Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Luang Prabang

Homeward Bound

Day 21 Monday 5 January 2015 arriving Tuesday 6 January 2015

Collection is not until 5pm so we have most of a day to kill before transferring to HCM airport; local flight to Hanoi and then onto London Gatwick.  The only excitement is that since we arrived in Hanoi three weeks earlier they have opened the new International terminal and so we are bussed between the domestic and international terminals.  I assume in the longer term this will be a little better organised as they were not really able to explain what was happening (and clearly no-one has planned a proper shuttle between the two).

From hotel door to our front door is getting close to 24 hours, especially as the incompetence of FGW to run a proper service locally means we have to go to Wokingham and use the new lifts and come back again.  This line needs electrification and a proper “Southern” regular interval service – two slow trains and a fast each hour and it might be approaching the standards of Sir Herbert Walker.

Time for some summaries:

VJV – they normally operate this tour in the reverse direction but the date we wanted was not available, so my experiences are slightly non-standard. However the tour content was first class; the arrangements all worked and we have thanked them for their efforts.
Asian Trails provided the guides and drivers except when we were on the Mekong Prestige II and all went well with them – helpful and willing and able to make variations as we wished – adding the tour in Hanoi and changing the itinerary at Cai Be was not a problem at all.
Rivages du Monde are responsible for the Mekong Prestige II.  Their Cambodian guide for the English group was not great and definitely fell a notch below the skills seen elsewhere.  OTOH everything on the cruiser and on the shore visits went well.  Matthias was their on board representative and I owe him an apology for a being a little short on arrival – his efforts during the rest of the week were outstanding and I hope he enjoyed the trip.

A wonderful selection – Movenpick in Hanoi, Palais Juliana in Luang Prabang, Grand in HCM being outstanding.  Tara Angkor in Siem Reap and the eco-friendly hotel in Cai Be fell short of the levels achieved in the other three.  At Cai Be the main problem, inevitable due to local recruitment, was poor English and in my view inadequate staff training.  A lovely location. The Tara Angkor seemed a little odd – I have detailed our problems in our time at Siem Reap.  I am hopeful that it was one of those where once it went wrong, it just kept going wrong for us and other visitors may have a perfect visit.  Revision of the breakfast offering (no bacon two days, no meats) for western tastes would help a lot (as would solid whites as well as solid yolks on hard boiled eggs).

Everything we saw felt worthwhile and made for a wonderful holiday.  There are no doubt many other sites worth seeing and places worth visiting in this part of the world – but to get a real feel of the countries we felt that we had a great time and those following the photos the wife was posting have agreed.

Physically there was only one “hard” bit – ascending Phousi Hill in Luang Praabang – and frankly that is down to this traveller being out of condition.  We did not visit the upper cave for similar reasons.  Otherwise the walking was easy and the temperatures were decent (a lot warmer in the south).

Grand Summary
In case you have not already guessed we had a great time and would recommend this trip to anyone.  We might not have got answers to all the questions on events over the last 30 years – but the internet can provide those answers!

Finally this blog will be back with further travels.  A grand trip across large parts of Canada is booked along with a visit to Sicily.  If you have read it, then thank you very much.  I will be tarting up and improving the blog as time allows (and if anyone spots any errors I will be putting them right as well).

Be back soon.

Luang Prabang Day 3

Day 6 Sunday 21 December 2014

Good morning, a much later call today and the hotel, having been very quiet yesterday was much busier this morning with a wider selection at breakfast.

We head into LP itself first to take the flower arrangement to the Watermelon stupa and with guidance from our guide I seem to manage to get it is almost dead centre under the watemelon!

There is also a replica of the gold buddha statue here, the original having moved to the capital.  There is a replica of the emerald buddha which originally came from India at the same time as the gold buddha, although the originals are now in separate countries.

Our main excursion today is into the countryside, first to visit a Hmong (pronounced Mong) village where they have commenced the festival so the children in particular are wearing their “national” dress which  for the young girls seems to require a hat which looks very much like a lampshade!

