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Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Return to SE Asia: A Solo Traveler in Bangkok, Luang Prabang and Vietnam, 1/08

Old Mar 11th, 2008, 03:44 AM
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Thursday, thank you for thinking of my foot. It is fine now but I do wish I had an idea of what the problem was. Did I step on some kind of tiny insect? Or a miniscule shard of glass? Although I took the antibiotics (some kind of Amoxicillan) that the nurse gave me I am not at all certain that it was an infection. But it did put a damper on my time in Bangkok. Although I did get to see that nurse all decked out in her perky nurse cap and white uniform and toting that big black bag..quite an experience!

Gloria, I have followed all of the discussions about the Oriental and Pen. I do think we have to deduct points from the Pen for the poor dinner showing! And although it is very easy to access the city by boat and skytrain, there are times when a traveler might want to stay put in the hotel, or even walk outside and find someplace within a block or two. But for me the pool at the Pen would be the clincher.

What about hotels away from the river..are there any great ones with pools suitable for serious swimming?
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Old Mar 11th, 2008, 04:56 AM
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If you're a serious swimmer and the pool is important,the Oriental would probably not be for you. The Penn pool is definitely bigger but I think there are several hotels that have much better pools than it does -- probably even the Shangrila. As someone who doesn't even put her big toe in a pool (allergic to the chemicals and also to the sun) the pool is something I never even consider when I travel -- I don't even bring a bathing suit.
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Old Mar 11th, 2008, 05:43 AM
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Thanks, Gloria! The pool is a bit of an obsession for me and that narrows down the choices. The pool at the Oriental is not bad at all and definitely swimmable. It was very crowded when I took a look at it..is it possible that locals use it on weekends? (I was there on a Sunday)

I will have to take a look at the options when I return, which hopefully will be in the not all that distant future.
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Old Mar 11th, 2008, 07:26 AM
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No, locals don't use the pool at the Oriental. But the hotel gets a lot of guests who are frequent travelers to bangkok (I think over 70% of their business is returnees) so they aren't people who are out all day long shopping and sightseeing. A lot of people use the Oriental almost like a resort -- they go to the spa, eat at the many outstanding restauyrant options, take a cooking class, relax by the pool or hang out in the library or author's lounge. The result is their public areas and restaurants are always more crowded than other hotels -- something I love but others don't. Locals, of course,are often in the restaurants and in the lobby but not the pool.
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 11:43 AM
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I see the penalty flag being raised in the distance. Wait! Is he about to throw it???? Oh, no:



I arrived in Luang Prabang after short flight on Bangkok Air and transferred to my home for the next 5 nights, the Residence Phou Vau. The pros and cons of staying at this hotel, located a bit outside of the core of the old town, have been discussed here and I will weigh in by saying that I was charmed by the Phou Vau and that the slightly inconvenient location was outweighed by the beauty and serenity of the place. My very large room with netted bed and private terrace was on the ground floor of the building facing Phou Si hill. Lots of wood and stone, local fabrics, comfortable bed and small sofa... Very large bathroom area with lovely toiletries.

The grounds are beautiful, especially when illuminated at night by lanterns strung in the trees and placed in niches carved into the low garden walls. The pool area is simply among the most beautiful I have ever seen. (Unfortunately the water was very very cold in January and few people dipped more than a toe into the pool during my time at the hotel). The hotel offers free transport into town on a scheduled timetable during the day but they were willing to take me at other times as well; the ride is about 10 minutes, maximum, to the main street of the old city. Guests can phone the hotel and asked to be picked up in town, arrange to be picked up at a set time, or take a tuk tuk for $1-$2 US or the equivalent in Laotian kip.



http://www.residencephouvao.com/web/...a_a2a_home.jsp




Luang Prabang itself is magical. This is the SouthEast Asia that I remember from my travels 20 years ago. Tourists are very much in evidence (the majority seemed to be Thai but Europeans and a few North Americans were in evidence at the hotel and in town) but they do not, as of yet, seem to overwhelm the place.

I understand that the upscale AmanResorts is scheduled to take over a property (an old french hospital) in the near future, and new hotels are sprouting both within the old city and in the expanding, less attractive newer part of town, closer to the Phou Vau. But for the moment the place remains a jewel., although many of the return visitors that I met were dismayed at the changes that had taken place even in the past few years.




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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 11:53 AM
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We loved the Phou Vao. The setting is just gorgeous!
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 12:10 PM
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Kathie I am sure that your reports about the Phou Vau contributed to my decision to stay there. Truly gorgeous! And very romantic, too, I should add.

The room rate included a breakfast buffet with fresh fruits, excellent croissants and pan au chocolat, eggs, etc etc. And they have a spa which I used once for a massage. And a small shop with lovely and expensive crafts including many wood items from the Caruso shop which is one of the nicest in the town. (Prices for these were the same at the shop and at the hotel) It would be a wonderful spot for a honeymoon!

more soon...please stash that penalty flag!!
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 12:35 PM
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After unpacking a few things, I took the hotel’s 5:40pm jitney that lets guests off at the post office. (scheduled departures left at 40 minutes past the hour beginning in late afternoon). From there, I made my first of what would become many many promenades along the main street, stopping every few feet to admire a temple roofline, a display of fresh fruit, or an incongruous but common sighting of orange-robed teenage monks crowded around a computers in one of the dozens of internet cafes scattered around town. The displays of cheap CDs drew me into a sidewalk stall and I was set to purchase a pile, until I noticed the FREAK Sinatra label on one of these. Not more than a few minutes later, I made my first purchase, a box crafted of a stone-like material (explanations as to exactly what this substance is were wide ranging and very varied) embossed with raised dragonflies…$15US. I would buy a few more of these boxes in varying sizes before my departure. I also wandered into the LP branch of Vientiane’s Caruso shop, mentioned above, which sells extraordinarily handsome textiles and household items crafted of exotic (and endangered?) and beautfully veined hardwoods.


