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Cambodia and Laos, Angkor and Luang Prabang - Part 7
After Tonle Sap we didn't bother going back to the hotel and asked to be dropped off in town. We stopped outside the old market and we all got out and wai-ed each other in traditional manner (interestingly this appears to be Indian in origin and is used in India, Thailand and Cambodia.) I then tipped the driver and guide and thanked them for their excellent service and safe driving and they left, all of us feeling a little bit sad. We decide that tonight we will eat Western and have been somewhat intrigued by the presence of a Mexican restaurant here in Siem Reap, called Viva. We cross the road and sit out by the road to watch the world go by, first ordering a couple of beers and the menu. Our beers arrive quickly and the menu contains basically everything that one would expect, we order steak with pepper sauce for my son and enchiladas for myself and both come up to expectation, we are content but tired and retire to the hotel around 9.30 p.m.
After breakfast the next morning, taken a little bit later as we are checking out around noon for our 2.00 p.m. flight to Luang Prabang, we take a last walk to find the Post Office and then in to town for a final bit of souvenir shopping, mainly T-shirts for friends, and for my son to exchange his book at the second hand book stall on the main drag down to Pub Street. Back at the hotel a couple of hours later we finish our packing and check out. Our room has been prepaid and we only have to pay for the three days of guide and driver. The Airport pick up was free as was the daily water and the internet, albeit with intermittent connection. Kazna Hotel is to be highly recommended, we have a had a good stay here. We have decided to take a tuk tuk to the airport as the weather is fine and dry, there are always a couple floating around the area. The hotel owner calls one over and tells us it will cost $5 which we pay the driver when we arrive. We pick up our bags and put them on the tuk tuk and then say goodbye, it has been a great stay.
The journey back out to the airport is easy and we arrive with plenty of time to spare, our flight has not even been posted yet so we decide to have lunch before we check in, a bowl of noodles each. Soon after we finish the telemonitor tells us that they are checking our flight in and so we go into the Departures Hall and go through check in formalities which are very efficient. Before passport control we have to pay the departure tax, $25 each (this was where I unloaded my damaged dollar bills as they didn’t seem to care!?). Passports checked and stamped and then the waiting area. There are quite a few shops here, a cafe with internet, a pretty good bookshop with plenty of English titles, a duty free store and an excellent local artifacts shop called ‘Artisans D’Angkor’. I would recommend that you keep some money back for this place as the quality of product is very good and they have a very comprehensive range of things from replica stone statues ($$$$) to small parcels of tea ($). In my opinion it was the best souvenir shop in the whole of Siem Reap.
We sit down and wait for our flight to be called and although the monitor shows the flight on time it is called about 30 minutes early. We go through the boarding gate and walk out to the plane, a propjet identical to the one we flew from Bangkok in except for the airline livery. The crew are very courteous and welcome us onboard. We take our assigned seats and soon most of the seats are occupied. The doors are closed, we taxi and are airborne well ahead of schedule. Our flight is via Pakse in the south of Laos with a one hour stopover. We land in Pakse about 40 minutes later, the plane taxis to a halt, the rear door opens. Two foreign passengers are bundled on and seated, the doors close and about 10 minutes after landing we are rushing down the runway and airborne again, basically over an hour ahead of schedule! The flight up to Lunag Prabang takes about two hours and we are due around 6.30 p.m. according to the timetable but at around 5.00 p.m. we are told to fasten our seatbelts and we descend through the murky, smoky sky and make a smooth landing.
Luang Prabang - arrival
By the time we go through the visa on arrival process and get our passports stamped we are we far ahead of schedule that there is no way our pick up from the hotel is going to be there to meet us. We ask at the hotels desk and they give us the phone number of Apsara, where we are staying. I have some Kip notes (the Lao currency) from previous trip which i hand over and they allow me to make the call. I speak to the hotel and a van appears just a few minutes later, all very efficient. The journey into town only takes 15 minutes or so and traffic is minimal. Apsara is located toward the top of the isthmus which is Luang Prabang and the old building is more like a guest house than a hotel with rooms located alongside the road. The check in area doubles up as the hotel restaurant and bar and is also roadside. We finish check in formalities and are shown our room which is just two doors down. The room is cool and dark and is not a twin as we had hoped but one large bed with an extra bed placed in the corner but it is OK. The bathroom is at the far end and is well appointed. My son gives up the main bed to me, we unpack our toiletries and clothes and then go out exploring, it is supper time.
Luang Prabang is in the hills in the north of Laos and was used by the French colonialists when they were the governors of Indochine as a place for the civil servants to retreat to during the baking hot summers rather like the British went to Simla in India during the period of the Raj. As a result there are a lot of old French colonial style villas and houses and other such like buildings in and around Luang Prabang. Despite plenty of visitors Luang Prabang manages to maintain its slow pace and you can feel this as you wander around the place. Essentially there is one’main street’ where the majority of the activity takes place: the bars, restaurants, travel agents, and small shops and in fact these are all huddled up one end of the street near the National Museum. Down towards the other end is the well known Xie Thong temple and a variety of guest houses and hotels and the road branches off left and right alongside the Mekong and Kam rivers respectively (Luang Prabang is in fact an isthmus) and these roads come back down parallel to the main street on either side of it and mainly consist of hotels and guest houses again with their cafes and outside restaurants bordering the river on both sides. Traffic is sparse and so walking around is easy.
Unlike Siem Reap the preferred currency for transactions is Lao Kip although dollars are acceptable too but you will find most prices are displayed in Kip and then the bar/restaurant will give its own exchange rate so better to use one of the many money changers that you can find dotted about the place.
Anyway we walked up and down the main street browsing through the various menus and made our choice which happened to be one of the first we had looked at. Restaurants change hand frequently here and so do their quality and so I will not be making recommendations. Suffice it to say that the meal was good (Lao, Khmer, Thai all much a muchness really) and we washed it down with the excellent local Lao Beer. Now I do have a recommendation here as the price of a large, 640cc, bottle can vary tremendously depending on where you go. At the hotels you can be stung for Kip 25,000, bars and proper restaurants seem to charge Kip 13,000 or 14,000 but we found an outside, unpretentious local restaurant down on the Mekong side near the National Museum and were only charged Kip 8,000. Naturally we tended to gravitate there as we found the food of good quality and relatively equally cheap like the beer.
Tomorrow we will wander round town and take in the various temples and sights and generally orientate ourselves and so it will be an early night. We wander off back down the street to Apsara and take ourselves off to bed, it seems to have been a busy day if not physically tiring. Maybe it was the nerves flying Lao Air (which proved groundless!!)