Anantara, Laos & Bangkok trip report

Apr 25th, 2007, 07:28 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
Anantara, Laos & Bangkok trip report

I will post this trip report in bite size chunks. Thanks to all who responded to my numerous questions as I planned this trip.

EVA AIR – LONDON to BANGKOK

We left Heathrow on the evening flight having booked Eva’s Evergreen Deluxe (Premium Economy) class. We were impressed with the seats and legroom, not up to Business Class, but a vast improvement on Economy. Booking well in advance, the cost was around the same as BA Economy Class but a vast improvement. The first time with Eva and would definitely use them again.

We were late arriving at Suvarnabhumi and with only 2.5 hour from landing to make our Thai connection to Chiang Rai from Don Muang we were pushed for time to say the least and the guy at the taxi rank told us it could take around 2 hours for the trip. We decided to go for it and the trip took 35 mins (and 250baht) so we had plenty of time. Reasonably impressed with the new airport and immigration seemed to be a lot quicker than at the old airport, but it is obviously nowhere near finished and has a lot to do to catch up with Singapore, KL or Hong Kong in terms of passenger experience.

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

We flew business, class with Thai to Chiang Rai (well worth the relatively small additional cost over economy) and were the only people in the business class cabin. In fact there were only around 20 in economy. Obviously the news of the smoke etc. had put of many people. It was quite an experience flying into CR at dusk, something akin to the scenes of Mordor from Lord of the Rings. There was a layer of thick black cloud with gigantic plumes of smoke pushing through the clouds reminding me of a scene from Lord of the Ring, quite spectacular but very concerning. As we landed we could clearly see many fires surrounding the city, a portent of things to come. We used the limo service from the Ananatara which, at $54 was outrageously expensive, but welcome after such a long journey. An hour later we were in reception.

We loved the Anantara. We had booked through Small Luxury Hotels of the World www.slh.com – free to join and definitely worth the trouble. Not only did they offer the best rate, but they guaranteed an upgrade to the next available category (subject to availability). We were given a suite which was very spacious and a great improvement on the standard rooms. The food and service was excellent and a particular surprise was the Italian restaurant which compared well with any I have eaten in anywhere in the world.

We really wished that we had stayed longer and taken advantage of the elephant camp etc. As it was, we spent some time with the elephants at the river at bath time and in the camp, playing football with and, bottle feeding, a baby elephant. Having a 6 month old elephant try and swallow my arm rates as one of the more bizarre experiences in my life!
We also borrowed a couple of bikes and cycled around the countryside but gave up after a couple of hours as the smoke was getting to us. On our travels out through the local villages it did appear that there was a new hotel being built a couple of miles from the Anantara.

We had been concerned about the smoke before we left and had read numerous posts on Fodors. It really was quite bad. On the first morning we though “what a beautiful sunrise” as we looked through the mist across the valley. Except that the mist was not mist but smoke and lasted all day! Thing got worse and our balcony was covered in ash most days and the smell of smoke was ever present and gradually got worse throughout our 3 days there.

We rented a car and driver from the hotel for one day for a trip to Mai Salong and Mai Sai. I am sure the views would have been great without the smoke, but otherwise not particularly inspired with either place although we spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the market at the latter. We much preferred the scenery in the north-west around Mae Hong Sorn & Pai on a trip we made a couple of years previously.

The Anantara is great place to stay in the Golden Triangle the one criticism I have is that they overprice absolutely everything, tours, transport, food; it was almost like being back in London except the service was better and the pollution much worse!
crellston is offline  
Apr 25th, 2007, 08:13 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,892
Great start - keep it coming!
Craig is offline  
Apr 25th, 2007, 09:26 AM
  #3  
jgg
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 2,683
Thanks for the report. We are in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to Thailand for next March. Were the fires a lot worse than in your previous trip? Some have said here on Fodor's they were worse due to fires also in Burma and Laos. Should we expect similar smoke next March?
jgg is offline  
Apr 25th, 2007, 10:42 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 6,664
Thanks for the beginning. This is the first year I've read about the horrible smoke in N. Thailand. Report is timely, no penalty.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 25th, 2007, 01:38 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,466
looking forward to hearing how you got on in bkk
Smeagol is offline  
Apr 26th, 2007, 12:32 AM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
jgg - I have visited the Northern Thailand and Laos on a number of occasions a couple of times in March and have never had any problems. At worse there was a smell of smoke,a liitle like you may experience from a neighbours bonfire, but visibility was not affected. On this trip, at times it was like standing next to the bonfire with the wind blowing towards you! as you will see when I post the rest of my report as we went down river to Luang Prabang, the smoke got a lot worse. Having said this, I think this year was one of the worst ever! You can check out the air quality on the following site: http://www.pcd.go.th/AirQuality/Regi...?task=findsite

This happens every year and the practice of swidden agriculture is prevalent all over the area. The minority tribes do not recognise national boundaries. As to whether you can expect similar next year is anyones guess, but as I say this was the worst for along time.
crellston is offline  
Apr 26th, 2007, 12:35 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
Gpanda

