Saturday, March 12, 2016

2016 Laos Trip — The Secret Place on Earth


Photo courtesy of

Currency reference
** USD 1 ≈ Kip 8,000
** RM 1 ≈ Kip 2,000

Journey to Laos
Vientiane > Phonsavanh > Luang Prabang > Vang Vieng > Vientiane

8'c~23'c during our travel time. It's not always cold, depending which season and which area you go. It can be as hot as above 30'c. Do check weather forecast before travelling.

SABAIDEE !!  (*^_^*)

Some people wonder why I choose Laos as a trip destination. Well, you'll know it later haha. Try to pay a visit, you will realise how lucky & blessed you are to live in such a warm zone, well-fed & well-clothed.

First thing to do right arriving at the airport is to find mobile data service. Basically we don't need phone call, mobile network is just sufficient. You may get 1.5gb data plan @ USD4 for 7 days (USD2 for sim card & USD2 for the data). Having some time in between before departing to Phonsavan at night, we took our lunch & rent bicycle (Kip 10,000 per day for a bike) to explore the city of Vientiane (Laos' capital). You may take the map brochure available @ your guesthouse/hotel for easy reference.
This Patuxay Monument (means 'Victory Gate' or 'Gate of Triumph') was built & dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France.
Laos Golden Reclining Buddha
Buddha Park
Pha That Luang
We were divided into 2 groups to explore different areas of Laos. For us (Team 2) who will be departing to Phonsavanh at night, we did not explore much in Vientiane. The journey to Phonsavanh from Vientiane took 11 hours at night, and the bus is very special!! I cannot find it here in Malaysia. It is double decker sleeping bus with pillow & blanket. One unit can fit 2 persons. So if you do not have any partner & if the bus is full, you might be arranged to 'sleep' with any stranger haha. Kinda special experience though. The cost per journey is around Kip150,000~Kip175,000.
We arrived at Phonsavanh (Hills of Paradise) at 7.30am in the morning next day. The weather is freaking cold, 9'c unbelievable (1,100m from sea, of course cold lah). There were no toilet available along the journey, therefore first thing was to go toilet right after we arrived at the bus station. For your info, most of the public/private toilets in Laos required Kip2,000 per entrance. Actually in the middle of the night, the bus did stop few times for passenger to pee, however they are all convenient for guys only. Girls also can lah, if only you don't mind people looking at you (like I say, no toilet) @@ We were picked by the local tour guide at the bus station and brought to our guesthouse. Due to time constraint, we did not have much time to bath and wash face. Quickly we changed to some sweater or heattech jacket, filled up hot water with our own thermos, took a breakfast & visited to historical sites.
Xieng Khouang bus terminal
Our overnight place : Namchai Guesthouse
One of the reasons to go Phonsavanh is none other than Plain of Jars, which has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. Between 1964 and 1973, Laos was heavily bombed (around 2.5 million tons of bombs) by the U.S. Air Force against Vietnamese forces, approximately 8 minutes per bomb was released for 9 years. Many of the cluster boms did not explode and remain a deadly threat to the population. Evidence of the bombing raids can be seen in the form of broken or displaced jars and bomb craters.

Therefore, one of the main activities of NGOs in Phonsavanh is relating to clearing unexploded ordinance (UXO). Until today, only 6% of the site areas have now been cleared of unexploded bombs and are open to visitors, this include the (jar site 1) that we visited. Entrance fee is Kip10,000 per person. 
Result of bombing raids : Bomb crater site
Result of bombing raids : Jar Site 1
Due to the large quantity of unexploded bombs in the area, free movements were limited. Hence, do walk inside the white zone marked by MAG (Mines Advisory Group).
The jars
There are some sayings about the jars :
(i) A race of giants, whose king fought a victorious battle against an enemy. The jars were their wineglasses to celebrate the victory.
(ii) The jars were molded from natural materials including clay, sand, sugar, and animal products in a type of stone mix.
(iii) Human remains, burial goods and ceramics were found around the stone jars by a French archeologists. Therefore, it is believed that the jars were used to place the corpses of deceased people where they were left to decompose before being burned.
The scenery @ Plain of Jars is actually quite beautiful. Peaceful.
We were then moving to next station, Hmong Village @ Phonsavanh. The Hmong are one sub-groups of the Miao ethnicity (苗族) in southern China. The weather was freaking cold. 8'c with strong winds and drizzling rain **ohmaigod** !
Hmong houses are not fenced. Their houses are on beaten soil and have only one door & without windows. They only have one room in the house. Normally the parents sleep on bed while their children are all sleeping on the floor.
Traditionally, when a Hmong boy wants to marry a Hmong girl, he will make his intentions clear and kidnap her during day light or night at any opportunity that is appropriate. Before kidnapping her, the boy must first give a gift to the girl whom he wants to marry. If the boy has never given a gift to the girl, she is allowed to refuse and go back home with any family member who comes to save her. The girl's parents are not notified at the time of the "kidnap", but a messenger will be sent to inform them of the whereabouts of their daughter and her safety. Through this, the bride price (compensation from groom's family taking the other family's daughter, as the girl's parents are now short one person to help with chores) will be cheaper. Interesting isn't it?
The kids are so helpful. They carry their younger brother/sister even they are only 4-6 years old. The kids don't brush teeth. They don't have any water heater (8'c there!). I wore 3 layers clothes but trembled seriously while they only have one normal jacket and scarf. There is only one lamp in each house. If raining, their houses are all muds. Can you imagine how's their life?We are all very lucky enough. Aren't we?

