Trip report - Bkk and Laos Pt1.

Reply

Aug 30th, 2005, 12:11 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Trip report - Bkk and Laos Pt1.

Well – I promised a report on our trip to Bangkok and Laos so here it is.

To give you an idea of who we are first – We are a couple aged 50, Australians (although Dan was originally English) and live in the far south west corner of Western Australian on a rural property about 40 kms from the nearest town. (www.valleyofthegiants.com.au) We run a pottery studio and Dan also works part time at the Tree Top Walk which is a major tourist site in the area. We ran away down here about 13 years ago from city life. We love to travel, particularly in Asia, but like many people have the problem of Champagne taste and a beer income (or more probably water in fact) these days. So our travel is a strange mixture of very good hotels and some very cheap (hopefully not too bad) hotels etc.

This year we were covering some old ground. We had 5 days in Bangkok to begin, then a night in Udon Thani, on to Vientiane and then Luang Prabang. Back to Vientiane and Udon and then more time in Bangkok. We have been going to Thailand every year for about 13 years and have a few odd journeys before that. We try to add on something – either the north or Cambodia or Laos. Usually we have about 3 weeks – this year 4 weeks.

We fly up from Perth WA on Thai International because they have a direct flight – only about 7 hours for the flight but it takes us a 5 hour drive to get to the airport. We treat ourselves to business class because on this route you can upgrade for a reasonable (?) price – its kind of a special tourist price – other routes its just out of the question for us. Decided advantages of this include the extra baggage allowance plus we have FF status with them which means we have an 80kg allowance between us which is great coming home.

Our first few days in Bkk we choose to stay in a cheaper hotel in the centre of the city so we can do most of the running around and bits of shopping etc with out the need to go too far. We stayed this year at the Amari Watergate in Pratunam. We haven't stayed there for about 10 years. It is reasonably convenient for the things we wanted to do – Pratunam markets, Pantip, World Trade and Central. Also not far from the Dentist. The hotel is fine but nothing spectacular – its big and not particularly friendly but we did have the advantage of staying long enough to be given an upgrade to a suite which is much nicer – quite a big area on the corner of the building with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, dressing area and extra toilet. For the price it was good value. We didn't have breakfast included. Sometimes I like that but usually just have fruit and yoghurt and as we were intending to run around decided not to bother. With the brilliant supermarkets near by we just bought some goodies in and ate in our living room – there was a kettle and cups etc provided. Dan had pastries from the bakery in the supermarket at the top Isetan in the World Trade which were absolutely superb and very cheap – much better than others around the area. Unfortunately I can't eat wheat flour anymore (it makes me very sick) so I just had to stick with the fruit and yoghurt.

MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 30th, 2005, 12:13 AM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
To continue:

So for 5 days we roamed around shopping, eating etc. First night we arrived at dinnertime so straight around to the Loft for a quick but very good meal – I love duck so head for that treat first. Next day we went out to Chaturchak Markets and bought jeans, some stone beads etc. As we live a very very casual life style – these are great for us – 200 bt a pair of wranglers, lees, levis etc. They come out of the factories here and are usually very good – but occassionally you get a pair that the sizing is odd. But at 200bt its not really a problem. Thats less than 1/10th the price in Australia.
Monday we headed for Bumrungrad Hospital to get our teeth checked out. We go here every year for a check and any work that needs doing. The facilities are excellent, the dentist very gentle and nice as well as thorough. We book by email and have the same dentist each year. This year only a check, clean and polish for about 3000bt for the 2 of us. At home the dentist wouldn't even come into the room for that. Somehow the rest of the time disappeared – looking for lenses etc for Dan's new D70 Nikon and generally just spending money. Camera gear is hard to find and the shops are nowhere near as good as in Singapore but if you can get what you want then the price is now fairly close. However the good shops are few and far between and they don't have good stocks but as we weren't passing through Singapore it was better than nothing. I usually check out the Fashion Outlet shop in the Big C opposite World Trade. Depends whats there but they often have some nice knitted tops etc. Just luck really what they have at the time. But very cheap – about 100bt for a short sleeve cotton top of decent quality. Certainly not high fashion but thats not us anyway. I also always like Central – and apart from clothes, I like the cooking section. We stocked up on more stainless steel stuff. We seem to have loads of it – I love cooking. This year a double boiler and a steam boat as well as a lot of other bits (thank god for our baggage allowance) Actually this year a lot of the steel came from a shop in Pratunam Complex(or Centre?) which is on the opposite corner to the Market and has finally opened after many years of being half built. The top still isn't finished. Pantip is still a mad house of computer gear. Its quite painful just walking through the ground floor as there is always someone on the PA at full blast – it really does hurt the ears. Bkk is not really cheap for most computer gear but for odd things like leads, disks etc its very good. Copy programs are available although the government is cracking down a lot and many have moved out. Likewise with copy movies – in fact a lot of these are now in the Pratunam Complex.

