Sunday, July 27, 2008

From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

Karst Mountains en route to Vang Vieng

Thongdat, the jumbo driver, was outside Sackarinth Guesthouse to pick me up. He was actually looking forward to visiting the waterfall with me. That was $25 for him. But I felt I had to move on. I told him I was leaving.

Last night, I saw a travel shop along
Sisavangvong. Instead of going all the way to the South Bus Station (and pay 30,000 to 50,000 kip for a return ride), I decided to book my bus ticket right there. One VIP bus seat to Vang Vieng – 150,000 kip. If I were to buy it direct from the bus station, I had to take a special trip going to the bus station. True enough, the price at the station was only 135,000 kip; 15,000 went to the travel company who sold and reserved me my ticket. Still, it saved me 30,000 kip for the one-way jumbo (tuktuk) fare.

Ban Naluang Station (South Bus Station) was a 15 minute ride southeast from Sisavangvong. The tenements and rows of houses looked different as Thongdat’s tuktuk roared through. We reached the station 15 minutes past 8. There wasn’t a flurry of activities. I got my backpack and handed 30,000 kip to my driver. He must have been disappointed not getting the waterfall tour. I gave an extra 15,000 kip as tip. That’s not a lot. Just barely $2 – or PhP90, but Thongdat replied with a huge heartfelt smile. That’s what I love about the Lao people. They are a very grateful and kind-hearted people. I got my receipt and handed it to the counter. I was handed my official ticket. So I headed to the benches and waited until boarding. VIP seats have reserved seats.

I was not aware of the existence of
Vang Vieng until a few days before I left Manila. My Thai friend Imm emailed me that she was Vang Vieng-bound, but our itinerary wouldn’t meet. Heck! I won’t miss a place that all the other backpackers are talking about. I’m headed to another unplanned destination. Vang Vieng. The lure of this small town is the “tubing” activities on an exceedingly laidback river town, where people just laze around little restaurants that play episode after episode of Friends all day, way until the sun sets.

At 9 AM, my bus pulled off the station. I had a window seat. Beside me was a big british guy who has visited Asia several times in the past. In fact, he
taught English for some Thai kids in a very remote Thailand village: “It was so flat, no hills at all. I was the first white guy they’ve ever laid eyes on. They would come to me and take my arms, touching them like I was a museum piece.” He had regrets for that experience, not for selfish reasons. He thought the timing was off. He donated $500 to work for free and he felt it was time wasted. He should have seen more of Asia instead of being stuck for 3 months. This time, he was traveling with friends, and was extolling the virtues of Laos. “It’s the best ever!” he exclaimed.

At 2 PM, the bus pulled over a carinderia in the middle of the fields. Lunch was paid for. But the queue was long and I didn’t feel like braving a cramped restaurant, foraging for a noodle soup. I went to the next store and got my meal (15,000 kip), which was horrible. This was a rice meal topped with pork bits, which I realized were all bones. This seems to be a common viand in Lao. Puro buto ng pork. While waiting for the ride to resume, a native woman was sitting by the road. I stood beside her. I pointed to the body of water cutting through a field just across the highway. I asked, “Nam Song (Song River)?” She looked up to me and nodded. I knew we were in the vicinity of Vang Vieng. The rest of the ride, I tried to shut my eyes.

The next half of the trip was a preview of the grandeur of the beauty of the countryside. Amazingly, we passed through hills and little villages. My God! It was unbelievable seeing them from my moving bus. Thatched shanties. Naked kids. A couple of old folks making jars. Ethnic apparel. Old women were walking around topless, stopping from their chores as our bus sneaked through the wavy roads of the hill. This was perfectly playing its local color! And I wasn’t able to get my camera! Darn! After that spectacular treat, I took some photos of the karst mountains, and then slept as our bus began our descent from the hills. At about 4 PM, we reached a bus station – small, but modern-looking, glazed tiles newly mounted, and freshly painted walls. I retrieved my backpack then headed to the station counter. I knew I had to reserve my outbound ticket NOW to avoid the same predicament I had in Luang Prabang. I KNEW EXACTLY where I wanted to go after this. The counterman even volunteered to pick me up for my next bus ride. Problem is, I don’t have a hotel yet.

I looked around me.
It is silly but I am always overwhelmed by simple arrivals to new places. I guess I am just thankful for the chance to travel and be somewhere else.

I’m in Vang Vieng!

My VIP bus.

Ban Naluang - South Bus Station, Luang Prabang. From the counters, tickets can be purchased.

