Today was our only full day in Vientiane, and we got off to a late start after spending the morning doing some trip planning with the mostly reliable internet at the hotel. There was one particular site I wanted to see in Vientiane, called the COPE Visitor Center, which was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel. We didn’t have any other plans for the day, so we started our day heading in that direction.
For lunch, we stopped by a sandwich stand which we had read online. They’re supposed to be known for their bread and pate, so we ordered two “Pork and Pate” sandwiches. It was just a stand with no particular place to sit and eat. We crossed the street to a convenience store so we could buy a drink and we ended up eating on the sidewalk.
The sandwiches themselves weren’t quite what we expected. I couldn’t taste much pate but I still really enjoyed it. The baguettes are different in Laos compared to the ones in Vietnam. They’re longer and narrower, and the outside of the break isn’t as stiff and crisp (Kait: they’re more like actual French baguettes). The sandwich were also a lot saucier than the banh mis we had in Vietnam.
COPE stands for Co-operative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise, and they are the main source of artificial limbs, walking aids, and wheelchairs in Laos. The visitor center was located at COPE’s National Rehabilitation Center. Why are artificial limbs significant to Laos and why was the visitor center the only place I really wanted to visit in Vientiane? Well, Laos has the not so great distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world. During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more bombs in Laos than all the bombs dropped on Europe during WWII. Over 260-270 million cluster bombs were dropped and approximately one third of those failed to explode. So Laos is littered with Unexploded Ordnances (or UXOs) which to this day continue to maim and kill people every year.
COPE’s visitor center covers some of the history of bombing in Laos along with information about the current efforts to clear UXOs across the country. There’s also a lot of information regarding COPE’s work with providing artificial limbs and providing rehabilitation and physiotherapy to those disabled.
For me, the main reason I wanted to go was because I saw it as an opportunity to learn a bit more about some history in Laos, and also see how that history continues to impact the country today. That history is the reason Laos needs organizations like COPE. However, it was interesting for me to see that they also provide artificial limbs and rehabilitation services to people disabled through other means. One display noted that more and more people are wearing helmets on their motorbikes in Laos now, so more people are surviving accidents with disabilities (rather than dying had they not worn a helmet).
(Kait: We watched a 45 minute documentary about an Australian man who moved to Laos to help train and disarm bombs all over the country. I admire people who risk their lives each day to help a country that isn’t theirs. It was also heartbreaking to see the kids in the documentary who find these bombs while playing in the countryside. It was also frustrating to hear them speak about how much money they could get for the metal. They seemed relieved that bombs were being removed from their village but at the same time they were upset that they couldn’t sell the metal for 1,000 kip, which is less than 20 cents! I’m glad that Laos is receiving more funding from the American government to help get rid of all the bombs they dropped over 30 years ago. Like the documentary said, it’s basically a race against time to try to remove them before little kids and villagers accidentally find them. I was also shocked at the sheer volume of bombs that were dropped. Imagine bombs being dropped over and around you every 8 minutes for 24 hours a day, for 9 years.)
After the COPE Visitor Center, we went to a nearby mall and found a movie theatre. We checked the times and decided we would come back to catch a 7:10 showing of “Finding Dory” after we grabbed a bite to eat. We made our way to the river front near the night market we visited yesterday. We settled on a street food stall that had a spicy duck dish (Kait: it’s duck larb) we wanted to try. We got that and a Pad Thai (which seemed pretty common in Vientiane). The spicy duck larb was a bit spicier than we expected so we had to go through a smoothie and two drinks from the convenience store nearby to keep mouths from burning up.
After dinner, we made our way back to the mall and ended our day watching Finding Dory. It turned out to really fit our day as I thought Finding Dory was about living with a disability. Looking back on our day, it was easy to think about how fortunate we were… to be born and raised in Canada (where we don’t have to worry about UXOs), to have our health (both physically and mentally), and just to be doing what we’re doing. It was a good reminder how lucky we’ve been and not to take things for granted.