Food - we ate a lot at the Loft – it is just so good there and very cheap. If we found ourselves in the area we would head there. The macadamia icecream is wonderful, as is the roast duck and duck curry (I do like duck!) Stopped at other food halls so long as they looked good and filled up on hawker food. Also tried Henry J Beans at the hotel but although its okay its really nothing to write home about and expensive for what it is. We just didn't feel like going out again.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 30th, 2005, 03:33 AM
  #3
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 1,045
Thanks, Mary, I've been waiting for your report. Can't wait for the rest of it.
FromDC is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 30th, 2005, 05:15 AM
  #4
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 271
Could you send me the name of the dentist that you use? I am thinking about having some dental work done also.
[email protected]
stitchintime is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 30th, 2005, 05:34 AM
  #5
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 11,335
Thanks for your report, Mary. I will watch for more. I would appear that you folks enjoy the Loft at Central even more that I do. It is just the best place for a quick meal, and always fresh and tasty.

Did you find anything of interest in Pratunam? I'll be going there in a few weeks myself. I'm always looking for new stuff that is not available here in the US.

Carol
simpsonc510 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 30th, 2005, 06:39 AM
  #6
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,348
Great report, Mary, I'm looking forward to more.
Kathie is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 30th, 2005, 07:05 AM
  #7
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,821
loving the report...look forward to more...
rhkkmk is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 05:48 AM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Next bit!

After 5 days in Bkk we headed for Udon Thani -

We go into Laos via the Friendship Bridge between Nong Khai and Vientiane. So we had FF tickets for the flight to Udon Thani where we stayed with a friend made through another forum. He is American and has a lovely 6 year old daughter (Thai). He collected us from the airport and then we picked up Gem from school and out to their place about 15 minutes out of town. We went back into town in the evening for dinner – the four of us had Mussaman curry, chicken and cocoanut soup, veges with prawns and crab curry - all very good and a grand total of 320bt for us all. I think that was about the cheapest meal we had anywhere (especially given there were 4 of us) and very good indeed. The rest of the evening we spent back at the house with neighbours having a few drinks (as seems to happen when we are there!) Next day our friend drove us up to Nong Khai which is about 1 hour away and then to the Thai end of the Bridge.

We went throught Thai customs and then a 10 bt fare for the shuttle bus across the Bridge – it runs about every 20 minutes. This is probably the main draw back of going into Lao this way – luggage is a nuisance and the bus is often crowded with locals just crossing over or taking loads of boxes of stuff. We leave extra luggage in Bangkok but its still a bit of a pain. You get off the bus at the Lao customs. We needed to get visas – an easy process – fill out a couple of forms and hand over a photo and US$30 and about 10 minutes later off you go. Then you need to pay an extra 10bt fee for entry. There are tuk tuks and taxis waiting to take you to Vientiane. Cost to town which is 24kms is either 150bt for a tuk tuk or 300 bt for the taxi (for 2 people) This year we chose a taxi – don't bother – they are really mostly wrecks, no more comfortable that the tuk tuk ( we tuk tuked on the way back!) The advantages of going into Lao this way are that you can fly to Udon which (if you don't have the FF miles) is about half the price of going into Vientiane. You also don't pay the 500 bt per person tax at the airport. You only need to be at the airport 30 minutes for domestic flights and there are many more a day. Its also an interesting journey and if you have time Nong Khai is a nice town to spend a few days. Disadvantages are lugging luggage across the Bridge. We also get to catch up with our friends.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 05:54 AM
  #9
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,821
keep it coming
rhkkmk is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 06:09 AM
  #10
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Hi Stitch in time,

We use a dentist called Dr. Chaiwat Suechanyapong, --- We simply picked him originally from the website - I thought he fitted what we needed and also his appointments covered a lot of days of the week which made it a bit easier if we had to see him on a couple of days. Anyway, he turned out to be really nice and we are very happy to return to him each time. I think most are okay - although our friend in Udon did have trouble with one of the female dentists - probably nothing really but why chance it - so we chose another.

