Travel time: 01/2011
http://hobomaps.com/: A very informative website for most major tourisy places with detailed maps, hotels and tourist information. The maps of the most touristy places can be bought a good bookstors as paper copy.
Download Champasak.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
No ATM or WiFi available but some hostels have internet terminals. Except to visit the temple there is not much to discover.
The Saythong Guesthouse @ Ban Watthong, 14 A Road (phone: 031 920 092) on the main road next to the roundabout has basic dirty rooms, some without washbowl and all without mirror. Some toilet seats are not fixed. So be prepared.
With 5 $ (no bargain) much overpriced and not recommendable.
Also next to the roundabout but towards the hill is the Siamephone Hotel (phone: 031 920128) which has compfortable and clean rooms with hot shower and fan for 60.000k or same rooms with AC for 120.000. Kid's bycicles can be rented for 10.000k per day. Only minus is the missing restaurant.
The entrance fee of 30.000k for the Champasak temple site Vat Phu includes also the visit of a museum hosting a small collection of Angkor relicts. The museum is next to the entrance. The site opens at 8 AM and the museum closes at 4:30 PM but the temple site at 6 PM.
Champasak -> Tha Khaek:
Just wait on the main road of Champasak for the passenger truck to Pakse (20.000k, 1 hour). Half of the way is dirt road in the moment but will be paved until end of 2011. In Pakse take a tuktuk (5.000k) to the south bus terminal for a regular bus (50.000k) or wait at the VIP-Bus terminal (same road but more close to the town) for the fast VIP-Busses leaving at 8 PM or later. Keep in mind that the regular bus takes 12 hours to Tha Khaek as it goes very slow, stops on any request, stops for lunch break, stops for pee-break, stops without reason, stops for two hours at Savannakhet and another hour at Seno.
From the bus terminal into the city a tuktuk is minimum 10.000k if you take it alone.
Don Det & Don Khon
Download Don Det.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s and a nice cycling tour for your gps device.
Don Det is the choise for backpacher or people who like to smoke at night in a relaxed athmosphere (which does not implement that there is a street market) as Don Khon is more the place for the "quality tourist".
No ATM or WiFi on both islands but some internet shops.
To enter Don Khon you have to pay 3$ admission per day.
Jonnee Bungalows (phone: 020 96712579) at Don Det only 70 meter straight ahead (not the main strip) from the boat landing are very basic and dirty, have neigher a washbowl nor a mirror but well-worn mattress.
For 5 $ per night overpriced and not recommendable .
The Indian restaurant on the main strip has excellent food for reasonable prices.
Best is a bycicle to visiting all places at Don Det and Don Khon but most available bycicles have children size and will ruin your knees if you ride them for a longer period of time. So look out for the bigger old-style cycles. It's 10.000k per day.
For dolphin watching cycle to the southern end of Don Khon, group together and rent one of the longboats.
Keep in mind that you have to pay 3 $ to enter onto Don Khon.
The ferry for tourists from Ban Nakasang to Don Det is with 3 $ each highly overpriced and in the hand of the local "tourist mafia". So it is hard to get a boat for less.
Don Det -> Champasak
Mini- or VIP-Busses to Ban Muang costs 50.000k including the ferry from Don Det to Ban Nakasang leaving every day at 11 AM. From Ban Nakasang the busses are starting around 11:40 AM arriving at Ban Muang 1.5 hours later. Also here someone trys to guide the tourists to the tourist boat instaed taking the regular ferry to Ban Phaphin for 5.000k. At tuktuk from Ban Phaphin to Champasak is another 5.000k.
Download Luang Prabang.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s and the Lonely Planet walking tour for your gps device.
It is the most touristy place in Laos and packed with tourists of all colur. Everything seams to be arranged for the tourist. Strangely enough that the tourist information at the west end of the artisan night market is only open at weekdays from 8 - 11:30 am and 1 - 4 pm, the staff was not helpful, neither did they know about the very detailed Hobomap of Luang Prabang nor get to know it. They just try to sell their basic map for 10.000k.
The Padichith Guesthouse has dirty, not very well maintained rooms with mattress on the floor, not very clean blankets and covers, fan and hot shower for 70.000kbut no WiFi. The bonus is the calm location at a small aisle in next to the historical center (the pub area is at the opposite of the hill) and free tee/coffee facility.
Admission to most of the temples is 20.000k.
Keep away from the Wat Phousy temple on the hill-top of Luang Prabang if you are a bird or animal lover as an elder women keep 20 - 30 birds in a football size cage in a small building next to the temple (you will hear them passing by) and their daughter is selling them to let them free. They are aware of their bad business as they try to hide when someone takes pictures. Take a touch and come here at night. Nice night view, no admission and bird torment.
A tuktuk to the airport should not be more than 20.000k. There is one restaurant in side the airport compound and a view in front of the parking. An ATM and a mony changer is present as well.
Download Tha Khaek.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
If you want only to break your bus trip to the north there are several simple guesthouses right at the bus terminal of Tha Khaek.
