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Trip Report Mini-report, Thailand & Laos

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Backgound: We are two senior ladies, long-time friends, married to non-traveling husbands . . . “traveling with your husband is twice the money and half the fun.” We are frugal (a.k.a., cheap), well traveled, and a step above backpacking.

The Plan: Fly into Bangkok, take night train to Ventiane, fly to Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai, back to Bangkok and home . . . we had two weeks.

Lodging:

Samran Place in Bangkok, $38/nt, inc breakfast/taxes, very nice hotel.

Souphaphone Guesthouse, Vientiane, $25/nt, inc breakfast/taxes, clean, basic, very nice

ThanaBoun Guesthouse, Luang Prabang, $22/nt, inc taxes, ok

Sri Pat Guesthouse, Chiang Mai, $25/nt, inc taxes, very nice, very pretty

Food: Cheap, tasty, we loved it all.

Money: We each spent approximately $1,500.

The Nitty-Gritty . . . I’ve typed up my travelog and would be happy to email it to you, just drop me a note at behrens@unt.edu. It is too long/detailed to post.

This was our fourth trip to Thailand and our first to Laos. We had a fantastic trip and received a lot of great advice here and on TripAdvisor. Thanks for your help and support.

Sandy (in Denton)

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    I'm so glad to hear that you had a great time.

    As for your trip report being too long and detailed to post... have you read some of the epic trip reports here? I'd like to see you post it!

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    Thank you for your encouragement . . . but . . . I'm not always politically correct, I don't like some places that others do . . . I have learned the hard way that some Fodor's folks get irate if you don't love what they love.

    Plus, my report is about 38 pages single spaced . . . TMI for a public forum . . . and the spelling police would have a field day.

    Sandy (in Denton)

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    Sandy...
    You sound like my kind of traveller! I'm also 'of a certain age' but my husband also loves to travel, so I don't share that problem with you.

    However, that said, I do often travel solo (and that includes places like Australia and Thailand).

    I'm with the others, wishing you would post your report here. I'm curious to read about what you liked/did not like. Everyone's opinions are welcome here (even if we do sometimes agree to disagree... Chiang Mai comes to mind).

    We don't all stay in the big riverside hotels in Bangkok!

    Anyway, I'm glad you had a nice time.

    (BTW...you should meet Sandra (McBeanie) from Houston sometime!)

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    Yes PLEASE post your report. I am going to Laos in January either by myself or with another female friend if she can afford it. I travel 1/2 time with my husband and 1/2 time without as he does not have quite the passion for travelling that I do.

    I would be very interested in seeing your report politically correct or not..

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    one recent trip report of mine was many more pages, and karen just got someone's notes on planning a trip to vn and it ran 75 pages...

    i love un-PC stuff....we don't get it enough on here....if you don't like it say so and hopefully tell us why...

    OTHERWISE I AM MOVING TO DENTON AND CAMPING OUT ON YOUR LAWN UNTIL YOU COME CLEAN..

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    Sandy "I have learned the hard way that some Fodor's folks get irate if you don't love what they love." A sad reflection on the behaviour of some forum members. Ignore them! Their opinions really do not matter. As the Duke of Wellington once said "publish and be damned ". We would love to read your report however long (maybe post in sections or bite sized chunks..

    Many of us on Fodors do not insist on 5* travel all the way and travel on a budget either out of choice or necessity.

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    I agree, it's your opinion. Personally i don't think it matters if you choose to travel 5* or budget, enjoying where you are is what it is all about.
    Yep some posters get sniffy, ignore them (there are also posters who take the moral high ground if you don't rough it) but each to there own, i love reading peoples travel tails regardless of class of travel. Go on, post it......(can i request paragraphs please!!)

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    I'll give you the first two days, don't say I didn't warn you . . .

    Sunday/Monday, July 25-26 Denton-Tokyo-Bangkok

    My hubby took us to the airport (DFW), arrived about 10:15 a., and we were checked in and sitting in Champps Cafe/Bar at 11:00. We split a club sandwich and fries and ordered two large beers. Beers never came, sandwich was late, and since we had to gobble it down, we don’t know if it were good or bad . . . $16 . . . pretty pricey and we’ll probably scratch Champps off our list.

    Our flight to Narita boarded at 11:30 and departed right on time at 12:10 and was about two-thirds full. The purser/flight attendant was DH, a skydiving friend of V’s. She was delighted to see us and apologized for not being able to move us up as they were full in business and first class. She did make sure that we received free wine during the flight. This leg was six hours and we slept most of the way.

    We landed a little early and had a little over three hours until our next flight on into Bangkok. We ate dinner at a little fast-food place near our gate. I had grilled pork w/ginger, mushrooms, and onions w/rice; V had two rice cakes w/pickled ginger, miso soup w/greens, edamame . . . we both had a beer, 3,960 yen. These were plain, non-descript dishes. I charged them to my Capital One Visa, as we had no yen and did not want to get any back as change if we paid in dollars. I was floored when I saw my statement . . . $46! Japan has never been on my list of places to go . . . and now I’m sure it won’t ever be . . . too expensive!

    While waiting for our next leg, we met a guy from Myanmar who was returning from a conference. He is a Presbyterian minister . . . probably the only one in Buddhist Burma. We had a nice visit with him, gave him souvenirs for his six children, and V gave him a Gospel bracelet from Mardel (our Christian bookstore). He was thrilled.

    Our next flight was on Japan Airlines, was 13 hours, and was full! We had individual seat-back entertainment systems, free drinks, two meals (slept through both), and beautiful flight attendants who were up and down the aisles offering hot towels, cold towels, water, drinks, and even mango ice cream. We both slept or read on this flight also.

    We landed at 10:45 on Monday night, took an airport taxi to our hotel, 375B ($11.61), including two tolls and tip. At Samran Place, we were given room 610, a standard twin with carpet, balcony, TV w/remote, minibar, night stands, phone, closet, bathroom with tub/shower. The room was spotless and very pretty . . . there is free Wi-Fi in the lobby. I had booked it on-line for one night w/Sawadee.com for 1,100B ($38). We went straight to bed.

    Tuesday, July 27 Bangkok

    We tried to sleep in but were up and down to breakfast around 8:00. We could order anything off the menu. I had scrambled eggs w/ham, toast, orange juice, and coffee; V ordered banana pancakes. We love these . . . we’ve had them all over the world and are always surprised by how they are served. We had our best here at the Riverview Guesthouse, on our first visit to Thailand 12 years ago, they cooked the bananas in the batter. The second best was in Yangshuo, China . . . they put down a circle of thinly sliced bananas on a grill and pour the batter over them. This time, the pancakes came and a whole banana was just sitting on the plate (we’ve had this version many times).

    We are out by 9:00 and on our way to MBK (Mahboonkrong), the big shopping mall to buy a sim card for my phone.

    At eight stories high, the center hosts around 2,000 stores and services, including the 4-story Tokyu department store, restaurants and entertainment. The center has more than 100,000 visitors daily, half of whom are young Thai people and a third foreign visitors. MBK is very popular with Western tourists and knockoff items can be found in abundance. It is connected to the Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon shopping centers, and is a well known landmark in Bangkok.

    We are five minutes walking from the nearest skytrain station–Ratchathewi and 15 minutes from MBK. We arrive too early, does not open until 10:00, we wait. It opens, we buy a Happy (True) sim for 500B ($15.50) and it came with 125 minutes. Local calls are one baht/minute and calls to the USA are six cents/minute if we use a dial-around number (006001), which we did. We ended up being in Thailand for five days and we called home daily . . . card is good until 7-27-11 and we still have time left on it.

    We found an Internet place and sent a quick email home (20B, 62¢ for 30 min.). Then we took a taxi, 90B ($2.78) inc tip to the Grand Palace. [BTW, we always tip and all prices include tips.]
    We are on our way to the Royal Palace . . . we've seen it before but on our first of four trips here and that was a long time ago (1998), I'm sure it will be all new.

    The driver lets us off right at the correct gate but a guy standing nearby points to another gate and tells us to go there for tickets. We do and as we get near the gate, a man with a huge umbrella stops us and tells us the palace is closed for Buddhist holiday. We immediately know this is a scam and try to walk around the guy. He maneuvers himself and his big umbrella between us and the gate . . . but he can’t control both of us. I leave him dancing with V and I quickly side-step around him. I see a sign that says, “No Entry, Enter at Next Gate” and an arrow pointing to the gate we just came from! We head off back to the “real” gate, with more guys telling us that the palace is closed and that we should go see the big Buddha instead . . . this translates to “after I’ve taken you to several gem, silver, and silk stores first, I will drop you off at another wat.”

    Admission was 350B each ($10.84) and we were again dazzled by all the gold leaf, gold paint, emerald, blue, red, and yellow tiles and glass. Every building, statue, pavilion is large and gleaming. It did happen to be a Buddhist holiday but that just meant the place was packed.

    Built in 1782 - and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government - the Grand Palace is Bangkok’s most important tourist attraction. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.

    Within the palace complex are several impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains the small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century. The robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by HM The King of Thailand, and forms an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar. Thai Kings stopped living in the palace around the turn of the twentieth century, but the palace complex is still used to mark all kinds of other ceremonial and auspicious happenings.

    We did not get to see the Emerald Buddha, it was off limits as they were preparing for some big event . . . lots of spiffy guards were around, lots of catering people setting up, we probably would have seen the king and queen if we had hung around. We stayed about an hour and a half and took a taxi to the Supatra River House, we ate here on our last visit three years ago and loved it and it was very near the palace. We took a taxi. When we arrived, the meter showed 43B . . . we gave him a 100B but he didn’t have change. No one ever has change, that just about kicks us over the edge. Not wanting to pay $3.10 for a $1.33 fare, we asked him to get change. He shook his head and motioned us out. I stood by the door while V went to get change. I was almost leaning on the taxi when he abruptly drove off. We thought it was fairly obvious that she was getting change, why did he think I was still standing by his car?

    We walk over to the Supatra, don’t see any customers, wonder if it is open. We sit on the outside terrace by the river, look around, and notice that the windows all have S&P on them. Waiter comes, we ask if this is the Supatra, and he says no . . . Supatra is across the river. We look at the menu and it is the same as three years ago. Dumb us ate here, not the Supatra. There is a dock right in front of us with a sign that says, “boat dock for Supatra River House, phone xxx for pick up.” We just assumed we were at the right place. HOWEVER! The food was very good last time and was also good this time.

