Thursday, February 26, 2015

MY HIDDEN GEMS IN NORTHERN LAOS - OU RIVER

Seeing the scenic Ou river from the balcony of my hut in the forest was already amazing but taking a boat trip up the river left me speechless. 

I had never even intended to do it but my friends, a group of Theravada monks, signaled that they would love the trip upriver for a meditation session by the side of the water.  I had seen a western tourist sitting by the banks of the Ou River in meditation pose for hours that morning, so I decided to invite my monk friends and chartered a boat. 

The prices up the river are insane and my initial thought was that they would go down by the sight of the monks. But like one of my friends said, they would likely charge even more when they see monks! However, I am a hard-ass negotiator and off we went from Nong Kiau (Nong Kiaw/Nong Kiao) towards Mueang Ngoy.

As beautiful as this area might seem, don't be fooled though! This area was one of the most heavily bombed area by the U.S. during the Vietnam War as you can see from Mother Jones















Sunday, February 22, 2015

MY LITTLE HIDDEN PARADISE - NONG KIAU LAOS

I arrived late night after a 14 hour car ride. I was hungry, it was foggy and freezing cold and I had no idea if we even were on the correct dirt road until I finally got a signal on my mobile and a GPS map showing that we had indeed arrived in Nong Kiau or sometimes also spelled Nong Kiao or Nong Kiaw.

It felt a bit like on a blind date, since I had booked a "hotel" at this remote place without having really seen any photos of it. After booking it I read somewhere that it was one of the most beautiful places on earth, but given the fact that I could not see anything when we arrived, I would have turned back to Vientiane in a second. 

The next morning after a freezing cold night I stumbled outside my resorts hut  onto the balcony and was stunned by the beauty of this place. I had in fact arrived in a little paradise in remote Northern Laos.

















Thursday, February 19, 2015

MY ROAD TRIP TO NORTHERN LAOS

Vientiane to Luang Prabang is just a short flight, but having flown this route before I looked out of the window and thought it must be awesome to be down there!  Since we had to get to the mountains of northern Laos, some 150 km north of Luang Prabang, renting a car with a driver was the best choice we ever made. The 4-5 hours drive quoted by google maps is a total illusion though. With just minimal stops and a reckless driver it took us almost 14 hours for the whole drive. There is almost no traffic, but THOUSANDS of pot holes, winding roads, street work which is not worth to call it "construction", but it is an AWESOME drive and one of the most picturesque places on earth!








Monday, February 16, 2015

MY NEW SLEEPS IN VIENTIANE - LAOS

My favourite hotel in Vientiane still remains the SALANA BOUTIQUE HOTEL, which I blogged about a year ago. It was just rated as the best hotel of Vientiane in TripAdvisor, so I wasn't so far off with my own opinion. 

But the price is high and I wanted to spend less on this new trip through Laos, so I picked the IBIS Hotel this time. I also needed to be closer to the temple Wat Sisakat and the IBIS is just a few minutes down the street. 

Having been in other IBIS Hotels around the world, there should not be any surprises, since all of their rooms really look and feel the same. They are clean, basic and cheap (except places like Singapore). 

In my own rating system the IBIS turns out as follows (based on the cheaper price compared to the Salana)

Location 5 of 5 (as a conscious decision)
Room Size 4 of 5 
WiFi free and working 5 of 5 
Breakfast included and yummy 1 of 5 
Staff competency and friendliness 5 of 5 
Safety box in the room and adequate size 5 of 5 
Bathroom functionality 3 of 5
Room design and functionality 4 of 5
Sounds 5 of 5

For what I paid, the room was absolutely adequate and I was so happy with it that I actually reserved the same room for a week later again (which surprisingly worked out!!)  The bed was a tick too soft for my needs, softer than other IBIS hotel beds. WiFi worked well for two devices and I had my own password which I prefer to an openly public WiFi connection. 

The breakfast was not included and the staff mentioned the breakfast option in their second or third sentence when checking in. I tried it once in the morning of the first day because 8$ seemed like an "OK" deal. However the selection for a vegetarian was limited. Most of the buffet options had meat in them, so I was left with eggs and toast or jam and toast. The bill surprised me, since it rang up to over 10$, which I found expensive considering the limited options I had. I did not realize that the two ' ++ ' on the menu could well mean 'starting from 8$'  (that is my guess). After that I just went across the street and had better and cheaper options. 

The bar/bistro/restaurant seems to be open 24 hours, which would be awesome, but it was always empty when I walked through it from the lift. 

 A word to the sounds of the room. It was surprisingly quiet, but I had a room on the top floor (fourth) in the corner. However I faced the local mosque, which had me worried at first that I might be woken up by the call for prayers. However I could see the muezzin and the micro but not hear anything. In fact the dogs barking in the alley below and the music from the bars were really annoying at night time. 

All in all a great few days I had twice at the IBIS in Vientiane. Great location, great price!