Thursday, January 15, 2009

Indochina trip to Laos

Overview
Laos is the first country we visited followed by Cambodia and Vietnam. We stayed in Laos for around 5 or 6 days. We went to Vientiane, the capital of Laos from Malaysia and then we went to Luang Prabang. After that, we went back to Vientiane and continued our trip to Savanakhet, Pakseh, and Donkhone. 

Currency
The currency used in Laos is kips. The rate of exchange is 1 US dollar is 8500 kips while RM 3.65 is 1 US dollar (before the value of dollar drops)

Environment
The weather in Laos is quite cool, especially the North part (Vientiane and Luang Prabang). The temperature for Vientiane is just a bit higher than Genting Highland in Malaysia whereas Luang Prabang can be as cold as Genting Highland ( I think). The south part is not very cool. Savanakhet will be similar to Cameron Highland while Donkhone and other 4000 islands are almost as hot as Malaysia except that they are much more windy.

Vientiane, the capital

As mentioned above, it’s the capital of Laos. You could say it is ‘ulu’ because Ipoh is even more developed than it. However, the lack of big cars and modern buildings make Vientiane a relative peaceful city. It’s not too undeveloped that we could find 1 super market in the city. lol. It’s very cold in the morning. I couldn’t stop shivering for cold since I woke up. Imagine you have to stop walking and shiver after you had just taken 2 steps. Walk for 2 steps, stop and shiver for 1 second, continue walk for 2 steps, then stop and shiver for 1 second…… This was what happened to me that time for more than 15 minutes. swt.. never thought Laos can be that cold (It’s just South East Asia, that was what I thought before I came). We walked a lot in Vientiane (coz want to cut down money on transportation). We started walking from 1pm to 8pm. Of course we had some rests in between. (we were not robots nor super athlete) It was a good place to visit (Maybe it was our first destination) although it’s not as developed as Ipoh. It’s cold and windy and peaceful. 

 

Vientiane Airport


Traffic

There isn’t much car and motorbikes as well as bicycle in Laos. Similar to Cambodia, the common public transport is Duk-duk and bus. Duk-duk is some kind of transport that feels like trishaw but it is driven by motorbike and it is bigger and faster than the old trishaw. It’s very common in Laos and taxi is rare. Cant remember if I saw any taxi in Laos. Duk-duks are used for short distance of travel while buses are used for longer distance of travel. For long distance travel, honestly their ‘highways’ are pretty poor. There’s only one lane for each side unlike Malaysia’s, there’s at least two lanes for each side. 

In a big duk-duk


Bus
The bus in Laos is very different from Malaysia’s bus. The appearance of the bus is almost the same like Malaysia’s. Usually, there are two persons in charge of the bus. (usually 1 guy 1 girl). The girl or lady or woman is in charge of ‘arranging’ the seats for the passenger; the guy (is not the driver) is in charge of ‘arranging’ the luggage of the customers. I was surprised when I saw many local people trying to sell their food to the passengers on the bus. The local people came into the bus in bulk. They get on the bus and start asking every passenger if he/she wants to buy. Some of them sell the things through the windows (maybe too crowded in bus or lazy to get on the bus). The things they sell are food like fried chicken, satay, sticky rice, fish balls, insects, and etc. 

Toilet?
Another thing that makes me SHOCKED for the first time is the bus stops almost every one to two hours for the passenger to go toilet. Sounds normal right? but actually not. The bus isn’t stop at some public toilet or restaurant. It just stops at the road side where plenty of grasses and trees along the road. Then the local people will get down from the bus and start zip down their pants and pee. lol. Well, not only guys, for the ladies, they will find a ‘shade’ eg: grasses and start doing their ‘business’. It’s so unusual for us, the foreigners to see this. If you want to observe carefully, you could actually see ‘something’. Anyway, I didn’t, this is what you should know. lol. The funny thing was a blonde girl from Western country at first felt very disgusted of it. However, after a few hours, she couldn’t stand it anymore and did like what others local ladies did. Pity her.  

Super Long journey
 The minimum time it takes for us to travel from one place to another by bus is 7 hours. The exact time needed to travel from one place to another is often longer than the estimated time told by the people at the bus station. For example, if the estimated time is 5 hours, it will take 7 hours. if the estimated time is 10 hours it will take 13 hours. We achieved a new record of staying for almost 24 hours in the bus. This is because we wanted to travel to another place after we reached the bus station. So we sat on the buses for more or less 24 hours which gave us some of the FIRST TIMES. It was my first time of not bathing once in 48 hours and my first time of not brushing my teeth for more than 30 hours. .  

Super budgeting
You might be surprised on how we save our money in Laos. We were like crazy and tortured ourselves for this. This is because we brought limited money (US dollar) for this trip and we were afraid the money was not enough for the whole trip. We brought 1000 US dollar (me and Wen Pin 1100 USD) and that’s it. We couldn’t withdraw money in the countries because there aren’t any CIMB or public banks there. There are a few of banks which you cant find them in Malaysia. That’s why we have a very tight budget in case we would overspend later in the journey due to unexpected circumstances. This is how we save our money:

To travel around the city : walk!
Food costs more than 10000 kips (around rm4) : dun eat!
Too expensive to go to a destination : skip!
Before buying anything : ask the price and ask for discount 
Breakfast : usually skip!
Too hungry : eat biscuit or Apollo cake
Accommodation : try to sleep in the night bus

 

walking in Dondet... So blazing hot..