Carol- Yes I do love the Loft -
you know Pratunam doesn't really change all that much but there are a couple of places I usually check out - In one of the last lanes coming off Ratchadamri Road on the way to the Indra - its the one that has an exchange just in the entrance - Champagne Silk has about 3 or 4 shops there - usually I find something nice - very cheap and only imitation silk of course but a bit geared to the international market not local - This year wasn't so good for me but they may have something. A bit further in in the same lane is a shop with some chinese style clothes that I quite liked - similar to some in Lao but again imitation silk. Down Soi 3 off Phetburi Road in the market I usually find there are a few shirt (womens) makers - short and long sleeve shirts - sort of chiffon over sleeveless undershirts - sometimes really nice patterns but some are also hideous. Only about 250bt a piece up to 400bt a piece - They are just nice as a top up for everyday wear. Unlike such a lot these places have the bigger sizes not just tiny Thai ones. Being from Australia I don't really know what you would not get in the US. Hope this is of interest. Also I usually find everyday sports shirts for Dan - cotton - so cheap about 150 - 200 bt again just nice everyday things for our lifestyle - they actually last really well too. We usually buy Dan some of the rip off polo knit shirts too but there are far fewer around this year - they are obviously changing over to the "next" rip off offer!
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 06:18 AM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Vientiane.

We were originally going to spend a few days in Nong Khai but decided to spend more time in Vientiane. We were there last year and quite liked it – lots of people say its a boring town. Anyway we opted for more time and were very happy – getting to know the town better was good. We also have relations leaving and working there - we did manage to catch up but for some reason its always nearly impossible to time our stays with them actually being at home – their work takes them away a lot (or at least thats what they tell us!) We usually just manage to catch each other between getting on and off planes. We were treating this part of the trip as the “cheap end” and so we stayed at a little guesthouse near the Namphu fountain which is pretty much in the middle of the main town. Its called Mali Naphu and looks very basic from the front but opens out into a nice courtyard area around which the rooms are set – 2 storey for most of it. They are basic rooms. We booked the biggest one as some of the small ones don't have windows (quite common up there) The room was big enough with just a big bed, table and chair, TV but unfortunately no fridge which I would have liked. Basic bathroom but all very clean – aircon of course. You can't complain at the price – US$17 per night including breakfast which was simple but quite good. Like all beds we have ever slept in while in Lao, it was hard – very hard! Its booked out most of the time though. We met some nice people while staying there and the staff are very helpful. Last year we stayed at Villa Manoly which is further from the centre of town. The rooms are better (fridge but no TV) bathrooms are better and there is a pool. Last year US$25 per night (no breakfast) – our only reason to change was to be a bit nearer the restaurant area. The Villa is really only about a 20 minute walk but not so good in the rain and we just thought we'd try the Mali as it had good reviews. It was very convenient. There are now a number of top end hotels like the Settha Palace but the prices are also top. As I said we opted for cheap and cheerful on this bit.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 06:19 AM
  #12
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
It was interesting to see if things had changed much in the past year. We weren't sure what to expect – there have been 2 major Asean meeting in Vientiane since we were there – one last December and one just the week before we arrived. There has been work done and still continuing on some of the streets but not really much else of note – things were a little cleaner in general. The streets are gradually being bitumenised – a very necessary job but even the newly done ones don't look like they will last 5 minutes. Only the main streets around the market are good – wide boulevards. Smaller streets are pretty broken up and the paving quite bad – you do need to watch your step or you'll end up down a drain. At least the ones that have had treatment aren't so dusty. With the rain the dust turns to mud and by the time you've walked a little way you are a good inch taller.

The government has adopted an interesting approach to security – during the Asean meetings it simply declares the provence of Vientiane shut – a public holiday for the days of the meeting – no school, no buses, no trucks, no tourists. The border is shut and only transit passengers are allowed through the airport. Tourists must leave town. Fortunately we were able to avoid this by a few days. Our relations who had been in Bangkok were also unable to return home until the borders reopened. If you were in Luang Prabang you were okay but even the border with China (a good long way from Vientiane) was not letting people through. Still – they didn't have any problems!

