After some time to reflect on my amazing trip to Laos in October, I thought it is time to write my JBR. As I realised that it gets a bit longer I decided to split the report into several sections. Apologies if it is too long – if it is just stop reading
Stop 1 – The crossing
After arriving in Chiang Khong the night before, I finally crossed the border into Laos. It is very straightforward, and there is really no need to pay anyone money for help. After exiting Thailand (if there is no queue and you have your departure card already filled in – it is a five minute job) you cross the border aka the Mekong to Laos by boat (40 Bhat). In Laos you just have to fill in two forms for the visa, hand them over with your passport and the fees in $, and wait for them (you can exchange money while you wait). It couldn’t be any easier.
In Houay Xai I learned two things quickly. Firstly, whatever the guesthouse in Chiang Khong says....Bluecramp and other regular posters are always right – it was the only time I doubted their combined knowledge (forgive me my ignorance...). I was told that there is a bus at 11am for Luang Namtha (in addition to the 9am and 12.30 I was advised about here), so I headed to the bus station just to find out that this is incorrect. Didn’t fancy a 2 ½ hours wait in the middle of nowhere aka the bus stop, so went to the group of Tuk Tuks to get a lift back to the village.
Here I learned the second lesson....people at border towns will try to rip you off from the start. Paid 30k Kip for the Tuk Tuk to the bus stop, now they wanted 100k Kip for the return trip, even after I told them about the price I paid before...they clearly thought I am a walking ATM. I can be a stubborn person, so I walked away from them, as it was a clear attempt to rip me off. I haven’t even walked 5 m they suddenly offered the ride for 30k - I suddenly became less stubborn and returned to the village where I had time to get a nice lunch and a Sim card. Finally got the bus at 12.30, with me being the only passenger. Happy days - my adventure had started!!!
Stop 2: Luang Namtha
Though I call it stop 2, Luang Namtha was my first proper stop in Laos. The town itself is nothing special (though the local market was interesting), but the surrounding areas are just beautiful, and easily to explore by renting a motorbike, scooter or bike. I visited some of the local villages, a waterfall and nearly managed to hurt myself on a scooter - I manage to fell off it, and like in comedies I got up immediately pretending nothing happened (and hoped no one saw it) –unfortunately it was at the main road in a village so lots of people were laughing, including two kids who passed me on the scooter. Thankfully I only hurt my pride (badly though) in addition to some burns.
The main appeal for this region is probably being a great base for hiking. I was a bit unlucky and it took two days before I got group for a two day trek / kayaking trip to the Nam Ha NBCA (using Forrest Retreat). The first day was a full day hike in the jungle, including a steep (even steeper than steep...) climb to the top of a mountain. It was quite a challenge and definitely not easy (could feel the achievement for a few days after...) but still enjoyable. Still, I was the happiest person when we finally arrived in the Lanten minority village for the overnight stay. I really enjoyed it there, learning about their way of life and how creative kids can be without having the latest Xbox etc. However, they love getting pictures taken! It was also shown again that playing football is the best icebreaker. I could have stayed easily for another night. The second part of the trip was kayaking, which was enjoyable, though considering the low water level it was not very difficult (some grade 2 rapids). Overall, I would recommend taking a multiple day trip, as long you are aware what the difficulty for the various treks are.
I Stayed at the Manychan guesthouse. Nothing special, rooms looks a bit dated but rather spacious, service is indifferent unless you get to know the staff a bit (which I did) – but it was ok for a few nights . I also stayed one night in Zuela Guesthouse, which has much nicer rooms, but there were gaps in the wooden wall mosquitoes could get into your room. Also the walls are quite thin.
Food & drinks:
I usually went to the night market to get good and cheap food – including water buffalo, fried noodles, fried frogs and a whole duck for 28k. If you rent a bike or scooter, there is a fantastic little place near the airport where you can get absolute lovely noodle soup for lunch – it is like sitting in someone’s kitchen.
Having a drink in the Manychan can be nice for people watching, and for me they served the best banana shake I had during my whole holiday – even worth waiting 15 min because they had to run the market to get fresh bananas – didn’t expect that . Lots of tourists go to the Forrest Retreat for a few drinks (so a good place to meet fellow travellers). It is a great place run by Andrei and Karen, which are just lovely people. It is good to meet people, and they build a stone oven for some quality pizza – it is really very delicious. They also help you with everything – i.e. advice for places to go, andtey offer some nice hikes.
Some hopefully useful general tips
If you stay a bit longer in Laos and expect to make some calls (either national or international) it is worthwhile to get a Lao Sim card, as calls abroad only cost 2k per minute (at least for Thailand, Germany and the UK) – so it very cheap . I went with Lao Telekom and had a good signal everywhere – except of Muang Ngoi. You get 15k Kip balance when buying the card, and can buy additional credits for 25k and 50k. Just a wee advice: after the first call I couldn’t make any other calls home until I register. You will hear a message in Lao...don’t hang up as an English instruction is followed – call the number given, provide your name and country of residence, and you get another 10k bonus, and can make all the calls you want.
If you want to take the bus from Huay Xai instead of the slow boat, you can find the timetable for public buses from October 2012 here [IMG]http://i1202.photobucket.com/albums/bb370/Scotsman79/Shared%20Pictures/DSC05394_zpsf2c2c4db.jpg[/IMG]
From Luang Namtha you could take the public bus to Luang Prabang around 8.30. But apparently it is not going every day – it all depends if enough people turn up. An alternative is to take the mini bus at 9am, leaving from the public bus station as well. Please note that after Oudomxay the road is getting bad and it could be an uncomfortable ride.
Part 2 will follow soonEdited: 18 December 2012, 01:04