After last night’s thunderstorms, the internet at the hotel was down. We don’t realize how reliant we were on WiFi until there wasn’t any available (we’re slightly addicted). We had to pay cash for the hotel because their credit card system naturally wasn’t working either. After we checked out, we were driven to the airport (free airport transfers are the best!).
The Luang Prabang Airport was very small – the domestic and international departures are together and there are only 5 check in counters. There’s no free WiFi available at the airport, although we did end up connecting to one (not an official airport WiFi) while at the check in area. Once we got to the gates, there was no more WiFi except if you were flying on Bangkok Airways. They have their own departure lounge for all their passengers. We walked around the lounge like stalkers trying to see if their WiFi password was written somewhere visible (I guess we are addicted), but no luck. While we watched people go into the Bangkok Airways lounge, we were reminded of how good that airline is from when we flew with them in 2013. Unfortunately, none of our flight routes have Bangkok Airways as an option this trip.
We finally boarded and I was pleasantly surprised to see the plane flying to Vientiane was a lot bigger than the one we flew from Hanoi (it was actually an Airbus!). The flight was quite full, mostly filled with locals and older western tourists. The majority of young backpackers would probably take the bus from Luang Prabang (7+ hour bus ride). The flight was only about 30 minutes, in which time they gave us a bottle of water and dried fruit chips. We landed in Vientiane and it looked like their domestic terminal needed a face lift. Apparently the U.S. government gave Laos money and cement to upgrade their airport but they used it on their “Arc de Triomphe” instead.
After we got our luggage, we went to the taxi counter inside the airport and paid a flat rate of $7 USD to get to our hotel. Having a flat rate into the city is so much better than having to bargain or worry about faulty taxi meters.
We arrived at our hotel, Le Luxe Boutique Hotel, which was located in the centre of town. The hotel was fairly new (or under new management) and was close to two expensive hotels, so I figured it was a good area to be in. Our standard double room was $60 CAD/night (down season has been good to us for cheaper rates in SE Asia). The only downside about booking the cheapest room is that there were no exterior windows. We have a window but it looks into the courtyard and we’re on the ground level so that window is basically always closed.
After settling in and doing a bit of research on what to have for lunch, we set out to find a burger joint called Ray’s Grille. It’s rated #2 on Trip Advisor and the most recent review was from a fellow Vancouverite who has been in SE Asia for 8 weeks. The reviews for the burgers were consistently good so we wanted to give a shot. We’ve only been in SE Asia for 3 weeks and we’re already craving a good burger.
Our first impressions of Vientiane was that it’s a very quiet and sleepy city. We’ve read Vientiane described as sleepy in Lonely Planet and that’s actually a very accurate way to describe the city. There aren’t many scooters or cars on the street (maybe because it’s also a Sunday afternoon) and things just seem very laid back. The tuk tuk drivers are all in groups just chilling and whisper “tuk tuk” as you walk by. Even scooters stopped for us to walk across the street!
When we arrived at Ray’s Grille, it was fairly late in the afternoon for lunch but it was still quite busy with 4-5 tables. The kitchen and grill are outside in front of the restaurant so we could see some of the action before going in. We both ordered bacon cheeseburgers (except I ordered the smaller version of it) with fries. As everything was freshly made to order, we waited anxiously as food for other tables passed by and it all looked so good. We got our platters and took our first few bites and agreed that the burgers were solid. Bun was good, patty was juicy, fries were perfectly cooked. No wonder so many people who crave non SE Asian food come here for a good burger.
After our satisfying lunch we walked towards Vientiane’s “Arc de Triomphe”, otherwise known as Patuxai. On one end of Avenue Lane Xang is the Presidential Palace and the other end of the avenue is the Patuxai. This wide boulevard lined with trees and European lamps looked very French. The street signs in Vientiane all are “rues” and the shape of the street signs reminded us of France.