Our tour guide, Mr.Vong is an English teacher at the same time. He teaches children English in the village. In order to support him, we collected money & buy some stationeries and foods for the children there (buy from here in Malaysia). 
If you are visiting there one day in future, please buy them some foods.
Spoon village is where we next headed to. You may support them with the aluminium souvenir they make. Not much things, but at least we can see how's the process of transforming the aluminium bomb casing into various souvenirs. We even have the chance to try it ourselves haha.
Aluminium bomb casing. One bomb can make approximate 6 keychains.

Other short visit include Wat Phia Wat Temple and That Foun Stupa.

The ruin of Wat Phia Wat was subject to bombing during the Vietnam War. This Buddha statue and some walls are all that remain. However, Buddha statue's left arm was severed and the right eye was damaged. Until today, this enduring Buddha statue is still highly revered by worshippers.

That Foun (30m tall) was built and covered ashes of Buddha that were brought from India. It was partially damaged and a Buddha statue made of Gold was robbed.
Not to forget, we paid a visit to Mr.Vong's tuition class before we called it a day. He hopes we can communicate with his students so we had a short sharing session that night. It was after all a special & meaningful experience that we gain from the trip to Phonsavanh. 
After whole day activities, all you need is massage!! This is the section I must share with everyone of you. It all starts with the this masseur, Mr. Lue Ha. When he was 24 years old, Lue Ha hit a UXO bomb while foraging for medicinal herbs in the jungles of northern Laos. The accident blinded him. After the incident, depression overwhelmed him & he tried to commit suicide several times. One day, aid workers came to his village, asked him why should he feel discouraged in life and suggested him to learn to be a masseur. Since then, he learnt massaging in Vientiane and back to Xieng Khouang (Phonsavanh) to carry out massage business with his wife, Yue (normal person, very pretty!) in a tiny apartment where the family of four now lives. Sometimes they get couple of customers while sometimes they gets none. It's quite hard for them as they have to pay for the rental & utility bills. 
Mr. Lue Ha (photo source : article pasted on the wall of the shop)
Mr. Lue Ha is training his wife in massage (photo source : article pasted on the wall of the shop)
So please, if you go Phonsavanh and looking for massage service, please find them. It is not about the sad story, but their massage service are TRULY GOOD!! (massage your body nerves and bones). It's only Kip50,000 per hour per person. However, maximum 5 persons per section ya. This massage shop is just near to my guesthouse (Namchai Guesthouse), within walking distance only.
Thank you & goodbye Phonsavanh. Take care, Mr.Vong & students.
Next day early in the morning, we took a 8-hour-journey mini van from Phonsavanh to Luang Prabang. The mountain journey is uneven, it's bumpy and rough. Do take up motion sickness pill before the journey starts if you will easily feel dizzy or vomit. However, the scenery out there is quite breathtaking (put down your smartphone) :)
By the way I love Luang Prabang! It is almost similar like Ubud @ Bali. It's consider a tourist attraction where you can find markets there. We reached Luang Prabang at around 4.30pm and checked in. Our Guesthouse is in the center of Luang Prabang, nearby to the morning and night market. Without further ado, we walked up to the Phu Si temple (located on the Phousi Hill) to see sunset (Entrance fee per person is Kip20,000). Sunset time is aound 5.30pm~6pm. 
View of Luang Prabang from the hill.

Nowadays, *click* is anytime. So fast reaction is necessary. Haha..
Dinner time!! The most exciting moment we'd been waiting. Walked down (out) from the temple, you may start hunting for your foods and drinks (perhaps souvenirs too) in the night market. Please find this alley (as below) for dinner. There are variety of options, including Kip15,000 for a bowl of foods excluding the roasted meats (you can take as much as you want, but don't waste food ya!). 
I strongly recommend you guys to try their fruit shakes. There are many stalls arranged in a row. Look at their displays!! Hehe I like Avocado. One cup to share is not enough, we bought again the 2nd cup, this lady was so happy to see me went back again haha.
There are tables & chairs in front of the stalls. You may sit down to enjoy your drinks.
Souvenirs. Most are handmade.

