Monday, November 30, 2009

Mekong River by Luang Prabang, Laos

Peaceful: The placid Mekong River, with its source in Tibet, is the 10th longest in the world. Yunnan in China is just to the north.

Long-tailed boats: Transporting both goods and people, they are a common sight on the Mekong.

The giant catfish of the Mekong

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Luang Prabang, the loveliest city in Laos

                                Welcome: the back of this tuk-tuk says it all

One well-known travel guide raves over Luang Prabang, describing it as one of the loveliest cities in the region. A good but winding road goes all the way from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, taking about 6 hours.

                               Residential areas of Luang Prabang

Most travellers see only the urban area of Luang Prabang, and rarely venture into the residential areas which are more picturesque and traditional.

                               Row of hotels

Luang Prabang is experiencing a tourist boom. Almost every building is either a hotel or restaurant. It's a small town, and a rented bicycle is the ideal way to explore the nooks and corners of this northern city close to Chinese border in Yunnan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What is there to do in Vang Vieng, Laos?

A pick-up loaded with huge tubes

A friend asked, "What's is there to do in such an ulu (remote) place? Well, you go tubing ie float down the river on a large rubber tube much like what you did as a kid during a flood in your kampung or village.

Ultra cheap accomodation

"What about accommodation? Is there budget accommodation?" was his next question. Plenty. There are cheapies by the side of the river which cost about US$3-4 but they're really for people who have to count their kip (Laotian currency) before they go to bed.

A lounge

"OK, any place to relax with a drink, that sort of thing?" You can relax on deck chairs by the river or in the lounge as shown above. Beer Lao, touted as the best in the region, is cheap and with a can of the stuff and a good book you're close to paradise. Make it a few cans, OK?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Vang Vieng Haven, Laos

With its peace and quiet, Vang Vieng is an excellent antidote for stressed out urban dwellers. If you're still dithering on a holiday destination, these pictures might help you to come to a decision. During the day I explored the place on my rented bicycle, and when dusk fell a Beer Lao and Laotian fried rice were the  perfect way to round up the day.

Observe farmers at work on their farms.

On one side of the town lie the farms and karst hills. There are caves here for exploration.

The River Nam Song where tubing is carried out.

Skimpily-clad western backpackers sun worshipping. (click the image for an XL view if you're curious but only if you're 18)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng Town

One of the two star attractions of Laos is this small town of Vang Vieng (the other is of course the UNESCO Heritage Site of Luang Prabang in the north). It's a small town with one road running through it, and it's best covered by bicycle which I rented for US$2.

Backpackers lounging in cafe

I was surprised to see the cafes packed with western backpackers reclining on pillows watching episode after episode of the TV serial Friends.

Tubing shop

An exciting outdoor activity in Vang Vieng, apart from lying almost comatose in the cafes watching VCDs, is tubing. They take you somewhere outside town, and you float back on a huge rubber tube on the river. During the rainy season, the river swells with water and it can be dangerous. In fact, a western backpacker drowned while tubing.


The hotels and guesthouses are excellent value. You can get a spotlessly clean room in a guesthouse with attached bathroom for only US$5.

Vientiane, the Lao capital, to Vang Vieng takes about 3 to 4 hours by van or bus.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vientiane Central Market and Bus Terminal

Vientiane Central Market is called "Ta lard" which means market in both Laotian and Thai. This place is also the transport hub for bus transport.

Vendors do business from any vacant lot of land they can find.

And business is brisk.

This two wheeled cart is peculiar to Laos. Very practical as it can carry all sorts of stuff.

The bus hub: the ancient buses lack comfort but they're cheap.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

In Cambodia, the national symbol is Angkor Wat. Here in Laos, it's Pha That Luang, a Buddhist stupa. It's certainly very beautiful, and the locals look at it in awe and reverence.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Future of Laos Lies Here.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world so it was no surprise to see these kids begging for handouts and money from tourists. Most people find them cute, and so give in to them but I think it's a bad idea as it fosters a culture of begging. A much better way is to  donate to their schools or temples.

To evoke pity in tourists, some kids bring along babies. It's a bad idea to foster this begging mentality in kids so young.

Education represents the best way for Laos to progress and prosper.
Wherever I travel I make it a point to visit a local school, and sometimes I feel like a trespasser.Since I cycle around, it's easy to spot a school, and just ride into it. Usually they are surprised to see a stranger loitering around. And they are too well-mannered to shoo me away or ask "What the hell are you doing here? Can't you see that this is a school?" Not once.

Beer Lao by the Mekong River, Laos

If you're still dreaming about Beer Lao, which is probably the best beer in the region, the best place to enjoy one is at this place beside the Mekong River in Vientiane.

