This is continuation of my Indochina trip, first 2 parts:
Indochina Trip 2/9: Orient Thai DMK-CEI / MD-82 (by EL-AL May 2 2011 in Trip Reports)
Indochina Trip 1/9: El Al B744 TLV-BKK + LY Lounge (by EL-AL Apr 24 2011 in Trip Reports)
So I am in Laos. After crossing the border, I spent the night in Houaisay, the border town on the Mekong waiting for the bus to Luang Nam Tha the next morning. Not much to do in Houaisay, I used the few hours I had there to get some local money, to visit a nearby tample and to eat Lao food for the first time. Also met another Israeli couple who I traveled with to Luang Nam Tha. The first noticeable different from Thailand is that there way way more policeman on the streets.
The next morning I was on the bus for Luang Nam Tha. Wow, you never been on a bumpy road till you had a road trip in Laos. A road in northern Laos is a narrow gravel lane, with some asphalt scattered on it randomly. Something else I saw for the first time was the typical Lao village (80% of Laotians live in country side) wooded houses with straw as roof, toilets outside.
Typical Lao village:
Luang Nam Tha is just beautiful. A 40,000 residents town in northwest Laos, with great scenery around, wonderful people (all Laotians are great, but those in LNT were just fantastic) cheap Guesthouses and restaurants with 2 markets, day market and night market, and most important – this place is the most peaceful place I have ever been to in my life. People are worried from nothing. You have to be there to understand. In LNT I met a group of 10 young Israelis (2 came with me from Houaisay) and we were joined by a Norwegian, Canadian and Russian and we all traveled around together in the next 4 days. Some pics from LNT and its surroundings:
Traffic is … well… very light:
We rented motorbikes for a day (just 35,000 kip each, 4 USD!) to travel around the area. I paid a mandatory visit to Luang Nam Tha airport, LXG. The airport handles 3 round trip flights a week, all Lao Airlines flight from Vientiane (VTE-LXG-VTE). When I was there, the terminal was closed:
After 4 great days in Luang Nam Tha (LNT), my next stop was Oudomxay, 3.5 hours bus ride, which is nothing to write home about, only a place to break the long drive to Luang Prabang to 2 parts. LNT cental bus station – the green one was my bus:
The 115km from LNT to Oudomxay took me 3.5 hours. The 194km to Luang Prabang took me 5 hours. Can you calculate the average speed?
My ride from Oudomxay to Luang Prabang:
Lao version of toilet break:
Beerlao – a national pride. In most places there is no other beer at all, but Beerlao is so good that no one ask for something else:
Luang Prabang, the number 1 tourist destination in Laos and UNESCO world heritage site:
The old palace of the King of Laos, ruled till the Pathet-Lao army occupied the capitol in 1975:
Phu Si hill, right in the city center, gives a great view of Luang Prabang city and airport:
Naturally, I waited to see some airport action, an indeed after about 15 minutes this ATR of the home owner, Lao Airlines, arrived:
The next day I paid a mandatory visit to the airport itself. On my way:
Luang Prabang airport, LPQ, is the second busiest airport in Laos, after VTE. The small airport is currently under major expansion that eventually will give the airport ability to handle airplanes as large as the 747. I guess much of the quite and peaceful atmosphere of Luang Prabang will be gone once it will be accessible from all corners of earth. Airside view:
This is the 'fence' separating the airside from the outside. Imagine that in Israel!
Landside view of the terminal:
FIDS – that's the second busiest airport in Laos:
I went inside to have a look at the small terminal. I was able to go all the way till the departure gate without anyone checking me – no one asked me for boarding pass, ID, passport – nothing. Imagine that in Israel #2.
