Greetings from Laos!

(Laos: April 21 – May 2, 2009)

Laos, the country of smile, as they call it, is one of the countries in Southeast Asia with the population of approximately 5.6 million. In terms of location, it’s wedged between Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. Thus, travelers can easily visit any of these countries by crossing the borders. This trip is my first time in Laos and it’s the 19th country that I’ve been after Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hongkong, Australia, The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, England, Scotland, Denmark, Italy, Greece and of course… Indonesia. Yayyy!!! Hopefully the number doesn’t stop here! This time, I’m planning to spend 2 weeks to explore several cities here. Arriving at the airport in Vientiane, I had to argue with the immigration staff, because they said that I needed a visa to enter the country. I didn’t apply for one, because I checked in the Internet and it said that Indonesians didn’t need a visa. One of the staffs showed me a piece of paper, saying: “Indonesians do not need a visa if they travel for less than 14 days”. Perfect. I will only be here for 12 days. Strangely, all the immigration staffs insisted that I needed a visa. So, I had no idea which one was right. Well, I filled in the Visa On Arrival anyway… and at the end I got it. The fee for the visa on arrival was USD 30,-. I wonder who puts the wrong information on the Internet? Geez. Anyway… I was lucky enough to sit next to an Australian guy on the plane, who has some friends in the city. He introduced me to his friends, two nice Aussie ladies who owned a famous “Sticky Finger” restaurant in town. These ladies offered me a lift to my hotel! How nice! I told them, “I don’t have a hotel yet, but I know which hotel I want to stay”. They dropped me at their restaurant and said that their staff could help me explain to the tuk-tuk driver. I showed him the name of the hotel, he then explained to the tuk-tuk driver. The driver seemed understood and knew where to go, but we ended up going around and around. At first, he took me to the wrong hotel, then he stopped for three times to ask people around. I realized that he didn’t know where he was going! And guess what… the next day I found out that actually my hotel was located on the next street parallel to the “Sticky Finger” restaurant! My goodness! You might wonder, why didn’t I read the map? Well, this hotel is pretty new, so it’s not even written on the map yet! :p LOL. Vientiane is far from the image of a big city. Instead, being the capital of Laos, the city looks like a small town to me. It reminds me of the villages in Indonesia. There’s no skyscrapers, no terrible traffic jams, no pollution, no fancy clubs. The numbers of cars and motorbikes on the street aren’t that many. So much different with Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia… or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam which is cramped with motorbikes. Vientiane has a relaxed and peaceful vibes. The people who live here also different from the type of people who live in the big city. They’re so laid-back! In the afternoon, they love to hangout in a small park by the Mekong River, sit on the grass at the intersection (yup, an odd place to hangout with your friends!) or chit-chat in front of their houses/shops. One day I walked along the main street and stopped in a small park to rest and soak up the vibe. There were some swings in the park. Most of them were taken by young couples or children. Then I saw there was 1 swing empty… seconds later, there were two guys running toward the swing “racing” to get the seat! Hahaha.. even guys love swing here!!! They ended up sitting on the swing together and laughing happily. Something that I wouldn’t see in my home town. Guys racing for the swing in Jakarta? No way. I really love Laotians. Being here for a few days now, I noticed how genuine and sincere they are. They’re very polite, always smile and speak softly to you. Nice people. I just wish there are more English speaking Laotians in the country! I wish I could have a chat with everyone here. That would’ve been perfect! Unfortunately, there are only a few of them who are able to speak English. So, most of the time I have to use “sign language” to communicate with them. It’s a challenge, indeed :D. Laotian women still wear traditional skirt, like a sarong. Almost 90% Laotian women I meet here wear the same “costume”. A traditional skirt with a shirt. Students at school wear uniforms, black and white. The girls wear black traditional skirts with white shirts, while the boys wear black pants and white shirts. Being an Asian girl traveling in SE Asia countries, I always being mistaken as a local. Be it in The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam or Cambodia. The locals thought I’m one of them. Also in Laos. Not that I mind.. but I just wish I could understand what they say when they speak to me in their language! In Laos, a friend said that people always staring at me. After a while, I noticed it, too. I wonder why? Hmm.. Probably Laotians thought that I’m a Laotian, but how come I don’t wear a traditional skirt? 