Vientiane seemed a lot hotter than Luang Prabang, so our walk around the city today was pretty draining. We tried to seek refuge for a bit in a mall on Avenue Lane Xang but it turned out to be more of a mall with make shift stalls and no air conditioning. We didn’t stay there long. We made our way back to the hotel for the remainder of the late afternoon, or at least until the sun set. We stopped for some fruit shakes along the way – they’re the best!
After taking a break in our room for a couple of hours, we headed back out for dinner. There’s a night market along the river every day, and it’s only a couple of minutes away from our hotel. We both expected it to be very touristy and full of similar items that we saw in Luang Prabang but we couldn’t have been more wrong. The night market seemed like it was mainly for locals as it was filled with stalls of clothing, shoes, accessories, and counterfeit purses. There were only a few souvenir/Lao handcraft type stalls sprinkled amongst the rest. Lucky we ended up buying the blanket in Luang Prabang because we didn’t find one here. So in this way, the night market was a bit disappointing.
We walked along the food vendors that lined the street outside the actual night market and didn’t find anything we wanted to eat. There was more BBQ but I think we were thinking we’ve had too much of just meat for dinner. We continued along the road and saw some street side restaurants that looked promising. We sat down and ordered a pad thai, pork noodle soup, and a mango smoothie (all items were 15,000 VND = $2.38 CAD). The smoothie was in a larger cup and was the best mango smoothie we had all trip. I think we’ll be going back for more tomorrow.
We have our first full day in Vientiane tomorrow. There aren’t many “sights” to see in the city so I think the amount of time we have here is good enough. Vientiane has a very different feel from Luang Prabang but we’re still enjoying exploring a new city together.
We set our alarms for 5am so we could catch the 5:30am shuttle into town to watch the Monk’s Almsgiving ritual. Unfortunately, when we went to the reception to ask for the shuttle, the guy said the driver is out taking another couple and we had missed it. That was a bit annoying since we got there right on time and it was so early! I’m not a morning person at all.
The guy told us in pretty broken English that there were monks on the street around the corner from us so we took a look since we were up already. Sure enough there was a large procession of monks walking down the street from our hotel! This was actually really cool to see because it was the same ritual in town but without all the tourists (Tim: participating inappropriately). Tim and I were the only non locals around (taking pictures from across the street and being respectful). People (mostly women and children) set up stools along the street where the monks would pass by and they would give the monks handfuls of sticky rice as they walked past. We watched for about half an hour until the last monk walked down the street and people began to clean up. It’s amazing to see such a traditional ritual in person and how each morning at 5:30am people wake up to give alms to the monks.
We have one last chance to go into town tomorrow to see the Almsgiving, but I think what we saw today was special. There are signs all around town about how to act during the rituals and how you shouldn’t try to touch a monk or take pictures while you give them food (why would people even try to do that?). I think if I saw tourists acting stupid it would annoy me. Laotian people are very polite and don’t seem to actively get upset if someone is breaking the rules, they just put signs up and hope people will follow them. Apparently it’s gotten so bad with some tourists that the government is considering ending the traditional ritual in the city centre. That would be a shame if they did that. I think they just need to rope off the area so people don’t go so close to the monks and not let tourists participate in the Almsgiving.
After our eventful morning, we went back to sleep for a couple more hours then went for breakfast. Today there wasn’t any hot foods and no eggs were available. It seemed like there was no chef in the kitchen today, which was fine. I think since it’s down season, there’s less than 20 people staying in our hotel as it seems fairly dead. We ate some fruits and then made our way into town. We were planning on finding a tuk tuk to take us to Kuang Si Falls.
We had to cross the Old Bridge again. I know in my last post I said I wouldn’t cross it again but I did. I didn’t want to pay 5,000 LAK to go over the Bamboo Bridge so I sucked it up and crossed it. As we were crossing, a bunch of young boys happily passed by us. It helped seeing that they weren’t scared at all.
As we walked towards the city centre, we came across tuk tuks along the way all asking if we wanted to go to Kuang Si (of course today we did!). We asked how much and bargained them down to 150,000 LAK = $24 CAD which is the going rate for a private ride there and back (with a 2.5 hour visit). We got into the tuk tuk and made our way to Kuang Si, which was about 40 minutes from the city.