http://www.carusolao.com/

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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 02:39 PM
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I'm late coming to this thread (but enjoying it!) - what is the sink in the bathroom for, if not hand-washing?
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 04:13 PM
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The penalty flag has not been thrown, but not yet back in my pocket. We were absolutely charmed by LP.
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 04:34 PM
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its the hotel fantastic....we too stayed there largely on kathie's suggestion and experience there...

caruso shop was the best in town we felt....we bought a hard wood table from her and we just love it...did you meet her??

is the hotel no longer a pansea?? i gather not??
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 05:41 PM
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The Pansea hotels were purchased by the Orient Express group a couple of years ago. They remain very lovely, but alas! more pricey.
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 06:01 PM
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I also just found your report and am really enjoying it. Makes me want to return to BKK again, and try Chote Chitr. Glad that LP has not yet become totally overwhelmed with tourists. It was one of our favorite places. Also loved the wood carvings a Lao Caruso. Can't wait to hear about the Vietnam portion of your trip.
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 04:10 AM
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Thanks! Good news about that flag, too.

I did not meet the owner of Caruso (she has another shop in Vientiane) but that store is really fabulous.

That table must be truly beautiful..what does it look like?
I did see those ebony bowls in the Hmong market but they were just shade less lovely (the finish was not as nice) than the ones in the Caruso shop. I have to say that I was surprised at how high some of the prices were for top quality crafts..but now of course I wish I had bought more!

more soon..
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 05:41 AM
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Also: Bob, did you ship that table home?
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 12:08 PM
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I don't mean to shout, but WHAT IS THE SINK IN THE BATHROOM FOR IF NOT WASHING YOUR HANDS?
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 12:21 PM
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GOOD QUESTION!!!! Apparently she uses the bathroom sink for washing food. So to wash your hands you should use the sink just outside the bathroom, in the cooking area. Now what part of that did you NOT understand?? Do I have to say it in Thai??
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Old Mar 17th, 2008, 02:58 PM
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Khob kun kha.

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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 10:38 AM
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Moving right along on what must be the slowest-paced Asian trip report since my 2007 Seoul/China saga, my first dinner in Luang Prabang was at the much –lauded three Nagas Restaurant on the main street of the old city.


http://www.alilahotels.com/3nagas/dining.asp


I was very glad that I had booked a table (through the hotel, earlier that day) because the place was filled and quite a few people were turned away. Because I had not known to request a table inside, I was placed at one of the streetside tables which, to my mind, are less desirable because of the street noise from passing motorbikes. It was also a bit chilly after sunset. The restaurant provides outdoor tables with charcoal braziers to ward off insects but I did not find these to be necessary; I saw just a few mosquitoes during my stay in LP.

After a vodka sour, I chose three courses from the menu:

Stuffed bamboo shoots (these would become one of my favorite local dishes)
Minced pork salad..very good
Pork with eggplant..good, if a tad bland

Along with sticky rice, the total for dinner with one drink was $18.40USD which is, of course, expensive for Laos. The service is very friendly. The meal did not live up to the heights that I expected after having read quite a few reviews, so I decided to return a couple of days later to explore the menu in more detail.

I will probably risk opening myself up to criticism here, but in all honesty, I was disappointed with the food in Luang Prabang. While I had a few dishes which I considered memorable, overall I felt that the food at the tourist places (which is where I ate most of my meals) had been diluted for Westerners. I just did not experience knockout flavors and complexity. To expand on this as best I can, I guess I felt that I had scaled such heights with the meal at Chote Chitr in Bangkok that I was primed for more of the same level of excitement, even if this was another country and another cuisine. I had such high expectations for Laotian food in LP after having read so many glowing reports that I was bound to be slightly disappointed. Well, there you have it… I did have one transcendant meal in LP, which you will read about soon.

After dinner it was a snap to find a tuk tuk back to the hotel. I have said this before, but it bears mentioning one more time. Illuminated by the candles and lanterns, the Phou Vau hotel and gardens are magical at night.

The dogs of Luang Prabang are up before sunrise, as I learned my first morning. A 5am rise would become the routine for me here, but I was so excited just to be in the city that I did not care much about the early wakeup barks. After a sumptuous breakfast in the dining area overlooking the pool (if you have never tried tamarind preserve, take my word for it..fantastic! Along with piles of sliced mangoes, croissants…I know I have said this above but I cannot stop myself from enthusing…sorry)

After breakfast it was time to meet Ta (Ta Keovongsy) who had been recommended to me by ElizabethS and who I had hired for two days:

[email protected]

Incidentally, Ta and Tong (Bangkok) refer clients to one another. I had high hopes for Ta and I was not disappointed. More soon..

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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 10:51 AM
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Nice travelogue.

I agree about the food in the LP tourist restaurants. I tried the street food one night because it smelled so good and was hooked after that. Really great flavors. The night stalls were great and so cheap! It was very busy, so food moved very quickly. Often it was handed to you off the grill/pot. Never got sick!

Looking forward to more of your travels.
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