Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Vang Vieng (Part 2)

The tubing was a laugh, very relaxing and beautiful scenery. Whole thing costs US$3.5 plus one dollar extra if you want a dry bag for camera and money. Most of the bars along the river have swings, zip lines and jumping areas to hurl yourself off. All obviously sell Beer Lao and some offer free Lao Lao (very dangerouus). Whole trip actually took more like 4.5 to5 hours with all the stop. Great fun though as long as you don't get to drunk and burn to a cinder.

In the eveningwent fora pizza with Alan and Olivia who I met floating by. Had pizza fordinner (well it is VV after all) Can't remember the place but one of the roads off Pizza Street, hence they were edible. About 25,000 kip for a Calzone.

Was fairly knackered and went to bed aout 22:00.

Got up erly again and had more noodle soup. I have had enough of eggs andbaguttes now. Took a Green Ecotours trip (at main intersection on Pizza Street) for US$15. There all much about the same price anyway.

The trip was basically 09:30 - 17.00. About 60 percent of it Kayaking, 30 percent trekking and going through two caves and 10 percent transport. Its well worth it though and you even get to stop at the Organic Mulberry Tea Farm, although they appeared to be out of Mulberry Shakes but had all the others, odd for a place thats sole raison d'etre is Mulberry production.

Just had a shower and a Beer Lao at Sunset Bar (straight on over the bamboo bridge). I find it more relaxed than the Island Bar.

Will find somewhere that sells Laos food tonight, not as easy as youwould imagine here.

Bus to Louang Prabang tommorow US$7.5 and departs 09:30 and takes 6- 6.50 hours.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Vang Vieng

I am now in Vang Vieng.

A minibus picked me up from the Phone Paseuth Guest House at 10:00 and transfered to another minibus which then did the run along Highway 13 in three hours and fifteen minutes. Not too bad at all.

Some interesting peolpe on the bus non more so than the German bloke with his thai rent boy. How can anyone be so thick skinned to thing in normal to take your rent boy on a tourist bus? Arrived at Vang Vieng just after 13:00.

Had a quick look at travelfih website witha British and Australian couple and decided on Riverside Bungalows. The accommodatio ranges from simple huts with a fan an mossie net for US$3.80 up to large rooms with AC and ensuite for $12. I plumped for the simple hut mainly because you don't really need AC at this time of year. The huts have spectacular views over the karsts and are away from the main drag with its pizza reataurants showing endless re-runs of Friends and selling happy and happy happy pizza. It is a bit of a backpacker centre but it is quite easy to avoid most of the 'scene' if you make a little effort.

Overall I reckon it is well worth it.

Last night I eat at Erawan about the poshesst place in VV. I went mad and ordered steak, french fries, green salad, baguette, glass of red wine and a Lao Lao lemonade. The bill was 85,000 kip (four pounds 25 pence) and this really is splasing out. Lunch was noodle soup with pork down by the river in one of the little shacks in the picture.

Today i am going tubing (US$4) they pick you up in a tuk tuk and drive you 5Km upstream where you launch yourself into the river on a large tractor inner tube and float back downstream back to town. Whole journey take 2.5 to 3 hrs and there are stalls along the way selling Beer Lao.

Going to get some sunblock and look into some trekking, caving and kayaking for tommorow.

Monday, November 28, 2005


The actual place I am have been staying is the Phone Paseuth Guest House it is very central right next to Namphu Square on Pangkham Road. US$15. Very clean and recently renovated by the looks of things.

Saturday night I eat at Le Provencal on Namphu Square and went for pizza, I need a days break from rice and noodles. It was very good with anchovies and olives and spicy sausage. The effects of all the travelling caught up with me and after a few Beer Laos was tucked up in bed at about 22:00.

Sunday woke up at about six a clock and went for a stroll around down by the Mekong but not a lot doing at that time. The laos people seem tohave retained a lot of the beter frenc influences like long lunch hours, siestas and Sunday closing. Founf a cafe open at about 09:00 and sat around drinking Cafe Laos and eating some eggs and baguettes.