    We were hot and ordered beer . . . no alcohol today because of Buddhist holiday, we switch to pineapple freeze for V, lime freeze for me. She ordered salmon teriyaki on rice and I, the chicken w/cashews and chilies with rice. Hers was good but mine was great . . . chicken, cashews, water chestnuts, red and green bell peppers, and really hot pepper. Total 456B ($14.12).

    There is a river taxi dock right next door and we take the tourist boat down the river to the skytrain connection. The regular water taxi costs about 10B (31¢) but the tourist water taxi is 25B (77¢), the extra 46¢ buys you English commentary about the sites along the river. The water taxis are a great and cheap way to see life along the river and are fun transportation.

    We were walking to the skytrain and a lady in a pretty uniform asked where we were from. Chit-chat ensued, she works at the reception desk at the Peninsula Hotel and spoke very good English. She asked the general tourist questions . . . where are you from, how long will you be here/have you been here, is it our first visit, etc. She asked where we were headed and we told her, the Jim Thompson House. It was almost 3:00 and she said it closes at 4:00 . . . and she said we should go to the Thai Trade Center, that’s where all the Thais shop, and that since today was a Buddhist holiday, there were having a wonderful sale . . . today only. And, a tuk-tuk would only cost 20B (62¢) to get there! One of us was hearing, “Scam, scam” but the other was hearing, “Cheap gold, rubies, sapphires.” The “scam” one was saying, “Oh, that sounds nice but we can’t today, blah, blah, blah.” The other one said, “Sandra Kay, it they were giving away free money, you would say scam!” You decide which was which . . . or maybe which was witch.

    We get in the tuk-tuk, he drops us off at the center, we are the only customers there. There is a big jewelry showroom on the first floor and silk clothes and trinkets on the second . . . nothing inexpensive, nothing we want. Scam girl was right.

    The process starts with the tourist chancing upon a friendly Thai at a touristic area such as the Grand Palace. This friendly scammer says that there is an expo, where cheap jewelry can be bought in an authentic ‘government’ gem stone shop, where the rates are fixed and the price is standardized by the government. It is always the last day . . . either a government holiday or a Buddhist holiday. This is the most popular/prevalent scam in Bangkok. [“Told you so, told you so!”]

    We are not too far from MBK, tried to take a tuk-tuk for 20-30B but about five of them were quoting 150B ($4.65). We walked, it turned out a little farther than we expected but we did have interesting things to look at.

    We make it to MBK and decide massages are in order. We are hot and tired and facing a night train adventure. We find a place, have excellent hour-long, full-body massages for 400B ($12.39), a little pricey, by almost double but we didn’t have the energy to hunt around.

    After the massages, we were just about to leave when I remembered reading about the fish spa in the basement. Supposedly, the spa was free with any MBK purchase. We found the place, handed over our massage receipts, and were told the promotion was over, 15 min. worth of fish spa would be 150B ($4.65). OK, it’s only money, we’ve never done this before, we did it.

    We put our feet/legs up to mid-calf in the water and are immediately swarmed by thousands of tiny (think half the size of goldfish) brown fish. It does not hurt . . . it feels like you are being shocked with a mild electric current. The fish are eating off our dead skin . . . or in my case, my instant tan. It was fun to do . . . but 15 minutes is a long time.

    We took a taxi (50B, $1.55) back to Samran Place, picked up our luggage, and had a couple of Singha beers in the dining room. We didn’t know if hotels are exempt from the “no alcohol” rule or if maybe the ban was over at sunset, anyway, we were glad to get the beer!

    Around 7:00, we took a taxi (75B, $2.32) to the train station . . . it was crowded but was not the zoo it was on our first visit 12 years ago. That time, we had a Thai friend with us to help buy tickets and even he was confused and had problems! We bought a snack to take with us . . . German bratwurst . . . wrapped with bacon and grilled . . . bun was extra, no mustard . . . WTF . . . 94B ($2.92) . . . pretty darn tasty (but why no mustard)? V added a corn on the cob (15B, 47¢) and off we went to find the track, the car, the berths.

    We had no problem finding the correct car, we had berths 30 and 32, lower bunks across from one another. We had booked ahead and on-line with www.traveller2000.com, an agency recommended on www.seat61.com. By mentioning we saw their ad on Seat61, we got a break on the service charges (reduced from $10 to $5). They were very nice to deal with, responses were quick, we paid by credit card, they delivered our tickets to our hotel in Bangkok, we received exactly what we wanted. We had booked second-class berths, with a/c. There are only two berths per seat and they go the same direction as the rails . . . as opposed to European trains where the berths are usually three high and go across the rails. Ours were very long and had a shelf for a bag, a nightlight, and a small mesh bag to hold eyeglasses. The conductor made the berths up with a bottom sheet and we were given a pillow and a cotton thermal-type blanket. We had curtains that we could pull across for privacy. There were two restrooms in each car, one western, one not. Both were reasonably clean and had toilet paper throughout the entire journey . . . a definite surprise. There were also two large sink stations with mirrors outside of the restrooms. Along about 10:00, the conductor had all the berths made up, both doors to our car were locked, and it was bedtime. The lights were left on, however.

    Our train was to leave at 8:00 and you better be on it, it left promptly at 8:00. We bought a couple of beers from the snack guy on the train (150B ea., $4.65) . . . yes it was a rip off but when we ordered them, we didn’t know they would be the big bottles AND we didn’t know they would be $4.65 each! The snack guy did give us a couple of cups and we made those around us happy by sharing our beers.

    We were pretty lucky, our car wasn’t full, and we had quiet people in it. We all retired about 10:00. I slept great! We did stop all along the way . . . and people were getting on/off all night . . . but somehow, they didn’t seem to make much noise . . . and I loved the easy rocking movement and the bed was pretty comfy.

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    Please post your report. Would love to read it.
    How did the night train go? The only night train I have ever taken was from Barcelona to Madrad some 14 years ago, the old slow train not the fast train. Loved it.

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    My girlfiend and I both fell for the 'Palace is closed' scam and we had even read about it in Lonely planet....they are very good at convincing, but good for you for not falling for it.

    Your night train sounds so much better than the day train we took the Chaing Mai.

    Cant wait to hear more.

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    We also fell for that scam last Dec. While we were walking towards Wat po, a well-dress man came out from nowhere to tell us Wat po was closed but a museum is hosting ceremonies and some jewelry places are launching one day big sale because of King's birthday. I had heard about scams and I 've been to BKK before. But that man sound sincere and desperate at the same time and it really was the King's birthday the following day. Long story short, after listening of loads of b_s_ and having gone to the first jewelry stop and saw no sale, I said I had enough but the tuk tuk driver begged us to go to one more jewelry place so that he could get free oil change +pocket money. Dh felt sorry for him and told him to hurry. That trip took an hour as we were stuck in traffic. We miss lunch but ate plenty of dust.
    The train does not sound bad at all. I might look into it.
    I didn't know there was a fish spa in the basement in MBK and is free with proof of purchase. You see I learn something. Thanks.

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    Thanks for giving in to our pleadings and posting a report.

    I am confused by the beginning of your report... from Narita you flew to Bangkok, but your report says you had a 13 hour flight on Japan Airlines. Were you reporting your return flight from Narita to the US? Or did this flight make stops on the way to Bangkok? Or maybe it just felt like 13 hours?

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    Kathie,

    We flew from Dallas-Ft Worth nonstop on AA to Narita . . . 13 long hours. We had a 3-hr layover at Narita and then 6 hrs into Bangkok on JAL.

    Both flights were good and we probably had the best routing available.

    Sandy (in Denton)

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    Next installment . . . just tell me when you want me to quit!

    Wednesday, July 28 Nong Khai-Vientiane

    I woke up about 6:15 and enjoyed looking out the window for a while before everyone else was up and about. We were going through a very rural area, everything was green . . . lots of water . . . lots of rice paddies. We were still in Thailand. The train was not actually going to Vientiane . . . it is going to Nong Khai, the border town in Thailand. We declined the breakfast but did buy really good coffee from the snack vendor (30B ea, 93¢) . . . it took an hour from when we ordered it and when we got it. We were supposed to arrive at 8:25 but were a little late . . . 9:00.

    We had what we thought were good instructions . . . “get off in Nong Khai, go to Thai border, exit, take bus to Laos border, enter, take tuk-tuk or taxi into Vientiane.” We get off the train, the conductor is pointing, “go over there.” We go “over there” and see nothing but a bunch of tuk-tuks and drivers all yelling frantically, “Laos, Laos, Laos.” We stood there a few minutes collecting ourselves . . . read, “looking stunned” here. A cute, tall, blonde guy . . . who looked like us (we are not cute, or tall but we are blonde and we do not blend in), asked if we needed any help. We latched onto him like he was the last helicopter leaving Saigon (dating ourselves here). Thus we met JW, a fellow Texan from Yustun (Houston) who was making a visa run. He came to Thailand five years ago to teach English in public schools, hated it, loved Thailand, and now is a day trader . . . doing well. He is 50 but looks 30. It seems “over there” was a tuk-tuk (20B ea, 62¢) we needed to take to the Thai border. There, JW found a taxi driver who would take us into Vientiane for 400B total ($12.39). This ended up being a great deal, as the driver carried our bags, helped us with our exit and entrance paperwork and delivered us to Vientiane for less than a tuk-tuk.

    OK, back to the logistics. We tuk-tuked to the Thai border, just got passport stamped, took just a minute. Then we all had to get on a big, modern, deluxe, a/c bus (15 ea, 47¢) to ride over the Friendship Bridge into Laos. There, we stood in one line to get our visa forms (quick) . . . our taxi driver materialized and helped us fill them out. Then we got back in line, paid our $35, gave the official one passport photo and our passport, and then walked around the corner to wait at another window to receive our passport/visa . . . took about 15 minutes. Then we piled into our a/c taxi and into Laos and Vientiane. By 10:00 we were underway . . . we all talking 90 to nothing. We were dropping JW off at the Thai Embassy at 10:20 and on our way to our prebooked guesthouse, Souphaphone. This is the last of our prearrangements . . . from here on, we’re winging it.

