HOT INFO On The Road

Margaret and Keel's Asian Adventure
Riding Tigers: REPORT #12

We just came back from Laos.
November 26, 1999, Bangkok, Thailand

Sorry to be out of touch people, but we have been in Laos. When you can find an email outlet, it is 8 times more expensive than in Thailand and a big line of users.

Crossing the border
Where to begin. We traveled by bus from Chang Rai north to Chiang Khon where we crossed the border in Huay Xai. In retrospect if you are taking a boat down river your better off to stay overnight in Thailand and catch the boat after crossing the border early in the am. the boats don't head down river until about 11:00 am so no need to rush. Its basically more expensive in Laos so you do better to stay in Thailand.

Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
We crossed the border without incident and secured passage on a slow boat to Luang Prabang. This boat journey took two days and one night. The night is spent in Pakbaeng, a small village located on the river, about the half way point. The Mekhong is certainly one of the most fantastic rivers in the world! Amazing currents with a tremendous amount of volume. Our boat with about 60 passengers plus a motorcycle, car engine, chickens, and god knows what else was tossed to and fro by the swirling currents of the river. Beautiful scenery but all day sitting on a wooden bench was a little tough on the butt. I suggest not taking the speed boat, they are very loud and quite dangerous! Rumor was that six people had been killed last year as a result of speed boat accidents...Laos is place where going slow is the norm, don't fight it...We arrived in Luang Prabang without incident. This world heritage city has been found by the back packer crowd but still retains its charm. The temples are fabulous.

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, then Vientiane, Bangkok
We took a "bus" so called but more like a flat bed truck with seats bolted in it, no windows, from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, about 6 hrs through some amazing mountain scenery at a cost of 25,000 kip about $4.50. Its is stunning how beautiful it is in Vang Vieng with the river and the mountains... we stayed here for four days just watching the scenery and exploring the caves in the area. Very nice caves. I would suggest that you stay as close to the river as possible. From there we took a pickup truck to Vientiene, the capital just in time for the big festival that occurs yearly on the full moon in November...What a spectacle...thousands of people, plenty to entertain...After a couple of days we crossed the border back into Thailand and took a night train to Bankgok, no problem....my impressions of Laos...

Summery
Laos is certainly a beautiful place with magnificent scenery and worthy of any itinerary. It does not give as good a value for the money as Thailand and some things can be quite expensive. For example $10.00 US will get you and extraordinary room in Thailand where in Laos that same money will likely get you a barely adequate room, particularly in the capital.

While friendly indeed, the Laotians are a little more aggressive than Thais. I saw several shouting matches between locals and watched two rickshaw drivers come to punches, something that you would likely never see in Thailand.
Beer Lao is the best beer in Asia, and a large bottle is about .75 US...Also great French Bread to be found everywhere...

Money is strange in Laos, the kip is just about worthless so one dollar will get you about 7500 kip. If you change 100 U.S. you are almost a kip millionaire and you need a plastic bag, like a grocery store bag to carry all of the bills out of the bank! You really need to rely on kip, baht and dollars. Take plenty of baht with you in small bills as you will not find it available. Prices are quoted depending on which currency you want to pay in. You basically need a calculator to figure out if the rate your being quoted is good or not. Motel rooms are mostly quoted in dollars, small items in kip...the kip is useless outside of Laos except as a firestarter or toilet paper so plan accordingly...We got a little sick in Laos nothing really bad but lets just say the cleanliness standard is not what it is in Thailand...Awesome scenery... huge mountains...amazing bus rides...great beer and bread...amazing butterflies (can't eat them) ..tough to see wildlife because they eat anything that moves from birds, to monkeys... if you are squeamish about animal abuse you better give Laos a pass...saw two pigs tied with a cable to the back of tuk-tuk screaming loudly as they disappeared in a cloud of dust...Never saw a cat the whole time I was there...wonder how they cook them...Dogs not nearly as aggressive as in Thailand, guess they know that if they act up they are likely to be supper...

Be careful about asking what something cost...that will mean the sky is the limit...watch what other locals pay then say what you will pay for a good or service...Asking a taxi driver "how much" will inflate the price by 10x. State what you are prepared to pay and go up in small increments until the guy says yes...

Lots of backpackers on the Laos trails so if don't expect to have the place to yourself.

In essence, we thought Laos was great. Our trip was cut short there for no other reason than we have been traveling around in the mountains and Mekong valley for two months and we are ready for some blue water, coral reefs and white sand...were headed south next.. stay tuned...

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