Monday, February 22, 2010
Mine was actually not too bad this year. Had some great gatherings with family and friends. The fireworks this year is super duper crazy. Every night BIG BOOM BANG! Oswald was crying each night before bed... Ha ha. Below's a summary of my holidays.
Family : Cheerful and meaningful with kids running around while parents chasing after them!
Friends : Had some traditionally house visiting friends and also some night outing crazy friends!
Food : Damn Full but each meal almost the same with "Lou Sang", prawns, fish, chicken, duck...
Drinks : Drank too much! Those who went to the Library the other night should know better!
Gamble : Not good this year. Lost quite a lot.
Fireworks : Siao! Too much rich people burning their money every night. But Hey, its CNY!
Angpows : Over budgeted. Used up at least 1k. Maybe due to too much gatherings. Ha ha.
Hey.. the holidays ain't over yet! More gatherings coming and it means more $$$ needed! Huat Ar!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Woke up early the next day to have our breakfast before catching our early bus ride to Vientiane City. Told Tracy how exciting it was the night before just to make her regret for not joining us. She doesn’t seem to care and said I must have enjoyed myself with all the western ladies… haha.. Anyway, we chose a restaurant over looking the mountains for breakfast. A few of us are reluctant to go but too bad we have already purchased the tickets. Vang Vieng was really a nice place to be at. Slow and peaceful town in daylight and suddenly turned into a nightlife heaven when the sunsets… Bid farewell and Vientiane here we come!
A little info about the city - Vientiane, the capital of Laos, has a population of 200000 and is one of southeast Asia's most laid-back capitals, with relatively little traffic in the streets. Vientiane has no tall buildings and exudes a special aura that combines Lao, Chinese, Thai, French, Soviet and American elements. The city is located in a fertile plain on a broad curve on the northeastern bank of the Mekong River. King Setthathirath officially established it as the capital of Lan Xang in 1560. When Lan Xang fell apart in 1707, it became an independent kingdom. In 1779, it was conquered by the Siamese general Phraya Chakri and made a vassal of Siam. Later it became the capital of Laos under the French protectorate in the late 19th century. It has continued as the capital until today.
Back to our trip. We hopped on to our bus at 9.50am. The VIP bus tickets we purchased aren’t so VIP at all!! Luggage has to be place on top of the bus rooftop and it wasn’t air conditioned! … Hmmm… felt a little bit being conned here. The bus was filled with all western tourist and we’re the only Asians. The ride took us approximately 3 hours plus to reach Vientiane city. The journey wasn’t as rough as the road we got here from Luang Prabang which is a relief to us. As the temperature rises and we felt the heat, we know that we’re gonna reach the capital soon. The ride stopped at a bus station with tuk-tuks drivers welcoming us. Each saying “City for 10,000 KIP”. We thought we are supposed to be in the city already but we weren’t. There are a couple of westerners arguing to the driver about the last stop but the driver just ignored them. Hmmmmm… ok… Welcome to the city I thought to myself.
Anyway, showed the tuk tuk driver of where we’re heading and we hopped in. This isn’t the small tuk tuk we usually see in Thailand or Cambodia. This is the XL size. Our tuk-tuk was filled with 13 people, packed like sardines while the hot sun blazing down on us. Luckily it wasn’t far. We noticed that city people are rich. You could see the Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen Beetle on the road. Even GTRs like Skyline and Fairlady zooms by us. As usual, we started looking for accommodation. Most of the guesthouses we walk into are either too expensive or fully-booked. We then suggest the ladies to sit down for lunch while the guys continue searching. We finally found a newly opened guesthouse that costs us 150,000 KIP per night. Everything seems to be good in this guesthouse except for the care taker lady. She seems a bit weird to us. Often giving us a strange smile and then suddenly an eerie laugh. Her eyes were as if telling us to “enjoy the night here, I’m gonna make your stay a ‘memorable’ one”. Oh no.. What have we got into?!?!? We braved ourselves and stayed for a night. Must find another hotel tomorrow!
Threw our backpacks in the room and off we went city touring. Since it was already late in the noon, we could only able to visit the Victory Gate. Also known as The Patuxai, formerly the Anousavary or Anosavari Monument, is a monument in the center of Vientiane built in 1960. It is an arch with an observation deck on top, built to commemorate Lao who had died in struggle for independence from France. Then we went to the Mekong river. This is where most of the tourist stayed where restaurants, pubs and massages could be easily found. Ah Pao and I sat in one of the river bank restaurant enjoying our beer while the others went for massage again. The Mekong river now with some construction going on wasn’t a nice sight. It seems they are narrowing the river to make way for more land. With trucks moving in and out, dusts are flown everywhere.