Once we arrived at the falls, we had about 2.5 hours before we had to come back to the tuk tuk. The entrance fee was 20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD pp. On the trail to the falls, there’s an Asiatic bear rescue area that houses about 10 bears that have been rescued in Laos. Unfortunately, bears are killed in Laos for their bile which is a key ingredient in a lot of traditional medicine, so organizations like this are trying to save them. The bears were cute and different from the bears we have in North America.
We started at the base of the falls, which is where you can go swimming. 95% of people swimming were all tourists. There were a lot of locals at the falls too since it was Saturday, but they were all there for picnicking. We didn’t bring our swimsuits with us because I read there are a lot of leeches in the water and that freaked me out. I just wanted to dip my feet in the water. The water was pretty cold but felt so good at the same time since I was sweating like crazy. The path way up to the falls was also very muddy and slippery so dipping my feet into the water was more to clean my flip flops off.
The falls themselves were very beautiful. My favourite area was half way up the mountain before we got to the main falls. There were smaller pools that feed into each other and I thought it was so beautiful. It also helped that this area was not a swimming area.
Behind the main falls, there were stairs that went up to the fall’s origin basin. At first we weren’t going to go up because we were wearing flip flops and the path wasn’t very easy to climb – it was fairly steep and muddy. Since we still had about an hour and a half, we decided to do it. We hiked up for about 30 minutes and got to the top. There was only a view of the mountain ranges and not of the waterfall, which was pretty disappointing. I knew going back down would be more challenging since it was so slippery. Sure enough, I fell and slide down a portion of a hill. Luckily I didn’t twist my ankle and it was just a straight slide down on my bum. Thank goodness for the fresh water, I cleaned my legs and feet off on the way down.
Kuang Si Falls is one of the main attractions when visiting Luang Prabang and I can see why. You can easily spend a whole afternoon there hanging out in the water. The water did look very inviting, especially after our hike up and down the mountain. We went back to our tuk tuk driver and headed back into town.
For lunch we found a place on the main street that was pretty well priced. Tim wanted to try Laotian kao soy because it was his favourite dish while we were in Thailand so he wanted to compare the two. I ordered fried noodles with chicken and vegetables. Both dishes were good. My noodles were noodles that I’ve never had before. They were really wide and flat pieces of rice noodle with scrambled eggs inside. It was Laos homestyle cooking and each of our dishes were only 15,000 LAK = $2.38 CAD each.
After lunch, while walking down the street, we saw store vendors all getting ice cream from a lady pushing her cart down the street. We went to see what she had to offer and it looked really good. It was a “Laos Sundae” with scoops of taro and coconut ice cream, tapioca, coconut meat, and some jelly. It was really delicious and was perfect for a hot afternoon, and it was only 5,000 LAK = $0.80 CAD.
After lunch we walked back to our hotel (over the Old Bridge!!). We wanted to go back, clean up a bit, and book our hotel in Vientiane. The internet at this hotel was pretty bad, so it had been hard to research much or keep up with blog posts. We spent about half an hour booking the hotel and then rushing out to catch the 5pm shuttle into town since I didn’t want to cross the Old Bridge again.
When we got back into town, we walked down the a French bakery that was supposed to have the best croissants in town. The bakery was called Le Banneton and has a lot of delicious looking pastries, quiches, and crepes. I found out after that there’s also a location in Vientiane and it’s supposed to be the best French bakery in Laos. I got a plain croissant to go for 9,000 LAK = $1.45 CAD.
We went back to our smoothie lady from yesterday and we each got a smoothie (lemon and mango) and sat down for a bit. Same routine as yesterday. I sat and watched people eat at the satay stall. Since we wanted to catch the 7pm shuttle back to the hotel, we only had about an hour before we had to go back to the pick up area.
