August 7, 2015

Laos: Exploring Luang Prabang

Continuation from here..

I could've taken an overnight bus to Luang Prabang to save time and accommodation cost but I chose not to. Bumpy, small road winding through hilly area at night? Hmmm... sounds rather scary to me.

I chose to ride a minivan at 9 am the next day.

Here's the timetable and ticket price for your reference.

Ready to leave for Luang Prabang.

The view throughout the journey..

We stopped for a while at one of the roadside stalls to grab some snacks and toilet break.

Toilet use is charged 2000 Kip.

The kids I met at the stop. Sooo cute!!!

The journey took approximately 6 hours with a stop. We arrived at about 3 pm. The driver dropped us nearby the main road, so it was easy for all of us to move around from there.

I didn't have any booking for accommodation yet cos the hostel that I wanted to stay was fully booked. I walked to the hostel anyway to try my luck but still.. no beds were available that day so I just walked along the main road looking for a place to stay.

Luckily, I saw a hostel signboard and it brought me here.

The location is pretty good and there's available bed so I agreed right away. Checked in and rested for a while, and I was ready to go out again.

In case you don't know, Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and is now a UNESCO World Heritage city. French colonial buildings, beautiful wats and the mighty Mekong river make it one attractive destination to visit.

Tourist Information Centre in the town centre.

Operating hours:
Monday to Friday : 8 ~ 11.30 am / 1.30 ~ 4 pm
Saturday & Sunday : 9 ~ 11.30 am / 1 ~ 3.30 pm

The Tourist Information Centre is located right in front of the roundabout (on the left area of the map).

From the centre, you can easily walk or cycle to some of the attractions. Since it was already late, I just walked around to explore this charming little town. There's abundance of fancy little cafes, bakeries, boutiques, galleries and spas lining up the streets.

Taking a break from walking around, I bought some oranges and drink and then parked myself at the river front.

It was quite enjoyable watching the long boats passing through. I just sat at the river front till sunset.

While walking around earlier, I came across Nazim Restaurant.

Great! Seems like this halal restaurant has chains all over Laos. I had dinner at the restaurant afterwards.

Then I headed to the Night Market. The market is quite big. There are hundreds of stalls selling variety of souvenirs. Definitely better than the one in Vientiane.

 Spent quite some time browsing the stuffs at the night market before I headed back to the hostel and called it a day.

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! 

Next read : Exploring Luang Prabang

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?