It was not a difficult decision to join a survey trip to
Laos and Cambodia, after the invitation from Vilay Phiahouapanh, managing
director from Lao Youth Travel in Vientiane.
To meet the party on June 20 in Vientiane, I opted for a
twelve hour bus ride from Arcade Bus station in Chiang Mai by Chakrapong
Tour to Udon Thani for 410 baht, including a small midnight meal somewhere
stone carving of the three Hindu gods at Wat Pu temple.
Arriving early in the morning, there was a local bus to
Nong Khai for another 20 baht, and another 20 baht to the Friendship Bridge.
At the international border point at the Friendship
Bridge, there is a visa on arrival service. It is necessary to bring a
passport photo and USD 30 in cash to pay the visa fee that allows you 15
days into Laos. If you wish to pay in baht, the friendly Lao immigration
officials charge you 1,500 baht (USD 37) instead.
transport boats at the Lao Cambodian border waiting for customers.
On the Lao side of the bridge, luckily there is a minibus
service to bring you for a fee of 100 baht to your destination in downtown
Vientiane. I headed straight to the office of Lao Youth Travel at Fa Ngum
Quai, conveniently located near the bank of the mighty Mekong River. There,
Vilay suggested a two night excursion tour to his hometown in Vang Vieng.
the many ferry boats on the Mekong in southern Laos.
Situated 170 kilometers north from Vientiane, on Road 13
leading to Luang Prabang and up to the Chinese border, Vang Viang is a
charming district town along the Nam Song River with many facilities
catering for backpackers. The environment comprises bizarre looking
limestone hills with a few caves worth visiting.
floating restaurant at Don Khong Island during poor weather conditions.
There are different categories of accommodation, ranging
from the up-market Nam Song Hotel to the very basic but lovely Si Sombat
Guesthouse near the bus station. At the local Sunset Restaurant, we had a
lively dinner attended by the vice-governor, Chanhpeang Douangphachanh and
Soumontha Youtitham, a community awareness expert, who is working for the
Ministry of Communication, Transport, Post and Construction.
like a palace - the new Mekong River Commission building in Vientiane.
Back in Vientiane, I was guest of Christopher Yeo,
director of finance and administration in the Novotel Vientiane. The next
two days, I eagerly explored the emerging “Golden Mile” along the Mekong
River and inspected the new building of the Mekong River Commission. The
Mekong River Commission will move from Phnom Penh to Vientiane at the end of
2004. Another milestone in Vientiane is a highly sophisticated entertainment
complex named “Green View” at the outskirts of town.
On the eve of May 24, we took the best bus of the
Kriangkrai V.I.P. Transport Company to Pakse in the south of Laos for 600
baht. The luxurious bus left the Wat Si Muang Bus Station at 8.30 p.m. and
stopped in Thakhek at 1 a.m. After passing the town of Savannakhet, we
reached Pakse at 6 a.m., leaving some rain behind us.
Welcomed by the local staff of Lao Youth Travel, we
proceeded to the Champa Residence Hotel to refresh our body and mind with a
kind of French breakfast and taste of the real Laos coffee. Situated 675
kilometers from Vientiane, Pakse is the capital of Champasak Province and
commercial center of the developing zone of the “Emerald Triangle” in
the border area of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
The old town of Champasak is just about one hour drive
south of Pakse and was the seat of an independent kingdom. To reach this
(nowadays) very sleepy place, we had to take a ferry across the Mekong River
and continue another eight kilometers to Wat Phu, a UNESCO world heritage
site since last year. It is the origin of the Khmer civilization, a long
time before Angkor. Originally a holy Hindu shrine and only relatively
lately transformed into a Buddhist temple. There are still interesting stone
carvings of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu there.
Back at the ferry point across the Mekong River, we had
our first local lunch and after another two hours drive in the afternoon we
reached Don Khong Island in the pristine area of the 4,000 Islands (Si Phan
Don), where we stayed at the pleasant Villa Muong Khong.
At sunrise the next morning, we departed from Don Khong
Island, the hometown of the present president of Lao PDR H.E. Khamtai
Siphandone, to visit Khon Phapheng Waterfall, which is 1 kilometer wide and
with a fall of 15 meters - a natural obstacle to any river transport. There
are still vestiges of the colonial French railway line to bypass the
Finally, we reached Veun Kham, where some freshwater
dolphins abound and across the river is the border post of Dong Crorlor in
Cambodia. After 835 kilometers from Vientiane on Road 13 we were on the
southernmost point of Laos and ready for entry into the Kingdom of Cambodia
with a visa supplied by any Cambodian embassy abroad.
For further information, contact GMS Media Travel Consultant Reinhard
Hohler by email [email protected]