We walked down the block towards the night market again and looked to buy a Lao blanket. Some of the stalls had signs and stickers on their blankets and scarves that said they were hand made in Luang Prabang, which worked on us. Seeing how Laotians are, I wouldn’t think they would actually put that sign up unless it were true, which is why only some stalls had them. Laos has numerous ethnic groups and you can see it in the merchandise that is sold.
After we got the blanket we wanted, we headed down to the BBQ stall we went to yesterday for dinner. We ordered a pork belly, chicken skin, and chicken thigh. Our dinner with two drinks came out to be 49,000 LAK = $7.80 CAD. We really enjoyed eating Lao BBQ, maybe we’ll find some in Vientiane.
We walked through the market again and then took the free shuttle back to the hotel for an early night. Lucky we went back when we did because it started to pour really hard and we heard some pretty serious thunder. Later on in the evening as we were watching TV, we heard a really loud crack and all of a sudden the power went out. Less than a second later, the loudest thunder we’d ever heard shook the entire room. It was very dramatic. I’ve never been so close to lightning before. Within a few minutes the power went back on, but the internet stopped working (Tim: And was still down throughout the resort when we checked out and left the next day).
We’ll be flying to Vientiane tomorrow to explore another Lao city. Hopefully their internet will be better so we can start booking more hotels for upcoming cities.
We woke up this morning well rested and ready to explore the city. We got ready and went for breakfast at the hotel restaurant just in time before breakfast ended. We finally got to see the hotel grounds in the daylight – it’s quite nice! The restaurant has a nice view of the river (although the river isn’t very clean) and the surrounding areas.
For breakfast, I had some fruit, a croissant, and they made me scrambled eggs. The selection for breakfast was pretty good and everything looked very cleanly prepared. As we were eating, it started to pour really hard for a good half hour. Even the construction workers nearby took cover. We even had to move further away from the edge of the patio because the wind was blowing the rain sideways. We stayed at the restaurant for almost an hour waiting the rain out.
Finally, the rain eased up so we put on our rain jackets and took out our umbrellas and set out to the old part of town. The hotel is located right beside the “Old Bridge” in Luang Prabang, so we decided to cross it since we saw some people crossing it earlier. When we began to walk on the bridge, we noticed that a lot of the planks were loose and not very stable. The bridge was about 150m long and pretty high up from the river. I’m not normally afraid of heights, but this bridge really freaked me out. I don’t think we’ll be crossing that bridge again.
Once we made it to the other side safely, we made our way towards the city centre. Luang Prabang is definitely more laid back than Vietnam. There are way less scooters, you can cross the street without worrying about getting hit, and it just felt a lot more peaceful. We passed by a tourist centre, so we stopped by and came across a poster of the “do’s and don’ts in Laos”. Basically, Laotians are very conservative, reserved, and non-confrontational.
Our first stop for the day was to climb up Phusi Mountain. It’s about 300 steps up a mountain and has beautiful views of Luang Prabang. By this time the rain had stopped, so it was perfect timing to begin our mini hike. There’s an entrance fee of 20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD. Along the way to the top of the mountain were a bunch of Buddhist shrines and statues which were interesting. We spent a good chunk of time at the summit taking pictures and admiring Luang Prabang and all the greenery.
We eventually made our way down the mountain towards the Luang Prabang National Museum. It was lunch time so they were closed until 2pm. We decided to have lunch and visit the museum afterwards. We walked down towards the Mekong River to check out what restaurant options we had. Tim read that restaurants along the Mekong are cheaper than the ones you’ll find on the “main street” (Sakkhaline Road).
There are many restaurants all along the river and they all looked very similar so we just picked one. We grabbed a table under an umbrella and enjoyed the views of the Mekong (although it looks quite dirty)(Tim: more muddy than dirty) and the sporadic cool breezes. Tim ordered a Lao coconut based noodle soup and I ordered morning glory with tofu and steamed rice. The food prices in Laos are about 20% more expensive than Vietnam.
