July 20, 2015

Laos: A Detour to Vang Vieng

Continuation from here...

At about 9 am, someone picked us up from the hostel and drove us to the gathering place. 

The thing about travelling in some of the IndoChina countries is that they don't have specific bus stations. So when you buy bus tickets from the travel agents, they will ask for your place of stay. Someone will then come to pick you up from your accommodation and drop you at the bus station. 

The distance between Vientiane and Vang Vieng is just about 150 km but the journey took us on a winding, potholed dirt road and some bitumen road so in the end, we only arrived after 4 hours on board the bus. It is not the most comfortable journey I must say. 

The bus stopped in the town centre and luckily it was just a walking distance to our hostel. After checking in and resting for a while, we went out ready to explore what Vang Vieng had to offer. 

Nestled along Nam Song River and set against the strikingly dramatic backdrop of limestone karst mountains, Vang Vieng is heaven for nature lovers. 

This is the view from our hostel! 

However, if you google Vang Vieng on the Internet, it is more popular as a party heaven. Tourists come here for a good time; tubing along the river which includes stopping along a series of bars lining up the river for a drug-fueled debauchery. But everything is slowed down (not entirely dead!) now after an incident in 2011 where 27 tourists died while partying on the river. 

My partner and I wasn't keen on tubing so we rented bicycles. 

Only 10,000 Kip for a day.

If you don't mind spending more, you can rent this ATV at about USD 15 per day.

Looking at the map that we got from our hostel, we decided to visit the Blue Lagoon. 

Just starting our ride, annoyingly we had to pay 6,000 Kip to cross this bridge. No choice though as it is the only way passing the river. 

On the map, the distance from the town to Blue Lagoon is only 7 km but my oh my, it felt like forever cos we had to cycle through the dusty, bumpy dirt and gravel roads. It was sooo tiring! I almost wanted to turn back cos I felt like we were cheated, like mana ni tak sampai-sampai pon. -_- 


Luckily the scenery was gorgeous! 

We saw a few sign boards to the caves around the area but we passed them all. So exhausted to stop and detour to the caves. Oh well.. next time la. If you wanna explore the caves, be sure to rent torchlights (10,000 Kip) and hire a guide for a whopping 50,000 Kip.

After a while, we met some other cyclist coming from the opposite direction which I assumed were coming back from the lagoon so I unashamedly asked them.  

"How long more to reach the lagoon?"

"Almost there!" 

OK.. I believe you. So we continued cycling. 

Our perseverance finally brought us here. 
After all the sweat cycling here, this is truly refreshing. The lagoon is small, but the swimming area was deep and filled with amusements like swings, ropes and diving platforms. Perfect place to relax and chill.
Going back, we chose to ride the tuk-tuk. So lazy to cycle back. hehehe... 


Back in town, we just cycled around and chilled at the riverside. 

Didn't see any tubers around. Perhaps it was low season as I noticed the town was also rather quiet.
Anyway, if you want a completely unique perspective over the limestone mountains that Vang Vieng is known for, go for the hot air balloon ride. It's about USD 70 per person. Check with the operator for the flight departure timing, they have early morning and late afternoon session. 

At night, we went for dinner and watched reruns of Friends. haha.. Don't know why but many of the bars and restaurants here play Friends or Family Guy on repeat all day long. 

Back at the hostel, we booked our tickets for our onward journey. Luang Prabang next! 

July 6, 2015

Halal Restaurants in Vientiane

I didn't have problems to eat during my trip to Laos cos I found a few halal restaurants in the city that I visited. 

Zabihah website listed a few restaurants in Vientiane so my partner and I chose to walk to the nearest one to our hostel.

We had our lunch at Fathima Restaurant on Fa Ngum Road. It is nearby the night market, just walk along the stretch of road facing the riverfront and you'll find this restaurant.

inside Fathima Restaurant

Can't live without Malaysian food? No problem!

Wanna try local food? Go!

I ordered this mee goreng. Simple but OK la.

