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Bangkok, Siem Reap and Luang Prabang--Notes from the Road

Bangkok, Siem Reap and Luang Prabang--Notes from the Road

Jan 16th, 2012, 04:39 PM
  #41  
 
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Still really enjoying.
aussiedreamer is offline  
Jan 17th, 2012, 01:05 AM
  #42  
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Day 5: “That hill is getting a little close for comfort”

Today’s report will be pretty short. It’s a transit day, and the better part of our afternoon is spent getting from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang.

After breakfast and packing, we head downtown for a little concentrated shopping. We’d spied a few stores of interest on one of our previous evenings out and are now back to spend some of our remaining US dollars. We also wander through the old market, which has everything from the ubiquitous scarves and other souvenirs to produce and pigs’ heads. There’s a section of food counters in the middle that look somewhat interesting, but we are far from hungry.

The hotel recommended that we leave at 1 pm for our 3 pm flight, so we do. Check-in and immigration formalities take very little time, and we have almost an hour and a half to kill in the very small terminal. Notably, one of the primary food vendors in the terminal is Dairy Queen.

Our plane arrives shortly before departure time, but they turn it around quickly and we are out of there shortly after 3 pm. Our flight makes a short stop in Pakse to refuel and add a few passengers. As transit passengers, we have to leave the plane and wait the 30 or so minutes in a small transit room with a concession selling some very nice scarves (but no attendant) and a television playing loud cartoons.

The second half of the trip takes about an hour and a half. Lao Airlines is just fine. The flights are on time. It serves boxed snacks on both parts of the trip. All announcements are in English only. And the safety “demonstration” lasts probably less than 30 seconds (not sure if that’s good or bad). As we fly north toward the more mountainous region of Laos, the scenery outside becomes more and more dramatic—with spectacularly rugged terrain of sheer cliffs, jagged peaks and lush green valleys. We land at sunset to some stunning views across the hills. As the plane descends into Luang Prabang, the hill to the right side of the plane (our side) appears to be getting closer and closer. Finally, mr_go says what we are both thinking, “You know, that hill is getting a little close for comfort.” Then suddenly, the plane banks to the left, and we land without incident.

Thanks to a tip from yestravel, we downloaded and completed our visa on arrival applications prior to leaving Siem Reap. As a result, we are first in line at the visa booth, while others are filling out the visa forms they receive at the airport. We pay our $36 per, clear immigration, pick up our bags, meet our driver, and are checking into our hotel (Le Bel Air Hotel) within about 30 minutes of wheels down.

We quickly freshen up and begin heading into town to meet the yestravels at Tamnak Lao for dinner at 8 pm. We’ll talk about our hotel more later, but it’s across the smaller river from the main part of Luang Prabang, which requires us to cross one of two bridges. Given that it’s dark now, we choose the more straightforward route, which means crossing the “high” bridge next to the hotel. It is a good couple of hundred feet above the river, and there is a narrow path for foot traffic on one side. I’m not good with heights, and I think it is actually good that we are doing this in the dark.

The other notable thing about this walk is the very clear night and the view of the wat atop the Phou Si, the hill near the center of town—which appears to be floating in the sky.

We have a good dinner (nice setting and good Lao food) and very nice visit with yestravel and her DH, swapping travel stories and trying not to be too jealous of the fact that they’re on a nine-week trip while we only have 10 days (and ours is now half over).

We walk home via the lower bamboo bridge, which is only open part of the year (it washes out in the wet season). Getting home via this route in the dark isn’t a slam dunk (fortunately, they’ve strung lights on the bridge), but we try to keep hugging the river, and eventually we find our hotel. Notably, it’s getting cool outside—almost “sweater cool.”
ms_go is online now  
Jan 17th, 2012, 04:29 AM
  #43  
 
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Hmmmm... I wonder if your flight path (close to mtns) is the typical path into LP. I've never been, but I know that some flt paths are really scary, between mtn formations.

Isn't it great to put names and faces together? Glad you got to have a GTG with yestravel!

I know what you mean about 'already half over' (when others have 9 wks). DS usually has about 6 wks, and I, on the other hand, have 2 wks or less when I visit BKK!
simpsonc510 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2012, 07:56 AM
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We've spent an afternoon with the yestravels (here in SF), so I know you must have enjoyed your visit!
sf7307 is online now  
Jan 18th, 2012, 05:24 AM
  #45  
 
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I wondered how that walk on the bridge at night was going to be!