Thanks for the penalty waiver, but here's a thought. Instead of the stick of panda penalties, how about the carrot of "Panda Points". It has a nice ring to it and could be the beginning of some kind of awards scheme?
crellston is offline  
Apr 26th, 2007, 04:43 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 6,664
Crellston-in my experience with behaviour modification, I've found that compulsives, such as we, respond better to negative prompts than positive ones. Plus, the award of Panda points would not permit as many snide remarks, my raison d'etre.
Gpanda is offline  
Apr 26th, 2007, 05:59 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,880
Great report so far. Also looking forweard to the BKK part for an upcoming trip.
laartista is offline  
Apr 26th, 2007, 07:11 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 2,870
Just when I was beginning to get over my guilt about posting late, here's another great report by a conscientious poster. Maybe there should be a remedial board for overdue trip reports and you could use the Punctual Panda Points there.

(So sorry about the smoke...but was the pool cold?)
crosscheck is offline  
Apr 26th, 2007, 11:01 AM
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
crosscheck - i can't really comment on the pool as we never quite made it past the bar! Most evening though there were groups of people sitting in the pool so maybe they have fixed the temperature.
crellston is offline  
Apr 27th, 2007, 07:50 AM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
DOWN THE MEKONG
We do not normally use a travel agent or tour operator and arrange transport as we go, but as we only had only 2 weeks we took the unusual step of pre-planning and engaging a tour operator, Tiger Trails, which in retrospect was a big mistake as we started having problems with them back in the UK. I may cover this in a separate post later.

The ferry across to Houay Xai takes around 5 mins and a further 30 mins and $31 to obtain our the Lao visas. Again see my separate post re “VISA PROBLEMS IN LAOS” for anyone considering entering Laos this way as you do ned to be very careful to acquire the right stamps upon entry. We were met at the landing stage by our guide and after completing (or so we thought!) immigration, we got a Songtaew to the boat landing for our trip down river.We were expecting a small longtail and so were amazed to see our boat awhich was a a full blown cruiser which had seats for at least 30, dining table and a large coolbox with cold beers water etc! As we travelled down river we were hoping that the smoke would get better but it actually got worse very quickly until the visibility was down to 50 yards or so and we were sitting on the boat with scarves around our faces to keep out the smoke. The boat driver had to slow right down in order to dodge the rocks as the visibility was so bad and the river level so low.

The bigger boat was obviously a lot more comfortable than the normal longtail we had used to go to the far north on a previous trip. The boat driver’s family travelled with us and his wife cooked lunches for us en route (the food was really good, authentic Lao food).

I have done this trip a number of times in both directions as well as travelling to the far north around Phongsali, Muang Sing etc. The last time about 5 years back and I was really shocked to see the devastation of the forests caused by the slash and burn agriculture during the intervening period. 5 years ago there was 70/80% of the forest intact- now it seemed that maybe only 20% remains along the banks and it is easy to see whythe smoke is getting worse each year.

We reached Pakbeng in the late afternoon (definitely a transit stop rather than a destination in its own right) and stayed at the Pakbeng Lodge a very comfortable concrete built place run by a French couple with reasonable, if limited food, and comfortable accommodation no aircon but a ceiling fan kept the room bearable.
As we were enjoying dinner looking out across the Mekong, the farmers set light to the hills on the opposite bank. A spectacular sight at night as the hillside was ablaze for a couple of miles as the fires took hold. This obviously exacerbated the smoke problem, so much so, that we had to go back to the room to get out of the smoke and by now, the ash that was falling. In the morning there was black ash and burnt leaves from the fires all over the place.

An early morning start down to Luang Prabang stopping en route at a number of which are now very touristy, villages. The kids were dressed up in traditional dress and were desperately trying to sell bangles and stuff. Uncomfortable with the ethics of visiting what amounted to a “human zoo”, we told the guide not to bother with any further village visits en route. Having done this trip previously in the opposite direction only 5 years previously, and stayed in and visited many minority villages it was really sad to see the negative effects that tourism has had upon the culture of the minority peoples, but I guess nothing ever remains the same and in effect I was concerned that we were part of the problem.

The sight of Luang Prabang in the late afternoon sun was magical and very welcome after sitting for 8 hours on a boat with eyes streaming and, by this time quite bad throat irritation etc. What this must be doing to the health of the local people doesn’t bear thinking about! More to follow shortly.
crellston is offline  
Apr 30th, 2007, 07:04 AM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
LUANG PRABANG

We had planned spend a couple of days at the Lao Spirit resort and to do some trekking for 5 days around the hills surrounding Luang Prabang staying in the village home stays along the way, but strenuous trekking in the hills in the smoke was simply not on. The guide had told us that he had taken out a group a few weeks earlier and had had to run for their lives because the wind changed and drove the fires in their direction! This sort of trekking sounded a bit too hard core for our tastes so we decided to change our plans and spend more time in Luang Prabang city and move on to BKK a few days early.

