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Laos/Thailand Trip Report and Thanks
12th November, 2008
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I know this is incredibly late, but I’m planning my next trip (India!) and thought I really should write and thank travelfish for helping out on the last one.
Thanks especially to wanderingcat for the feedback to my question about getting from the Gibbon Experience to Nong Khiaw all that time ago. We had the best time on the Gibbon Experience incidentally. The views, tree houses, guides, food and zip lines more than lived up to expectations and were well up to scratch.. I hope that they can keep it that way. Even my greatest fear – tree rats – are no more since they installed a cat in TH 1. Thoroughly recommended, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, and don’t be put off by the scare stories you read. From there we were lucky and managed to get on a long distance bus headed to Vientiene from the village (Bon Dan Chai), which meant we could travel all the way to Pak Mong (stopping in Luang Nam Tha and Oudomxay on the way). The scenery around Vieng Phoukha (on the way to Luang Nam Tha) looked incredible and we were so tempted to jump off there. I would love to go trekking there one day. 10 hours later we reached Pak Mong. The bus was relatively comfortable though the constant, uninterrupted puking by half of the passengers really got to me, especially the women who would puke into their see-through plastic bags and hang them to swing around on the arm rests for the rest of the journey. You have been warned. Pak Mong is literally a junction. It was already 22:00 when we arrived and we were offered a bed in a random house there. In the end we managed to persuade the house owner to take us to Nong Khiaw on the back of his open truck, full of random stuff. He very kindly agreed in return for a few kip and so it turns out it is indeed possible to reach Nong Khiaw from the Gibbon Experience in one day, if you have luck on your side and let everyone know this is your aim. We finally got to Nong Khiaw at around 23:30, where we had to wake up a guesthouse owner to get a bed for the night. We felt bad about this, but they were nothing but welcoming and it was great to wake up with a river view the next morning.
From there we made our way to Muang Ngoi Neua. We were in two minds whether to go there after reading some bad reports on here, but all we found were friendly locals, some serious peace and quiet, and lovely walks. You can also stay with some local farmers way out in the sticks if you walk an hour further than the not very impressive cave just outside the village. We would have done this if it weren’t so cold (15 degrees and no sun, though we were told this was not usual). Beware the electricity in the village cuts out from 21:00 (we’d read 22:00 elsewhere) and you are plunged into complete darkness – remember your torch. Our second day there saw us take a boat further upriver and walk to a Hmong village. Though the villagers are obviously used to the odd foreigner coming by they were really charming and welcoming and were just as curious about us. Their happiness is infectious. After our couple of days in Muang Ngoi we went south in search of warmth. Luang Prabang is lovely, though a culture shock after a week in rural Laos. We stayed at the Vanvisa GH, which we’d pre-booked. It’s a nice place, though slightly overpriced and we found it’s really not necessary to book somewhere in LP, even in December. We stayed elsewhere on our first night as we arrived a night earlier than planned and found somewhere instantly, and there were plenty of others available too. It seems only the guidebook favourites are booked up and if they’re not booked up they’re not prepared to negotiate. Beware of half day elephant tours. We booked with an agent in town after checking out a few. The trip was supposed to be a 1 hour ride and then elephant bathing. We paid 35 USD each. Our pick up turned up 1 hour earlier than planned, so we sent him away, only for him to come back 1 hour later than planned. The elephant ride itself was great and it seems as though the elephants are well cared for. After the ride however, we were sent home without taking part in the elephant bathing. We tried to contact our agent for an explanation and possible refund but he wasn’t interested and wouldn’t discuss it. Lesson: always get your agent to write the exact details of your trip on your ticket!
After LP we of course hit Vang Vieng. That bus journey is a nightmare. I do not get travel sick but I spent the entire 7 hours making myself not puke. As for VV, I loved the place. The scenery is the best (comparable with Yangshuo / Guilin) and there’s loads to do, while it IS possible to avoid Friends, Family Guy and severely trashed people. I honestly expected it to be a lot worse than it was. Tubing on Christmas day was great fun and there was a brilliant atmosphere, though I think we were only 2 of a dozen or so that made it the whole way downriver. We were told it should take 2 hours – I say leave 3 and watch out for rocks. We stayed in la jardin organique which is an absolute JOY and highly recommended. Where else on earth can you get such luxury for 11 Euros a night? Rock climbing in VV is fantastic – way more enjoyable than Tonsai in Thailand – and the place is practically empty. We cycled to the area and afterwards went to the ‘Blue Lagoon’. We’ve no idea if we were actually there, or if it actually exists – after much discussion with many travellers it remains unclear. One American girl was visibly upset not to find the mystical, fairytale lagoon she was told to expect, though there are some good places to cool off in the river if you keep your expectations realistic. We got shown to a couple of places by a small boy who tagged on to us, who as we were leaving then asked us for money (even though we’d paid some fee for getting there in the first place). The poor kid looked very embarrassed to ask for money, and it looked as though some other kids were pressuring him to actually do it. This was also the only time we were ever asked for money in Laos and even then it was with reluctance. After the quite frankly horrible road travel in Laos (I once spent 5 months travelling overland in S. America, including Bolivia, and Laos roads are far worse in my opinion!), we decided to break up the trip to Vientiene with kayaking. It’s enjoyable and good fun, if a little tame. As for Vientiene, there’s little to DO but so much good stuff to EAT. I could have stayed for two weeks just to eat my way through that city. Amazing. Tip: definitely leave 3 hours to get across the border if travelling onwards by train to Bangkok. Traffic (laughable I know) and border queues can be horrific. We were sad to leave Laos and it really is true: the people are some of the friendliest, gentlest, kindest we’ve ever met and the beer is excellent.