Walked to the morning market and on to Patouxai - a large victory arch. From here I jumped a tuk tuk to That Louang, the buddhist stupa and national symbol of Laos.

I forgot to mention that Saturday early evening I got completely lost. Once you get away from the familiar territory of Setthathilat Road, the Mekong and Namphu area it is easy to become disorientated. Once I realised I was lost I just kept on going and mooching around ten hailed a tuk tuk bachk to Namphu for 6,000 kip. I am quite glad I got lost as I saw many things I might not have seen otherwise.

Went for lunch at Sabaydi Restaurant on Setthathilat Road and had Fried noodles wit chicken (15,000 kip). By then it was becoming hot so sat for a couple of hours in Khop Chai Deu on e of the most popular farang bars with a pleasant outdoor patio. Draft Beer Lao 6,000 kip a glass.

Hired a bicycle for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then decided to investigate getting to Vang Vieng on Monday morning. All travel agents sen to do minibuses for about 45,000 - 50,000 kip or $US5. I was going to just get a bus from the bus station but laziness kicked in and I booked with an agent. The minibus leaves at 10:00.

Went back to the hotel about 16:30 for a shower and a change of clothes then set of along the Mekong to find one of the riverside bars for sunset. Its a good walk past all the drinks and food stalls that set up late after noon then eventually you come to a sring of bars. Got chatting to a couple of aussies who taught at a university in Bangkok and were on a short hop over to Laos. They were good to talk to and we had a laugh over a few Beer laos and some Lao Lao.

I eat at NaZim, an Indian place down by the river on the main drag. Mutton curry, nan bread, rice and a large Beer laos for 37,000 kip. It was excellent.

Its now Monday morning and am typing this as i wait for my bus. I hope all of you at home are enjoying your work!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Into Laos

Well it was really simple really.

Hired a bike yesterday morning for 28 baht and had a little peddle west of Nong Khai past the Friendship Bridge out into the countryside. Boy oh boy it was hot. I have not lost the ability to ride a bike but breathing at the same time is not easy. The paddies were green and the little stops for Chang refreshing.

Got back to Mutmee for lunch and had Tom Yam and more Chang.

Headed out east in the afternoon to the Sculpture Park about a half hour ride. All sorts of statues Buddah, Ganesh you name it he modelled it.

Back to Nong Khai and Mutmee for prawn curry and rice.

is little cheese in Thailand Gromit.

Attempted the evening cruise along the Mekong but not enough takers (10 minimum) so had to drink some Sang Som, fortinately some people fro Burnley helped me finish the bottle..

Early to bed and actually learned how to work the IPod speaker system I bought whilst bored in Manchester airport.

Getting to Laos

Chicken Soup and Rice up at corner place - 35 baht. Tuk Tuk to bus station 40 baht. Get on bus 10 baht, get off bus. Immigration stamping thing. Get on bus 10 baht (groundhog day) get off bus. Fill in form and have 30 dollars ready plus one extra because its a Saturday. Hand all in at IN window (you open window they wont, stare as much as you want) They will then shut window. Move two meters to right to OUT window. Wait until window opened and your name (Mr Ben) is called. Get in big queue. Receive lots of stamps in passport and proceed to Laos.

Head left and drink Beer Laos.

Taxi to Mali Namphu GH. 100 baht. Did you confirm your reservation Sir? Go nextdoor and check in to different place. It's one think I hate about Asia, everyone assumes you won't show.

Lazy lunch. Now get this. Broccolli Soup, baguette, pork steak in red wine jus with real chips made of proper potatoes, mustard, camenbert, coffee and red wine for 7 US dollars.

Going to hire a bike now!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Liverpool to Nong Khai

I had already decided to go straight to Nong Khai rather that stop over in Bangkok. This sounded like a good idea. Little did I know that it would take 22.75 hours from Lime Street to the check in desk at Mutmee Guest House in Nong Khai.