Food

Honestly, the food in Laos are very bad and expensive and few! We usually spend around 8000 kips to 10000 kips (rm 3.5- rm 4) for a bowl of noodle which the quantity is same or less than the quantity of a Maggie mee packet. The ‘famous’ or I should say common food in Laos are Fer (noodle soup with beef), sticky rice (rice which is ‘glued’ together), fried chicken, satay-like stuffs and others. The only food for main dish or the only food that could make us A BIT full were Fer and sticky rice. We had been eaten Fer and sticky rice for dunno how many times. I personally don’t like to eat sticky rice. I got sien (bored) of eating Fer after eating for many many times. We didn’t eat fried chicken and other food because they were expensive (to the foreigners if you know what I mean).  

 

Sticky rice with some dishes

 

me and Wen Pin eating Fer in Luang Prabang


Accommodation

The first day we slept at a foreigner’s house for free. Of course, we couldn’t expect much from a ‘free’ accommodation. That was the place where I shivered for cold. The blanket was as thick as a layer of cloth and it definitely doesn’t help in keeping us warm. Anyway, we thanked that foreigner for giving us stay unconditionally and we were sorry for disturbed him. After having bad sleep on that first night, we stayed in guest house every night (sometimes bus). Usually we took 2 rooms and 2 persons per room but sometimes 4 of us slept together in a room if the room is much cheaper that way. The price of the rooms is not expensive coz it’s not a hotel or a high class hotel (it’s not even a low class hotel). But it was pleasant to sleep (probably we were tired).    

Our room in a guest house in Savanakhet 


People
The people there are friendly. Really.. Laos people are really friendly and polite. They are kind and they are glad to meet us. We greeted them ‘Sa Bai De’ and they would always greet us back. An incident that I couldn’t forget is a lady of age 20 plus fed me beef meat with her chopstick when I asked her what was the food and how much it costs. She wanted me to try the food. So friendly.. You will never see such people in Malaysia. Let ask yourself, if you are a girl and when an Asian guy stranger asked you what is the food you are eating, will you use your chopstick to grab the food you are eating to feed the stranger? Don’t think you will. If you friendly enough, the most you would do is to tell him the name of the food and some details; if you sensitive enough, you might think the stranger wants to do something bad to you. lol.

 

bought the beef after the kind lady fed me. looks scary but it tastes good. 

Language
Language is not a barrier for communication, or maybe not a very big barrier for communication. We survived in Laos. This proves the statement. But no doubt it is quite difficult to chat with them. I guess almost 5% (maybe less than that) of the local people we meet can speak English, sorry.. not can speak English but can speak only little English. At this time, we realized body language is so important to communicate with other people. And of course, the calculator too. I read travel guide which advises us to bring a real calculator. I didn’t bring a calculator as my phone (everyone’s phone) has calculator feature. However, I overestimate the people there, they don’t understand or don’t like to see or don’t believe the calculator of my phone. Maybe it’s too high-tech for them and they dunno how to use? or they scared I will cheat them with my phone’s calculator? So, a good advice for all of you who want to travel to a country who doesn’t share a common language, bring a calculator… a real calculator!
 
Evil people
We all know this world has many evil people or bad people. And so is Laos. Remember I said Laos people are kind and friendly. I had to edit that. NOT ALL Laos people are kind and friendly. Those local Laos people who involve in ‘business transaction’ are definitely not kind and friendly but greedy. I wonder how much money we had been ‘chopped’ by the local sellers. They always sold us things in higher price than local people. So angry with that as we couldn’t do anything but could only pay the high price. There was one incident in Pakseh which gave a pretty bad memory to all of us. The price of fishballs is actually 1000 kips but they sell it for 3000 kips. And the transportation of the boat service is 10000 kips but they charged us for 20000 kips per person. We were so annoyed by the price they offered but we had no other ways but to pay them for the boat. This is because the place was very far from town and we didn’t want to stay overnight at a beach on the sand without bed and mattress.  

Conclusion
Dunno la. To me, Laos isn’t a very nice place to visit. The food is expensive and little. The tourism spots are and not really interesting. And the business people like to ‘chop’ us a lot on the prices. However, it was peaceful and the local people who are not selling anything to you are nice and if you enjoy drinking beer, you will like the place. The only place I recommend to go is Vientiane and Luang Prabang (and Vang Vieng if you like to drink). Oh, make sure you bring more money to spend there. You will feel happier. lol

5 comments:

Xjion89 said...

oooooooo, i really envy u (^^)
I wanna go on a trip too. but, too busy and nobody accompany me...haizzz..hahaha, Anyway, I added ur link oredi.

U noe who am I>!

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