Category: Laos

Vientiane: Comfort Food

By , May 26, 2010 10:10 am

We initially planned to spend 4 days in Vientiane to get our China visas done but after spending one full day, we thought it was just too hot. For the first day, we hid in a dessert cafe that had air conditioning and worked on our blog … oh, how nice that was.

During the late evening, we took a tuk tuk to Wat That Luang. Of course it was raining, but it did not stop the four of us from going. Upon our arrival, there were no lights on. Apparently they turned it off for some time due to the lightning. I had a headlamp and in we went. This temple was all gold and even in the dark you couldn’t miss it.

The next day, we visited the Wat Si Saket. Besides being one of the oldest temples in Vientiane, I found it to have one of the most stunning interiors of all the temples we had seen so far. There were rows and rows of perfectly carved out niches that sheltered these tiny Buddha statues. On the ground were larger Buddha statues and scattered around were more Buddha statues that they found all over the city, many with missing pieces. Supposedly, there are over 10,000 Buddha statues contained inside this single temple, but who’s counting.

Now for the best part: We had not done fine dining for some time and being that we were in a large city with lots of great eats, we decided to splurge. We tried two different restaurants, which were both French!

At Le Vendome, Boris ordered an excellent four-cheese souffle. I had pumpkin soup and a duck entree, which didn’t meet my expectations. Stick to the souffles!

Le Central was a lot pricier but it was worth the money. It was very intimate and every dish we had, including the wine, was mouth watering. For the 1.5 hours we were there, it felt like being home again.

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Vang Vieng: Formerly A Very Cheap Stop

By , May 25, 2010 10:09 am

From Luang Prabang, we took a minibus to Vang Vieng. It was a 7-hour scenic ride that made us sick and scared of falling off the cliffs.

In Vang Vieng, there were lots of tourists, which many were wearing tank tops that read, “Tubing in Vang Vieng”. It turned out tubing was the main attraction here for those who want to be trashed while relaxing down the river. Prices seem to be super inflated since word got out how super cheap Vang Vieng was for backpackers.

Inside the town, there are many guesthouses, restaurants, and bars. We decided to rent a motorbike to roam the outskirts. As we got off the main road, the scene completely changed with huge mountains and farmland all around us.

We headed for the Blue Lagoon. We saw a yellow sign that pointed to the Blue Lagoon so we followed it. After paying an entrance fee, having our gas somehow stolen from our motorbike, and our tire vandalized, we realized we were totally scammed. As we walked with our motorbike along the road, we immediately came to a gas shop and tire repair shop. Hmm, how convenient.

We finally got to the real Blue Lagoon and paid another entrance fee. It was indeed a lagoon and very blue compared to the black pond we previously encountered. It was a great spot to cool off in the cold water and if you were daring enough, jump off the large tree limbs.

After being well relaxed, we hiked to a nearby cave. It was pitch black inside the large cave. Luckily, we had one headlamp with us. As we got deeper in the cave, the darker it got. It was very important to watch where you were stepping. There were large holes that dropped to another dimension with no one to save you. After 45 minutes in, it got harder to continue so we turned back. It was pretty cool to be able to roam around with no guide.

It was a long day that started out bad but ended up being a lot of fun. We reported the false sign along with the gas and tire scam to the authorities. It made us feel better even if nothing was going to be done to avoid the scamming of so many tourists.

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Luang Prabang: Giving Alms

By , May 24, 2010 6:00 am

Luang Prabang is a very cute town in Laos. However, to truly understand what makes it so special, you have to get up at 5:00 in the morning.

Around 5:30 am, most of the townspeople, which are devoted Buddhists, go outside, get on their knees on the sidewalk with a basket of sticky rice, and wait to give alms to the monks. This custom of Luang Prabang occurs every morning between 5:30 am and 6:30 am.

The only source of food monks have is from the daily alms giving. They are allowed to eat only twice a day, in the morning around 6:30 and then before noon. After that, they can only drink water.

I have to admit this is very unusual to witness, aged people (for the most part) respectfully getting on their knees and offering rice to young monks from 15 to 25 years old.

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Luang Prabang: A Charming Introduction to Laos

By , May 23, 2010 8:35 am

It was great to finally get off the boat and be on land again. We had no expectations of Laos and especially none of Luang Prabang as we only knew of the name before arrival. As we walked around town, we were pleasantly surprised about how charming and clean it was.