It all started at 09:15 on 23rd November with an 11 pounds 70p return to Manchester Airport. Having succesfully navigated the Fast Track Ticket machine and necking a double Espressso the train left on time.

I only really noticed the fog about St. Helens, it didn't really click until I saw the depatures board. Every other plane, apart from mine to Amsterdam and another to Paris, both Fokker 70's, were on time, but obviously the Fokker has problems with fog that other planes don't. So a 3 hour delay.

Terminal 2 really is the pits one bar - a pseudo french affair "Bar des Voyageurs" staffed entirely by sultry east european staff with an attitude to boot. Kilkenny was the least obnoxious brew at 2 pounds 99 a pint.

The flight eventually departed at about 15:40 which at least meant only two hours in Schipol.

The flight to BKK left on time. The internet check in came up trumps. I reserved seat 21H by the emergency exit with acres of legroom. Thank you "seat finder". Unfortuntely a rather large dutch man had.reserved seat 21I so what I gained in one direction I lost in the other.

The plane landed at Don Muang at 12.07 on Thursday 24th November. I now had a four hour+ wait for the Air Asia flight to Nong Khai.

In the meantime I reaquainted myself with Beer Chang and had a good pork with holy basil and rice at the Silom Village Restaurant.

Air Asia flight left eventually at 17:00 getting to Nong Khai 45 minutes later than scheduled at 18:00. From here a quick 100 baht minibus to Mutmee Guest House (Tickets from Limousine Service Counter by exit to airport)

Had a reservation at Mutmee and checked in to my sigle room at 130baht (less than 2 quid) a night. Was increaddibly tired now but wanted to stay awake until about 22:00. Forced a couple of Beer Chang down and had a large fresh water fish with a coconut cream and chilli sauce. Excellent.

Mutmeee is all it promised to be. A very relaxed guest house with lovly gardens overlooking the Mekong River.

Beakfast today consisted of and omelette and a Laos Coffee.

I am now going to hire a bike and cycle along the Mekong for a few hours then take a short river cruise tonight.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Bangkok to Vientiane (Redux)


OK get the bus from the Northern Bus Station (Morchit), don’t try and walk from the Skytrain stop. Get a cab or get a cab all the way there.

Bangkok – Nong Khai - Vientiane

Bangkok. – Nong Khai:

Transport Co. Thailand AC Bus (
545baht, 614kms, 10hrs, Departs: 20.30,21.00, Arrives 06:30, 07.00

Nong Khai -Vientiane
Transport Co. Thailand AC Bus/Lao PDR bus

07.30 Nong Khai Vientianne 30 baht TC Thailand
10.30 Nong Khai Vientianne 30 baht TC Lao PDR
15.00 Nong Khai Vientianne 30 baht TC Thailand
18.00 Nong Khai Vientianne 30 baht TC Lao PDR

The Nong Khai - Vientiane route is about 30 kms and will be covered in 30 minutes, excluding the time that will be spent at the border crossing.


Bangkok – Nong Khai - Vientiane

Bangkok – Nong Khai

Get yourself to Hualamphong train station in Bangkok (Taxi or skytrain/subway)

Train number: 137 * 133 77 69 *
Bangkok (Hualamphong) depart: 05:50 18:30 20:00 20:45
Bangkok Airport (Don Muang) depart: 06:42 19:25 20:45 21:32
Ayutthaya depart: 07:26 20:11 21:21 22:11
Nong Khai arrive: 17:30 07:20 06:00 08:55

Fares about 500 baht or less depending on class, speed and air.

See here

Then bus as above.


Bangkok – Udon Thani – Vientiane

Its taxi to Don Muang time. About 250 -300 baht including toll fees.

Bangkok – Udon Thani

You can buy your tickets online at
Nok Air or Air Asia online or at 7 Elevens, ATMs and airport counter service.