    We love the Souphaphone! We are given room 205, a large twin room with two windows that open onto a shared balcony . . . we paid $2 extra for the windows. We had tile floors, two beds, night stand, phone, lamp, table w/two chairs, closet, TV w/remote, small refrigerator, two bottles of water/day, bath w/large shower and curtain, and plenty of hot water. We like our location also . . . we’re across the street from a wat and the Hare & Hound English Pub, down the street from several very good restaurants, and walking distance to almost everything. This place is a winner and only $18 for twin with no window, $20 w/window, and $25 if you want a window and breakfast, which we did . . . and the place is spotless!

    We washed out a few clothes and then went out for lunch. Just a few doors down is Ban Vilaylac, a tiny restaurant, maybe 6-8 tables but had the biggest menu we’ve ever seen. There had to be at least 50 drinks listed, and at least 30 appetizers, etc., . . . there is no way this tiny place could actually produce all the items they had listed. Usually, we write down all the funny misspellings or descriptions of food that we see, but they were so prevalent on this trip, that we could not . . . it would have taken reams of paper . . . everything was misspelled or had funny (to us) descriptions.

    We promptly ordered Beer Lao and while we were reading the book (the menu), our hostess brought a bowl of slightly sweet and delicious peanuts. We settled on an order of fresh spring rolls (four pieces of rice wrappers around rice, fried egg, and greens, served with a peanut sauce) and an order of stir-fried veggies w/chicken (purple cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, green onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and green beans). Everything was fresh and delicious and cheap, 75,000Kip ($9.08 . . . there are 8,260 Kip to $1 . . . we are carrying around stacks ‘o money!). We were the only customers and as we ate, we watched a young girl inside ironing the cloth napkins . . . yes, real cloth napkins! Also while we ate, we noticed a couple of potted orchids that were attached to the wall right above a bank of electric switches, as in breaker boxes. When they were watered or it rained, the pots drained into the breakers. No OSHA.

    We had read that Vientiane is small, but we were not prepared for how small it really is. It is the capital of Laos . . . and we’re talking VERY small . . . we can walk almost everyplace . . . but it is also hot, Texas hot.

    Vientiane, the largest city in the country, is the national capital of Laos. It is located on the bank of the Mekong River which is also a natural border with Thailand. It is the political and economic center of the country. The city's exotic Eurasian setting fascinates most travelers. The confluence of several cultures has given Vientiane an appealing ambience. Tree-lined boulevards, French historical dwellings and Buddhists temples dominate the scene of central Vientiane and impart a unique character of timelessness.

    We are not walking far or fast! We walked a few blocks, happened upon a massage place . . . Champa, very upscale, very pretty. We opt for the full-body, one-hour, $7.50. V likes a strong massage, I don’t. I don’t like being twisted, walked on, having my blood flow stopped, having my digits popped, having my eyeballs pressed into my brain, having my hair/head flipped, having my muscles counted and separated, having the one sore spot on my body drilled into . . . I just want someone rubbing me with light pressure. I want relaxing, soothing, I don’t want to be yelling “uncle” every few minutes. This is sometime hard to get across, Champa was no exception.

    After massages, we walk toward what we think is town, we find the “fountain” which is supposedly the center, no one is around, it is still hot. The fountain is huge and not on. The square looks deserted, we are the only people we see. We continue on, look for signs advertising phone cards, go into a couple of shops but they don’t speak English. We find a convenience store, clerk speaks some English, we buy a Tigo sim card for my phone, 10,000K ($1.21) for the sim plus 50,000K ($6.05) for “some” minutes. The clerk does not know how much it is to call the US . . . our book says it is 25¢/minute and that there is a dial around number for cheaper rates. We have the wrong dial around number. We buy some postcards (2,000K ea, 25¢) and stamps (12,000K ea, $1.45) from a small shop and go to the Blue Banana Bar for a beer, we are hot, it is cool. We sit at the bar, I have a beer, V a coconut milkshake. We meet and visit with S W, the owner. He is an ex-pat from the UK . . . once his kids were grown, he/his wife divorced, he sold everything, and started traveling around the world. Once he got to Vientiane, he stayed, bought the bar, and he’s also UK PGA Qualified Class II golf instructor/pro . . . the only one in Laos. We also met Wk, a friend of his visiting from Queensland. It was an enjoyable afternoon and fun way to beat the heat. (Two small beers, one coconut shake, 36,000, $4.36.)

    By this time, it was getting sundown and we headed home, looking for an Internet place on the way. We found one that was packed with computers and kids. While V typed, I went outside and called Khamsai, a guide who had been recommended by several people on TripAdvisor. The person who answered did not speak English, but Khamsai called me right back. Even though I was outside where it was quieter, it was still noisy with motorcycles and tuk-tuks going by. I could hardly understand what he was saying and he had the same problem with me. I tried to find someone in or out who spoke Lao and English to help but no luck. After about 15 minutes of huhs and repeats, I “think” we have hired him for tomorrow, 9:00, $30 . . . we’ll see.

    We are almost back home, it is 7:00, we are hungry. We were just about to Mak Phet and it looked good.

    Mak Phet is run by Friends International, this small restaurant trains homeless youths to cook and wait tables. Since 2006, students have gained basic training in food-handling, cooking, service, hygiene and safety procedures in the Mak Phet restaurant as well as classes in English, Lao and mathematics. Strong emphasis is placed on building self-esteem and self-respect. Based on the 18- 24 months course, more and more students graduate and obtain work at Vientiane’s restaurants.

    The place looks full but we are seated promptly, the menu looks good . . . upscale Lao food. I order a glass of white wine and V orders a red hibiscus lime freeze. As we look over the menu, her freeze is served, I ask about my wine . . . yes, coming. We split a green papaya and bamboo shoots salad and an order of whiskey-marinated beef w/frangipani flowers and rice. We wait. No wine . . . it’s still coming. Beef dish and rice come, no salad or wine. We motion for another waiter . . . wine, salad. Beef dish is eaten. Finally, wine and salad arrive, both are good. We order banana fritters with coconut ice cream for dessert, delicious. All the food was really good, service however needs working on. Total for dinner 200,000K ($24.21), a little pricey but the food was good and so was the cause . . . and it’s just a block from home (on the same street).

    We get home about 8:30 and when we picked up our key, the receptionist gave us a note from JW, he’s staying here and his room is near ours. We stop by to get him and we come to our room, talk, have a couple of beers. To bed about 10:30, we to ours, he to his.

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    Thursday, July 29 Vientiane

    We are up at 7:00 and met JW for breakfast at 8:00. Breakfast was coffee or tea, juice, toast, one fried egg, two wonderful sausages that looked like weenies, watermelon, and apple slices . . . very good and actually, plenty of food.

    We invited JW to come along with us with Khamsai . . . he wavers but agrees. While they are finishing breakfast, I run around the corner to a travel agency to book Lao Air tickets to Luang Prabang for tomorrow. We wanted the first flight (9:30) but it was full so we booked the next flight, at 11:50 a.m., 35-minute flight, $84 ea.

    I finish just as Khamsai is arriving in a nice, a/c taxi. We tell him we want to see all the tourist sites and off we go. We don’t go two blocks before he pulls in for gas. We have traveled extensively in Central and South America. We have never yet been on a bus or in a taxi that didn’t stop for gas in the first two minutes. That must be the norm in underdeveloped countries.

    Khamsai does speak English . . . but he talks so fast that none of us can understand him. We have to ask him to repeat everything about three times before one of us is able to translate. We visit several wats (Buddhists Temples), some famous because they were old, some big, some just because they are here . . . all have an entry fee for foreigners of 5,000K (60¢). We are quick in museums and even quicker in wats. We have traveled a lot in Southeast Asia . . . we’ve seen many wats . . . they pretty much all look the same to us, I started off trying to write the names down but gave up. One had shopping opportunities. There were many vendors set up right outside of the walls. We did buy several silver bracelets, typical Lao and Hmong designs. Supposedly, they are 70% silver but since we bought five for 50,000K ($6), we seriously doubt it. They are pretty, though.

    Remember the Emerald Buddha we didn’t get to see in Bangkok at the Grand Palace? Well, one of the wats we visited here was Ho Phra Keo and it’s the original home of the Emerald Buddha . . . before it was stolen by the Thai. At this wat, they had one of the jars from the Plain of Jars near Phonsavanh. We originally had it on our itinerary to visit but flights are only every other day and then we would either have to return to Vientiane or take a long bus ride on to Luang Prabang. We figured, seen one jar, seen them all and scrapped the side trip.

    It starts to rain a little. We drive around looking at different sights, markets, hospitals, universities, government buildings, a water park that rivals ours, and end up at Parliament and the Arch.

    The “Patuxay” or Arch de Triomphe is one of the top spots to see while visiting the capitol of Laos. Located about 5 minutes drive from the town area of Vientiane, this beautiful arch stands right in between the main roads of town at the Patuxay Park. It is also known as the Victory Monument or Victory Gate as it commemorates those who lost their lives in the war against the French.

    The Patuxay Arch was built using American funds. The US government had given Laos money to build a new airport, however the Laotian government of the day used the money to build the monument instead. As a consequence it is sometimes referred to as the "vertical runway."

    They stay in the car while I jump out with a big umbrella and try to take pictures, not get wet, and not fall down on the slippery pavement. By the time I made it back, it had stopped raining. Off to the next sight, Lao People’s Army History Museum, Khamsai said not many tourists visit it and it is very good.

    No account of Vientiane would be complete without mention of the Lao Revolutionary Museum, a monument to Laos' long struggle to free itself from colonization. It details the French invasion and colonisation of Lao which started back in 1893. It gives information on Lao resistance which led to their independence in 1953, and after civil war, the establishment of a communist state by the Pathet Lao in 1975. There is info on the resistance to the secret bombing campaign by the U.S. during the 60s and 70s. It is estimated that more bombs (over two million tons) were dropped on Lao between 1964 and 1973 than were used in Europe during the whole of WWII.

    There are bronze statues, gold statues, tanks, airplanes, jeeps, etc. in the courtyard of the museum. The museum itself is a large white building that looks more like a president’s home than a museum. [We later read that it was the former residence of the French colonial governor.] Inside on the first floor are more tanks, guns, heavy equipment. Upstairs are photos, uniforms, small arms, etc. Most items had English translations. We liked this museum even though it was anti-American. There were no others there but us . . . admission was 5,000K ea, (60¢).