We spent a lot of time simply walking the streets – this is a very small and easy to get around town. The streetscapes are interesting and the Mekong is just at the edge of town. Lots of Wats to wander around. Not of lot of organised tourist type activities although there is the Buddha park about 30 minute out of town. We were content wandering in the market and around the streets, stopping for coffee now and then.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 06:24 AM
  #13
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 11,335
Thanks, Mary
(BTW, I've visited OZ 6 times thus far and really enjoy it!! Are you anywhere near the Leuewin (sp) winery area south of Perth? I've been in all of your capital cities, even Hobart)

I'll keep that in mind reizes. Yes, most of the places I frequent do not have American sizes! I'm not "large" but I can't wear the Thai sizes at all. Even Jim Thompson XL doesn't quite cut the mustard.

I'm going to spend time in Pratunam to see what's new. When I have people from home asking me to bring back this or that, I will usually find that THIS or THAT is no longer available!! The one thing I can say is that the merchandise is always changing! But it is still a fun challenge for me. I like finding new things of interest.

Carol

simpsonc510 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 04:53 PM
  #14
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Carol,

Yes I too find that people ask me to pick up a blouse or something like the one I got last year - only to find they have all gone - even when they were around for a few years before!! A couple of things I thought of - there was a nice shop selling skirts, blouses, and jackets made in silk (or maybe lookalike but good) with a lot of pintucking - some were very nice indeed - I just can't remember exactly where but towards the back of Pratunam - also there was a shop of these in the new Pratunam Centre across the road - first floor I think. Just down from that shop was one selling some nice shawls - Indian style prints on wool but reversable - asking about 700bt if I remember right. I seem to have lots of shawls but love them - didn't get one of these because we were on the way to Laos and all that silk!!!! I did mean to look again when we got back.

We are in the bottom corner of Western Australia about 3 hours from Cape Leeuwin area- near to Albany - a very lovely area of big trees, good beachs and wineries. You'll have to get down to us next trip.

Mary
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 06:19 PM
  #15
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,821
mary---what if anything did you buy in viet.?

i'm enjoying the report...
rhkkmk is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 07:06 PM
  #16
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,604
Fashion outlet....
Is a chain of outlet stores in town which I've noticed have some really good products up too 70 percent off. they tend too give blowout prices for winter/long sleeve products. last month at one of the fashion outlets I saw a tommy hillfigure long sleeve MENS shirt for $11 and a wicked nice big yellow flieese lined nautica jacket for about $50.. the priducts seem too be REAL they have al the tags and feel authentic.
orgy7 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 07:53 PM
  #17
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,821
orgy---rush back to that outlet and get that fleece lined jacket---because of global warming, you will be needing it in bkk when the weather changes...
rhkkmk is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 08:51 PM
  #18
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
Hi all,
Orgy- Fashion Outlet is worth a look isn't it. Yes I think that they do sell genuine things - the tops I brought were Nautica, Abercrombie and Fitch and Debbie and Co (for 100bt each) - pure cotton and good quality in Western Sizes - I'm about a size 10/12 (US) but still find it hard in Thai shops. Also had some sports shirts for Dan at 200bt and some undershirts for him very cheaply and good quality - we find it hard to get such things in our neck of the woods. They also have real Levi's at cheap prices - much more than at the markets but you can get a variety of styles - even better you can try things on there which is a huge plus in my book.

Bob. Things we bought in Vientiane were necklaces (hilltribe), copy DVDs!!, some table mats, local coffee beans and tea, some silk - (cloth) etc - mostly we left it until we returned to Vientiane so we didn't have to cart stuff up to LP. I also wanted to buy most of the weaving from the weavers themselves if I could.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 09:05 PM
  #19
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
More Vientiane

Staying on Namphu fountain means there are lots of very convenient restaurants. We ate at Sticky Fingers a couple of times – an old favourite in the town- about 100,000kip for the 2 of us main course, wine and beer. (thats under US$10 – exchange was around US$ = 10800 kip). Also at the Indochine (Lao/Vietnamese) – about 100,000kip for 4 dishes. - quite good. A couple of times we went to La Provencal on Namphu square which was run by a French chef/owner and his Lao wife and family – they are really nice and the food was good. Obviously provincial French – steaks, french style pizza, interesting casseroles (wild boar) etc. This was dearer but we generally had 2 courses plus a big carafe of wine for US$20 to $25. Coffee and lunch was good at the Joma bakery – lots of people recommend the Scandinavian Bakery round the corner but I think the coffee is vastly better in Joma – and its a nice roomy place to sit.