The Mekong River with its long-tailed boats. Laos is famed for its many mountains and rivers.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Life in Vientiane, Laos

When there are no great tourist attractions, most travellers will dismiss the place as "nothing much, nothing to see". But for me the local people and their culture are interesting enough if one keeps an open mind.

I bring you some snapshots of life in Vientiane.

A man selling flowers from the cart attached to his bike.

This is the way they sell fruits in Laos.

Cycling around the city, I chanced upon this school and rode in to have a closer look. You are looking at Laos' future.

Being one of the poorest countries in the world, child labour is common in Laos. This boy is hawking "keropok".

While children in richer countries are playing with their PSP and computer games, these kids labour in the market every day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Beer Lao by the Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos

In my view, if you haven't had a drink by the Mekong River, your cool factor is zero.

Atap- roofed cafes lined the river bank. I had a Beer Lao which some some say is the best beer in the region. Hey, Heineken, are you listening?

Teetotallers are not left out. At least you can say you had had coconut juice by the Mekong River! When night falls, the area is filled with foodstalls and Laotians lounging on straw mats and dining under the stars.

I'm one of those who must have coffee for breakfast. As in Thailand, for breakfast the locals prefer noodles.  Fortunately I found this place after a search on my bicycle. Notice the boiler outside the coffee shop?

A Laotian coffee shop in Vientiane.There aren't many of such coffee shops so I made a mental note to return to this place for lunch. Laotian noodle dishes are similar to Thai ones.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Patuxai, Vientiane, Laos

Patuxai or Victory Gate

If you have been to Paris, you'll certainly exclaim "Hey, this looks like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris!" But the embellishments on the monument are Buddhist.

Climb up seven storeys, and like the locals here you'll be rewarded with a bird's eye view of Vientiane. The other levels are chockful with souvenir stalls. The monument is popular with the locals, and I could see that they found it very impressive and awe-inspiring.

A bird's eye view of Vientiane. Impressive boulevard reminds you of Paris as well. I had no problem cycling around in exploring the city as traffic was light and the roads flat.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Vientiane, Laos

A bird's eye view of Vientiane, the Laotian capital.

Laotians haggling at roadside stalls.

Laos is rarely on the radar of most people's travel destinations which is a pity. Currently the country attracts few tourists which was fine with me it meant I had more elbow room.

The capital, Vientiane, hasn't much to offer in terms of great tourist sights. Two places most backpackers gravitate to are Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, the latter travel guru Lonely Planet describes as one of the most beautiful cities in the region (debatable in my view)

With improved roads and transport system, Laos is easy to travel around. Costs are pretty low. And if you like rivers and mountains, Laos has them in abundance.

And with Laos hosting the SEA Games from 9 to 18 Dec 2009, it's an opportune time to bring you my travel tales from the country.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Best Flight in East Malaysia

I bring you "The Best in..." from my travels in Sabah and Sarawak in the last two months.

The Best Flight: flying to the Kelabit Highlands on this small Twin Otter plane

Lonely Planet describes it as the most exciting flight in the region. I agree whole-heartedly. As the plane doesn't fly that high, I could make out the meandering rivers with their ox-bow lakes, the lush, endless jungles of Borneo and the mountain peaks that looked like within touching distance.

But remember to sit on the left side of the plane for the unforgettable experience. It's free sitting and there're no pretty air hostesses to greet and direct you to your seat. After all, there're only 19 seats. And one last thing, know your weight as you'll be asked. The plane's overall weight is a critical factor.

NOTE:  I've posted a video clip on the flight on 26 Sept but if you can't find it there, go to Youtube and search for "Twin Otter anding at Bario (Keabit Highands)".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Guess where this place is (No 1)

Can you guess where this rock formation is found?


  1. UNESCO Heritage Site
  2. Sacred
  3. Buddhism
  4. Tear Drop 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Best travel destinations by Lonely Planet

My favourite mode of transport to Chiengmai and back to Bangkok is the train. I'd get a sleeper, have a restful sleep and by morning arrive at my destination.

According to travel guide guru, Lonely Planet, among the top ten travel destinations are Iceland (No 1), Malaysia and Singapore.

Having travelled to Thailand many times its No 2 spot comes as no surprise. In  my view there are  7 reasons for its best-value tag:

  1. reasonable cost of accommodation
  2. cheap food
  3. friendly people
  4. interesting culture
  5. safety
  6. reasonable transport costs
  7. beautiful beaches
Have you been to P'ai in Thailand? More about this destination in future posts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Angkor Wat, Part 4/4 Siem Reap, Cambodia

Apart from the Angkor Wat (Angkor Temple) complex, there are others like the Bayon Temple complex seen here.

Look closely and you can see the faces of the god-kings.

Here is one of them.

The god-kings' presence is everywhere.

Buy some souvenirs and help a Cambodian family.