    By this time, it was 12:30 and lunchtime. Khamsai suggested Khop Chai Deu, which translates to “Thank you very much.” It is located on the southwest corner of the Nam Phu Fountain. It offers menu service on the first floor and a buffet on the second (35,000K, $4.25 ea). We took a look at the buffet and it was extensive . . . any kind of Asian food you wanted, plus salads, desserts, sushi, several cook-to-order stations, soups, you name it, they had it . . . we just didn’t know what it was.

    This is a huge place with many small rooms . . . some are much cooler than others so you need to look around before you get your food. This was an easy and cheap way to try a bunch of Lao dishes . . . and we had Khamsai to tell us what they were! We enjoyed the food more than we thought we would.

    After lunch, we stopped by Khamsai’s home to meet his lovely wife and cute son . . . son about eight. Then it was time to drop JW off at the Thai Embassy. We promised to call him when we returned to Bangkok, we waved goodbye.

    We continued driving around, looking at the city, V needed a pharmacy and he found one. We passed up many but he said we should not buy from small ones, that their medicines have been in the heat and might be old. Having a local guide gave us an opportunity to ask questions about what is that, how much is it, where is, etc.

    About 3:00, we were tired, had seen everything, were ready for a massage. He dropped us off at L.V. City Massage and Spa, this one was a little cheaper than Champa, 50,000K/hr ($6.05), and also a little better. But . . . as V says, the best one I ever had was the last one. We have only made a couple of calls and we are already out of minutes. We stop in a convenience store, buy another 50,000 card ($6.05) and find that our dial-around number WAS wrong. We should be dialing 177, then the area code, then the number. That worked and we left Laos with minutes left on our sim . . . and we called home every other day.

    It started raining again so we stopped at the Full Moon Café, sat outside and had a coconut-banana milkshake (V) and wine (me) and wrote postcards to the grandkids. (Drinks, 40,000K, $4.84.) As we relaxed and looked around, we saw a sign for foot/leg massage at Da-O . . . with scrub and lotion . . . 30 min, 30,000K ($3.63) . . . we were in. Best yet!

    We start home about 5:30, decide to send email. Yesterday, we passed a really nice coffee house, True Coffee, and noticed they had computers (and free Wi-Fi). We found it again, 8,000K/hr (97¢), fast connections. This was a nice place, lots of couches, easy chairs, work tables, newspapers, coffee smelled great, just no beer/wine.

    We head home, it is 6:40. We are not real hungry so decide to split a pizza, knowing that if we go on home, we might not go back out. We see Aria Italian Culinary Arts, 8 Rue Francois Nginn, they had a table available outside, we sat down. We ordered beer and while we looked at the menu, our waitress brought us a basket of breads (bread sticks, pizza dough strips, focaccia, garlic toast) and a bowl of green, spicy dip. It was delicious! We asked what it was and our waitress brought us the Italian chef/owner. It is eggplant pesto. He gave us the recipe (at end).

    We ordered a small margarita pizza, add onions and hot peppers. JW had told us we would not find any good pizza here or in Bangkok . . . that they all used the wrong cheeses. Well, we are happy to tell him and everyone else, that Aria has GREAT, thin-crust pizza . . . with real buffalo mozzarella! The pizza was some of the best we’ve ever had. V added coconut gelato for dessert and the bill was only 90,000K ($10.90).

    We head home again . . . and we didn’t go two feet when we spotted a sign for facials . . . 25,000K/30 minutes ($3.03) . . . can one get too many massages? Too much pampering? We think not! In we went, out we came . . . we’re sure we look 20 years younger!

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    Friday, July 30 Vientiane to Luang Prabang

    We were up at 8:00, ate breakfast, read, and lazed around until 10:30 when Khamsai picked us up to take us to the airport. We made a deal with him yesterday and he charged us 50,000K ($6.05), which is what the travel agent told us it would cost. The ride only took 10 min and we were checked in and shopping in the small airport. V found a silver and light blue stone ring . . . started off at $55, down to $25, she was happy. Our 11:50 prop plane left on time, took 35 minutes, and we were given water and a snack. From the air, Luang Prabang looks very green, hilly, lots of water everywhere, and two rivers meet here, the Mekong and the Nam Khan.

    At Luang Prabang, they had an official taxi stand, vans really, 50,000K ($6.05). We did not know this at the time, but if you turn right as you exit the airport, and walk through the gate (not even a short block away), there are tuk-tuks there that you can take into town for 20,000K ($2.42).

    Someone on TripAdvisor had written that the Thana Boun GS was really good, right in the center of town, and just a block from the night bazaar. We had our van drop us off there. I looked at a couple of grim rooms, asked if they had something better . . . no . . . and was walking away when a room mysteriously became available . . . much bigger, better, nicer, and only $2 more, making the total $22/night, no breakfast. We had room A204 with two larger-than-twin beds, small table w/one chair, TV w/remote, a/c and ceiling fan, wardrobe. The bathroom had a glassed-in tub/shower, plenty of hot water. They also had metal coat hangers that were about four feet wide and two feet high, we’ve never seen anything like them! Our room was very quiet, was cool enough, but we were right next door to an Indian Restaurant and all of their cooking odors came right into our room. And . . . I am not a fan of Indian food.

    One of the desk personnel was friendly, the others, not so much. They treated us as if we could not be trusted, that we might steal something, it was less than pleasant. There was a bank of fairly fast computers in the lobby, 8,000K/hr (97¢) but you had to hunt up the guy in charge (not the reception people) and then he never had change . . . and the lobby does not have a/c.

    It was past lunch time and we were starving. We went next door to Café ‘d Oro for lunch. While we were looking at the menu, a young girl game up and tried to sell us dolls, bracelets. Her name is Doy and her mother makes small dolls dressed in ethic dress. They have clay bodies and are quite cute. She had two sizes, 5" tall and 3" tall and we thought they would make nice Christmas ornaments. We did not deal very hard, bought three for $5.

    Back to lunch . . . V ordered fish w/lemon grass baked in a banana leaf, rice, and lettuce and tomato salad; I had chicken and rice, a salad, and a stack of raw green beans. We added two big Beer Lao and an order of fried egg rolls with a hot/sour sauce. The egg rolls were not the crispy wonton wrappers we are used to but had rice-paper wrappers. That made them a little chewy but tasty. Meal was outstanding, lots of food, and $12.

    It is VERY hot here . . . we thought it would be cooler than Vientiane but it is not. After lunch, we walked around a little, very little, as across the street and about a block away was Pizza Luang Prabang and there was a massage place next door. [Note: There are massage places about every five feet . . . most charge the same prices, ambiance seemed to be the difference. They all had a menu of services posted and were inflexible about what they offered. Example: A one-hour full-body massage was 50,000 ($6). A 30-minute foot massage was 30,000 ($3.63), as was a 30-minute head/shoulders. Could we pay 50,000 for 30 minutes of foot and 30 minutes of shoulders? No, not possible. AND . . . if you paid for the full body and then tried to just get them to do foot and shoulders, no go.]

    We both opted for the full-body and because we were getting over jetlag (you know, from our L-O-N-G, 35-minute flight), we decided on oil (extra 20,000, $2.42) and it was well worth it. I finally found a massage person (Tom) who would rub me just like I like (firms but easy) . . . V had Ping who had thumbs of steel, just as she likes.

    Rejuvenated, we look over the town . . . book an afternoon tour for tomorrow with Jewel Travel, 232,000 each ($28.09) to ride and bathe elephants, price includes lunch, and our group is limited to four . . . woo hoo! We continue milling around, look at other tours but they are zip-lining (did that in Panamá); boat ride to some caves and then a waterfall, hmmm, thinking; two- and three-day treks, nope, too old; rock climbing . . . are you crazy! We are 67, 60, and flabby.

    By this time, it was about 5:30 or 6:00. Every evening about this time, the street our hotel is on is closed to traffic and the night bazaar is set up . . . it goes for at least a mile and there are two rows of stalls and they are covered w/tarps. The good news is it is a lot of stuff . . . the bad news is everyone has the same stuff. This market is VERY low key. First off, the Lao people are very quiet . . . they all but whisper . . . and they are very polite. As we walked along looking at the goods, it was so pleasant not to be harassed . . . they all just quietly said, “Hello Madame.” We could stop, look, ask questions, no pressure. We would be here for four days so were only looking tonight. We did buy small (2"x6") watercolors of monks walking in the rain, 2/$1 . . . and I bought a Hmong blouse for my boss, $25.

    We stopped at a sidewalk restaurant and had a glass of wine and coconut shake, 40,000 ($4.84), chatted with a girl who is in law school but has been working this summer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia doing volunteer human rights work. We were there in 2000 and it was the most pitiful capitol I’ve ever seen . . . their streets were not paved and almost everyone we saw was missing a limb or was maimed. It was very sad. She said big business has arrived and that we would not recognize the place.

    We would have stayed longer and chatted more except an Indian guy was playing his flute (minus his cobra) on the sidewalk right near out table . . . it was so annoying that we had to leave. Flutes just kick me over the edge.

    We were walking back home when we heard someone call, “Sandy?” In my research for the trip, I met G and L from Australia on TripAdvisor . . . we thought our paths might cross here for just one day. But, when we scraped the Plain of Jars, that added extra days here. I told them that if they saw two old blonde ladies with Texas accents, to stop us and we would buy them a beer. So, here they were and we made good on our promise.

    We stopped in at the first place we saw and played the “where have you been, what have you seen/done game.” In our travels, we always find we bond with Aussies, and this was no exception . . . we LOVED G and L. They are staying at a resort about 15 minutes out of town . . . they are brought to/fro in an old Army jeep. Not our cup of tea but they are enjoying it. We had to cut our drinking short as they were being picked up at 9:15, hopefully, we’ll run into each other again.

    Oh, during the conversation, they mentioned they were on the 9:15 flight from Vientiane this morning, the one we tried to get and were told it was sold out . . . they said they counted, there were only 12 people other people on the plane . . . so . . . what was up with that?

    Back to the hotel . . . V wanted a snack, there are crepe vendors every few feet, so she bought a chocolate and banana crepe, delicious, 7,000 (85¢) . .. We emailed, called home, went to bed.