The Tha Khaek Travel Lodge has clean large double rooms for 90.000k with fan and hot shower but the mattress are well used and as hard as wood, the moskito net ends where the mattress starts and does not protect as it should, no towels will be provided "if the laundry is too late"(?) as there is no hanger for towels, no mirror in the bathroom and the kitchen close at 9 PM and do not open before 7 AM but offer a daily menu. Only the campfire place surrounded by some benches is a small bonus.
For a so-called travel lodge not recommendable (price list).
Tha Khaek -> Tham Kong Lo cave:
The express bus from Tha Khaek to Vieng Kham (junktion of road 8 to Ban Na Hin) is 25.000k and two hours drive. The bus will drop you at the junktion where you can pick the bus to Ban Na Hin (20.000k, 75 min.). Here you have to change to a passenger truck for 25.000k (one hour) to the park entrance of the cave (time table / price list).
Tham Kong Lo
Download Tham Kong Lo.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
The entrance for the surrounding park of the cave is 2.000k per day as there is a nice lagoon with in front of the cave inviteing for a sunbath. The boat trip through the cave is 105.000k for two to three passengers sharing a boat or 115.000k for a single passenger which is best. Not more than three passengers will be taken onto one boat.
The trip includes some 20 minutes walk on gravel surface through a nicely illuminated area of stalactites as well as to wade through the water at some shallow parts of the river where the boat can not pass with passengers together.
Bring a very strong tourch, a headlamp for handfree walking, some spare batteries and a stative for taking pictures at the illuminated area. Wear shorts, rubber sandals and a windbreaker if you feel cold very quick. A swimming west will be provided which keeps you warm around the chest and the back and you can rent a simple headlamp if needed where you never know how long the batteries lasts.
Abolutely a must.
The Chantha House (phone: 020 2100002) has nice clean double rooms with fan, bathroom with hot shower, good mattress on the floor for 80.000k. The owner and staff is very friendly and helpful. The outside aisle is equiped with chairs and nice to watch the scenery or read a book in the breeze and have a chat with passing guests. It is some two kilometers from the park entrance and very relaxing.
There are other guesthouses at Ban Konglo charging 50.000k for a more simple double room like the Konglo Eco-Lodge some 200 meters from the Chantha Hotel.
Tham Kong Lo Cave -> Vientiane:
To travel back to Ban Na Hin just wait at the main road until the passenger truck (first one 6:30 AM from Ban Konglo) picks you up and brings you to Ban Na Hin for 25.000k, 75 minutes drive (time table / price list). The regular bus on route 8 to Vientiane stops at Ban Na Hin is 60.000k and takes 4.5 hours.
To reach the river front of Vientiane take the city bus or share a tuktuk outside of the bus terminal, next to its eastern exit.
Download Vang Vieng.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s for your gps device.
Fun, fun, fun on the one side and milking the tourist on the other.
Fun because of all the possible activities which first of all is tubing but also kayaking, rock climbing, caving, mountain biking or the combinition of all ;-).
Milking because for crossing most of the bridges (even were you can just walk through the river) you have to pay up to 4.000k or more and the admission for most of the caves is now 10.000k.
Phoom Chai Guesthouse has clean bungalows with own bathroom, hot shower and good mattress. Rooms with fan are not very sound protected and 60.000k, the more solid once with AC are 90.000k. Located at the corner of the village it is quiet her, it has a nice chill-out area with internet terminal, free WiFi, coffee, tea and bananas.
Tubing is why most young people coming to Luang Prabang and there is no other spot in the world where you can do this (roles). Nowadays most people take a tuktuk directly to the party site for 10.000k one way around noon and swim, walk or "hitchhike" down the river to the next party zone as the distance beween them is only a stone through. So you neither must care of your tube nor return it to get back the 7 $ deposite.
The tuktuk will pick you up from any party zone on the left side of the river and bring you back into the city for another 10.000k per person.
Highly recommendable as long as you don't drink and swing as it ends for a number of people in the hospital or even worse.
Kayaking can be nicely combined with a visit to the Water and the Elephant Cave and a stop at one of the tubing party zones. There are several companies offering this day trip for around 80.000k (toll of bridges and cave as well as lunch included). Starting at 9:00 AM from the companies shop to the Water-Cave some 14 km north of Vang Vieng. Crossing the river by foot on a toll bridge to the Water Cave where you get a tube and a headlamp. Now you can pull yourself through the cave on a rope for appr. 15 minutes with a short walk through a shallow passage. At the end you have to return the same way but it's fun at all.
Have the lunch break here before the visit of the Elephant Cave. Dependent on your guide you may receive some detailed information about the cave and the Buddism itself.
Back to the car you will be transfered around 8 km upstream of the river to kayak some small rapids down until you stop at one of the tubing party zones to have some drinks or go for a swing. The last kilometers are easy to paddle back to Vang Vieng where you finish a great day at around 5 PM.
