Almost on impulse, I decided the other day to take a four day trip to Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. I’ve wanted to go for quite a long time, so when an opportunity arose the other day I jumped at the chance to book a trip. This is probably actually the best time of the year to go to Laos. The rainy season has now come to an end and the weather has turned dry and cool. Perfect conditions for travelling. I checked on the Internet and the maximum daytime temperature at the moment is 22 degrees Celsius. During the night it is dropping to a very chilly 7 degrees Celsius. Luang Prabang is about parallel with Chiang Rai which is also going through a cold patch at the moment. Before I left I made sure I packed my jacket and sweater.
Luang Prabang is in many ways cut off from the outside world. Travel options are limited. If you are feeling adventurous then you could try a slow, two day boat ride from the Thai border. Or, if you are like me, and have limited time or are eager to get to your destination, then you could always fly there! However, it is not cheap. From Bangkok you can fly either Lao Airways or Bangkok Airways for about 8,000-10,000 baht return trip. I decided to fly the former as it was slightly cheaper. Though I didn’t know at the time why. I should have guessed when I arrived at check-in at the airport when I saw that there was no-one else in the queue. At the departure gate there were exactly ten other people waiting. A bus took us out onto the runaway where we were greeted by a two propeller airplane. I haven’t flown on one of these for a while.
The flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang only took about 100 minutes. I had a window seat just behind the propellor. I had some great views though I was a bit worried that the propellor would fly off and hit me in the face! Though I suppose if that was to happen then everybody else on the plane would die just as quick so I didn’t bother to change seats. The only city I recognized along the way was Lopburi because of the two very large and distinctive roundabouts. I had spotted them on Google Earth and so recognized them straight away. They are already marked on our site www.ThailandPhotoMap.com if you want to go and take a look. Coming into land we had some great views of Luang Prabang. In particular, the temple on top of Phu Si hill and the Mekong River behind.
The air stewardess had given us our immigration forms and also a form to apply for a 30 day visa on the airplane. This turned out rather fortunate that we were able to write this in advance. A Vietnamese Airline plane had just landed before us full of tourists. However, as we entered the small airport building we saw that they were busy filling in their forms and so we were then able to go straight to the front of the queue for the visa. You don’t need to go to the trouble of applying in advance. Just make sure you bring along a passport size photo. If you don’t have one, they will photocopy your picture in your passport for a fee. Listed on the board were the prices for the visa for all the different nationalities. Strangely, although both England and USA were US$35, Canadians have to pay US$41! Eastern Europeans are US$30.
Immigration itself was quick and painless with only a few people in the queue. Next door was baggage claim and my bag was already waiting for me. On the way out, I passed an exchange booth. I made a mental note that Thai baht was 286 kip and US dollar was 9.4 kip. I didn’t change any as I thought the rates here wouldn’t be that good. However, the place I changed my baht at this afternoon was only 281 kip for one baht. In contrast to Bangkok airport, I wasn’t bombarded with taxi touts as I left the airport building. Outside I found a table for booking taxis. The guy asked where I was going. I already had the name of a guesthouse and I told him. The price was fixed at US$5 or 200 baht. It was slightly cheaper to pay in dollars. I was under the impression that it was $5 per vehicle however the receipt clearly said “per person”. If this was a meter taxi in Thailand then it would have cost me less. The guidebooks suggest that the return trip to the airport is a lot less. I didn’t really mind. Having a fixed price takes out the stress of being cheated.
I was at my guesthouse and checked in by about 1 p.m. As I still had a good part of the day left, I decided to set off on foot to explore the area. I also wanted to try and get my bearings. My guesthouse was alongside the Meklong River. Behind me was Phu Si hill and so I decided to climb that first to help orientate myself. The entrance fee was 20,000 kip which sounds a lot and I almost didn’t go up. I had to sit down and work out some benchmarks for buying things while in Laos. A good marker would be 100 baht. This is about 28,000 kip. So the price wasn’t too bad after all, though maybe a bit more than what it would be in Thailand for a temple in Ayutthaya.
As expected, the views from the top were spectacular even though the temple itself was only of passing interest. I reckon there would be some good views of sunrise here as well. From the hill top I walked down the other side to the Buddha’s Footprint. Along the way I passed a series of Buddha images that represented different days of the week. Interestingly they didn’t match the Thai version. I will share with you these pictures later. The footprint turned out to be a large indent in the rock. Nothing too exciting. I continued walking down to the bottom of the hill where I come out at a small temple. They seem to be everywhere.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the town admiring the French colonial architecture. I didn’t really visit any temples as such. I will explore those properly tomorrow. After several hours of walking I ended up at a small restaurant overlooking the river. I was parched and so ordered a bottle of Lao Beer. The price was probably inflated as it was a restaurant with fine views, but at only 10,000 kip I wasn’t going to complain. I think sometimes in order to enjoy your holiday, you should just pay the price and don’t waste energy trying to find the cheapest source in town.
I will talk more about the town in a later blog. It is early evening now and I am back at my guesthouse typing this up on my laptop. I will save this on a thumbdrive and try and post it at one of the internet cafe which are scattered around the town. It is already getting very chilly. Luckilly I didn’t pay extra for an air-conditioned room as I am not even using the fan! I am wearing my thick jacket now. There is a night market in town and I will go and explore that shortly. I was planning on sitting down to a nice meal of Lao food. But on the way back I saw a stall selling some baguette sandwiches for only 10,000 kip. Obviously a French influence. I must say, it was not only superior to subway sandwiches in Bangkok, but was a hundred times better value for money.
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