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    Great report, Sandy. Oh, and you CAN get good pizza in Bangkok. We really like Via Vai on Sukhumvit soi 8, right across the soi from our apartment hotel (Adelphi Suites). I'm not sure they have the 'real' buffalo mozzarella (in fact I'm 99% sure) but they do make a very thin European style crust which we enjoy.

    I think I need to go to Laos! You make it sound very interesting. In my 21 trips to Bangkok, I've only stayed within Thailand... I need to expand my horizons!

    Carol

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    Great report so far, thanks for reconsidering posting it - I am a budget traveler as well. And Japan while not that inexpensive is not as bad as the airport meal you had....

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    Sandy - loving your report. We did all those sites in Vientiane (walked though - it was SO hot) i really liked Vientianes gentle pace.
    Carol - Laos is now one of my most favourite places ever- with Luang Prabang a must return place for me.

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    Saturday, July 31 Luang Prabang

    I got up at 6:30 . . . could not get the glass shower door open, was off the track . . . wrestled it back on . . . could not get the water to come on. They had the instant hot water machine but no amount of pushing, pulling, pressing, turning, flipping would produce water. I went downstairs, woke up clerk, he came up, and showed me how to do it. However . . . he could not get water either! I know he thought I was just too stupid to turn it on. It took him about 15 minutes and he had to replace the shower head. I mentioned the shower door problem and when he went to “show” me how to work it, it completely come off the track and midget man was wrestling a glass panel . . . I tried not to laugh. We ended up having to leave the glass panel ajar just enough to enter/exit, and remember, we’re paying for a deluxe room.

    I left a note for V and went out for breakfast . . . still looking for banana pancakes, found a nearby place that had them . . . Luang Prabang Bakery. I had the banana pancakes and Lao coffee (35,000, $4.24). It began to rain, only a few places open and hardly anyone out. I noticed the pretty table decoration–a plain water glass filled with water, big white beans (limas?), and a red radish or two with a yellow rose and a couple of blades of grass stuck in the middle.

    Coffee was great . . . pancakes came and there were two, 6" cakes with slices of banana between the layers . . . served with honey. OK but still not the ones we have been seeking. I caught up on writing my notes . . . and called a guide recommended on TripAdvisor, Bouasy Souliya, nickname See (info at end). We wanted to visit some of the hill villages but he said the daily rain made it impossible, roads too bad. So, we booked him for tomorrow to visit the cave, the waterfall, and anything else of interest around Luang Prabang, $60 for the day, sounded good.

    Around 9:30, I went back to pick up V, she was already up and walking out of the hotel. I warned her about the pancakes so she chose the Garden Restaurant where she had two scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, half a baguette, coffee, and fresh OJ, really good breakfast, 50,000 ($6.05).

    At 10:30, we were out, walking around . . . walked up to Wat Pa Huak, old small wat, near the Royal Palace Museum.

    The decaying sim at Wat Pa Huak has a splendid carved wood and mosaic facade showing Buddha riding Airavata, the three-headed elephant of Hindu mythology. The gilded and carved front doors are often locked, but during the day there's usually an attendant nearby who will open the doors for a tip of a couple of hundred kip. Inside, the original 19th-century murals have excellent colour, considering the lack of any restoration. The murals show historic scenes along the Mekong River, including visits by Chinese diplomats and warriors arriving by river and horse caravans. Three large seated Buddhas and several smaller standing and seated images date from the same time as the murals or possibly earlier.

    Walking down from the wat, we ran into Greg and Lynn, visited with them for a few minutes. We parted and continue our exploration. We walked around the area behind our hotel, the street fronts the Mekong River. There were many long boats gently floating along the river. It is as muddy looking as the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma. V had gotten a big stack of lightweight nylon frisbees at a convention, and we gave those away to little kids or teenagers that we saw. They loved them. We are always on the lookout for items that we can take on trips and give away. We love to spread smiles and goodwill where ever we go!

    We went back to the hotel, changed into our bathing suits with other clothes on top and sat outside our hotel and had a beer and people watched. Li-Li, an 11-year-old vendor tried to sell us more dolls and bracelets. When we politely refused, she started pouting and whining. V told her she had a bad attitude and she would not buy anything from her until she changed. She huffed off.

    By this time, it was 12:15, we were to be at the travel office at 12:30 . . . just across the street. We walked over, the van was ready to go, so we hopped in and made one stop to pick up our companions for the afternoon, B and K from Brugge, Belgium. They are a little younger than us, and we told them that we were so glad they weren't 20-year-old backpackers. Then we found out that B is a marathon runner. Swell! They were a delightful couple, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company for the afternoon.

    After a 30-minute van ride, we arrived at the Elephant Camp . . . they had two elephants. A large female and young male, a tad bit smaller. We were standing in an open-air bamboo hut that stuck out over the side of a hill looking down on the big clearing that is the elephant camp. I felt something grab my pants leg at my ankle . . . a monkey had reached up through the slats and grabbed my pants. It took a couple of us to get him to let go and we were surprised that he did not tear them. It was funny but a surprise. I then had to be careful not to stand in an area he could reach through.

    Our tour included lunch, so we ate first as we watched the elephants ride off with some young women to go for the bathing part. They were riding bareback and we tried not to think about it as we ate the delicious lunch provided. We had ground chicken with onions; pork w/oyster mushrooms, and onions; rice; and fresh pineapple for dessert. They also had delicious hot peppers in vinegar.

    We enjoyed visiting with B and K as we waited our turn on the elephants. I guess we waited about an hour before the bathing group returned. The elephant handlers quickly mounted seats on the two elephants, and we climbed aboard for our ride through the jungle. We were on the large female elephant who had a mind of her own . . . like us! We had fun taking pictures of B and K, and they took lots of pictures of us. We will email them to each other.

    Riding in the seat was easy. Since it is the rainy season, there was a lot of mud . . . sticky mud and both elephants slipped a little but the elephants were pretty sure-footed and they took it pretty slow in the slickest places. We rode about an hour’s worth through jungle, mud, and river. We saw lots of butterflies and even a snake or two. Believe us, an hour is a long time on an elephant. When we returned to the camp, off came the seats, and they said, "Climb on, Madame!" We thought we would walk the elephants down to the river, ha!

    V is larger and they wanted her on first. She has ridden lots of horses but not in a few years. It was not easy getting on . . . there is nothing to hold on to. I get on. I can’t hold on to V, as she is unsteady. I have to just put my hands on each side of the elephant and try to balance. The guide gets on behind me. We step away from the platform so B/K can get on their elephant.

    We have only gone two steps and V wants to get off . . . she has nothing to hold on to . . . she wants a rope . . . she says she is slipping . . . Mrs. Skydiver with over 1,500 jumps is panicking. I’m a little uncomfortable but am not ready to bail out. I tell her if she wants off, now is the time to say, before we head out. She definitely wants off but is too macho to say so. The guide tells V to scoot up closer to the head and put her legs right behind the elephant’s ears. She does and the elephant clamps down on V’s legs with her ears . . . there is no way now that she can fall off! What about me, what about me! I settle down, try to get into the elephant’s side-to-side rhythm, not as bad as I thought . . . guide only has to grab me once. The guide with us had all the cameras . . . the two elephant handlers were on the other elephant with Barts and Catherine . . . that is important to know.

    We headed back into the jungle and those muddy, slippery slopes were much scarier than before. After an hour ride, we came to the Mekong River. The plan was for the elephants to walk out into the river and for us to just stay seated and splash some water on them.

    First off, our guide jumped off at the edge of the river to start taking photos and fell into the mud. We all gasped . . . not for him but for our cameras! He fell backward, got all wet and muddy, but somehow he managed to save the cameras . . . his cell phone in his pocket was history. So . . . now we are on our elephant alone. She decided to have some fun with us. First she put her head down in the water . . . so we start sliding forward. Then she sits down . . . and we start sliding backward. Next, she lies down and off we go. We flounder around a few seconds, stand up, and find the water is only about four feet deep. As the two scrawny elephant boys were trying to heave-ho V back onto the elephant, the swift current was sweeping me away. One them grabbed me and pulled me out of the current and I was fine. It took a few minutes to get us back on . . . it’s not easy getting on a big, wet elephant.

    The good news is we were just fine, the guide got pictures, and everyone (including us) was laughing! The bad news is we had to ride that *^&%$# elephant for another hour back to camp. Okay, been there, done that , never have to do it again! Check ✔. We celebrated with a beer on the ride back in the van, got back around 5:30.

    We were really ready for a massage when we got back as everything on us hurt! Elephant skin is rough and the hairs are really stiff, you can feel them through your pants. Plus, my hands, arms, shoulders were sore/tense from pushing on her left side as I was tilting left and vice-versa. We went back to the same place as yesterday, got our same guys, it was heavenly!

    After the massages, we cleaned up and took a bunch of dirty clothes to a laundry . . . those are every five feet also and the going rate is 1k for 10,000 ($1.21) . . . we had 4k. While V took the laundry, I went out to book air tickets to Chiang Mai for Tuesday. Everyplace seemed to have the same prices . . . $125 each on Lao Air. BTW, I had looked at airfares on-line before the trip and they were about $100 higher so I was glad I had not booked ahead.

    We met back up and milled around the night market again. There were a few new stalls and the old stuff was still interesting to look at. After an hour or so we were getting a little hungry. Right in the middle of the market was a night time kitchen dishing up some great-looking soup with noodles. We stopped to look and a nice Lao family who lives now in Canada were here visiting relatives told us what was what and helped us order (chicken w/glass noodles, onions, bean sprouts, celery, green beans, and “other” things). They were impressed by our eating our noodles with chop sticks, by our eating here to begin with, and by how much hot chili paste that we put in our soup. The soup was wonderful and the chili paste was killer hot. We each had a beer, and the total was 35,000 ($4.24). A bonus was everyone staring at us as we ate.

    We went home about 8:30, sent email, and went to bed . . . we were dead tired!


    Sunday, August 1 Luang Prabang

    W creakily dragged ourselves out of bed this morning at 6:30 to be up and ready to go by 8:30. We went to Lasi Cuisine for breakfast . . . V, waffles w/honey; I, omelet with tomato and onions, toast; we both had Lao coffee and mixed fruit . . . 70,000 ($8.47), delicious.