😀 Just like in Thailand, once I get a chance to talk to them, they always say, “You look same-same Lao”. Am having a crisis identity. LOL. How to get around the city? It’s pretty easy. You can get around by foot, rent a bicycle for 10,000 Kip/day (1 USD = 8,500 Kip to date) or by tuk-tuk. If you decided to go around by tuk-tuk, don’t forget to bargain on the price. They usually mark 50-60% up for tourists. So, it’s best to bargain 50% lower, then meet in the middle. I went around by foot with a map in hand. If your hotel is located nearby the Mekong River, then you can easily go to the famous sights by foot. However, if you have limited time and not a big fan of walking around, renting a bicycle or hoping on a tuk-tuk might be more convenient for you J. Vientiane itself has a lot of interesting places to see. Am surprised by seeing the numbers of temples they have here… and they keep building new ones! These temples aren’t just small temples. All of them are fairly big and nicely built! I wonder why do they keep building new temples? They have enough temples already! (well, I think). For places to see, I’ll write a separate post on this blog later, ok? Is it easy to withdraw money? Yes. ATM machines and money-changer can be found in almost every city. You can use USD, Thai Baht, Euro or Laos Kip in this country. Does it make your life easier? A bit J. However, it’s advisable to have some Kips in your wallet. It would come handy if you have to buy small things or hop on tuk-tuk. How to go to other cities within the country? You can take a bus basically to anywhere you want in Laos. You can choose public bus (no AC, cramped) or bus with AC (very comfortable). Some routes offer minivan with AC. You can also take a flight from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, vice versa. For more adventure, take a slow boat along the Mekong River, but only if you have plenty of time to spend in this country since it may take 2 days or more to travel from one city to another! I took a bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and it was a very comfortable bus trip. With an air-conditioned bus, the 2.5 hours journey went so fast. I slept all the way to Vang Vieng! Only woke up for several times and every time I looked out to the window, my eyes were entertained by the beautiful landscape around! Mountains, rice paddy, trees and limestone cliffs. Whoaa.. How about food? Any good restaurants? Yes. There are several fancy restaurants in Vientiane (read my post on Vientiane), where other restaurants are pretty basic, yet the food is yummy. In Vang Vieng, there is no stylish restaurant. However, people here decorate the restaurants as cozy as possible with long pillows and cushions. It’s pretty common to sit on the floor – Japanese style :). For drinks, try BeerLao. Am not a big fan of beer, but I must admit that this one is tasty! I wrote a status on facebook about BeerLao and got some comments said that they agreed with me. Some of them even said it’s the best beer they’ve had by far! Am I making you curious now? 😉 Being in Laos for a few days now, I enjoy being exposed to the Lao cultures and observe how laid-back the way people live here. Most tourists who come here are either Europeans or Australians. I haven’t seen any Asian tourists here yet. Hmm… **wondering** Ok, am off to bed now. Have to catch a bus to Luang Prabang early in the morning! Ouch! See you in my next post on Laos! 🙂


  • I ever went to Vietnam about 3 years 4 ago, the situation seems like Indonesia. Many motorcyles and the Vietnamese like Indonesian and also like Laos as you told us. Reading your entry remind me my journey. Thanks

  • @ Keats: Thanks, girl! It does very laid-back and relaxed here. Also the people! I love it!!!

    @ didut: hahaha.. cewek2xnya emang manis2x lowwhhh… 😉

    @ Main Excel: you can read my post on Vietnam, too.. for a nostalgia ;)(archive: october/november 2007)

    @ M.Kate: thanks! Am sure you’d love it here! 😉

    @ Kiky: fotonya diambil dari atas Patouxai, arc de triumph-nya Laos 🙂

  • I’d love to visit Laos one day. As much as I loved Thailand, everyone gives me a resounding “If you liked Thailand, you’d like Laos even more”

    Don’t ya hate it when you realize your tuk-tuk driver is lost!!!!

  • @ Memphis: I agree. Laos is so much cooler than Thailand. The people are so laid-back, even the sellers in the night market, they’re so cool and won’t force you to buy any stuff from them! 😀

    I felt stupid when I found out that the street of my hotel is actually only one block away from the restaurant! Couldn’t get mad at the tuk-tuk driver that time coz I had no idea where I was. LOL

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