Monday, September 25, 2017

5D4N Luang Prabang

"Luang Prabang, a former capital of Laos and currently is a UNESCO World Heritage city. "

Expenses ALL-IN including return flights & accommodation for 2 Pax approx. RM1700
That is approximately US$200 per person, and it wasn't even a budget trip!

I have always preferred a place unlike KL, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. So when I wanted to choose a country I have never been in South East Asia and is affordable, it was Luang Prabang (thereafter referred to as LPQ).

I was left with Laos and Myanmar but Myanmar require Visa for all foreign travelers. No more Visa-on-arrival, and it's RM80 (done in 5days) or RM150 (for express). This could be similar price as my promo flights! Nevertheless, I will keep Myanmar on my list.

Back to LPQ.....

For a short 5 days 4 nights (5D4N) getaway, I wanted to know what LPQ has to offer. I went on a not-so-budget trip with my partner and for the first time ever stayed at a more proper room compared to most of my South East Asia/Indochina trips (I am still frequently in backpacker mode, used to staying at dorms but my partner is not quite use to that)


Here is my itinerary and other notes:

  • CURRENCY The currency used in Laos are "USD $" and also their local currency "kip". Currency exchange during my travel: $1 = 8300kip. Many countries do not offer exchange in Kip. Bring USD and there are plenty of money changers around LPQ, mostly offering 1:1 rate for USD. For bigger amount exceeding 500k kip, mostly USD will be accepted.

  • FLIGHTS AirAsia flights return: KUL-LPQ-KUL RM250/pax. I did not buy this during promotion or Zero fare and I bought it only 2 months ahead! LPQ airport is just 6km away from LPQ city, the fare for taxi to the city is standard $6 or 50k kip. We booked ours through the hotel to prevent being caught in haggle, same price.

  • ACCOMMODATION I booked "Soutikone Place House 2" through Booking.com, double superior deluxe bed room for $20/night, total $80 (there are cheaper options, could go up to $10/night during promo) with great breakfast. I would suggest to get a hotel on/near Sisavangvong Road or Sakkaline Road for convenience to shops & eateries, and hotels along Mantatoulat Road or Soulignavongsa Road for Mekong river view 

  • TRANSPORTATION Hiring a private taxi with driver and/or guide would cost approx. $80/day. ½ day tour (approx. 8AM-1PM) cost $25-30, 1 day tour cost $35-40 (approx. 8AM-5PM). For us, we just took tour for 1 day, other days we either walk or booked for shared transport. All attractions within the LPQ city are within walking distance.

  • LANGUAGE The Laos language is the official language but those who work at the souvenirs store, restaurants/bars, hotel understands basic English since LPQ is a tourism based city. "How much?" would be your most used question, and even if they do not know how to reply, they will key the value in their calculator and show it to you 😊

  • FOOD Typical street food 20-30k kip per meal, vegetarian buffet 5k kip. Restaurants (pizza, Lao set meals, Western food like steak, burgers etc.) 35-60k kip. Cheaper options are Porridge 10k kip, sandwich 10-20k kip, soup noodle 15k kip. Halal food might be difficult to find but there are halal restaurents. Vegetarian food available at some restaurants. We noticed that there are many fusion food in LPQ, probably due to tourism in the city.

  • WEATHER Further north and in Luang Prabang, rainfall tends to be lighter and you can often expect rain during the night or mornings with some relatively clear afternoons. Across Laos, throughout much of the rainy season, daytime temperatures average around 29°C in the lowlands and 23°C in the mountain valleys. - selectiveasia. During my trip, the weather was on our side. It was mostly cloudy with slight sunny afternoon, temperature around 25°C. It rained during the wee morning, when we were asleep so our trip was not affected. It only drizzled on DAY 4 Saturday morning. Tee and shorts/pants are the perfect outfits. Remember to cover up for temples visit though!


 

The is a very helpful high resolution map: 

Not only the street names and main attractions but also the names of the shops. 
Save this in your mobile phone for convenience!