Few minutes later, Bangkok Airways flight arrived from BKK:
LPQ's baggage claim hall:
Check in counters:
Went back outside. Spotting location:
Few minutes later, Lao Airlines ATR arrived, and waited till the Bangkok airplane will leave the tarmac:
And took his place:
So, after 5 days in Luang Prabang I was heading to Phonsavanh, in the northeast of the country. All my world for 4 months:
On the road during the 7.5 hours ride (no flights from LPQ to XKH unfortunately):
All of Laos in one picture (well, maybe except the paved road):
Xieng Khoang province in Laos holds the infamies record of the most bombed place in the world. It was bombed heavily by the USAF from 1964 to 1973, days of the 'secret war' in Laos, every red dot means a bomb target:
The few tourists who come to Phonsavanh come to see the Plain of Jars, an impressive archeological mystery. While the city itself is the ugliest city I saw in my whole trip…
…the Plain of Jars itself is a unique place unlike any other:
Craters from B52 bombs are all over the place:
According to the tour guide I had that day, those spoons are made from aluminum taken from debris of USAF airplanes. Those spoons are lighter and rougher then regular spoons, but I have no idea if their really made out of airplanes:
From Phonsavanh I had a 7 hours bus ride which became 11 hours ride after our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere, heading to Vang Vieng. Inside the bus – look how the asile is used to seat passengers:
Next stop - Vang Vieng:
The town itself is disgusting – drunken, doped rude noisy teenagers from all over the world come to Vang Vieng do drugs and alcohol while treating the locals like servants. The most popular activity in Vang Vieng – lying down, watching 'friends' over and over while eating 'happy pizza' or getting drunk while 'tubing' in the river. I'll never understand why people fly half way across the world, getting to splendid country like Laos doing just that. One of many 'friends café':
'The airport', and old American runway dividing Vang Vieng to 2 parts:
The only advantage of Vang Vieng is that if you take a motorcycle (as I did the next day) and drive 10 minutes you get to places like this:
I escaped from Vang Vieng after 48 hours, hoped on a bus for 4 hours ride to Vientiane, the capitol and largest city in Laos. It was the best bus I had in Laos so far:
Another bus, during break:
Vientiane is very nice city. First, after 2 weeks it was nice to see traffic lights, cars and other city action again. Second, it has many restaurants, cafes and night clubs, even a mall and a supermarket – things that are hard to find in other parts of Laos. Third, it has some interesting sites and museums to see. Some pics:
Patuxay, the Laotian independence monument:
Motorbikes for all
Pha That Luang, the national monument of Laos:
Interesting airplane departs from VTE:
Streets names are in Lao and French:
Lao national theatre:
Lao national museum:
Let’s just say that Americans and French must come with an open mind…
(I took this photo just to give an example from the museum; this statement does not represent my opinion; of course, have no intention to make any political statement - it’s just a trip report)
Well, back to aviation – there was no way I was leaving Laos without taking a domestic flight in the country. Therefore I decided, with no real need, to fly from Vientiane to Pakse, the main city in southern Laos. I wouldn’t mind driving via Thak Hek and Savannakhet, spending 2-3 nights on my way, yet, there was nothing very interesting in those 2 cities and I really wanted to try Lao Airlines.
No competition in aviation in Laos in general and in domestic aviation in particular. When I was checking fares in travel agencies in Vientiane the price of a flight to Pakse was the same, no matter which day or hour is chosen, a price which is identical to the price online – 1,045,000 kip, which is 132 USD. Quite a lot of money for 677 km flight, but who knows when I’ll ever have the chance to fly domestic in Laos?
Booking was eventually done using a travel agency in Vientiane, and I could even pay with a credit card! It was my only credit card payment in my month stay in Laos.
SDT was 07:00, the second out of 2 flights to PKZ, on going to Ho Chi Minh City, which I’ll visit 5 weeks later. I woke up at 5 am and took an overpriced tuktuk to the airport, 3 km from the city center (30,000 kip, while the normal price is about 10,000, not much room to bargain at 5 in the morning) and I got to the airport at 05:30.
The flight was due to leave from the older terminal in VTE – what a terminal! It’s like flying out of the 1950s! Drop off zone:
Check in line (5 minutes wait):
The check inn employee didn’t understand a word in English expect ‘window’ and ‘aisle’. In order to explaine her that I wish to sit on the right hand side of the airplane I wrote her “D” on a page I had, but eventually it all worked out OK. Look at those check in scales:
Luggage was taken, manually, from the scale by another employee.
Since I had some time, I went for a quick look into the new terminal:
Back in my terminal – domestic FIDS:
We all had to pass passport control, since my flight was on going to SGN. This was the slowest passport control I can remember – the policeman needed 20 minutes to pass no more then 10 people waiting in line: