh fruit from vendors and stopping for a great authentic lao meal and some delicious ice cold Beer Lao at a wooden pavilion restaurant; enjoying a peaceful Sunday afternoon at the park adjacent to Pratuxai mingling with Lao families and their beautiful children; and enjoying a Lao traditional dance and culture show. good stuff.

    sorry to hear that Karimster didn't understand that Lao Kip isn't one of the world's most heavily traded currency, but at least you'll be able to use it on your next trip to Laos. for everyone else, here is the bit of advice on that subject from right here on Travelfish:

    Finally, keep in mind that the Vietnamese dong, Cambodian riel, and Lao kip are next to worthless outside of their respective countries, so you'll want to spend what you've got or drop it in a donation box before you leave.

    #11 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 10:23

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    That would indeed have been useful advice had it been available in Summer 2008 when planning my trip. Unfortunately I was left to guess. As I managed to get Dong, Riel and Kip out of HSBC on Ashford high street (albeit with a week's wait for them to get it sent down) I assumed they'd buy it back. It's possible they'll sell you these currencies but not buy them.

    I didn't mean to imply that Vietiane is a sh!t hole or anything, of course it's a lovely town, and there are nice things to see there. I really enjoyed the temples around That Luang: Wat Luang Nua and Wat Luang Tai were outstanding. But if your time in Laos is limited I disagree that it has as much to offer as the other places I went to.

    #12 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 13:35

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    Karimster, where is Ashford? The reason I ask is that this is the first time I have heard of anyone being able to even buy Kip outside of Lao. I know certainly no one outside the country will buy it back. Btw you would no doubt have got a better deal had you bought it in the country itself. If you want to send me your unwanted Kip, I will make sure it goes to a good charity. Alternatively you could have invested it here. Currently a 2 year fixed term deposit brings 14% interest. (Yes, that was not a mistype).

    #13 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 14:09

  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
    12th February, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 2415
    Total reviews: 47
    Places visited:
    At least 98

    the quote i included above was from an article on Travelfish about how to manage your money while travelling in Asia. it posted in november 2007. it is a fairly comprehensive article, if you are interested in reading it. for example, it also included Rufus' excellent tip above about getting the best rate by purchasing money in the country where it is used. the article is at this link:

    http://www.travelfish.org/feature/103

    there is so much information about travelling, that it is impossible to learn everything before you go anyway. and it's just as well, since figuring out these things on your own can be half of the fun.

    hey Rufus, while we are on the subject, would you mind listing a favorite charity or three here for future potential donations? thanks.

    #14 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 01:29

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Karimster

    "I have around $100 dollars worth of Kip waiting for my next holiday.'

    I'm fortunate living in Australia, I can and do visit SE Asia often. When travelling, I usually bring sizeable amounts of SE Asian currency home with me for the start of my next trip.

    If you would rather use that $100, advertise locally. Here in Australia, there are many SE Asian expats who want their home currency to send home as presents, etc. I suggest you'd be surprised at the response.

    Cheers

    #15 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 07:35

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    Bruce's advice above is excellent. Wonder why no one has thought of this before.

    Charities here in Lao?
    Number one for me would be Cope.
    The Lao Women's Federation, to help strugling mothers
    Any local school.

    #16 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 11:29

  • Karimster

    Joined Travelfish
    11th September, 2008
    Posts: 15

    Wow, I really should have invested it!

    I was going to try to send it to the Kingfisher Eco-lodge to share between the Elephants and the school that Massimo, the owner, helps out. Unfortunately it's proving quite tricky to find a delivery company that'll go beyond Pakse.

    #17 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 15:30

  • SBE

    Click here to learn more about SBE
    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Global Village
    Posts: 1952
    Total reviews: 5
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    At least 2

    Thanks for clarifying when Lao/s needs to be written with an "s" Rufus! I was never sure before. Interesting that it was introduced by the French because they generally don't pronounce the "s" at the end of words. (Chaos is pronounced KaO for example) but they do pronounce the "s" when they say Laos.

    Another currency (not mentioned in the TF guide) that absolutely cannot be used outside the country is the Burmese Kyat (pronounced a bit like chat). Unless you're a big fan of the military junta you should always get your kyat on the black market inside the country, never from official sources like banks.