Caving can be nicely combined with a mountain bike tour through the west area of Vang Vieng as long as you have a nice mountain bike (30.000k) and a good map (see www.hobomaps.com). As every cave is different here are some impressions:
- Tam Khanh Kham Cave (10.000k admission): After 3.5 km west of Vang Vieng on dirt road turn right at the blues sign and follow the road for another 2 km. Around 500 meters after the ticket boy you have to turn to the right into the riverbed for only appr. 200 meters. If you miss this turn you will end up cycling/walking for more than an hour until the road ends in the mountain jungle. Don't come too early as the signs for the turn might be risen first after 8:30 or 9:00 AM. The cave hosts a Buddha statue and is something for cave inthusiasts as the cave splitts into a few arms and some of them are very tigny. The two arms end at a crawling section of appr. 40 - 50 cm diameter for the "normal" visitors but behind the cave still continuous. To find back out could get tricky.
- Blue Lagoon Cave (10.000k admission): It is 7 km on dirt road west of Vang Vieng and the most popular cave in this area as the blue lagoon is an excellent place to chill-out. The water is clear with lots of fishes, some nice jumping from a tree and a few bamboo huts for picknick. So don't forget your swimming suits. Food and drinks are available for normal prices. To get to the cave itself you have to climb up a steep track until a small entrance leads into a wide dome with a resting Buddah statue. The cave has some more chambers to discover but be careful not to fall in one of the deep holes on the ground. Very nice.
- On the way to Naxom is the Tam Nang Lome cave (10.000k admission) next to the dirt road. Nothing special here.
- For the Golden Flower Cave (sometimes admission charged) you must leave the dirt road almost at the end of the slope and walk a kilometer thourgh paddy fileds and farming land on a small trail. It is nicely signed. Climb some 50 meters up on steep steps to get to the entrance of the cave. The structure of the cave is similar to one at the blue lagoon but smaler in size.
- To find the Nang Aour Cave (no admission in the moment) is tricky to find as the only sign next to the dirt road may only be recognize when doing the slope clockwise. A small track will lead you to a small stream which you have to cross. The farmer builds a pool at the time of writing to provide a rest area for the visitors. Cross the stream and the muddy area and cross straight the green towards the slope. There is a small yellow sign where the steep and tricky path lead up to the entrance of the cave. The cave is long, very long but you can't get lost as there is only one way to follow.. It can get very muddy after rainfall.
- Phou Kham Cave is only less than a kilometer from the dirt road away. The last third across farming land and some forrest. At the entrance is a very small lake. The cave has some arms but non of them are longer than 15 - 20 meters. You have to climb short lethers and wooden bridges which makes the way enjoable. It can get wet and muddy here.
- Four caves and a small lagoon for swimming is only 2 kilometers across the river from Vang Vieng. Did not visit them.
- The Water and the Elephant caves are appr. 14 kilometers north of Vang Vieng and will nicely intregragted into a kayaking tour package. Crossing the bridge to visit one of the caves cost admission as well as the Water Cave. At the Water Cave you usually rent a tube including a head lamp and pull yourself on ropes through the cave. Very enjoyable.
The Elephant Cave is a temple site with a Buddha statue and a stalactite which looks like an elephant.
A mini-van to Luang Prabang is the quickest (7 h) and cost 90 to 105.000k dependent where you book it, pick-up service included. The mini-van stops at the southern bus terminal which is around 3.5 km outside the city center. Usually a tuktuk should not be more than 20.000k all together but they try to charge 10.000k or more per person.
Time table for other. Add half an hour departure delay plus 20% of the travel time and you end up almost at the correct arrival time.
Download Vientiane.zip as gpx file with some PIO´s and the Lonely Planet walking tour for your gps device.
ATM and WiFi are getting more and more popular. ATM's are spreading around the city center and lots of guesthouses and cafe bars have now free WiFi.
Orchid Hotel at 33 Fangum Road (phone: 021 252825) has quiet clean double rooms with AC and own bathroom (the shower can't be even called warm in some of the rooms) with windows facing a wall within reach for 18 $ (room rates). Same room with sunlight is 20 $ and with river view 25 $ as this are the most noisy once.
The "Monument to Mekong walking tour" from Lonely Planets guidebook Laos issued 2007 is a nice stroll through the city center as it is not up-to-date anymore:
- The north side of Talat Sao (#3) will be completely reconstructed to the citys most modern shopping mall by mid of 2011.
- The goldsmiths (#4) at the southeast corner of Talat Sao are on the first floor.
- The south area of the Talat Khua Din market is a construction site at the time of writing.
- The Mekong promenade is completely reconstructed and the PVO (#12) and Riverside Restaurant (#13) disappeard.
- Also most of the riverside food and drink vendors (#18) moved down directly to the Mekong river bed.
Download the track "VientianeWT.gpx" including all PIOs.
Vientiane -> Vang Vieng:
The toursit bus for 50.000k is picking up travellers from various hostles between 9:30 and 10:30 AM. Arrival at Vang Vieng is around 2:30 PM somewhere at a hostle in the middle of the town. The space between the chairs of the bus is not too bad and it only stops for a lunch break (sandwiches available for 10 - 15.000k).