After they have finished their massage session, we went for dinner. Dinner was good as we ordered fish, pork, seafood soup, vegetables, springs rolls and of course more beer. After the dinner, we took a stroll down the town looking for a pub. Not much sighted and we head back to the riverside again. We went to a pub called Rooftop Bar over looking the river. In this bar we found loads of freelancers if you get what I mean. KP was eyeing on each and everyone of them…maybe hoping to catch one… haha.. too bad they are not in the looks department. After drinking a beer tower, it’s time to call it a night.
It was a good morning as the beer we had last night does the trick. Lucky the care taker lady did not do anything to us. Ha ha. We had pork noodles for breakfast along with Lao coffee. Then we packed our belongings and decided to stay at the riverside for our last night. Last night means a more comfy stay. We all agreed to treat ourselves on a USD12 per pax hotel called the Riverine Hotel. 2 times more expensive than our usual stays. After checking in we ask for a tuk-tuk to bring us to Buddha Park. They ask for 60,000 KIP per person. Now that is expensive. Then they lowered to 40,000 and we still rejected them. Butt was clever enough then to ask the hotel counter. They could bring in a private van for a whole day tour at USD40. Then the tuk tuk driver came to offer us at 20,000. Hahaha. What a huge difference but too late. Of course we’ll take a private van with air condition. We went to Wat Sisaket, morning market, Pha Tat Luang, Buddha park and ended in a wet market. Was pretty tired that day.
So where to next? Chiang Mai as suggested by Tracy ?
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Vang Vieng (Day 3)
After the ritual and breakfast. We head back to our hotel to pack up. It is time for us to move to another destination, Vang Vieng which is a 5 hours drive by a private van. If you opt to take a bus ride then it will be a 7 hours journey. So to save time we took a private van at 130,000 KIP per pax. The journey was still a long ride and not comfortable at all as the road was very bumpy. To make things worst it was a winding road. For 5 hours we went up hill, down hill, left and right turns. It was like riding a roller coaster as our body sways from left to right and vice versa. Finding a restroom on the way isn’t an easy task either. We have to hold on to our pee for almost an hour to reach our half way destination for lunch. The restaurant has quite some view actually and it made the journey a little worth it. How often you could have lunch with a spectacular mountain view with cold wind breezing through your hair. After 40 minutes stop, it is time to hit the roads again which took us another 1 and half hours drive to reach Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng lies approximately 180km south of Luang Prabang. The town is nestled alongside the Nam Song River which winds its way through dramatic karsts of limestone mountain range. This is the place for adventurous tourist to stay as there were many activities you could choose from rock climbing to water rafting, jungle trekking to mountain caving and etc etc. As we reach the town we check into a guesthouse that costs 150,000 KIP per night. We are amazed that behind this guesthouse lies a wonderful limestone landscape with a river by the side. So cameras were pulled out and we start snapping away. As planned, we opt to stay here for a night before going to Vientiane city. Wasting no time we hit the town to see what it has. It was a quiet town. Not much tourist found. Not as happening and adventurous as we thought to ourselves.
We passes by a tour shop and ask what they could offer. Since it was late afternoon they say we could only take the river kayaking for 60,000 KIP. Manage to bargain till 50,000 KIP per pax. We will be kayaking for 8km downstream on the Nam Song River. This time the river flow will be calm with only a few minor rapid obstacles. We had to put away our cameras as we’re afraid we might fall into the river. Lucky for Ah Pao he has an underwater camera so he is the only one capturing the whole session and views. I was stunned by the landscape.
After dinner we head back to our rooms to bath and rest. Since it was still early, a few of us went out to look for nightlife while Tracy and Sylvia went straight to sleep. As we walk, loud music could be heard. A western tourist highly recommended us to try out the Bucket Bar for a crazy night. So we did and hell it was packed. Think there were at least a hundred tourists partying in there and most of them are westerners. I think we’re the only Asian there. So the tourist only comes out in the night! We drank some whisky and beer while watching people dancing. Then we went to another bar called Q Bar. Not so happening as Bucket bar but still it played some good tunes. Getting late and slightly drunk we head back to sleep. We’ll need to head down to Vientiane city early next day. How we wish to stay another night here but too bad we had already purchase the bus tickets.
Stay tune for Vientiane city....