Typical fares on Nok Air at the end of this month are 1450 baht. Air Asia run at about 1250 baht

Flight times

Nok Air

Depart: 06:00Arrive: 07:05

Depart: 12:20Arrive: 13:25

Depart: 17:40Arrive: 18:45

Air Asia

Depart: 16:15
Arrive: 17:15

Udon Thani – Vientiane

Buses (timetables adjusted to meet planes)

07.00 Udon Thani Vientianne 80 baht TC Thailand
09.30 Udon Thani Vientianne 80 baht TC Lao PDR
15.00 Udon Thani Vientianne 80 baht TC Thailand
17.00 Udon Thani Vientianne 80 baht TC Lao PDR

The Udon Thani - Vientiane route is about 80 kms and will be covered in a little more than an hour, excluding the time that will be spent at the border crossing

All buses stop at Nong Khai

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Out of planning into real time - two weeks to go!

Panic! Hair too long! Not enough time!

Two weekends to go. Next weekend off to
Center Parcs in Cumbria with about six kids and eight adults. That does Friday midday to Monday midday in. Archery and the Green Room?

Still need to buy trousers and a couple of shirts. At work all week trying to find sites in Liverpool to re-cycle other peoples rubbish.

Hair cut Wednesday?

Match on Saturday - Portsmouth at Anfield.

Need to buy wall tiles, flooring and lights for bathroom. Marc doing bathroom whilst away. Sunday ?
Wash clothes.

Pack - what?

I have always loved this. Nearly as much as
Chanchao's driving guide to Thailand

"Dear Fellow Travellers...

Something tells me I'll catch some flack for this, but after making fifteen trips to Asia in as many years,this is my packing checklist. Yes, it's a lot of stuff. Yes, I travel "heavy". Yes, I'm TOTALLY self sufficient, and prepared for ANY kind of travel situation! I never bring all of these things, but I always bring most of them, especially the lighter items. I figure: if it's small and doesn't weigh much, what the heck --- I might as well bring it since I'm taking all that other junk anyway.

Wash up and Medical: Shaving cream, razor, extra blades, deoderant, hand soap, washcloth, headband, shampoo, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, toothpicks, floss, vitamins, aspirin, cold pills, Sudafed, nasal spray, swimmer’s ear drops, eyedrops, eyemask, Melatonin nail clipper, tweezers, Q-tips, condoms, etc. Imodium bandages, Neosporin sunscreen, lip balm, mosquito repellent, insect sting reliever, small padlock, tie-wraps, drain stopper (for sinks and bathtubs without one!)

Miscellaneous: Daypack, umbrella, compass (OK, you’re walking in Bangkok and the sign says Ratchadamri Road, but which direction are you going?) Nylon cord, adhesive/sealing tape (Always gets used up), ziplock bags, big plastic bags, knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks (option), Swiss army knife, mini scissors, flashlight with extra batteries, bulbs, 2 or 3 lighters, candles laundry soap, vegetable scrubber (for scrubbing clothes & cleaning shoes!), toilet paper, bath towel, loufa (it weighs nothing and will scrape away that ground in backpacker dirt!), mosquito net (option), inflatable pillow (option), sleeping sheet (option), (a bedsheet sewn up like a sleeping bag; good for warm climates and good when your guesthouse bed is grungy!), immersion heater, camping pot (option), instant food, snack foods (option), particle mask (for walking in Bangkok!)

Reading/Writing: Zipper envelope with pens, pencils, envelopes, paper mini world atlas, address book, visa photos, extra business/personal cards

Books: Reading books, guidebooks, local maps, songbook

Gifts/Show & Tell: Little presents, photos of self, home, family, etc. postcards, old stamps (a cheap bagful from a collector's shop --- light, cheap educational gift for kids!)