One of the nice things about fodors is the opportunity it provides to meet such interesting fellow travelers, share stories and pick up tips. Now if they would get a PM function...
yestravel is offline  
Jan 18th, 2012, 05:23 PM
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yestravel, I much prefer that bridge to the tall one--night or day.


Day 6: “I wish my eyes were video cameras”

We wake up to a fog cover (not sure if that’s normal), and it is downright cold. We bundle up for breakfast on the hotel’s outdoor verandah. They put a small pot of heated charcoal under the table to warm us. Breakfast is pretty hearty, including a made-to-order omelet station.

Just as we’ve headed out, the sun starts to break through, and the temperature goes up about 10 degrees in a matter of minutes…and continues going up.

For a good part of the day, we do what we love to do when visiting new cities—we walk (and walk and walk). And Luang Prabang is easily walkable and we enjoy checking out the river views (both the Mekong and the Nam Khan), doing some window shopping, and observing the mix tourist and local life. We take a lot of photos, but they don’t really do it justice. At one point (after having a small toddler smile and wave at her), DD says, “I wish my eyes were video cameras.”

This is a Tuesday, so the palace is closed. We visit the Wat Xieng Thong, near the tip of the peninsula. It has a sim that is one of just a few remaining examples of local style (and is currently undergoing renovation). We also visit Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham. And then we climb the Phu Si (the big hill) to visit That Chomsi at the top, as well as to check out the amazing views of the city in all directions. On the way back down the hill, we stop at Wat Siphoutthabat Thippharam, the shrine with a Buddha footprint, and Wat Thammothayalan to see the large golden Buddha statues there. Again, the views from up here are definitely nice enough to justify the climb.

Somewhere in between those, we decide to have a quick, inexpensive lunch. We want a sit-down restaurant rather than a stand. As we pass by one on a side street, we notice one customer’s baguette sandwich (these are somewhat popular here, and a common street food item) and decide that this will be the place. Mr_go orders laap, and it is particularly good. Our two baguettes are very large and pretty good. Best of all, we get to sit in the nice shady courtyard (by now it is quite warm, and we are dressed for the cooler morning).

After a rest and refreshments at our hotel (including changing to more weather-appropriate clothing), we head back out to the night market. I think we can point to today as the day DD learned to start bargaining. She accomplishes all of her gift-buying in one evening (and a college student typically has lots of gifts to buy).

We aren’t terribly hungry, but we would like to settle in someplace fun for drinks and light food. We head to Dyen Sabai, which comes highly recommended in the Lonely Planet book and is on the way back to our hotel—across the bamboo bridge on the Nam Khan and just up the hill. It is located in the middle of a bamboo grove, and seating is in smaller sections lighted with funky lanterns. It is as much a bar as it is a restaurant; the food portion of the menu is one page, while the drink selections take up about five pages. One of the specialties is Laotian fondue (similar to the Cambodian barbeque), but we opt for an appetizer platter of Mekong seaweed, dried sesame pork, eggplant dip, Luang Prabang sausage, and a very hot chili garlic sauce—all with sticky rice. Our waiter instructs us to bunch up balls of rice with our fingers and eat with our hands (no utensils). The food is good, but the drinks and atmosphere are even better (it is mostly a younger crowd), and so we linger. A great way to end the day.
ms_go is online now  
Jan 18th, 2012, 11:53 PM
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Great quote, "I wish my eyes were video cameras."
yestravel is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 04:21 AM
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Day 7: Take me to the river

Once again, it is a cool and foggy morning (but perhaps not quite as cool as the day before). Breakfast is great—with a mix of western and Asian (e.g., green curry chicken and rice) on the buffet, along with eggs made to order. It is enough to hold us all the way through dinner. The sun burns off the clouds by about 10 am.

First things first—we trek back into town to visit the royal palace, which had been closed yesterday. Our first stop on the grounds is the Wat Ho Pha Bang, which is designed to eventually house the Pha Bang Buddha (which, according to our book, is the most historically significant artifact in all of Laos). We also check out the collection of royal autos, a photo exhibit, and the Pha Bang Buddha, itself, before entering the museum, itself. The palace is about what you’d expect, with a receiving room, ornate throne room, well preserved living quarters, and various artifacts (masks, clothing, etc.) from years past. We are ushered out promptly at 11:30 closing time for lunch.