There's a few halal restaurants along the same stretch of road so we have a lot of choices. 

I didn't have time to try the other two restaurants. You try and let me know yeah? 

July 4, 2015

Laos : Visiting Vientiane

Continuation from here..

Met my colleague cum travel partner at the hostel. We were supposed to start the trip together from Bangkok but her family objected the idea due to the Bangkok Shutdown. So she flew straight to Vientiane.

Without wasting time, we went out and walked around.

This is a temple nearby our hostel, Wat Inpeng. Built in the 16th century, the temple was destroyed in 1827 during the invasion by the Siamese who destroyed most of the town. The temple today has been rebuilt and renovated several times.

The carvings and the colorful murals are quite beautiful.

Wat Inpeng is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm
Entrance is free

The weather was rather hot so we were hesitant to get a bicycle. After some negotiation with a tuk-tuk driver, we then rent a tuk-tuk for 100,000 Kip to travel around the city.

Saw this building while on our way to Buddha Park. I think it's a hotel.

Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan is a sculpture park 25 km from the capital. It isn't a temple but it does contain over 200 Buddha and Hindu statues created in 1958 by monk Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat who studied both religions.

One notable sculpture in the park is this giant pumpkin where you can enter it through a demon's mouth. Inside is a three stories that represent hell, earth and heaven. Climb to the top to get a view over the entire park.

the demon's mouth

 walkway inside the pumpkin

 one of the level inside the pumpkin

 view from the top

The other major sculpture is the 40m long reclining Buddha.

Some of the other sculptures...

Buddha Park is open daily from 8 am to 4.30 pm
Entrance fee is 5,000 Kip, camera fee is 3,000 Kip

The park is actually quite near to the Friendship Bridge border crossing to Thailand so you could visit on your way to/from Thailand. I didn't know about this earlier, could've come here straight from Thanaleng station. But it's OK, I have to meet my friend at the hostel anyway.

Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge

Next, we visited Phra That Luang or the Great Stupa. This is the most important Buddhist monument in Laos. First built in the year 1566, the stupa has undergone several reconstructions until the 1930s due to foreign invasions to the area.

unrestored remains of sculptures 

The golden color you see is not painting but it is literally covered in gold. The stupa is covered with thousand pounds of gold leaf, precious metal that achieves such impressive golden color, symbol of the splendour of Laos.

The large grounds surrounding the golden stupa contain several other Buddhist structures.

 Wat That Luang Neua

 Statue of King Setthathirath, the founder of the monument

Hor Dhammasabha or Buddhist convention hall

Phra That Luang is open daily from 8 am - 12 pm, and 1 pm to 4 pm
Entrance fee to the golden stupa is 5,000 Kip, surrounding buildings and temples are free

Do you know that Laos is the most bombed country per capita in the world? The country is still suffering the effects of the horrific bombings during the Civil War. It has been reported that over 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos between 1965 and 1975 and some 30% of it failed to explode. Meaning, even till now, the country is still littered with these unexploded ordnance (known as UXO). 

Our tuk-tuk driver then drove us to COPE Visitor Center, a small museum about the UXO problem in Laos and the work undertaken by COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) to provide disability services for people affected by the UXOs.  

one type of cluster bomb

COPE Visitor Center is open daily from 9 am - 6 pm
Entrance is free but donation is recommended

The museum is very informative. I didn't know anything about the war, the UXO etc before I visited the center but I definitely learnt a lot there. Totally worth visiting! 

Other attractions in the city..

National Culture Hall

 statue of King Setthathirath watching over the Mekong

Done with the visits, we asked the tuk-tuk driver to drop us off at the Mekong Riverfront, a large park fronting the river. At the west end of the park is the Vientiane night market where you can buy souvenirs. 

My personal opinion, there isn't much to see in Vientiane. You can cover all the main attractions in one or two days so we got ourselves bus tickets to Vang Vieng tomorrow. 

Next read : Vang Vieng