I know a lot of people have been waiting for my articles about Laos. Sorry for the delay, I am not dead, I was just enjoying time with my family 🙂
In the last post, I left you on my way to Chiang Khong to cross the Thai/Lao border.
The journey went actually quite fast for me, as I slept the 2 hours it takes to arrive to the border.
After a short tuk tuk ride from the bus stop to the border, I start queuing at the thai border.
Nothing special to report, the departure stamping is just a matter of minutes and after that I get in the bus to cross the mekong river on the friendship bridge to arrive in Huay Xai on the lao side.
On the lao side, I start queueing to get a visa on arrival after having completed the Visa request form. Well almost completed. Actually I left a field blank that I didn’t know how to fill: “Race”.
This leads to a funny discussion with the immigration employee:
– You left the “race” field blank
– Yes sorry, didn’t know how to fill in
– Why, you don’t know your race?
– Well I am not really sure what you mean, can you tell me how you define the race? I suppose my race is asian.
– Asian? But you have a french passport.
– Then what should I write? I can’t really say that i am white skinned…
– Mmh you’re right, why do you look asian?
– My parents are originally from Laos
– Ow I see, can you speak lao? Sabaiidii!
– Only the basics, Sabaiidii, Khob chai, etc…
– Ok that’s enough, we’ll put that you’re lao french!
– Ok, if it’s ok for you 🙂
After the paper work is done, I take the tuk to Huay Xai pier. To reach Luang Prabang, I decided to take the slow boat solution.
It might not be the fastest one, as it is a 2 days journey with a stop in the small town of Pak Beng but going down the mekong river at a low pace is a really nice experience and a nice introduction to Laos.
I arrive at the pier at around 10:00. The boat is supposed to leave at 11:00 so I hurry to get a ticket and grab some food as the food onboard is likely to be more expensive.
In the boarding area along line of wooden boats is waiting to embark passengers.
The boat I get on is quite big. It accomodates easily 80 to 90 persons on old bus or car seats.
Some people arrived earlier as some travel blogs recommend to arrive early enough to get better seats but at the end it is useless as the tickets have assigned seats.
At 12:00, we are still waiting for passengers from a tour operator. At that time, I still didn’t know that time perception in Laos was far closer to the latin way than the german or japanese way.
Schedules are flexible and a 1 hour delay is nothing exceptional.
Just before starting, a man comes on board and starts to explain that we are the last boat and that it will be very difficult to find an accomodation in Pak Beng.
He has a very routined speech and uses a technique that works quite well on inexperienced travelers: fear. The guy has the best guesthouse and a pick up service that guarantees a safe transport from the pier to the bungalows.
However as this speech is very common on this trip and documented in a lot of travel blogs, most of the people onboard knows that it’s pure bullshit but a few passengers still book a room with the guy at a rip off price of 120K kips.
Arrived there, the rooms were sold at around 80-90K Kips and I managed to negociate down in lao a similar room for 50K Kips.
The journey is quite long, it took about 6 hours to get to Pak Beng. However it is very social as the boat is packed with travelers from all around the world and there is nothing else to do except discussing with your neighbours sharing one or two lao beers.
From time to time, the boat makes a short stop to let local passengers get off or to deliver stuff to villages. Each time, kids are curious about the boat and come down to see the falangs (foreigners).
On the 2nd day of the trip, the boats takes us to Luang Prabang in 7 hours.
Luang Prabang is my first real stop in Laos. The city is quite nice and the atmosphere is very relax. The french influence due to Laos being a french colony before can be seen everywhere.
There are a lot of bakeries selling baguettes, the administration signs are written in lao and french and banks are closed during lunch break 🙂
After having checked in in my guesthouse (in lao 😉 ), I take a short to the city center to have diner on the night market. I try to refresh my lao to be able to speak a bit with my family.
It s quite hard actually. I can understand almost everything, but I really need to concentrate to speak out basic things.
The first food shops of the night markets are more for tourists and are offering western style food. However a few meter further, I am happy to find real lao food.
I go for a lab kai (chicken meat salad with herbs) with sticky rice. Actually i have to admit that it was not a real lao lab kai, as I ordered it not spicy 🙂
The next day, I wake up quite late as I was exhausted by the boat trip. After a short breakfast at the guesthouse, I take a bike to ride in the city uto take a look at the colonial style houses and visit some temples or along the
Mekong and Nam Khan rivers to take pictures.
The highlights of my visit are Wat Xieng Thong with its impressive funeral chapel and the funeral chariot with dragon heads and the royal palace museum. In Wat Xieng Thong, I get shouted at by a group of tourists (in this case chinese) because it seems that I was refraining them from taking pictures in front of the temple. I tell them that they don’t have to shout and that they can wait 30s that I finish my picture.
An italian tourist also supports the chinese group and tells me to hurry up. The funny thing is that he was going to be the one being shouted at by the same chinese group 5 minutes later 🙂
After a visit at the royal palace museum, I walk a bit around in the “non-food” part of the night market. It s very interesting with a lot of small locally crafted things and a lot of lao clothes.
As I take a look at some postcards, I feel pushed in the back by some people walking fast. As I turn around, I see a group of chinese tourists pushing its way through the crowd without any excuses.
This confirms something that I already felt before: I hate tourist groups. I hate them so much.
I saw a lot during my various travels and no matter where they come from (China, France, Italy, USA), they all tend to forget basic stuff like respecting what they are visiting, some people even forgetting why they are where they are 🙂
I have diner again at the night market but this time I go for a papaya salad, fried pork and sticky rice. The cook asks me if I want it spicy, I answer only a little bit and he puts 2 chili in the salad. The taste was amazing, however, the 2 chili had their effect and I almost couldn’t sleep at night.
The day after, the program is quite light. In the morning I cycle around the city center again. In the afternoon I watch the sunset from Wat Phu Si. Well at least I try 🙂 Actually the place is famous in Luang Prabang and so it was packed with tourists, second, the weather was cloudy and so we couldn’t see the sun going down very well.
After that, I go down to the royal theater to watch a play about lao folkstale and some traditional dance. The dancing is very nice and it s a nice occasion to listen to traditional instruments like the khene.
On my last day, before taking the plane to Vientiane, I wake up early in the morning (05:00) to watch the Tak Bat ceremony. In this ceremony, monks apprentice with orange robe are walking in the city just before the sunrise to receive food donations from buddhist believers.
Tak Bat is actually common everywhere in Laos but the one in Luang Prabang is famous because of its size. This became a problem in the late years as it is drawing more and more tourists, that are misbehaving and not respecting the rules (stay at a good distance from the monks, never touch them, never be at a position above them etc…)
The ceremony itself is very interesting to watch but due to the high number of tourists, I felt a bit unconfortable for the monks. Imagine a huge groups of tourists coming in a catholic church during an office, commenting loud everything and taking selfies next to the priest… This seems very odd but it s exactly what happens with the Tak Bat.
At 11:00 I take the plane to Vientiane where my family will pick me up to go to Thakhek. My stay there will be reported in the next post 🙂