As usual pictures are on Flickr

We progress onto the National Park at the Kuangsi waterfall where there is a small reserve for a small number of remaining black bears.  From there we steadily walk up the hill past the lower waterfalls and a number of very clear pools where it is possible to swim.  We choose not to swim – it looks cold and I do not feel like spending the rest of the day feeling slightly damp and cold – it is a warmer day – at least for us – the locals however are still wrapped up with woolies and coats.

Eventually we reach the main fall which looks wonderful, although I am not sure the photos do it justice!

Our guide and driver have transported a lunch for us and serve us with a picnic – including hot food at a table adjacent to the falls.  Does food always taste better in the open air and even better still in the open air adjacent to some attractive scenery?

Having had a busy couple of days we opt for an early finish and return to the hotel so this blog gets started and photos get uploaded.  Some extra sleep is not a bad idea either!  This is supposed to be a holiday after all.

Our day was rounded off by a trip back into town. First to wander through the night market. Another market, this time along the main street which is completely closed to normal traffic, although motorbikes seem to manage to thread their way through. Some more purchases before a local beer in a street side restaurant. Then we head to a “French” restaurant – the “Elephant” which produced some good food – but the cost was an awful lot higher than the previous evening. Another motorised tuc tuc – but this time we are wearing our coats and so do no feel the cold so badly.

Luang Prabang Day 2

Day 5 Saturday 20 December 2014

An early call this morning as we are going into LP with guide and driver to observe the giving of alms to the monks.  All of the many monks start at one end of town and steadily progress through the entire town to end up at the main monastery we had visited the previous day.  So soon after six in the morning one side of the road, towards the end of the procession which is not so heavily populated, are ladies with bowls of rice (some have others items) and on the other side numerous onlookers like ourselves.

A gong sounds to give notice of the approaching monks and in groups, representing different monastries they steadily process past.  Eventually the light improves sufficiently to permit photographs which are on the Flickr site.

Somewhere around the middle of the procession there is a break and the ladies then have the potential to refill their bowls of rice.  At the end of the ladies in or group is a small child and she does not give the monks any food but instead receives and it is explained that it is known that she is from a poorer family and the monks share the food they have received with the poorer groups.

We later find that our guide was a monk for a number of years.  If the land canot support the younger members of the family then joining a monastery  provides food and a good education and is beneficial for all concerned.  So Buddhism rather than a national dependence on the state – are we institutionalised Buddhists?

Heading back to the transport we walked through the morning market – it opens at 5 and the villagers from the surrounding area bring in all sorts of goods to be sold.  This covers  vegetables, meat, fish plus scarves and other goods of all descriptions.  There are photos – but again there do not seem to be any shortages of anything important and indeed in terms of vegetables these seem to be excellent in quality and quantity.

Anyway back to the hotel for breakfast and to shed our overcoats.  We have a big excursion today when we return to the town and the riverside to take a boat upstream for about two hours to visit a cave where the gold buddha was originally kept when brought to the country.  After the climb the previous day we decline the visit to the upper cave as we are told it contains not only buddha statues but also bats!

We cross the river to a small village and we walk through to where they keep the elephants in a small reserve in winter.  In summer they are used to move logs so are still working elephants.  Fed with numerous bananas they seem quite happy and relaxed even if necessarily tethered.

Then we wander back through the village for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong river – the sunshine is brilliant and it is again a warm day.  On the return trip to LP we stop at a village where they can show us numerous scarves and the wife is able to buy some items for a close friend’s impending birthday.  Here we hear the almost universal request “Do you want to buy a scarf?” in a polite but slightly singing voice which cannot be done justice in print.  This is repeated as we walk through the village as there are numerous sellers ans more scarves and table runners than the one village can possibly produce.  However thy are all very nice pieces and each house appears to have its own weaving loom we do wondr just how much weaving can possibly be achieved locally.