    See was right on time, has a new 12-passenger van with great a/c, and he speaks excellent English and he speaks slowly. We told him we wanted to see the Pak Oo caves, the waterfalls, and anything else of interest around Luang Prabang. It took a little over an hour to drive to the village across the river from the caves. It took a little while to get out of Luang Prabang . . . it’s bigger than we thought. Actually, we were here four days and unless we were coming/going, we did not get off of our street and the street behind us! See pointed out items of interest on our way out and all along the way. By the time we arrived at the village across from the caves, it was 9:45 and HOT. We parked and walked through the dirt streets to the river. The houses were small and we saw no one until we came to the path down to the boats. The path was lined with women and children all wanting to sell us something . . . beautiful, hand-woven shawls, lengths of silk, trinkets, opium weights, old coins, and silver jewelry. We said we would look on the return.

    We had to walk down a steep embankment to the boats. V got her foot caught up in something, fell, and rolled down the hill. She wasn’t hurt thanks to her sky diving experience . . . the first thing she learned was how to fall and roll. However, a couple of small, old men saw her fall and from then on, there was one on each side holding on to her. It looked funny, as she was bigger than both of them together.

    We both managed to get into the open, long-tailed boat without incident for the short ride across the river. Admission was 20,000 ($2.42) ea.

    Pak Ou Cave is located about 25 km (15.5 mi) from Luang Prabang. It can be reached by boat from Luang Prabang. Alternatively you can go by a songthaew, that will bring you to the opposite bank of the river, where boats will be waiting to take you to the other site. There are two levels. One cave entrance is clearly visible from the river. The higher level can be reached after climbing some stairs. Bring a flashlight with you, if possible. Both caves have lots of small and bigger Buddha images, mostly donated by local people.

    The lower cave is to the right after a short flight of steps . . . yes, lots of Buddhas, all sizes, in all poses, some decorated with red or yellow ribbons . . . they all need a good cleaning. It didn’t take long to see this part of the cave. The description above says, “The higher level can be reached after climbing some stairs.” Some! Does the Great Wall of China ring any bells? My exercise routine at home is to climb stairs . . . I climb between 24-27 floors/day. I like to think I’m in fairly good shape. I bet I climbed about 30 minutes before getting to the top . . . I was just about to give up when I met some young people coming down and they said about 10 more steps to go. I told them to tell V to stay where she was, she would never had made it. The only good part of the climb was that it was mostly in the shade . . . and it was very hot, humid, and sunny today.

    The upper cave is big (tall and wide) and dark . . . there was a lady attendant who had flashlights to rent. I had my great Streamlight Stinger (tiny flashlight with super-bright light, police issue), which was brighter than three of hers. The Buddhas here are quite a way inside and since it is dark, you really must have a light so you don’t stumble over the rocks sticking up or into a hole a million feet deep (didn’t see any but it was dark, wasn’t taking any chances). She did light a candle and place it on a ledge and with my light, I could see where to step and the hundreds of other Buddhas. This was one of those places that “it was the journey, not the destination.” OK . . . fast in museums, faster in wats, fastest in caves.

    I went out, trekked down, picked up V and her two guards . . . that’s what they looked like, they looked like they were escorting a prisoner back to jail.

    We piled back in the boat and back across the river to the village where the ladies and shopping opportunities waited. As we were getting off the boat, we saw one of the tourist boats arrive . . . See said the trip took 2.5 hours . . . it was so hot today that we were thankful we had driven and not taken the boat.

    The path back was lined with vendors, very polite and low key. I bought Katie a silver chain with elephant charm and matching earrings, $8, the lady assured me it was sterling and not 70%. We bought a small brass good-luck statue $2 and a black stones and silver bracelet ($3) . . . V bought similar items.

    Back at the van, See handed out ice water and icy towelettes, what a treat! It was 11:00 and off we went to another village where we learned about and sampled Lao Lao, the local grain alcohol, or I should say, rice alcohol. There are three strengths and we tried all three, only the strongest was bad. Lao Lao is bottled with snakes, scorpions, and other nasty-looking creatures and we wanted to buy some as souvenirs but See said they would leak on the plane.

    V admired See’s sandals and asked where he bought them, he told her the market, so we made a stop. It was a huge market, just like we’ve seen in any third-world country, but we always enjoy going and looking and buying. She found the shoes, 80,000 ($9.69) . . . we gave them a 100,000 bill ($12.11) and naturally had to wait about 15 minutes for them to find someone to make change. We bought some goat-milk soap, 5,000 (65¢) and that’s all. BTW, there are no supermarkets in Luang Prabang, just a couple of big ones like this one and then a bunch of smaller, neighborhood ones.

    We headed off to the waterfall and it started raining. We arrived, parked, and headed to one of the many open-air cafes, all with a small charcoal grill in front with someone fanning the coals and cooking chicken, fish, beef. See picked one out, we ordered a beer, and here comes L. We had invited L and G to come with us today but they had already made plans to come with a friend of a friend from their guesthouse. They ended up being pawned off on someone else and were quite unhappy. They had just eaten and were leaving.

    I ordered BBQ chicken w/fries and beer, V and See ordered fried noodles with pork, Coke, tea, we all split the green papaya salad . . . 160,000 ($19.37) . . . very good lunch but my fries came pre-doused with ketchup.

    The rain stopped and we went to see the waterfalls, 20,000 (2.42) each. The park is very nice, beautiful flowers planted along the walkways and amid lush foliage . . . lots of people but not crowded. There are several levels of the falls and all are beautiful. This is a huge park and there are pavilions and picnic tables and bridges and hundreds of photo ops. We took photos of others and had them take photos of us in front of a couple of the bigger falls. We met Brock and Becky, a young couple from the US . . . we watched youngsters swim, splash, and jump from a rope swing. Back near the entrance are five sun bears. There used to be a tiger but he died.

    We had a wonderful day with See and we heartily recommend him. We were back home about 5:00 and headed out for a massage. We decided to go someplace different and that’s how we know everyplace charges the same. We ended up at a place near the river. We wanted only feet/legs and head/shoulders . . . they said OK but we got full-body. And . . . it was only OK . . . 40,000 ($4.84) for an hour.

    We visited the night bazaar again, mainly to eat at the noodle shop from last night. But, they must not set up on Sundays because they were not there. We stopped at a place selling chicken satay, four skewers for 5,000 (60¢), pretty tasty snack. We ended up at the far end of the bazaar where all the sub-sandwich and fruit shake vendors are . . . they are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder. We stopped first at a sandwich lady, she agreed to cut the bread in half. V got chicken, lettuce, tomato, cukes, onions. My turn, I wanted ham . . . out of ham, shoot . . . I didn’t want anything else. I settled on chicken but ended up not eating it. The sandwiches looked really great . . . nice baguettes and anything you want on them (if they are not out) and they are cheap, about $1. We each had a fruit shake . . . these are super cheap, 5,000 (60¢) and delicious. The vendors have large clear plastic cups set out with different combinations of fruits cut up in them. You pick whichever you want and then they add coconut milk and/or sugar and ice. They whirl it up in their blender and pour it back into the plastic cup . . . and it’s a big cup, too. If you have a blender, you have a smoothie bar!

    Back to our hotel, sent email, walked across the street to a shop and bought a couple of postcards with elephants on them for the grandkids. Stopped next door at the wine shop and bought a glass of wine and sat outside and wrote the cards.

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    Monday, August 2 Luang Prabang

    It stormed last night . . . rained really hard, thunder, lightening . . . was still drizzling when we got up at 5:00 (yes, a.m.) to watch the monks come. There are more or less 300 that come every morning around 5:30 to collect alms (food, money) from the residents wanting good luck. There were several ladies who had gotten up even earlier to cook rice and other food to sell to tourist so we could give to the monks. The food collected is taken back to the wats and shared. It is usually not enough and locals take on wats as projects. Monks only eat in the morning and not at all after 11:00. Novice monks can be as young as six and we saw many we thought looked like our grandsons, Jk, almost 7 and Fl, 7.

    It was dark and still drizzling when we got out to the street. A vendor lady loaned us a mat and sold us a steamer basket of sticky rice, several bunches of baby bananas, and a basket of individually wrapped items that looked exactly like hunks of salt pork . . . V would not try it but I did . . . and it was pudding, kinda like tapioca (offerings, $4). Our instructions were we were be on our knees, feet behind us, and try to give each monk some rice and/or pudding. V opted to take photos while I dished like crazy. They walk pretty fast and they snap the lids off/on their bowls with drill-team precision.

    We were done by 6:25 and went to breakfast at the Scandinavia Bakery, a place really touted by the Lonely Planet guidebook. Normally, we can trust it but it really let us down today. The food was not very good. We split an omelet, two rolls, two OJs (not fresh), two coffees, and a small plate of bananas, watermelon, pineapple, 48,000 ($5.81).

    We struck up a conversation with Colleen, a lady from Nova Scotia who was working in Cambodia and was also on a visa run. She’s single . . . a little lonely, we thought. She acted like she would have come with us if she didn’t have to get back.

    We went back to the hotel and showered/dressed and headed off to the Royal Palace Museum, stopping at a large wat-looking building inside the grounds of the museum on the way. We thought it was being restored but it actually was being built . . . it is the Haw Pha Bang Chapel. It will house the Pha Bang Buddha image.

    The most important item at the Royal Palace Museum is the Pha Bang Buddha image. This is the Buddha statue that gave its name to Luang Prabang. This statue is only 32.5 inches high, but is made from almost pure gold weighing almost 100 pounds. According to legend, the statue was made in Sri Lanka in the 1st century AD, and was presented to the Khmers of Angkor. The King of Angkor, Jayavarman Paramesvara, gave it to his son-in-law, the great warrior Chao Fa Ngum, who founded the first Laotian Kingdom of Lan Xang.

    It was fascinating to see the spider’s web of bamboo scaffolding on the outside and scary to see the workers who were smoking while cleaning their paint brushes with paint thinner on the inside (remember, no OSHA in Laos)! This is a gorgeous building, lots of gold leaf/paint and red, blue, and green glass tiles on all the walls and columns. Because of the threat of fire, we were in/out faster than usual.