DAY 1 (13 Sept, Wednesday)

  • Arrival: our flight was delayed for 1hr, arrived at 4PM. No visa required for Malaysian, just fill the arrival and departure card, go straight to foreigner counter.
  • MOUNT PHOUSI (Entrance fee: 20k kip). Phousi stupa and sunset, can start hike up around 5.30PM. Hike up using back entrance along Ratsavong road and exit at main entrance along Sisavangvong road, main entrance exit connects directly to Phousi night market
Stairs up the back entrance

Luang Prabang city view from the first viewing point

Sunset from the second viewing point

  • PHOUSI NIGHT MARKET (Open: 6PM-10PM). Can get street food, juices, and souvenirs here
Night market, still quite empty when we descended from Mt. Phousi because it just opened

Lao exotic whiskey are sold at the night market but whiskey village is slightly cheaper

  • Dinner at a restaurant along Sisavangvong road or at night market.


DAY 2 (14 Sept, Thursday)

  • ROYAL PALACE /NATIONAL MUSEUM (Open: 8AM-4PM, Entrance fee: 30k kip) Located opposite Phousi main entrance. No bags & camera allowed inside, free lockers provided, cover up for shoulders/legs at 5k kip with 50k kip deposit. *We passed by the Museum on Saturday and realized that it is closed, some sites also mentioned that it is close on Tuesday.
Entrance to the museum

One of the temple in the museum

  • WAT VISOUN TEMPLE Walking distance from our hotel, free entry 
  • KUANG SI WATERFALL (Entrance fee: 20k kip; book mini bus return 45k kip/pax with pick up from hotel) 2 trips available: depart 11.30AM return 4PM OR depart 1.30PM return 5PM. Along the way you get view of rice terraces, plantations; 30km from city, approximately 1hr ride, winding road- take sickness pill if needed; hike up till highest point for best view.
Excited but could not take a nice pic due to the shades πŸ˜…

The water gets quite deep and high current so be aware if you cannot swim, no life guard but there are warning signs around


Blueish water!




The end of the path is a scenic multi tier waterfall

  • ASIAN BEAR RESCUE CENTRE Located at the entrance of Kuang si waterfall, no entrance fee. Quite a number of Moon Bear and Sun Bears, feeding time around 2PM.
Playful bears

Have a good nap 😴

  • Food & souvenirs stalls at the entrance, similar to prices in the city. Fresh coconut 10k kip
  • Back to city by 4PM, have a rest and dinner 



DAY 3 (15 Sept, Friday)


took 1 Day Tour with Manifa Travel:  Mekong river slow boat + elephant riding + Mahount (elephant training) + Pak ou caves + whiskey/weaving village for $35/pax including transport+ lunch; exc Pak Ou cave entrance. 

Note: I would encourage to take 1 day tour instead of ½  day tour. For ½ day tour, you might be mixed with the 1 day tour and there will be lots of waiting and waste of time.

Note: There are many tour agencies around the LPQ town itself but they offer similar tours, different prices. So make sure you do your survey and are comfortable paying for what they offered. Book tour 1 day in advance.

Note: If you want to visit Pak Ou cave ONLY, you could take a 2hrs slow boat ride from the pier which departs at 8.30AM and return at 1PM for 65k kip/pax return

  • MEKONG SLOW BOAT Boat departs 8.30AM, 1.5hr ride to whiskey/weaving village. 
The water is so close to the edge of the boat!
And, do not expect life vests because I was looking for them the moment we boarded
Offshore life saving instinct kicked in πŸ˜“



  • WHISKY & WEAVING VILAGE Ban Xang Hai (whiskey & weaving same place) Do not expect too much as this is just a small stopover village. Whiskey sold here is cheaper than at the Night Market. 100ml small whiskey rice wine bottle can be hand carried, but only those 15% liquor. Our 50% liquor was confiscated at the custom. Be careful because the cap is not tight, liquor might spill (more worrying if it's check-in baggage). We did not get those with scorpions/snakes/centipedes because we were uncertain about the custom laws, advisable for some research on this.
There are 3 types of rice wine (or they call whisky).
The cloudy and purplish are lighter <15%, while the transparent is stronger 50% alcohol.
 I tried these 3, none of it with the exotic beings, but I am guessing the exotic whiskey
is similar to the 50% alcohol but with additional "flavoring"



The whiskey distillation tools

What they sell here are similar to those at the Night Market, I was thinking probably the Whiskey Village is the supplier😊


  • PAK OU CAVES 4000+ Buddha statues (Entrance fee: 20k kip) Located another 30mins from whiskey village; lower Tham Ting and upper cave Tham Theung (quite a hike). Do bring torchlights for the upper cave, or your mobile phones would also be sufficient. Not a big cave if you have been to caves in Malaysia like the Batu/Niah/Mulu caves, however some highly placed statues are fascinating (mostly are small statues tho)
Note: If you choose to go by land to Pak Ou, either tuktuk or minivan, still need to take boat to cross the river to the cave