The night market close at 9pm. Not only night market actually, most shops close at around 9~10pm. Healthy lifestyle they have? Please sleep early so that you can wake up early to see the most sacred tradition in Laos — Buddhist Monk Alms Giving Ceremony @ 5.30am (beginning from the main street of Luang Prabang to the side street). If you wish to give offerings to the monks, remember to buy your offerings such as foods (rice, fresh fruits, traditional sweet snacks) in advance.
The purpose of the ceremony is for the Buddhist monks to make merit and collect food for their meal of a day. For those who give offerings, their shoulders, chests and legs must be covered in modest clothing as a sign of respect. When offering, attendees have to kneel down and remain at a suitable distance from the monks. Female attendees must keep their head lower than the monks when offering and are not allowed to talk to or touch the monks at any time. Photographs may be taken from a distance and camera flash should be turned off.

After the ceremony, we straight heading to their morning market & eat breakfast. All are reachable by walking, very convenient.
One of the local transport - Tuk Tuk. Price is around Kip30,000 (3 persons) per trip.
The Luang Prabang day trip begins with boat departing from Mekong River. It's a 2-hour-journey, first arriving at Pak Ou Cave. Basically are some Buddha statues and worshipping inside. The view from top of the cave down to the shore is quite beautiful :)
Boy, I know you are actually feeling cold **grin** come, we share jacket :) (thanks for bringing along 你真貼心! )
We made it a short visit as our minds are all about whiskey & waterfall haha, thus Whiskey Village be the next station. Variety of whiskey available for you to try and purchase: Snake whiskey, scorpion whiskey, insect whiskey, rice whiskey (known as Lao-Lao), etc.
Rice wine whiskey (above) itself is further categorized into 3 types : White rice wine whiskey (15% alcohol content), red rice wine whiskey (15%) and transparent rice wine whiskey with 55% alcohol content. All of us bought their rice wine whiskey. The rice wine whiskey is made from the fermented sticky rice and whiskey leaves. Personally I prefer white rice wine whiskey as it tastes a bit sweet, not bitter & not strong at all. Prices (without cover) are Kip30,000 (2nd row from top), Kip20,000 (3rd row) & Kip15,000 (smallest size, front row on table) depending on which size you choose.

Here comes the destination we'd been waiting for : Kuangsi Waterfall Park!! Kuangsi waterfall ranked the 1st as must-visit-spot in Trip Advisor (oh, a lot of tourists with bikini there too). Entrance fee is Kip20,000 per person, definitely worth it!! We bought some snacks to have a small picnic there haha.
Due to the reach in Calcium Carbonate, the color of the water will turn either turquoise or blue depending on the temperature & sunlight. Stunning! Very stunning!! Swim lover can even play diving!
Apart from the Hmong Village @ Phonsavanh, we visited Hmong Tribal Village @ Luang Prabang. The Hmong Village at Luang Prabang is better than Phonsavanh in the sense of living and handicraft stalls are everywhere in the village. Do support them for their crafts :)
Besides, we experienced the process of making thread from cotton using their traditional wood machine. They are so brilliant. I am removing cotton seed while he is making thread using the seedless cotton :
At night (last night in Luang Prabang), we continued shopping at the night market and loitered around. 
It was an early sleep and rise again. Before departing back to Vientiane, we had our breakfast @ the roadside along Luang Prabang main road. It was Monday, so the street was slightly busy with traffic. Not hustle & bustle, but still a pleasant morning :) The porridge is seriously yummy!

This time, Vang Vieng is not in our list of Laos Trip as the time is not permitted. However, on our way back to Vientiane city (8 hours), we stopped by a restaurant near the Vang Vieng river shore to have our lunch. The view is really ..... AMAZING!! For those who like water activities, Vang Vieng is a must-place for you!
Last day in Laos (Vientiane) was completely free and easy. I don't have any food recommendations to provide as personally I think the foods there are just okay, enough to fill the stomach (only I realize we are having so so much delicious foods here in Malaysia!!) Ohya, most of the food portion there are quite big, some can even be shared by two persons. Try to look at the food served before you order.

By the way, although I couldn't find the cheese row & ice-cream (same stall located in Vientiane night market) recommended to me, but those who had eaten, all of my colleagues like it so much *big thumbs* and strongly recommend (so so sad as the time was too rush for me to get one, sobss...).
Unlike Bali, Laos airport does not require any airport tax to be paid before leaving. Overall I'm very satisfied with this Laos Trip. Never know it can be so fun and meaningful. All thanks to Calanthe Art Cafe especially those who did researches at the back; not to forget our Laos local tour guide Mr.Vong (Phonsavanh) & Mr.Chansay (Luang Prabang) too!
Our group photo in front of the guesthouse before leaving.
Sôhk Dee Deuh, it means Goodbye & Take Care.

It's really a marvelous trip! Cost per person is around RM1,800 for 6 days (flight ticket + accommodation + transportation + foods & drinks + other spending such as souvenir, etc + tips to local tour guides).

KHORP JAI !! (*^_^*)