Luang – the symbol of the Lao nation
To be on the safe side and choose an auspicious date to
travel from Chiang Mai to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, I flew at the
beginning of Chinese New Year with Lao Airlines. Lao Airlines connects three
times a week on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Checking in at the Chiang Mai
International Airport on Sunday, January 29, 2006, the flight was delayed
for one and half hours, but then took off at 5 p.m. to reach Luang Prabang
one hour later. Most of the passengers left for Luang Prabang and only a few
were in transit to Vientiane.
Tourism in Laos is booming with around 1.2 million
tourists in 2005. The Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA) is even
forecasting 1.3 million visitor arrivals in 2006. According to LNTA Chairman
Som-phong Mongkhonvilay, the introduction of visas on arrival at 12 border
locations helped to boost the tourist arrivals. In addition, the opening of
a brand-new Tourist Information Center in Vien-tiane saw tourism services
Xay – the landmark of Central Vientiane
Joining important travel trade events, such as the ASEAN
Tourism Forum, International Tourism Bourse (ITB) in Berlin, Germany, the
Emerald Triangle grouping of Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, and the Economic
Quadrangle grouping with China, Myanmar and Thailand, the country takes
important steps to increase its tourism revenue.
Arriving at the modernized Wattay International Airport
at 7.30 p.m. the disembarking passengers got their visa on arrival there for
30 USD and can reach their downtown destinations for a 6 USD taxi fee.
Fortunately, my host Vilay Phiahouapanh, Managing Director from Lao Youth
Travel had booked me at the Orchid Guesthouse next to his office, with a
full view of the Mekong River.
Vientiane is only a small city and you can reach most
tourist attractions on foot. There are all kinds of restaurants in the new
emerging “Golden Mile” along the Mekong River to taste some Lao Beer and
talk about the program for the next days to come.
of the many temple halls of Vientiane
Early Monday morning, I had to visit the Thai Royal
Embassy and Consulate to ask for a 12 month Non-Immigrant Visa (multiple
entries). To get this kind of visa you have to be married and pay a fee of
5,000 baht, but surprisingly you get the visa valid for one entry only that
costs 2000 baht. Normally it takes two working days for issuing the visa.
In the spare time, there is enough time to see the most
important sightseeing spots in Vientiane, such as That Luang, Wat Sisaket
and Wat Pha Keo. Furthermore, there was time to make the 80 km trip on
Highway 13 south to Ban Phabat, where is the access road to Ban Na within
the Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area. The indisputable attraction of
Ban Na is a wild elephant observation tower, but the sighting of wild
elephants cannot be guaranteed. But the village of Ban Na offers home-stay
accommodation and the whole “Eco” tourism project is a joint venture of
LNTA and the German Development Service (DED).
Back in Vientiane, I received an invitation from
Thanasee-lan Krishnan, Sales and Marketing Manager of the newly built Don
Chan Palace Hotel to stay there on an island in the nearly dried-out Mekong
River. The five star hotel boosts a 14 storey tower and a ballroom with a
capacity of 2000 people. There is a Japanese and Chinese Restaurant, but the
main attraction is the nightly Hollywood movies shown on the 3rd floor,
where is also a swimming pool, gym and a “karaoke” dancing bar.
The return date for Chiang Mai arrived very quickly. You
have to prepare 10 USD for the airport tax. It was Friday morning at 10 a.m.
when the plane left Vientiane to fly to Luang Prabang first and then to
arrive in Chiang Mai at 12.30.
(Reinhard Hohler is a media travel consultant on the Greater Mekong
Sub-region and can be contacted by e-mail [email protected])