Our real mission for the day is to get out on the Mekong for a while. The hotel has arranged a private boat for us and transports us down to the dock at 1 pm for a half day trip out to the Pac Ou caves, a little over an hour’s ride from Luang Prabang. Along the way, we stop at a small village where we sample the local spirit, lao-lao. Since this isn’t anything we expect to find at home, we buy a small bottle to put in our checked luggage (hopefully my bag won’t arrive home smelling like lao-lao). There are also dozens of scarf vendors, and we give in. What’s a few more…

Another 20 minutes up the river is the cave complex. We’re a bit surprised to have to pay an extra 20,000 kip per person to see the caves, but we’re here, so we do. There are two caves, an upper cave and then a really upper cave. The “lower” one is a bit of a climb from the docks, and the higher one is several hundred steps further up. Both are chock full of Buddhas of all sizes, many of them tiny. Until a few decades ago, this was a prominent pilgrimage site for people of the area, who visited annually after the new year.

The caves are certainly interesting, but we enjoyed the peaceful ride on the river as much or even more—like our trip out to the Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam last year, this is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

We arrive back into Luang Prabang a little before 6 pm to a brilliant sunset over the Mekong (although I won’t be able to post photos for a while, I may make an exception and try to get one of these up shortly).

Dinner is at Tamarind, one of the more “upscale” restaurants in town (though it is still casual). The food seemed to be “fine dining” interpretations of local specialties. We enjoy a dip platter and entrees of marinated grilled buffalo, fish cooked in banana leaf, and an intensely flavored pork stew. My favorite, though, is the lime and lemongrass granite cocktail. We have a nice seat on the outdoor front patio, and it's a nice evening, weather-wise. Total for dinner and all drinks (and there were a few) was barely above $30.

Another great day in the books.
ms_go is online now  
Jan 19th, 2012, 04:26 AM
  #49  
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We are back in Bangkok, btw (one more day of LP to post). This time, we took a cab. It was pretty flawless until the driver got downtown and couldn't find our hotel (despite two maps). I think we drove around the Democracy Monument at least four times. But it cost a fraction of the trip in last week.

And, oh yeah, our room has an outdoor shower!!
ms_go is online now  
Jan 19th, 2012, 05:39 AM
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I agree, the river is the star, not the caves.

Do you actually like the outdoor shower? I had an outdoor bathroom in Sri Lanka and was NOT pleased. In the tropics I want my bathroom indoors with the AC. (Just like at home.)
thursdaysd is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 05:51 AM
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I love an outdoor shower. With a green frog, preferably.

But I love a great trip report more. Congratulations ms go.
dogster is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 06:14 AM
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Put me down as another fan of outdoor showers.

I think every TR written about the boat ride to Pak Ou Caves (including mine) has said that it is all about the journey and not the destination...

This has been a really nice report - makes me long to return to LP.
Craig is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 06:35 AM
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Thanks, everyone! I'll answer about the shower tomorrow, after I've used it. We didn't get here until about 8 pm. There's loud music out there right now, from the bar next door.

And dogster, there is a terracotta frog in the outdoor tub (separate from the outdoor shower).
ms_go is online now  
Jan 19th, 2012, 10:08 AM
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in asia i like an a/c bathroom because you are never totally refreshed otherwise..

in america, i love an outdoor shower in the summer, especially at a beach house---not just the wash down type, a full wooden enclosed shower
rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 03:47 PM
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Okay, I'm giving a thumbs up to the shower. It might help that it's January and not beastly hot and humid out already this morning, and I could come right back into the air conditioned room.

I'm not giving a thumbs up to the news that we'll be coming home tomorrow to 6+ inches of new snow.
ms_go is online now  
Jan 19th, 2012, 04:06 PM
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Brrr - sorry to hear about the snow, hope you at least have an uneventful flight.

In my case the whole bathroom was outdoors, although most of it had a roof. I had to keep the towels in the bedroom.

Great TR, thanks.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 04:49 PM
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As you descend into the snow, remember those of us who never ascended. Thanks for a great trip report.
Marija is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 05:14 PM
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Have a nice flight. Hope you don't get tooooo jolted back to reality by the snow in Chicago! Vegas is nice. I was glad we were leaving Chicago yesterday, before the snow!
simpsonc510 is offline  
Jan 19th, 2012, 08:23 PM
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Safe flight home and thanks so much for 'sharing' your trip.
aussiedreamer is offline  
Jan 20th, 2012, 12:27 AM
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'As you descend into the snow, remember those of us who never ascended.

Ahhhh... perfect.
dogster is offline  

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