We had booked into the 3 Nagas and went there to see whether they could alter our booking. They couldn’t accommodate us that night, but the owner, Xavier, arranged a room for us at Aspara for one night. Aspara is a really nice boutique type hotel overlooking the Nam Ou river and is very trendy and a member of design hotels with a good bar/restaurant serving great food - a great place for cocktails.

After one night at the Aspara, we moved back to the 3 Nagas where we spent 2 nights in and executive room across the road from the main hotel. Again, very hip, nicely furnished with doors opening on to a quiet garden.

Two nights later, we transferred to the 3 Nagas suite, which was the room we originally booked. We loved this suite. Very spacious, with separate dressing room, dining area and a large balcony overlooking the main street where the monks pass by every day at dawn. Being on the main street the hotel was ideally placed for watching the monk’s alms procession at dawn as they walked right past the door. It was very sad to see the behaviour of some tourists during the alms giving procession. Good manners seemed to be have been left at home as people stood in the way of the monks walking along the road forcing them to walk around them into the road and shoved cameras in their faces in the hope of getting the “perfect” shot in the process blinding them with their flash! The unacceptable face of tourism!

Culinary highlights of Luang Prabang were:
• Dinner at the 3 Nagas restaurant. We had the Lao tasting menu which was excellent in all respects including delicacies such as river weed and dried buffalo skin. Being French owned, they also had a great wine list which was very reasonably priced (especially compare with Bangkok.
• Lunch at Tamarind, a small restaurant owned by an Aussie woman who settled in Laos a couple of years ago and a Lao guy. The restaurant is situated in the road between the main street and the road by the Mekong. The concept is to provide authentic traditional Lao food as well as cooking courses etc. You can also book a special ”forest food” tasting menu for the REALLY exotic. There is also a small range of Lao food products on sale – honey, coffee, river weed etc. since our return home we have tried the river weed as a Nori replacement for Sushi. It is great and definitely worth buying some to take home. The restaurant is only open until about 6.00pm which makes it a great place for a sundowner (with some some unusual cocktails!) as there is a temple across the street where the monks start chanting around 5.30.
• Another place that impressed us was Blue Lagoon where we had lunch and returned for dinner a couple of days later as it was so good. Owned by a Swiss guy, it has some really good Lao and Swiss food and tables inside or in a nice courtyard setting
• Breakfast at the market is always a favourite after watching the monks procession, but not so many food stalls this time around

Another highlight was the massages at Spa Garden. This place is just along the road from Tamarind. Really good Lao massages as well as a range of other spa treatments. The cost was above the norm for LP but IMO well worth the extra $5 for 60min and $7 for 90mins. As good as anything I have had in Bangkok.

Overall our impression of our 3rd visit to LP is that it now getting too many tourists for its size and I fear it will soon end up like Hoi An which is a real shame. There is a lot of building going on with some new, quite large, hotels on the way.
crellston is offline  
May 11th, 2007, 01:36 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,466
Crellston
did you make it to supatra in BKK anxious to hear your thoughts?
Smeagol is offline  
May 12th, 2007, 03:14 AM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
Hi Smeagol - No sadly we did not make it to Supatra but you have just remined me that I have forgotten to post the remaining BKK instalment of my trip report which I shall do next week - I do hope Gpanda does not revoke his previous penalty waiver!
crellston is offline  
May 12th, 2007, 05:32 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 6,664
There is never a revocation of a penalty waiver. However, scorn and derision are freely administered when appropriate (see RhkKmk). Let's get moving. One of the secrets to COMPLETE reports is that they make you want to return sooner.
Gpanda is offline  
May 12th, 2007, 10:43 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,466
look forward to hearing the bkk section of your trip. Shame about supatra but it means you will have to go back.
Smeagol is offline  
May 12th, 2007, 10:54 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 28
We went to Luang prabang 5 years ago - from what I hear it's developed quite a bit in just a short period - what were your impressions after your first couple of trips? Is it really getting to Hoi An levels? That will be a terrible shame - we were on a two month trip around South east asia and ended up spending a week in LP because we loved it so much - but I knew it wouldn't stay that way...
samscomps is offline  
May 13th, 2007, 05:22 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,975
This is a beautifully written report with such great detail. Thanks.
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 14th, 2007, 05:21 AM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,378
samscomps - Yes, I fear Luang Prabang will catch up with Hoi An within a few years which is a real shame. A world heritage site it may be, but even UNESCO is struggling to halt the rampant building that is going on.

Its great that the Lao people are benefiting from the economic growth that tourism has brought, but the negative efffect is that a once quiet main street is now teeming with visitors (and the behaviour of some left a little to be desired) and full of pizza restaurants and tour operators. We love Laos both the country and the people after our first visit we seriously considered moving to LP at some point and starting a JV business of some description, possibly coupled with some vountary work. We may still do this, but would probably now choose somewhere other than LP. Having said all of this LP is still IMO worth a visit for those who have not been, but for those who visited a few years ago will see some major change.
crellston is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 01:59 AM.