Our trip was topped off with a few days on Tonsai beach, near Krabi (good climbing, but long queues for routes and it’s all about the show). Mountain View bungalows are great and the food on Tonsai is also superb, with great bbqs and ‘street’ vendor food. I don’t recommend doing your PADI open water cert here as I did. There’s only one diving outfit on Tonsai these days and it’s highly unprofessional (with the exception of instructor Andy). You’re better off doing it on Phi Phi where it costs the same, you’ve got masses of choice and less journey time to the dive sites. Finally we spent a few days on Phi Phi. Just after New Year it was rammed. Hardly space to spread your sarong. Luckily we knew to continue walking to Rantee Beach after you get to the viewpoint, where you basically have the place to yourself, at least until noon. It was idyllic. Believe everything you hear about it being absolutely necessary to book a place to stay on Phi Phi in high season. We saw many a poor soul traipsing up and down the village for hours looking for a bed. Tropical Garden Bungalows are still in good shape, and good value. Tip: also book accommodation on Soi Rambuttri if in Bangkok on a weekend night in high season. I hate to admit this but for the third year in a row of travelling to SE Asia I have not managed to do this and have spent every final night of my trip spending a stupid amount of time traipsing up and down the street looking for somewhere to stay.
Once again thanks travelfish. Are you sure you don’t want to cover India?
#1 Posted: 6/4/2010 - 19:18
13th April, 2006
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Nice report, thanks.
#2 Posted: 15/4/2010 - 16:44
10-Q for reporting back! & good to hear that you enjoyed Laos.
Huay Xai-VTE buses now run daily instead of 3 days per week, though i got hold of this info only last Dec (when you were already in Laos).
when exactly did you stay in Vanvisa? stayed there twice last Dec (was in Laos for most of that month, went to Nong Khiaw too). agree that it's a little overpriced now that competition has improved, but i stay there cos it's become more than just a guesthouse to me.
Even my greatest fear – tree rats – are no more since they installed a cat in TH 1.
like the way you phrased it :P perhaps it should be mandatory for all bamboo/wooden guesthouses in Laos to be equipped with cats - Pak Beng would lose its reputation for rats that way.
#3 Posted: 15/4/2010 - 21:44
I was in Luang Prabang & Nong Khiaw in December also, though sadly didn't get any further north than there. We started out in Luang Prabang and managed to take the boat upriver to NK. Took us a few days to manage to find someone who was prepared to go - most people take the bus now - but it was well worth it. The trip took about 7 hours; there was only us and a German couple on the boat. It broke down twice, but it was still a wonderful day (though quite chilly on the river at that time of year).
In Nong Khiaw we did a day trek with one of the young guides. We had a lovely day and the guide was full of information about the different villages we stopped at. Its fair to say that we weren't the first westerners the villagers had seen, but still the numbers going through the villages seemed quite small. Certainly our arrival always caused great excitement. One village was celebrating that a young girl had recovered from an illness and we were invited to lunch with the Chief and various others. A wonderful experience; totally impromptu.
After a few more days in Luang Prabang we headed by bus to Vang Vieng and then next day on to Vientiane . The journey from LP to VV took 7 hours and agree it is a stomach churner. I think the longest straight part of that road is about 10 metres. I'd love to do that road again though as the scenery is quite beautiful. Next time maybe in a private vehicle where its possible to stop and admire the views more often, or even a bike.
I'd read about Vang Vieng and wasn't sure whether it was my thing - and it wasn't. It was the only place in Laos where people didn't smile when we arrived, or make a fuss when we left. It was the only place in Laos where we struggled to find anything decent to eat (most backpackers, rather depressingly, seem to eat nothing but burgers or pizzas), it was the only place in Laos where we were scammed. Along with about 50 or 60 others we were sold 'VIP' bus tickets to Vientiane next day. The VIP bus turned out to be a knackered old banger with broken seats and no suspension, nothing like the bus we'd taken from Luang Prabang. It was nearly 2 hours late setting off and took another 5 hours to get to Vientiane. We got the impression in our short time there that the local Lao poplulation had looked at us westeners and thought 'Hey, you don't respect us here...so we won't respect you'
Vientiane was nice for a couple of days.
#4 Posted: 15/4/2010 - 23:12
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