Valuables and carry on: Passport, traveler’s checks (with seperate list of numbers), ATM card, credit cards, personal checks, visa photos, money belt (to wear INSIDE your clothing), cash & local currency , plane tickets, sunglasses (worn at “night” to help beat jet lag on the plane), glasses cas, ear plugs, eye mask, Melatonin (in carry on bag)

Clothes: Nylon pants (great for travelling!), other pants, jeans (option) (not great for travelling), 3-5 prs underwear, 3-5 prs socks, 1-2 pr shorts, 1 swimsuit, 2 T-shirts, 2 good shirts, 1 pr good shoes (option), sports sandals (better than cheap Asian “flip flops”, which are named that because they have no traction --- wear them to the outside toilet at night and when you step into the first puddle, you’ll flip flop right onto your ass!)

Other medical items: (all optional). Flagyl (in case of dysentary), Antibiotics, Dettol, etc. (for first aid; this stuff will kep infections from getting worse in Asia), Moleskin (for trekking; in case of blisters).Thermometer, Acetazolamide (for altitude illness if trekking on high mountains)

Photo: (all optional) Digital SLR camera and camera kit with 25mm lens, flash, batteries. Extra lenses, U/V, Sun, other filters, tripod, beanbag. Mini binoculars

Electronics: (all optional) IPod, MP3 player, shortwave radio, antenna, calculator, mobile phone, all adaptors, telephone extension cord (more for business travel --- sometimes it’s great to have a nice long phone cord in the hotel room), AC adaptors, extension cord, etc. Mosquito zapper & tablets (Like an “electric” mosquito coil; buy it in any Asian department store, it really works)

Hiking/Trekking gear: (all optional) Hiking boots with oil & extra laces (for serious trekking only!), parka, 2-4 prs heavy wool socks and an altimeter "

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Vieng Xai

A rather spooky town, Vieng Xai is the living time capsule of a grandiose moment in Lao history: the victorious culmination of a three-decade Communist insurgency that cut the country from 200 years of Thai and French colonialism.

It is also, by any stretch, a ghost town worthy of the Twilight Zone crumbling with vestiges of jingoism and failed pretensions to Soviet grandeur. A very spooky town.

The town's central monument - a prematurely ageing cement statue of a rifle-toting female farmer, a soldier and a worker whose foot rests triumphantly on a bomb marked "USA" - has the flimsy amateur feel of a backdrop in a school play.

Never has a lesser word been said in jest. God bless America.

Weeds and piles of rubbish overrun the courtyard in the boarded-up cultural centre, while the giant circular Party emblem mounted above the centre's entrance is flaking apart, its faded Lao flag barely recognisable and the star on its wreath dangling by a nail.

It's hard to imagine how this loop of streets once merited the distinction "City of Victory", or even just "city", much less that leaders of the Lao revolution envisaged it would become a remote cultural oasis and symbolic cradle of Marxism in Laos.

Of course, these were men who barely saw a full day's sunlight in more than a decade. Then again, maybe this is an apt symbol.

Lying at the base of a limestone mountain range between Xam Neua and the Lao-Vietnamese border at Nam Meo, it was from Vieng Xai that the Lao Communist Party (the Pathet Lao) waged its "30-year struggle" against a succession of coalition governments and US-backed Royal Lao forces that ended in 1975.

For ten years starting in 1963, when relentless US air strikes began showering northern Laos with cluster bombs, Pathet Lao leaders lived in an extensive network of limestone caves, effectively operating a shadow government from a hidden city.

Though farmers spent the war years in and out of the hundreds of caves speckling the town's environs, only five caves make up the official tour of Vieng Xai. Well-preserved, if a bit spartan, the quintet served as the headquarters for the masterminds of the Pathet Lao.

Arrival and after

Tuk tuks generally depart the Sam Neua bus station every half an hour from early morning until about 15:00 or 16:00. The journey costs 7,000 kip per person, and takes about an hour. No guide no hidden city. No money no guide.


The modest Vieng Xai hotel: an almost crestfallen guesthouse once in the day built to billet foreign luminaries, though the exiled Lao royal family and their re-education camp-bound followers may have been the Vieng Xai's best customers.

Now looking more like a hospital than a four-star hotel, rooms go for $2-3 and can come with breath-taking views of the limestone mountains and the cluster of Hmong houses next door.