As we were sitting waiting for our food, we looked around and didn’t see a kitchen. We realized that all the restaurants along the water have kitchens across the street. The food came and we both enjoyed our meals very much. Tim’s soup noodles were quite tasty and I was pretty happy with my simple lunch. The smoothies were good, very reminiscent of all the smoothies we had in Thailand.
After lunch we continued to walk along the river and ended up at a Buddhist temple named Wat Xieng Thong and took a look around. It cost 20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD pp entrance fee to get in. The temples were nice. They have their own unique style to them compared to the ones in Thailand. There were a lot of broken glass murals which I thought were very cool. As with most Buddhist temples, you cannot show your knees or bare shoulders. Since we knew we were visiting temples today and the museum (which enforces a dress code), I wore my Lululemon outfit and Tim wore his convertible pants.
We made our way back to Luang Prabang National Museum and had about an hour and a half before it closed for the day at 4pm. Entrance to the museum was 30,000 LAK = $4.77 CAD pp. To walk around the grounds of the museum is free as they only check your ticket when you enter the actual museum (which used to be the royal family’s residence). There’s another Buddhist temple at the entrance of the museum grounds which houses Luang Prabang’s golden Buddha.
Before entering the museum, you have to check in all your bags and cameras (no photography is allowed). If you’re wearing shorts, you have to rent a sarong for 5,000 KIP before entering. The residence was nice, but it wasn’t as extensive or informational as I thought it would be. The last King of Laos was a sturdy looking guy. A very North American built body as opposed to other Asian kings. There was a picture of him with Ho Chi Minh in Saigon dancing with Vietnamese dancers. We didn’t see any pictures in Vietnam of Ho Chi Minh having fun like that. Maybe that’s why we couldn’t take any pictures. Behind the former palace is a garage of the king’s former cars and pictures of all his drivers. More than half the cars there were gifts from the U.S. government in the 1960’s.
After the museum closed we walked down the main street and found a street side restaurant that served fruit smoothies for 10,000 LAK = $1.60 CAD (which is the going rate in Luang Prabang). We stayed there and hung out for a while. Tim also tried the local beer, “Beer Lao”, which he said wasn’t bad. He had a 650 ml bottle to himself for 12,000 LAK = $1.90 CAD. While sitting there I was watching a street vendor set up her satay grilling station as locals came up and snacked on some street meat. While observing the vendors from all around and the locals that ate at her stall, I could sense that Luang Prabang is a very tightly knit community.
While taking a break, Tim looked up a massage parlour that had good reviews online. After walking around the main street, there were quite a few massage parlours to pick from, so looking up reviews helped.
We went to a place called Hibiscus which offered an assortment of massages, body scrubs, manicures, and pedicures. We read that Lao massages are about pressure points and are not very relaxing, so I decided to do an aromatherapy massage (more relaxing and less painful since my pain tolerance is low) and Tim tried the Lao massage. Once we decided on the type of massage, the receptionist asked if we wanted to take a shower first – I guess we looked pretty sweaty and gross. We took quick showers and changed into the massage wear and headed into the massage room. An hour goes by so quickly when you’re getting a massage, but when you’re giving a massage 5 minutes feels like forever!
After we done our massage, we both felt super relaxed. Our favourite part of Thailand was being able to get a Thai massage for $6 CAD for an hour. The prices for massages here are slightly more. Tim’s Lao massage was 60,000 LAK = $9.55 CAD (which is average for Luang Prabang) and my aromatherapy massage was 110,000 LAK = $17.50 CAD. These prices included tip and tax and were for 60 minute massages.
It was shortly after 6pm when we finished our massages which was perfect because we wanted to cross the Bamboo Bridge after 6pm, so we didn’t have to pay 5,000 LAK each. The Bamboo Bridge isn’t as scary to cross as the Old Bridge since it’s so low. There are some parts of the bridge that definitely feel a lot more secure than others though. We walked back and forth on the bridge and took a bunch of pictures.
