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Published: November 14th 2009
Our bungalow at Le Bel Air.
Travel between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang (in Laos) is very popular with tourists. There are two main ways to get from one city to the other:
1. Take a bus from Chiang Mai to the Thai/Laos border. This takes a full day and you have to sleep on the Thai side of the border. The next morning you take a boat across the Mekong River to Laos and clear immigration in the village of Huay Xai. From there you can either take a fastspeed boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang (not recommended since there are a number of deaths each year) or a slow boat which takes 2 days. The slow boat journey takes between 8-12 hours on the first day (they often break down) and 5-6 hours on the second day. The slow boat is packed absolutely full, wall to wall with backpackers and docks in the not-so-nice village of Pak Beng (high prices, lots of roaches, bed bugs and other creepy crawlies as roommates).
2. Take a 60 minute flight.
When we were initially planning the trip and were reading through travel books, travel websites, and blogs, we often discussed what type of travelers
Our bungalow from the outside
that we wanted to be. Angelique has never done the backpacking-across-Europe thing and Adrian has not really travelled that way either. On the plus side it would be a great way to meet people and see the "real" Laos (or Thailand, or Cambodia, etc) and it appealed to us quite a lot. The idea of getting to places off the beaten path and making up our itinerary as we go is exciting. But backpacking can also dirty, uncomfortable, and unpredictable. So we thought about the tradeoffs between the two styles of travel (backpacking vs. comfortable). If we were 23, we'd probably have made a different decision but as we are approaching 40, comfort and efficiency won out.
And so we found ourselves this afternoon at the new Chiang Mai airport for our 60 minute flight to Luang Prabang on a Lao Airlines ATR-72, which Adrian calls a "mobile home with wings". The ATR-72 is not used much in the U.S. these days but they make up about 30% of the Lao Airlines fleet; the rest is comprised of old Chinese and Russian planes (used mostly for domestic flights; we may have the opportunity to experience a flight on one
The grounds at the resort.
of those aircraft in about a week).
So perhaps we can have our adventure and relative comfort, too.
The flight was excellent. The flight attendants were wonderful and even managed to serve us a meal which was quite good.
Luang Prabang is the second largest city in Laos but the airport is tiny - it has one gate. Immigration was easy; we gave them a passport photo and $35 USD and were issued a visa on the spot. Our hotel (Le Bel Air) had sent a driver for us and he was happy to practice his English on us during the very short ride to the hotel. Our driver is from a province north of Luang Prabang (2 days bus ride) and came to Luang Prabang to study English. He's now attending a teacher training college in town.
Our hotel is fabulous. Mr. Somnuek, the owner, greeted us and escorted us to our bungalow after we completed the necessary paperwork. Wow. The hotel sits on a small hill above the Nam Khan river (the town is on the other side of the river and can be reached by a pedestrian bridge). The resort consists of two
Another view of the resort
main buildings and about 10 bungalows scattered across a large lawn. Our bungalow is delightful. Our room is enormous and has a beautiful polished teak wood floor, dark wood accents, large doors/windows on the front that slide open to our deck with lounge chairs and a view of the river. The bathroom is very modern and the bed linens are crisp white comforters. There are orchids everywhere. We are in heaven.
It was around 6pm when we arrived and it was getting dark. We're both still congested and not feeling 100%, so we opted to have dinner at the hotel's restaurant: fresh spring rolls (pork, shrimp), Tom Yam soup with prawns, lemongrass, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and red pork curry. The best part of dinner was our server, Pan (? spelling), who chatted with us for a while and even gave us a cheatsheet of common Lao phrases. So if you're ever in Laos, here are a few useful expressions:
Hello! Sa bye dee (phonetic; emphasis on the 2nd syllable)
Thank you! Kop jai
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