Following a call for a survey trip from Chiang Mai to
Northern Laos with Lao Youth Travel Vientiane, I was delighted to see how
Laos is opening up very quickly. Still being a laid-back and sleepy tourist
destination compared with other countries in Southeast Asia, Laos does it by
its own way, and according to its self-controlled rules.
Lao Youth Travel team at the pagoda in Udom Xay.
The ATR72 of Lao Airlines arrives at Chiang Mai
International Airport from Vientiane and Luang Prabang every Tuesday,
Friday, and Sunday afternoon. The check in is efficient and supervised by
Kham Ouane Fongmylavanh, station manager of Lao Airlines in Chiang Mai.
Departure time is 3.40 p.m. and on to the world heritage town of Luang
Prabang, a flight of 65 minutes. After a transit stop of 20 minutes, the
plane continues for another 35 minutes to Vientiane.
building in Phong Saly
Travelers without a pre-arranged Laos visa get a visa on
arrival, which costs USD 30 weekdays and USD 31 weekends.
After arriving in Luang Prabang I was transferred to the
comfortable Villa Santi Resort, which is six km south of the city center.
General Manager Khammouane Siphanthong gave me a hearty welcome to this
lush, tropical boutique resort and guaranteed a regular shuttle service into
town between 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Luang Prabang is renowned as the former royal city of
Laos and was declared a world heritage site. It was the capital of the Lan
Xang Kingdom during 1353-1560. The last king of Luang Prabang abdicated on
December 2, 1975, ushering the nation into a peaceful republic. The old
palace is located at the Mekong River and functions as a museum.
unpaved road in Phong Saly province leading to Dien Bien Phu in Northern
in heaven, half hidden in the morning mist - the view from Phu Fa Mountain
down to Phong Saly.
Highly recommended are the restaurants of L’Elephant
and Auberge les 3 Nagas for French food, Indochina Spirit for Lao or
of the Lolo Pho women, one of the 25 tribes in Phong Saly.
I left Luang Prabang by public bus to reach Udom Xay, a
tiny provincial town on Highway 13 some 150 km north. It can also be reached
by plane from Vientiane three times a week. The town is overshadowed by a
pagoda called Phu That. There are some cheap guesthouses along the highway
and recommended is ‘Linda Guesthouse’ with rooms for as cheap as USD 5.
We visited the director of the provincial tourism office,
Sivanh Bounsavath, who predicted that the town will prosper in the future
with 20,000 tourists a year expected as it is at the crossroads of China in
the north, Vietnam in the east and Thailand in the west. Actually, the town
will be the transit point to reach Dien Bien Phu in the north of Vietnam as
soon as the Laos-Vietnamese border in Phong Saly is opened up for
international tourism at the beginning of 2005.
Khounsanga, head of the provincial tourism office in Phong Saly.
The next day, we took the winding but paved road to Phong
Saly Province. Our first stop was in the Tai Lue village of Muong La to look
at the 400 year old sacred temple, the colonial French bridge over the Nam
Phak River and the outstandingly beautiful scenery. We followed the river to
Ban Sin Xay, where a still unpaved road continues to the Vietnamese border.
From Ban Sin Xay, we drove north into a hilly forested area and came across
a large Hmong village. But our aim was to reach Phong Saly, a town in
We stayed at the Phu Fa Hotel at the foot of Phu Fa
Mountain, where on top is still a venerated tree sanctuary some 1,650 m
high. Phong Saly town is a hill station with a cooler climate and the area
is inhabited by 25 ethnic tribes, such as Akha, Lolo, Yao, Phu Noi and Chin
Haw. Thongyin Khounsanga, head of the national tourism office Phong Saly,
said that only 2,000 tourists visit each year.
Back on the road next morning, we drove back to Bun Nua
and tried to reach U Tai and U Nua, picturesque Tai Lue villages along the
Nam U River. As the road conditions became worse, we stopped some 50 km
short of the Laos-China border, which will eventually become an important
international checkpoint into Yunnan Province.
Early next morning, we were up to start our long journey
back via Udom Xay, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng to the capital Vientiane, which
is more than 815 km from Phong Saly.
Vientiane was the center of the Lan Xang Kingdom during
1560-1707. In 1828, the town was destroyed by the Siamese, but you can still
see and visit many temples around town. The newly arranged National Museum
gives a good overview about the development of Laos from prehistory to
Baan U Tai valley, a Tai Lue village in the northern part of Phong Saly
province, just 50 km before the Chinese border.
For food and entertainment are countless places in town,
especially along the “Golden Mile” on the Mekong River featuring
international cuisine. Very popular is Khop Chai Deu Beer Garden at the
corner of Nam Phu Square, where some good French restaurants abound. Joma
Bakery is just opposite the road and if you like Indian food, go no further
than Nazim, who already runs branches in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. You
will never be bored in Vientiane.
For further information, please contact Reinhard Hohler,
GMS Media Travel
Consultant, by email sara @cmnet.co.th or Lao Youth Travel by email