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Laos - 2011


Only having previously spent one day in Laos during a trip to North Thailand 4 years ago, we thought we really should go. We are so pleased that we did!

We flew EVA to Bangkok and transferred to Lao Airways for the final leg to Vientiane. We chose these flights as it was the fastest way to get there with the minimum amount of hanging around in Bangkok (because of the floods). Whilst it was not possible to get a through ticket, EVA will check your bags through to Vientiane so that you can pick up your Lao Airways boarding card at the transfer desk at Suvarnabhumi, saving going through Thai immigration!

The EVA flight (Elite class) was fine, plenty of legroom, adequate food refreshments and service and even a few hours sleep. The Lao Airways flight was a pleasant surprise! We did not have high expectations, but we got onto an almost brand new ATR 72 had good service and everything was on time!

That Luang - Vientiane
The Patuxai - Vientiane
Vientiane - Settha Palace Pool

That Luang - Vientiane

The Patuxai - Vientiane

Vientiane - Settha Palace Pool

We transferred smoothly to the Settha Palace hotel, which Trailfinders had gone "off piste" to book on our behalf. The hotel and room were fine. As we had been so well fed on the plane we nipped out, found a bar, had a couple of anaesthetic drinks and then went back to the hotel and slept like logs! A great start to any holiday.

The next couple of days were spent visiting the Patuxai, the stupa at That Luang, Wat Sisaket and Wat Phra Keo, which is now used as a religious museum, strolling the town and strolling along the Mekong.

Vientiane was much more interesting than we had anticipated. The Patuxi (a little like a miniature Arc De Triomphe), That Luang and Wat Sisaket, with its enormous number of Buddha statues, were not to be missed.

We ate at some very pleasant restaurants (below):

Makphet Restaurant which was established by Friends International, serves typical Lao food and is a charity run restaurant aiming to train the area's street children in the hospitality industry.

Kua Lao (easy walking distance from our hotel) serves typical Lao food and features a traditional dance show during dinner. The food here was very good, though wine was expensive (as indeed it was in all places in Laos).

La Gondola - Italian and extremely good, (when you need a change from Lao food), in food, in ambiance and in service.

After 3 days in Vientiane (which was probably about sufficient time) we headed off to the airport for our flight to Luang Prabang. This was another surprise from Lao Airways - this time it was an A320 on its 11th flight and the first flight by an Airbus into the newly extended runway at Luang Prabang.

Kiridara - Luang Prabang
Monks receiving Alms - Luang Prabang
Kuang Si Waterfall, near Luang Prabang

View from Room - Kiridara, Luang Prabang

Tagbat - Receiving Alms, Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Waterfall, near Luang Prabang

Once again Trailfainders had gone "off piste" and booked us in to the "Kiridara" a new boutique hotel on a hillside on the outskirts of Luang Prabang. The transfer to the hotel was smooth and painless as the airport is only 5 minutes from the town. We spent the afternoon at leisure, unpacking and exploring the very stylish hotel and, in particular, its stylish pool deck.

In the evening it was off to Luang Prabang town for a Lao meal at
L'elephant restaurant - excellent!

We started the following day with a visit to the museum, formally the Royal Palace. This was very interesting and it was filled with art, artefacts, and jewels giving an insight into the history and culture of the country, prior to communism, including many personal items of the royal family.

We followed this up with visits to several of the most important wats. These cannot be described, as each one has its own character and content. Suffice it to say that even I never became "templed out". These can only be described as magnificent.

Luang Prabang itself is a pretty little town, well kept and tidy with some beautifully kept colonial style shop houses, most of which are in use by various businesses. We strolled the banks of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, had lunch at Tamarind restaurant (Lao food and highly recommended), overlooking the Nam Khan river. Very scenic and peaceful.

In the evening, after a first class and inexpensive steam and massage at the spa in our hotel, we had a Lao meal at
Tamnak Lao, before strolling through the night market. The night market is quite large but very "samey" and obviously tourist oriented. We were surprised, however, how tranquil Luang Prabang is in the evenings. Despite having a high number of tourists (we had trouble getting a hotel), it was an extremely civilised town.

The following day we arose early to watch the monks receiving alms.
We were surprised that it was not only the local people who were offering food to the monks but also a large number of Thai people who, apparently, make the trip just to be involved in giving alms at this important site. Several hundred monks make the procession daily. Whilst we have seen this dawn parade before in several places, the sheer numbers of monks was astonishing.

Next it was off to the local market which was a rich mixture of colour, smells and all variety of fish, meat, vegetables, breads and fruit. Truly a local market for local people - well organised, well used and extremely good to see.

Then it was back to the hotel for breakfast before going off to
Kuang Si Waterfalls, 30 or 40 km from Luang Prabang. What a beautiful set of waterfalls, winding over many stages through jungle foliage and each pool appearing a beautiful blue colour - simply stunning!

On the way back to Luang Prabang we stopped at a local village, but this seemed to be more of an opportunity for them to sell us goods rather than for us to see how the people live. Nevertheless seeing paper being hand made and watching silk production from silkworm, through spinning stage, to the loom was fascinating.

As this was our last evening in Luang Prabang we decided to visit
L'elephant for a second meal - this time French. We were not disappointed, once again the food and service were excellent, although this time, rather more expensive.

The next morning, after a leisurely start and breakfast, it was off to the airport for our Bangkok Airways flight to Bangkok. It had been misty early in the morning and, whilst our flight was due to arrive well after the mist had lifted we picked up a delay of a couple of hours. This was a knock on effect of earlier flights being delayed as, apparently, despite the runway having been extended, the embarkation / disembarkation apron can handle a maximum of only two aircraft at a time. This can make any "catch up" process rather lengthy!

With the benefit of hindsight we would definitely have spent more time in Luang Prabang, certainly a couple more days, and cut down on the Thailand part.

Would we visit Laos again? Try to keep us away!

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