    On to the Royal Palace Museum and were really impressed. Remember us, an hour in the Louvre is just about right. This was the former home of the king/queen and a lot of items are still just like they left it . . . before they disappeared (rumor is they died of malnutrition deep in some jungle camp in Laos). A couple of rooms really were impressive. One was the ceremonial hall. The walls and ceiling were painted a shiny red and the walls were then completely covered with colored-glass mosaics depicting all kinds of scenes . . . battle scenes, scenic scenes, elephants, celebrations, etc. These were made from Japanese glass and it took eight workers 3.5 years to complete . . . for the king's coronation.

    The private rooms of the king and queen were just like they left them and looked very livable and comfy. We saw display cases of royal clothes, crowns, guns, Buddhas. One large room showcased gifts given the king from countries around the world, and we were impressed that one of USA's gifts was a moon rock with a notation that they had carried Laos' flag on Apollo II. There were also items from Nixon, Kennedy, and other US officials.

    There was a large, full-length portrait of the king and his eyes and the point of his feet followed you from one side of the room to the other . . . cool. We have seen that before and we are always amazed.

    In another wing of the palace, accessed from outside, was the Pha Bang Buddha image mentioned above. We could not enter the room, could only peer in from outside. This solid-gold Buddha will be moved to the chapel just as soon as it is finished.

    It was really hot today . . . we stopped and had a fruit smoothie (5,000, 60¢). They are wonderful and very refreshing!

    Around 11:00, V went back to the room and I went off exploring. Luang Prabang is a lot bigger than we thought . . . and we have only seen a little of it. I just meandered around, visited several wats (sorry, but they all look alike . . . seen one, seen 1,000). I did walk around in the big wat compound across from the museum. There were many buildings here but I didn’t see anyone and I didn’t think I could/should look in any of them. I left the compound and walked toward the river . . . shopped in the fruit/veggie market set up along one of the side streets. Here, I saw Beth’s Beauty Salon and along with face massage, hair cutting, styling, etc., she also had eye brow curling and extensions. I took a picture of her sign and wanted to go in and watch eye brow curling! I continued on . . . watched the long-tail boats on the Mekong . . . saw another wat where a lady was drying some kind of fruit on the ground in the sun. She let me try one, they tasted like cherries.

    I found a place that would burn my photos to a CD (35,000, $4.24). If we ran across B and K, we could give them the CD with all of their elephant photos on it.

    Around 12:30, I went back and picked up V and we were off to lunch at Tamarind. This is a restaurant recommended by every travel website around. It is right across from a wat, so has some ambiance. The owners are a Thai husband/Aussie wife team . . . we met the wife (Caroline). The have one of the best cooking schools here and their food is traditional Lao . . . kinda gourmet Lao. We ordered the tasting dips/sauces menu and the five-bites menu. The first was a plate with Khai Pene (local river vegetable, pounded into paper-thin sheet with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and sprinkled with sesame seeds). These looked like pieces of black roofing paper smeared with sesame seeds. We had a spicy eggplant dip, a tomato dip, and a hot coriander dip. These all were delicious.

    The five-bites plate had two large spring rolls made from lettuce leaves and filled with nuts and other stuff (we didn’t recognize) . . . a couple of pieces of dried buffalo meat (tasted like sweet jerky) . . . slices of pork sausages (LP is famous for these and they are mild and delicious) . . . pickled bamboo shoots and ginger . . . and pickled greens. For dessert, we had purple sticky rice with bananas. We had two big beers and the total was $14. These were all fantastic . . . we know why everyone raves about this place . . . we were able to taste a bunch of Lao dishes for little $$.

    The restroom here was funny. The sink was over the back of the commode. You had to face and straddle the commode to get to the sink.

    After leaving Tamarind, we hunted up B/K’s hotel so we could give them the CD. We found it but they were not there. The girl running the place did not speak English so we ended up just leaving them a note. (We later learned they had already checked out.)

    One of my student workers is gluten intolerant and sticky rice is gluten free. I decided to walk back through the market I visited this morning and buy her some. The market was gone . . . but the only vendor still there was the rice lady. I bought a kilo (2.2 lbs) for 8,000 (97¢) . . . and sticky rice was about double the price of the other four kinds she had.

    We rested an hour or so and went to have our last massage in Luang Prabang. We are looking forward to comparing these to those in Chiang Mai (research, purely research). After the massage, we went back to Baravin II, the wine shop, and had a glass . . . more people watching.

    Around 8:00 we went to Pizza Luang Prabang. We sat outside on the patio, split a pizza w/mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, fresh basil. V had two pina coladas, I had a glass of white wine. Doy stopped by, we asked her to join us. She didn’t want anything to eat but did have a mango smoothie. She had a different bracelet so I bought it with the last of my kip 20,000 ($2.42). We ate, mediocre pizza. Doy and V split an order of fried bananas for dessert and said they were very good. Total 120,000 ($14).

    It was almost unbearably hot today, this is the first time we have been sunburned. Hopefully Chiang Mai will be cooler.


    Tuesday, August 3 Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai

    Up at 8:00, out at 9:30, made a deal with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the airport, 20,000 ($2.42) . . . the hotel wanted 70,000 ($8.47)! We went back to Lasi for breakfast, it’s just a few doors away and the food is excellent. V had coconut waffles, I had two fried eggs w/bacon, french bread. We both had coffee and fresh OJ, total 83,000 ($10).

    Tuk-tuk driver picked us up at 10:30, right on time, and it was 15 minutes to the airport. We checked in . . . ran into G and L, they were flying out to Kuala Lumpur . . . except their flight had been cancelled. They are booked on Air Asia and so far, five of their eight flights have been cancelled and all have been late. We also ran into Becky and Brock, we met them yesterday at the waterfalls. She is an Iowa farm girl in pigtails, no less, and he is from Wisconsin. They are very nice kids, 21 and 31. They are going to Chiang Mai also . . . we agree to split a van going in and since we don’t have a guidebook, we’ll tag along with them on the hotel search.

    The Lao Air flight to Chang Mai took about an hour . . . and they served us a drink and a box lunch! Southwest barely gets the peanuts handed out in that time!

    When we land, cute young girls are at the baggage carousel handing out free Sim cards with about five minutes of credit on them. We all get one and then pile into a van to town (125 total, $3.87). We get dropped off at a guesthouse in an area with hundreds of guesthouses. We looked at this one . . . bare. Brock and I leave V and Becky with the bags and head off on the great guesthouse search. They send email while we are gone.

    Brock has the Lonely Planet so we consult it and go in and inspect everyplace that looks halfway decent. I bet we looked at 25-30 guesthouses. The Sri Pat is my choice as soon as we see it (right off the bat) but Brock is still looking so I keep on also, just in case something better comes along. After an hour or so, he decides on one of the first ones and we go back and pick up the girls.

    We hug and say our goodbyes, even though we’ll probably run into them again. We check in at the Sri Pat, are given room 202, 800B ($24.78). Our room is big and very pretty, tiled floor, twin beds, night stand, phone, TV, a/c, mini refrigerator, wardrobe w/safe, dressing table w/chair . . . bath w/glassed-in shower, hair dryer, and small balcony with table/chair. On the dresser are stacks of maps, tourist info, and current magazines in several languages. Breakfast is not included but there is a place steps away that has an extensive menu and very cheap prices. There is also a computer in the lobby that we can use and there is free Wi-Fi in the lobby. They are putting in a pool next door and adding a book exchange, so the rates will probably go up.

    We need money so go out looking for an ATM. We find several but there is a fee to use them. However, the fee was not taken out of our cash nor was it debited from checking back home. We stopped into a pharmacy and had the pharmacist look at V’s leg. It started itching on the plane and she rubbed it a little. When she looked at it in the hotel, she has small blisters up/down her shin on one leg. We left with an antibiotic cream, cough drops (she also had a cough), and some antifungal creme my daughter asked me to buy (237 total, $7.37).

    V smears some cream on her leg, we flag down a songthaew, a small pick-up truck with a covered bed and bench seats along both sides and head to the night bazaar (50, $1.55). The driver is letting a couple out and they are talking about their trip to the Tiger Kingdom. They said it was awesome so we made a deal with the drive to take us tomorrow. He will pick us up at 10:00 in the morning, take us there and back for 300 ($9.29).

    We have been to Chiang Mai before, back in 1998 and loved the night bazaar. It looked pretty much the same, just a little larger. The food court here is very big and is supposed to be great. They have all kinds of foods, the hard part is making up your mind. We had to buy book of tickets and the unused ones would be refunded. We split up to choose. V had shrimp with fried rice and a pineapple shake; I had chicken w/jalapenos, onions, Thai basil, and a large beer . . . pretty good, very cheap, 180 ($5.57).

    We shopped around, really didn’t see much we wanted. I bought two sleeveless, silk shells . . . a burnt orange one and a dark green one, 90 ea. ($2.77) and was sad to learn I’m an “L” instead of my usual, at-home size of “S.” We bought the grandkids a green, paper dragon that slithers on the ground when manipulated by a string on a stick, 2/50 ($1.55) . . . we sent email, 15 (47¢). It started to rain so took a tuk-tuk (50, $1.55) home around 9:00. It was pouring when we pulled up at our hotel and the security guard ran out to us with a huge umbrella.

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    loving all the details and they are helpful. I like to buy air ticket to the next destination when I am ready to leave the place. it's good to know i can actually pay less doing that. I also don't have all the hotels booked in advance but I carry a laptop and usually have several potential hotels bookmarked.
    I am a medium but I can't get in most clothes in S.E. Asia. The ones that fits usually says XXL. Not great for my ego.
    Thanks for posting.

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    Wednesday, August 4 Chiang Mai

    Up at 8:00, out at 9:10 . . . discovered Thailand is not on daylight saving time so it’s really only 8:10. We went a few steps away to the restaurant with the extensive menu. We both had fried eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, OJ . . . very good, 59 ea. ($1.83, I told you it was cheap)!

    V’s leg looks worse this morning, her blisters are about the size of aspirins, and her skin is very red. The hotel owner’s mother is a retired pharmacist, she took a look and said she must go see a doctor. She wrote the name of the hospital in Thai for us and told the songthaew driver when he picked us up. We’re going to the Tiger Kingdom first and he will drop us off at the hospital on the way back.