For dinner, we decided to check out the night market which goes on every night at the far end of the main street near the post office. Most vendors were done setting up their stalls and we walked through to see what they had. There isn’t much food at the night market – mainly fruit smoothies, crepes, and some desserts. Walking through the night market was nice. It was a lot different than walking through a market in Vietnam. No one hassled you or grabbed you to come to their stall, they all just said “Sabaidee” – which is hello/welcome in Lao. Unlike Vietnamese markets, there were no fake bags or clothing. Everything was very Laotian looking and the quality of the goods sold seemed better (the backpacker pants here were a lot thicker and better quality than the ones we bought in Hoi An).
Towards the end of the night market, we went into an alley that seemed to be where a lot of people were going for food. We walked down the narrow alley and found a lot of stalls with BBQed meats and an assortment of other dishes. Many locals were getting dinner to go, so this intrigued us. There was also a stall that advertised themselves as a buffet, handing people large bowls for them to fill up. There were no locals at that stall, just western backpackers – so we stayed clear.
We ended up trying some BBQed meat at one of the stalls, we picked pork belly (10,000 LAK = $1.60 CAD), chicken skin (10,000 LAK = $1.60 CAD), and chicken wings (20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD). We ordered and grabbed a seat at the table across from the stall. The lady re-grilled the meat, cut it up, and served the meat on a banana leaf with a sweet chili sauce. The meat was very well seasoned and tasty. We were both very pleased with our dinner find. Lucky I had my vegetables at lunch!
After dinner we made our way back to the hotel. The shuttle bus wouldn’t be coming until 9pm and we had a pretty long day so we wanted to go back and rest. I didn’t want to walk over the Old Bridge again so we went back to the Bamboo Bridge (which was lit) and walked over that. Once we got to the other side, we walked through a residential neighbourhood and eventually back to our hotel. Luang Prabang feels like a very safe city.
It’s only our first full day here and we’re both really loving Luang Prabang. Laos is often a country that most people skip over when visiting SE Asia (I’m guilty of thinking of skipping it as well) but I’m really glad we came here. We have 3 nights here, and it’s probably not enough. I love the small town, laid back vibe of the city, and I love how people are friendly and not overbearing. It’s also so quiet here which has been nice. One major difference between Laos and Vietnam is drivers don’t honk! Even if there’s someone in their way, they just patiently wait until they move.
Today we were flying to Luang Prabang, Laos at 6:50pm, so we had a pretty full day in Hanoi before we had to go to the airport. We had a leisurely and large breakfast upstairs. I ordered Vietnamese fried rice and it was a lot larger than I expected, so that was basically our early lunch.
After breakfast we went back to our room and started to book flights and some hotels for our last 3 weeks on the road. We’ll be going to Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Phu Quoc before making our way back to Saigon (then home!). We’ve booked all our flights until KL, we’ll do the rest in the next couple of days.
Since we didn’t have to leave for the airport until later in the afternoon, we asked for a late check out and we didn’t head out into town until 1pm. I think if we asked for even later they probably would’ve given it to us. The staff at the hotel was really accommodating!
We finally checked out and headed out for lunch. We hadn’t eaten any food in Hanoi that we really wanted to have again, so it made deciding what to eat for lunch a bit challenging. Tim is always down for eating more banh mi so we decided to try to find a new place.
We walked through the old town and close to Hoan Kiem lake to see what we could find. We found a Banh Mi shop called, Banh Mi Pho Cho. It looked promising. We ordered two sandwiches and took a seat. I ordered a roasted pork sandwich and Tim had the classic deli meats and pate banh mi. Both our sandwiches were pretty mediocre. I can see now why Banh Mi 25 is supposedly the best banh mi in Hanoi, there isn’t that much competition for good banh mi in Hanoi’s old town.
We walked through old town and decided to go to Cong Caphe to escape the heat for a bit. We are usually indoors during mid-afternoon so it was especially draining being in the sun during mid-day. We wanted to go to Cong Caphe since we weren’t going to be having it again (unless Saigon has one, but we may not have time to go). We ordered a coconut coffee and a frozen lemonade (the exact order we had the first time we went). Both were delicious as usual and we got to spend some time watching over Hanoi’s hectic streets.