The slow boat stop next to the cave


Ran out of breath once we arrived the upper cave

Dark entrance of the upper cave

  • ELEPHANT CAMP For lunch, given very fulfilling lunch
  • ELEPHANT RIDE Initially wanted to opt out for this, since I did this in Mondulkiri, Cambodia (a well known elephant conservation & reservation) way back and I do not support riding animals, but my partner has not seen or ride one. I saw that the elephants are well take care of so I went on with it. The ride was approximately 30mins. 
  • MAHOUT Elephant training/ controller. A very short lesson on the elephant training language and then we get to ride directly on elephant without seat, giving instructions to the elephant is not easy. And no, they don’t listen to soft voices, it usually has to be loud and rough. This is another approx. 30mins. Each elephant is only allowed for rides approx. 1hr and 2 persons per day. 
The Elephant language for Laos Elephant only? Took this lesson and repeated after our guide like Kindergarten kids πŸ˜…


I was honestly freaking out because I had nowhere to grip on and was sitting on it's bare back
Though it was "abrasive", elephant skin is rough and their hair so coarse, I prefer this over using the seats!

Going downhill was scary, if I do not balance properly I felt like I will fall over

I brought long pants but didn't know it was time to ride the elephant so I had no time to change πŸ˜“

  • BATH WITH ELEPHANT After the ride, straight into Mekong river to bath with elephants, make sure you wear the proper attire from the ride itself. Changing room & shower available at the camp.
The playful elephant splashing water

The mahout asked my elephant to take a dip and I was freaking out I would fall
I cannot swim and when it dipped, the water reached above my chest! πŸ˜‚

Tired, used all my energy to stay balance on the elephant. Back to the city!


DAY 4 (16 Sept, Saturday)

  • ALMS GIVING CEREMONY (5.30AM-10AM) starting from Wat Xieng Thong and along Sisavangvong road


Tourists took part in alms giving
There are these packages available for booking one day ahead for you to join the alms giving ceremony

  • RIVERVIEW Viewpoint Cafe for Park & riverview
The connection of 2 rivers, the Mekong river in brown and the Nam Khan river in green

  • WAT XIENG THONG Golden city Temple (Entrance fee 20k kip) This is the most well known temple in LPQ, known as the Golden Tree Monastery. However do not expect too much of the size, we had a tough time looking for the entrance. There are 2 entrances, one along the Sakkaline main road and another from the side alley. The architecture is worth a visit.
The entrance which we almost missed, the signboard was also kinda faded


 


When we were about to leave, a couple in Laos traditional costume came to take wedding photo!


DAY 5 (17 Sept, Sunday)

  • Chill & relax, ordered Lao Coffee and just sat around πŸ˜‚
  • Departure: to airport at 1PM (only take 10-15mins ride to the airport)
Some of our food compilation:
Top most right is the only exact Laotian meal we had, and of course Beer Lao.
Most of the food are fusions, varieties of Asian and Western meals




♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


We wanted a very chill & relaxing trip, no rush, so we opt out on some other attractions. 
If you want to maximize your LPQ experience, some other things you could do:

Bamboo bridge (5k kip) 
Tad Si Waterfall 
Ban Na Oune (Hmong Village) 
Ban Tha Pane (Khmu village) 
Massage (50-60k kip/hr) 
Visit Vang Vieng! (this is around 3.5hr ride from LPQ)
    *Villages visits are offered as tours, might be difficult to go on your own.



    MY SIGHTS
    • LPQ is a very relaxing place. Honest people, no haggling besides the Night/Day Market, people are friendly and weather was great during our trip (around 25⁰C, it was mostly cloudy with some late night rain which did not affect us and light drizzle on DAY 4). 
    • LPQ can be explored in 4D3N or 3D2N (there is a tour which offers Pak Ou cave & Kuang Si waterfall in 1 day, these 2 must-see attractions), thus is a very suitable destination for weekend getaway.

    Approximate breakdown of the expenses for 2 pax. Purple is the currency that we paid in.


    ps: I just notice that I have not blogged anything on my Vietnam trip. 
    I was traveling solo and in a hurry, it was slightly disorganized πŸ˜“