Whilst the village is obviously organised for visits like ours it is also notable that most of the houses have huge satellite dishes (athough rusty) and therefore presumably some form of power supply and television.  It may be rural but certainly they are not cut off from the outside world in any form.  Even here there is a well decorated and maintained temple – it reminds me of Greece where there may be economic problems but the religious houses are well maintained.

Travelling with the current our return journey is a little faster than outward and so towards the end of the afternoon we return to the hotel.

The evening commences with a Baci ceremony for the four travellers where about 20 local people welcome us to Laos.  About 10 ladies plus a couple of musicians sing a welcome and then a dancing group entertain us with their skills  and a number of different dances.  The end of the ceremony requires us to present our wrists and they tie pieces of string around each wrist to represent close ties between Laos and ourselves.  We are also presented with a flower arrangement which I receive from the Village elder (Shaman / priest) and I have to present this the following day at the Watermelon stupa.

We were a little amazed at this being laid on for just the four of us and we were somewhat relieved when a Mexican couple joined us during the proceedings.

Our evening was rounded off by dinner in the hotel and I can report that yet another excellent repast was consumed by the travellers.  The hotel kitchen can cook and the only thing we find difficult is that the concept of “courses” seems to be unknown as the soup arrives and the remaining food arrives almost immediately when the waiting team return to the kitchen!  After such a long day we are glad to retire to bed.

Good night.


Luang Prabang

Day 4 Friday 19 December 2014

Whilst I am sure that there are many other aspects of Vietnam which could be seen, we shall see the south of the country later on our trip; for the moment our location must change and it is back to the airport and a small twin turbo-prop ATR72 airplane to Luang Prabang.  I have seen many spellings; this is the one I am adopting and indeed will probably shorten it to LP throughout this and the next couple of posts.

The flight is over largely green countryside, largely invisible thorough the cloud layer, wth noticeably much more hills / mountains as we close on LP. Also as we approach LP there are are several rivers in evidence.  The airport here is tiny and we have a walk across the concrete from our plane to the entrance at the far end of the building.  Later we will establish that it is standing much closer to the departure gate.  And alongside are much smaller local Lao planes!

A wonderful queue now develops as we all have to have visas and so we hand over passport and visa form that we have completed.  Join another queue to hand over $35.  Well except there is another $1 service charge.  So hand over $36!  Then your passport is duly stamped with a visa attached and you can enter the country!

Reclaim suitcases and yes our new guide is there and waiting.  We head off into town crossing the Nam Khan river and he takes us around the headland where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong and we have our first view of the mighty Mekong river which is the main point of this holiday.  We also drive pass the “Tamarind” restaurant which he recommends for good dining this evening.  This young man clearly knows what we like!

First a trip round the main temple.  There are a large number in LP but the monks all come to this one at breakfast time having collected through the town (see tomorrow).  This gives a reminder on the Buddhist culture and we also see the Chariot used to convey the body of the last King of Laos.

Towards the other end of town we stop at Phousy Hill and have to climb to the top – some 330 steps.  And it goes to prove we are not fit as we struggle with the climb!  About a third of the way up a monk is sat and has excellent English for a conversation with my wife.  Along the way there are numerous Buddha statues (hence some photos) but we reach the end very short of breath.  The photographs are here

Wonderful views over the countryside.  LP is not huge and we can see the surrounding wooded hillsides and the town below.  Eventually a stead descent sees us back on the main street and transported to our hotel – Le Palais Juilana which is about 3km from town.  Briefly use the swimming pool but we keep being reminded that it is winter locally, even though it feels warm to us!  Sunset around 5:30pm.

We are still in the travelling phase of this holiday so merely resort enough clothes  for now and then head back into town for dinner at the Tamarind.  They place a small brazier near our feet to keep them warm and the mozzies away and give us a huge menu.  Careful reading shows a set menu with a variety of local delicacies and so we chose that.  And it was all very good.  The price includes wine and was $30 for the two of us.  Outstanding value.

Tuc tuc here is a little powered metal cage – and by this time of day without our coats was pretty cold.  We head to bed as we have an early start tomorrow.