Our relatives say the best restaurant in town in the Na Dao near the Patouxay monument (or vertical runway) – its French and we still haven't got there – another time maybe. The monument is called the vertical runway because the story goes that aid money was given for the cement for the new airport but ended up building the monument instead!

Still on the subject of food – there are no supermarkets as such in Vientiane but instead you will find a number of mini- markets – these are fairly good and will have most things you need. We found some of the best yoghurt in one near the fountain – not something that is usually very good in Asia (unless you count the breakfast at the FCC in Phnom Pehn which is sensational). I don't know if it is being made or imported into Lao but I only saw it in Vientiane . They also stock the tea and coffee of Lao – both are grown on the Bolovens Plateau along with very good avocados.
Try the Arabica which is the best of the coffees along with some very good Mocha. We brought home some beans which is one of the few foods that can be brought into Australia so now can enjoy a few cups to remind us – cost around 78,000 kip (about $7.50us) per kg and about double for the mocha. Green tea is also very good and there is some interesting smoked tea. Wine is also very reasonable and “Lao beer” is very good.

MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 31st, 2005, 09:08 PM
  #20
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 834
The Morning Market which trades from about 8.30am to about 4.30pm is the main place for shopping – there are numerous small shops around the streets but perhaps the best place to look things over is the markets – there are two sides and a lot of work going on to build a new area where last year there was car park and stalls. One side has most of the handicrafts – lots of weaving, wood etc – some very nice silk tops, and loads on skeins of silk waiting for the weavers. I love fabric – my mother was a weaver and I make my living as a potter so its really interesting for me. This year we didn't buy any fabric in the market as we were heading up to Luang Prabang and then back to Vientiane so we saved it for later. Just had a good look – Dan took lots of photos of the silk (new camera!!!!!) The other side of the market has more household stuff plus lots of stalls selling DVD movies – if you are inclined to pirate copies they are actually quite good and cost around 15,000 kip up to 28,000 kip for the latest ones, cheaper than Bangkok . Upstairs there is a lot of clothing – rip off stuff like in Bangkok but at generally higher prices, and the gold and silver shops. Gold here has that very yellow look (but is high carat) so a lot of people don't like it – also fairly ornate stuff. Silver hill tribe type jewellery is well priced – again we just looked and waited until the return. I have a very nice necklace of 5 rings that we got last year and wanted something to go with it. Ended up with a lovely spirit lock and chain – grand total of US$20! The ring type go from about $30 up to about $150 depending on silver content and quality. Still cheap and quite different.

Couleur d'Asie have a nice shop on Namphu Square with some interesting mens and womens clothes – light weight silks etc – casual but elegant – prices are about US$30 for a pair of loose ladies trousers. They obviously make it themselves so I presume they would do work to suit size and well as the off the shelf stuff. They also have a beautiful book on Luang Prabang (US$40) which is also available in LP but mostly the copies we saw in LP were very well fingered. This one was mostly line drawings about the architecture rather than photo book.

The market is open every day but a lot of shops and restaurants close on Sundays – something unusual for and Asian city. So the city is very quite – still plenty open to keep you occupied though.

Dan also took advantage of the good massages available – about US$ 4 to $5 for an hour Lao style full body massage - $5 for the herbal ones. He loves massage and says these were really good. Lao massage is similar to Thai but more pressure point than stretching. He used Mandarina in Vientiane which happened to be opposite where we were staying – nice place as well as nice massage. About 2 or 3 doors down from Mandarina is White Lotus that our relatives use for Swedish massage and love.

Thats about it for this part of Vientiane – caught a tuk tuk out to the airport (45,000 kip) for our Lao air flight to Luang Prabang – it actually went on time – not something that they do well. Flight was okay – just a small AT7 with props and only a 40 minute journey. Do check close to departure if you are flying with Lao – they are well known for changing things. One thing to watch out for on those little planes – they start loading passengers from the back entrance. Then they start the engines and boy do they heat up. If you are standing on the stairs waiting to get on you get a huge dose of fumes and boiled alive – watch out for the stair rail as it gets too hot to touch. One lady on one of the flights had on a lot of silver jewellery and she got so hot that it burned her! Just step back a pace or two and let the front people clear the door before you head in.
MaryW is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:54 AM.