Current Bus Information

VIP Bus:

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng - 135,000 kip (bus station); Departure – 8 AMLuang Prabang to Vientiane – 135,000 kip (bus station); Departure – 9 AMLuang Prabang to Phonsavanh: Aircon bus – 115,000 kip, Local bus – 105,000 kip, No VIP bus
Distance from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: 231 km.
Time travel: 6 hours (in reality, its 7 hours)

Late lunch at our stopover.

I needed bone crackers for my lunch. LOL

Withdrawing Money in Luang Prabang:
Luang has a few ATMs. The machine I saw was located along Sisavangvong near the tourist information and postal center. I was planning on withdrawing cash from my Mastercard to augment my cash for an unscheduled itinerary (Vang Vieng). I've tried the day before but copped out coz I wasn't sure if I was pushing the right buttons. This was Bcel Bank, one of the only two banks with commissioned atm machines. Once you push the "withdraw" button, it would give you the following options: current, savings, cheques, default. I was looking for "cash advance" but couldn't find it. Fearing card capture or mischarges, I decided against any withdrawal. Maybe I could try again in the capital, Vientiane. I thought it would be safer.
Random Expenditures:

· VIP bus seat from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (via travel office) – $18.75 or 150,000 kip or PhP844
· VIP bus seat from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (direct purchase at the South Bus Station) – $16.87 or 135,000 kip or PhP760
· Jumbo (tuktuk) ride to the South Bus Station (
Ban Naluang Station)- 30,000 kip
· Driver tip – $1.80 or 15,000 kip or PhP90
· Lunch at the bus stop - $1.80 or 15,000 kip or Ph90

South Laos Journeys here:
- Chasing Water Falls and Ethnic Tribes at the Bolaven Plateau -


Twin said...

i want that coke in can for my collection hehe

Anonymous said...

Parang mas mahal sila kesa dito sa atin.May ulam at kanin na P50 lang sa atin. ok na. San yung mga food? haha

Unknown said...

i like the colors and the photos. thanks for sharing.

andiboi said...

another nice, detailed and informative blog, eye! thanks again... i'll def visit Laos next time :-).
love the pics on the monks btw :D

escape said...

i love the mountain range!

eye in the sky said...

rics, i was thinking of those coke cans but you have to admit it, carrying them around from one city to the next was a not practical endeavor for long haul journeys. if they were the comfortable arranged-tour trips, that would have been feasible.

anyway, rest assured that those cans look exactly the same as our coke cans. you would hardly notice the difference unless you secure a magnifying glass. and yeah, those food photos look great.

eye in the sky said...

@ elyn: nice to hear from you again. alam mo, you are right. philippines is still way cheaper in several ways. but my 2 cents worth says, i get charged more because i am obviously speaking the white man's language - english, which spells "dollars" from the get-go! if i were a local, i'd probably be paying much much less!

who knows, laos & the philippines may have comparatively similar prices of commodities. it is obvious though how more advanced we are - by leaps and bounds!

@ lucy: me too. i love the colors. i'm just the photographer of such spectacular scenes. thanks.

eye in the sky said...

andiboi! i am actually documenting all the little details coz - guess what? i have plans of seeing the Plain of Jars and Pakse, down south (the thousand islands) in the future. not this year, but probly middle of the year in 2009. it would be easy to get back and refer to my own "details".

also, i shall refer to your post (and youtube) very soon as an "annex" to a near-future post. i read your corregidor sojourn and i'm thinking of posting my own corregidor trip one of these days. thanks, man!

eye in the sky said...

@ dong: the mountain ranges in Vang Vieng proper are even more beautiful.

pamatayhomesick said...

grabe ha...kakalula ang bundok..parang likod bahay namin..he he he.

eye in the sky said...

saan ba ang bundok na yan nang makapagpatayo din ako ng bahay dyan? hehe

Anonymous said...

amazing cloud formation on your earlier pics!

i smiled when i saw that your guesthouse cost only 5USD; when i was younger and backpacking through mexico, a friend and i had a 5-dollar limit on the hostels we stayed. some were decent, most were crappy as hell. yours looks really nice ;-)

eye in the sky said...

hi caryn, yeah the room looked nice (though i'd check out another the next time i'm able to visit). it was probably the cheapest room i've been in in all my Asian travels.

i paid $7 in chiangmai. my other $5 memory was a Youth Hostel in Hamburg, by the hill, beside a chapel. this was inclusive of breakfast, but the room had 8 double deckers and a communal bathroom. i've never had soo many German friends all in one room since. LOL

mexico sounds very interesting. i'd be up for it but the logistics seem tricky to plan. thanks for dropping by. :->