We walked around Hoan Kiem Lake, which was nice because it was mostly shaded by all the trees. After we made a loop around the lake, we made our way back to the hotel to cool down a bit before the car took us to the airport. The hotel manager and staff were nice and gave us cold towels (seeing how much we were sweating) and cold juice while we waited for our car. The manager also gave us a Vietnamese lacquered plate as a souvenir – that was really nice of him. Then about 5 minutes later he asked us if we would write a review on Trip Advisor for them. I was going to write one for them any way, but for a small business, I can see how good reviews on Trip Advisor are basically their life blood if they’re in the tourism industry. I told him that’s how I found this hotel, through Trip Advisor, so obviously I was going to pay it forward.
Right at 4:30pm, our car came to pick us up and we said bye to all the staff at the hotel. It took about half an hour to get from Old Town to the airport. There’s a lot of traffic trying to get out of the city, but once you get on the highway it’s smooth sailing.
We arrived at the international terminal and it was a lot nicer than Hanoi’s domestic terminal – mainly because it’s newer. The airport was pretty dead. There were a few flights leaving for Seoul, Taipei, and Hong Kong. The Lao Airline counter was not busy at all. It seems like the majority of the passengers on this flight to Luang Prabang are westerners and only about 10% Laotian.
Once we got through security and Vietnamese exiting customs, we walked around the departures terminal and ended up getting Popeye’s for late lunch/early dinner. The international terminal prices are all in USD and are a lot more expensive than the domestic terminal.
As we neared our boarding time, we weren’t boarding and I knew our flight was going to be delayed. Sure enough, we heard an announcement saying that our flight was delayed from 6:50pm to 7:10pm. Then 7:10pm quickly came and went and we still hadn’t boarded. Another announcement came on saying that the flight has been delayed to 8:40pm due to technical issues. They gave us a small sandwich and some water, which was probably what we should’ve eaten on board as our dinner. We finally boarded close to 9pm.
The plane was pretty small. It’s the type of plane you would fly from Vancouver to Seattle (Tim: Actually, it was an ATR 72 and I think it’s bigger than any plane I’ve been on from Vancouver to Seattle). The flight time to Luang Prabang is only an hour and a half (thankfully). When we arrived at the airport, we were the only flight that was there. It seemed like the only people working at the airport were the customs officers.
Laos requires a visa upon arrival so we tried to walk faster than the majority of the plane since we knew that 90% of the plane would need a visa. Depending on what country you’re from, you have to pay any where between $30 USD – $42 USD for the visa. Lucky for us, Canada is the only country that is $42! Even Afghanistan is $40 USD. Most other western countries are $30 USD. There was a big chart at the visa line with a list of all countries and their prices. Since we landed after normal work hours, it was an extra $1 USD to process. We had passport pictures printed at Costco before we left for the Laotian and Cambodian visas, but had we known that it would only cost an extra $1 USD for them to just photocopy a picture for you, we may have considered that.
After the visa line we took our passports to the customs line. They were having technical difficulties with their computers so we had to wait longer in that line. Finally, we got through, grabbed our bags and the hotel car was waiting for us outside. Lucky our hotel had free airport transfer because there were no cabs or tuk tuks around at all.
We’re staying at “Le Bel Air Boutique Resort“, which is about 5km away from the airport. We couldn’t see much in the dark but Luang Prabang seemed very quaint and quiet as there weren’t many scooters or cars on the street at night. The hotel looked very Thai or I guess very Laotian. The reception and restaurant area are all open air and each room is in its own villa area. We were brought to our room and were pretty surprised at how nice and large the room was. We’re lucky it’s down season because they had a “stay 3 nights, pay for 2” promotion, so we’re paying $60 CAD/night. Hotels in Laos aren’t as cheap as Vietnam.
After a really long day, we washed up and went to bed. Both really looking forward to exploring the city more tomorrow!