Everywhere we looked, there was a nice fusion between the traditional and urban, French and Lao style structures.

The evidence of French colonization was also in the food. It was easy to find French restaurants and bakeries. Boris was delighted to find real bread and delicious food.

I just wanted to walk the entire town over and over again so I can absorb all the beautiful details around me. The alleys were not to be missed either. They just don’t kid around with design. Every bar or restaurant we walked in had a cute theme and was very inviting.

Of course there were many temples throughout. Though some of the temples were dated back to the 16th century, you would not believe it because of all the gold carvings on the front. The tiered roofs also added a nice element.

For the best view, we walked to the top of Phou Si hill. Along the way, there are many golden statues and shrines. Either on your way up or down, do not miss out on Wat Pa Houak, which is on the terrace overlooking the Royal Palace museum. Even though it is very small and looks abandoned (built in 1860 AD), faded drawings still remain on the interior walls that are quite beautiful.

Our new friends, Audrey and Antoine, whom we met on the slow boat, told us about the Laos Red Cross. We went and checked it out and now we cannot stop telling others. Besides being a blood donation bank, it also is a place locals go to for either the herbal sauna and/or traditional massage. We initially opted only for the sauna but after an enjoyable experience, we had to try the massage and that turned out to be amazing. The best thing is, even being one of the cheapest places around town, it also raises money for various relief activities.

Laos Red Cross: It is near Wat Visoun to the southeast of the city; opens at 4:30pm for the herbal sauna; 10,000 kips ($1.22) for the herbal sauna and 40,000 kips ($4.85) for a massage.

At night we walked over the bamboo bridge to meet our San Francisco friends for dinner. Robin is also doing some travelling and we met her while we were in Thailand. BK and Megan have been in Luang Prabang for some time helping out on a new library. They exposed us to some local cuisine and made us eat with our hands. It was great to be around new and old faces.

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Laos: Slow Boat Along the Mekong

By , May 20, 2010 7:13 am

To go from northern Thailand to Laos, one of the favorite backpacker routes is to go on a slow-boat down the Mekong river. While it is scenic, it is also a safer option than travelling on the roads. The trip lasts 2 days on a wooden boat with Luang Prabang as the destination.

Our excursion first began from northern Thailand. We got our exit stamps from Chiang Khong and then we took a water taxi across the Mekong to the Laos border. We were able to save a few bucks by using US dollars to pay for our Laos visas. Of course, we missed the daily boat, which leaves by 11am or earlier, so we had to stay one night at the border before boarding. This was not a total disappointment after all since we got to experience some delicious Lao food.

A temple in Huay Xai the day before we boarded

The next day, we took a tuk tuk and headed straight to the dock where we purchased our tickets directly for 200,000 kips ($24.23) each. We finally boarded the boat, which had about 50 tourists and a few locals all smooching together on a boat that was 6 feet wide and 65 feet long. They call it a slow-boat, but even that was an inappropriate name. When we were lucky to get current, we never went above 20 miles an hour.

The river was kind of narrow and not very impressive compared to our past Mekong experience in Vietnam. However, the landscapes were very nice and you see many villages with children swimming, woman doing laundry, and men fishing all in the river.

After six hours on the boat, we arrived at Pakbeng, the biggest village along our route on the Mekong. We had read that there was nothing to do here and the guesthouses were pretty filthy. To our surprise, a lot has changed in just a short period of time. Many of the houses in the village became guesthouses or restaurants all awaiting for the daily slow-boat traffic. We found a decent room with a mosquito net, private bath, and fan for 15,000 kips ($1.82).

We slept well and went back on the boat the next morning at 8am for a long 9-hour trip to Luang Prabang. While the first day on the slow-boat on was tolerable, the second day was agonizing. We made numerous pick-up and drop-off stops for the locals who sometimes brought onboard live exotic animals.

Kids jumping on the boat to sell drinks and snacks

Finally we arrived at our destination of Luang Prabang. Overall, we liked the slow-boat experience and made many friends onboard. If you choose this slow-boat excursion, don’t forget your seat pillows, reading book, snacks and maybe ipod. Without a seat pillow, you will have painful regrets.

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