    Our driver came about 9:45 and a French couple and their teenage daughter decided to come with us. Only mom spoke English. It started to rain but stopped when we got there, trip took about 30 minutes. At Tiger Kingdom, we had several choices but the main ones were 550 ($17.03) to play with the babies (2-5 mos. old); 300 ($9.26) to play with the youngsters (6-9 mos. old); 350 ($10.84) for the grown tigers. The babies are too squirmy and hard to hold . . . the grown ones are H-U-G-E and I mean H-U-G-H; the youngsters are big but not so scary, we picked those. The tigers are all hand-raised . . . they have all their teeth and claws and are not drugged. We had 15 minutes with them (two males, one female) inside their enclosure . . . and we paid the extra 300 for a photographer to take photos and make us a CD. If you go, do pay for the photographer. He took about 50 shots each of both of us and they are all excellent. The ones we took with our cameras are terrible . . . we were not able to get the close-ups or the angles. Our instructions were to approach the tigers slowly and from the rear, do not touch their head or their paws, and when we petted them, to pet firmly. If we stroked them lightly, they would think it was an insect and swat at it. We were nervous at first but calmed down quickly. The photographer would tell us, “Put your head next to his.” “Lie down and put your head on this rear end, like a pillow.” “Get closer to him.” Sure . . . one swat and we’re history!

    We all were finished around 11:30 and the driver dropped us off at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital around noon. We were met at the entrance by a cute, young woman who escorted us to the Admitting desk. The Admissions clerk asked what the problem was and when V showed her said, “Ewwww, what is it?” Huh? She takes V’s info, issues her a hospital ID card, and sends us across the large and very nice lobby to wait at a nurses station. The nurses here are all pretty, young, and wear white dresses, white shoes, and white caps . . . just like in the old days. A nurse called V over, asked what was the problem and when shown said, “Ewwww, what is that?” Double huh! She says V will see the doctor in about an hour.

    We no sooner sat back down when another nurse came to take her vitals . . . when she saw V’s leg, she repeated the Ewwwww. Vitals taken, waited about 15 minutes, doctor time . . . a surgeon. He says, Ewwwwww, tells her it is serious, wants to admit her for IV antibiotics for two-three days. She looks to me for guidance and I nod no. She says no and he says he will let her go if she agrees to rest and keep her leg elevated. He pops all the blisters, puts antibiotics on them, wraps it up, and sends us to the pharmacy and on to checkout. We leave with a sack full of meds and the bill is $50. She is to return tomorrow at 5:00 to have her dressing changed.

    It is my opinion that one is always better off NOT being in the hospital. Hospitals are where one gets staph infections and/or other germs. She asked my opinion, I gave it . . . the decision was up to her. While she was checking out, I was calling AA to see if we could change our tickets and return home early. We could leave tomorrow but we could not get to Bangkok in time. We decided to return to Bangkok tomorrow and then if space opened up, we would be ready.

    It was now about 2:30, we were starving, we figured there would be someplace to eat nearby. About a block away was an open-air place . . . dirt floor, plastic sheeting for a roof, chickens roasting on a grill. We ordered grilled chicken, fried morning glories, green papaya salad, Coke, and a big beer (270, $7.75) . . . very good. We tuk-tuked home. V went to put her leg up and I went next door to buy air tickets back to Bangkok. We bought tickets on 1-2-Go, 10:00 a.m. flight, 1,800 ea. ($55.74).

    V is already bored . . . and we missed massaging yesterday . . . can’t miss today. There is a beauty shop right across the street that does massages so off we go. V had a facial/face massage, 450 ($13.94) and I had my face and legs waxed, 400 ($12.39) . . . such a treat, these are VERY expensive at home.

    Back to hotel, leg up, TV on . . . V gives me the money (remember, she handles the money and I write everything down) and I tuk-tuk back to the night bazaar. I make the rounds . . . buy a white cotton shirt w/embroidery (190, $5.88) . . . find the silk shell place again and buy a dozen in different colors for gifts (80 ea., $2.48). I told V I would bring back dinner . . . there is a Subway at the bazaar, it was perfect, I picked up a couple of subs . . . just like at home. I tuk-tuk home, grab and beer and a Sprite, we have a grand picnic.


    Thursday, August 5 Chiang Mai to Bangkok

    We’re up/out and in a songthaew to the airport at 8:30, took about 15 minutes and 100 ($3.10). We check in and go have breakfast . . . egg, ham, toast, coffee, water, 353 ($10.93). Flight on time at 10:00, full, landed a little early at Don Muang Airport, taxied to our hotel (230, $7.12), and arrived about 12:30. The Samran Place people acted happy to see us and upgraded us to a superior room, room 403. The superior room is larger, the two beds seem larger, we had two easy chairs and a table, otherwise, it was like the regular room.

    We are hungry and head off to lunch . . . we walked around the corner to the BTS to go to the Nana stop and Chili Culture Restaurant. We ate here on our last trip when we were passing through going to Myanmar in 2007 and loved it. We walk right to it, looks the same, menu looks the same, dishes look different. We split an order of fresh spring rolls and they come with basil sauce, lemon grass sauce, and ginger sauce; chicken with cashews; two orders of rice; two coconut shakes; and one beer (978, $30.29). The meal was just OK, not as good as before, we are disappointed.

    We split up, V goes home to put leg up, I go to MBK . . . I shop around for a couple of hours, find nothing I want to buy, I head home. There are several massage places on the way home from the BTS. At one place, the people are very friendly and always want to chat. I said I would have a massage if they had beer . . . while I was changing clothes, one appeared complete with a glass of ice and a straw. I wanted shoulders and neck, even demonstrated, but got full body . . . and full body by Brunhilda with thumbs/fingers of steel. The beer was good, the massage was too rough . . . I spent my entire hour wincing and saying, “easy.” Brunhilda just nodded and smiled . . . 300 ($9.29) and that included the beer.

    I get home and find that V had stopped at the same massage place and had a foot massage on her way home. Every evening, there are many restaurants that appear on the sidewalk up/down our street . . . and they are all busy. We walk down and check them out. Most of them are fish restaurants but we find one that had BBQ chicken. We sat down and ordered chicken, fried kale, cold noodles, rice, Coke, and a big beer . . . no one looked like us . . . everyone stared at us.

    Waiter brought the drinks and a plate with a large amount of Thai basil and wedges of raw cabbage. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do with it. Our food came and we asked, waiter spoke a little English and pointed to the basil and cabbage and said we are to dip it in the spicy-hot peanut sauce on the table. It was delicious . . . as was all the food, 365 ($11.30). We later find out the basil/cabbage/sauce is a specialty of the Isaan (ethnic Lao) region of northeast Thailand. We had seen the term “Isaan” and knew it was regional but didn’t know it was Lao!

    After dinner, V returned to the room and I went to explore the soi (side street) next to our hotel. The main streets are named and then side streets off of them are numbered. Our hotel is on Petchburi Rd, Soi 10 is one of the side street off of Petchburi and the one I was exploring. The street and sidewalks are filled with all kinds of food stands, from regular market items to cooked items . . . all are takeaways and all looked/smelled wonderful.

    I had chipped one of my (acrylic) nails and tried to have it fixed at MBK, they wanted $40 just to fix one nail! At home, a full set is only $15. A young girl had a table set up on the sidewalk and was giving another young girl a manicure. I asked (gestured, no English) if she could fix my one and she nodded . . . asked how much, customer knew a few words, translated, 59 ($1.83) . . . I nodded yes, was told to come back in 15 minutes.

    I piddled around and returned, she (S) was ready . . . and we had a crowd. I sat down, S conferred with English-speaking girl (ESG), I was to pick out a color . . . red . . . S took off my polish, picked up a sponge, dabbed it into some red acrylic paint, dabbed it all over my nails and fingers, all the while jabbering to ESG and the crowd. Everyone was laughing, including me. The crowd grew bigger, ESG had to move them back. S took another sponge, dipped it into something and cleaned up my fingers. My nails were a flat red, no shine. ESG said I needed sparkles, everyone agreed, S applied a clear glitter polish. Everyone clapped. I am 67 years old and have silver glitter on my red nails. Actually, S did a better job of polishing than my regular nail tech. I paid my $1.83, gave S a tip, she and ESG hugged me . . . a guy in the crowd gave me a mangosteen, where else can you have this much fun.

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    Sounds like you enjoyed Bangkok! What's NOT to enjoy about Bangkok! It's my favorite city. I'm almost your age... I'll be turning 65 in November, just FYI. By the way, where is the Chili Culture place in Nana? I always stay on soi 8 in that area.

    Hope the leg situation improved!

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    simpsonc510,

    It's on soi 11, at the very end of the street . . . I don't recommend it. It was great in 07, we should have left well enough alone.

    Vicki's leg is well . . . she went to her doctor when we returned home, she had cellulitis . . . another round of antibiotics fixed her up.

    BTW, I always enjoy your posts!

    Sandy (in Denton)

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    Thanks Sandy for the trip report, I've read it through several times and have now printed it off for my travelling companion to read through. We are going to Laos in Jan 2011 with a one day stopover in Bangkok. Much appreciate your descriptions of what can be achieved in 1 day there.
    We've booked accommodation but nothing else so your report of Vientiane and Luang Prabang provide excellent advice.
    We like to spend time in museums etc but fully intend to follow your lead on massages for 60 y o bodies.
    Again many thanks for taking the time to provide a TR.
    OzJane

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    live42day,

    Sorry, I have been spending my time on the Africa forum trying to garner info about Morocco, our March trip.

    We each took a 21" rolling bag and carried on. You don't need much, laundry is cheap, don't need to dress up.

    Thanks to everyone for the positive responses.

    Happy travels,
    Sandy (in Denton)

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    I am so glad the others on this thread encouraged you post. Your trip report was very entertaining and full of great information. I loved our 4 days we spent in Luang prabang last year and can't wait to go back to Laos again sometime.

    Thanks sandy

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    dogster: It is fun to see the looks on young peoples' faces when we show up on their (day) tour, as we know they are thinking, "Oh no . . . not two old cranky women, how can we ditch them!" In 5 min. time, they are stuck to us like glue, wanting to come with us, sit with us, meet them later, etc. We are 'way more fun than most of their friends are.

    We are "two wild and crazy guys (girls)" to quote Steve Martin.

    Sandy (in Denton)

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