    Where does the Asford HBSC get all its dong, riels and kip from I wonder? And how come they can't buy the ones they sold you back? As a general rule of thumb, you usually get a MUCH better rate for all SEA currencies if you change your money once you're in the country.

    #18 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 16:46

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 964

    Karimster, do they have a PO Box in Vte? Then you could send it to them.

    #19 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 18:28

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6408
    Total reviews: 10

    "enjoying a Lao traditional dance and culture show."

    Laos dancing is BORING. In fact, we can pretty much say that of all "traditional" dance that doesn't originate from African roots.

    Those traditional festival dances are fun to watch for tourists because they are something different. Having seen them a million times now, always the same crap... I don't bother watching them anymore.

    I teach salsa here now - THAT'S a good social dance.

    As you can probably note, I am not a big fan of "traditional culture" - Asian, American, European or whatever. I much prefer where we borrow the best from all culture in cuisine, music, dance, and so forth and the rest dies on the vine of disinterest.

    Same with racial makeup. In the wise words of Bulworth - "the solution to our racial problems is a voluntary program of racial deconstruction. Everyone needs to f@#k everyone else until we're all the same color."

    #20 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 13:16

  • amazon_blon-
    de

    Joined Travelfish
    20th December, 2008
    Posts: 116
    Total reviews: 9

    Don't feel bad about inadvertently ending up with Kip ... the best laid plans ...
    I knew Dong is inconvertible outside of Vietnam (and have been several times) and we still ended up with some (ok, A LOT) due to the unpredictable nature of life. fortunately I know people who are headed there later this year.

    #21 Posted: 13/7/2009 - 06:35

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6408
    Total reviews: 10

    Oh, Argentine Tango doesn't have African roots and it's a beautiful dance too.

    But Asia has nothing to compare with these dances - salsa, Batchata, Argentine Tango. It just wasn't a dance culture where women and men engaged in social dancing. Dancing here evolved as a peformance art - like Belly Dancing in Egypt or Flamenco in Spain.

    #22 Posted: 13/7/2009 - 15:09

  • HoangDJ

    Click here to learn more about HoangDJ
    Joined Travelfish
    10th July, 2009
    Location Vietnam
    Posts: 19

    If someone feels tired of Laos traditional dance, you can go to Don Chan Palace, Lao Plaza or Novotel. (Maybe MADMAC know this well :P )

    #23 Posted: 13/7/2009 - 15:10

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6408
    Total reviews: 10

    hoang
    Not me. I don't spend much time in Laos... although believe it or not I am now working on possibly teaching salsa in Savanakhet!!! I am pretty sure there is zero salsa scene in Laos.

    #24 Posted: 14/7/2009 - 02:21

  • nevermore93

    Joined Travelfish
    20th July, 2009
    Posts: 3

    Interesting post and thread. I picked up a few things I didn't know.

    As for coming home with foreign money, I've been there and done that too. I've still got a few RMB in my wallet from last year, and various coins from other countries. I've found that some Korean coins work in vending machines here in the US. As soon as I figure out which ones work in the slot machines, I'll let ya know :->

    It's always a rush going in when you hand the cashier a $100 bill and get like a bazillion bills in local currency, but it's also a little depressing going back out when you hand in a big wad of cash and get $13.50. I usually try to spend what I have left in the airport, and take the rest home to give as souvenirs.

    Thanks for posting your views. I'm looking forward my time in Vientiane and wherever else my feet take me this year.

    #25 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 07:47

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    [color=greenAnd...

    Then there's the charity donation box at airports and on planes...


    Cheers

    #26 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 07:59

  • nevermore93

    Joined Travelfish
    20th July, 2009
    Posts: 3

    I'm not to hasty to give at the airport when even the airport staff advises against it. I've been approached by many scammers in the airports. On the airline is another story. I usually fly Asiana. They treat me well and I usually try to contribute to whatever they are promoting. It's a small gift on my part and large for them. Best value for the dollar on "feel goods" and you know it is reputable. Just my 2 cents.

    #27 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 08:12

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