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Luang Prabang (Day 1)
I must thank Sylvia and Butt for the research and infomation they gathered. We flew 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Then we purchase the domestic air ticket (USD85) to Luang Prabang which is around an hour flight. Luang Prabang is actually one of the highlands and it has both natural and historical sites. As this was sort of a backpack trip, we will then need to look for accomodation. There were plenty of houses converted to guesthouses ranging from USD10 to USD 40 per night. We compared and viewed a few guesthouse and finally decided to stay in Oudom Souk Guesthouse near the Mekong river which cost USD13 per night. After setting in, off we went out looking for lunch. We walk by the riverside and found a lot of stalls situated. Food was acceptable but the view of the Mekong river was great surrounded with magnificient mountains side. It got even better when we down a few bottles of their local beer called Beer Lao for 10,000 KIP per big bottle (about USD1.20)... ha ha. After lunch, we kept venturing the area. It was a slow and relax town. Everyone seems to take their time with their chores. A significant appeal of the town was that there were a lot of French provincial style houses. We were surprise to see a lot of western tourists and all the time I thought no one would ever thought of travelling to Laos. Very clearly I was wrong.
As the day turns dark, the wheather drop quick too. It was about 14 degree celcius compared to 28 degree in the noon. Lucky for Tracy and I we brought along a jacket. But for others, they did not. As usual in most of our trips, a foot massage is a must but it turns out to be a dissapointing one. It was like touching here and pinching there. Even my wife could do a better massage than them. Anyway, at the end of the main street of Luang Prabang is a night market. Each stalls sells almost of the same thing like shirts, silk clothes, bracelets and paintings. The dinner was a simple one. We all had noodle soup which costs us about 10,000 KIP per bowl. The noodle was pretty good actually but their chilly paste was unbearable! A must try! We all went to bed early as we all felt tired.
Luang Prabang (Day 2)
The next day, we took a half day tour to see the historical Pak Ou Caves and the rice wine village. But before that, we had our breakfast at the food stalls. All stalls sells the same food, toast bread and Laos coffee. I must admit they are good especially the coffee. It has a smooth and yet a strong aroma. Anyway back to our tour. Pak Ou Caves are noted for their impressive Buddha sculptures assembled over the centuries by local and pilgrim. This cave is only accessible by boat and is about 25 km from the center of Luang Prabang. The journey was a long and a cold one indeed. None of us expected it to be so cold in Laos and we were all shivering.
Half way up the stream, the boat driver took us to the wine village called Xang Hai Village. They called them whisky but in fact they are rice wine. We then got the apportunity to see the process of wine making. We sampled some of these wines and bought a few bottles to warm up our body. They even sell wines dipped in with scorpions, snakes and centipedes. None of us dare to drink it but Ah Pao bought a bottle home for souvenier.
We then continued our journey to the caves which is about another 30 minutes ride up the stream. The cave wasn't a huge one but it laids hundreds of mostly wooden Buddhist figures on the floors and wall shelves. The caves has a lower cave (Tham Ting) and a upper cave (Tham Theung). Both caves contains approximately 4,000 Buddhas of all sizes. It was quite a view. You will have to walk hundreds of steps to the upper cave. Some of us are exhausted half way. In the upper cave, it was very very dark. You will need a torch light to see the sculptures and steps. We must thank Pei Zhi this time for her mobile torch light or else we might trip over the steps.
We then head back to our guesthouse to rest. We sat outside our rooms alley and gulping down Beer Lao. Had wonderful chats about life and friendship. As night draws near, it's time for dinner. Dinner was a good one that day. We had our dinner in the back alley of the shophouses. Most of the food they sell were either roasted or fried. We had roast fish, chicken, pork as we down them again with Beer Lao. After the heavy dinner, we went strolling the town and later on off to bed.
Luang Prabang (Day 3)
Another good experience was offering alms (food) to the monks. Luang Prabang is considered a holy city in laos and listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site. It houses about 33 Wats (temples). The monks food for the day comes from this ritual held very early in the morning. From what I understand, they are only allowed to eat food given to them on the morning of each day. To participate, you will have to get up very early in the morning. Sylvia, Pao, Butt and I woke up at about 5.30 am to see this ritual. Upon walking up to the main street, there were locals selling us sticky rice and bananas to be offered to the monks. Sylvia bought one and waited patiently along the street. There were hundreds of locals and tourist participating. They squated on the floor mats with their food in front of them. Tracy later on join us as she could not get back to sleep.
As time strikes at about 6.15am, we could already see the monks walking towards us. It was line of at least 300 monks. The monks then opened up their bowls for us to place the food in them. One by one, they were offered food. It was such a great experience. I could not help snapping away with my camera but dare not got to close to them. The ritual ended in about an hour or so as the monks continued their way back to their wats. Waking up so early to see this ritual is worth it! We then grab a quick breakfast and continued our journey to our next destination, Vang Vieng.
STAY TUNE FOR MORE............