Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 2: Luang Prabang, Pakse, Bolaven plateau, 4000 islands region


23-24.12: Munich-> Bangkok
25.12: Bangkok->Vientiane
26.12: Vientiane->Phonsavan
27.12: Phonsavan -> Luang Prabang
28.12: Luang Prabang
29.12: Luang Prabang
30.12: Luang Prabang -> Vientiane
31.12: Vientiane -> Pakse -> Bolaven plateau
01.01: Bolaven plateau -> Pakse -> Champasak
02.01: Champasak -> Don Khong island
03.01: Don Khong island
04.01: Don Khong -> Ubon Ratchathani -> Bangkok

28.12:  Luang Prabang
Khun Savan guesthouse, Luang Prabang.
Weather: overcast in the morning, then around 10am the sky opens up, more and more. The remaining part of the day we have sunshine with a blue sky with some cloud every now and then. It gets warmer during the day and fresher at night.

I wake up at 7am and get ready for breakfast at 8am. At 9am we leave by bus, to where the Nam Khan river flows into the Mekong. Brief photo stop, then we walk to the nearby temple and take some photos of the monks. Then, at 10am, we drive to the jetty where we will take the boat for today's trip to the Pak Ou caves. We briefly make a toilet stop at the nearby Wat Xieng Thong temple, and we seize the opportunity to again take some photos...

At 10:12am our guide finally manages to get us to walk into the boat, and today's boat trip begins. On the way to the Pak Ou caves the sky opens up and the sun shines through. Great views of the Mekong river, which right now is carrying enough water (we are still not deep into the dry season). Lots of photo opportunities.

At 11:50am, one hour and a half after we left Luang Prabang, we finally reach the Pak Ou caves. The caves are kind of cute, with lots of Buddha statues. We are there until 1pm, then we cross the river to the other side, where the restaurants are.

For lunch I order fried chicken and sticky rice. What I get is chicken, which has been fried for such a long time, that it became dry and hard like rubber. The dry sticky rice is also not too eatable.

We stay near the restaurant until 3pm (some group members go shopping to the adiacent village), then get back onto the boat and get further upriver to the Ban Muang Keo village, which we reach at 3:30pm. There the villagers have specialised into weaving cloths and making rice whisky. Some photo shooting, some shopping.

At 4:20pm we get back to the boat and rush back to Luang Prabang, hoping to be there in time for the sunset (Tim wants to climb onto the Phusi hill for a nice view). However the sun sets around 5:30pm, while we are still on the way to Luang Prabang. So we stop at a village near Luang Prabang, where there are some shops selling local artifacts (paper lamps, cloths etc.). Some shopping, some more shoot-everything-in-sight photography, and at about 6:30pm we get into the bus and drive to Luang Prabang, where we arrive around 6:50pm.

We get out of the bus at the night market, and from there split up, everybody for himself. Personally I walk to a restaurant in the "backpacker zone" and in the process I have to cross a street which has four lines of souvenir stalls, for a length of about 300-400m (at least). It seems that tourism in Luang Prabang has increased substantially since my last visit in March 2000. Or perhaps this is the peak tourist season, and March is off-season.

I have dinner until about 7:30pm, then I head towards an Internet cafe. The first one is painfully slow, so I walk to another one (lots of Internet cafes in the street - 100-200 Kip/minute). Around 9:10pm I walk back to the guesthouse. I leave my dirty laundry in a place near the Khun Savan guesthouse (18000 Kip for 2.2 Kg of laundry).

29.12:  Luang Prabang
Khun Savan guesthouse, Luang Prabang.
Weather: same as yesterday, overcast in the morning, then around 10am the sky opens up, more and more. The remaining part of the day we have sunshine with a blue sky with some cloud every now and then.

Laos is no longer the country I experienced five years ago (see the Laos 2000 travelogue). Luang Prabang is much more developed and active nowadays, totally geared towards tourists. The main street almost reminds me of Khaosan road in Bangkok. Today we drove to the Kuang Si waterfalls and along the way very few houses in the villages still had the leafs roof. Most houses I saw now have a corrugated metal roof. I even saw many houses of stone (bricks). It seems that Laos is on a fast development pace.

The day starts at 7:30am. After a shower and breakfast we leave at 9am and first drive to the Laos airlines office, where I pick up the tickets (I made a reservation through the Thai travel agency, prepaid half of the price and received a voucher by email with which I'm picking up the tickets). Everything goes surprisingly smooth except for the long wait. Almost everything is done manually at the Laos airlines office and the lady takes a lot of time to process the customer in front of me.

At 9:45am I have the tickets and get back to the bus. I feel a bit guilty because everybody has been waiting for me, but on the other side I had suggested that they go to the first temple and I'll meet them there. But no, today there is a change of plans, because Tim wants to go first to the Kuang Si waterfalls and do the temples this afternoon (and wait for the sunset on top of the Phu Si hill).

After some photo stops we manage to reach the waterfalls shortly after 11am. This time the waterfalls look different than in March 2000, as if the water was more bundled. Might be because there is more water.

We spend an hour at the waterfalls until noon, then have lunch at a food stall near the waterfalls. The food is inexpensive as usual - most dishes go for 10000-20000 Kip (USD 1-2).

At 1:20pm, after finally having said hello&goodbye to the tiger and bear who are kept in cages nearby (warning sign: don't put your fingers inside the cage - the tiger bites...), we start the trip back to Luang Prabang.

After a few stops (photo + shopping), we reach Luang Prabang at 2:40pm. There we visit the Wat Visounnarath Buddhist temple - kind of nice, but not too impressive - and the nearby Wat Aham, which is smaller than Wat Visounnarath.

Then we head to Wat Xieng Thong, where we stay until after 4:30pm. After we drive to the staircase to the Phu Si hill. We climb up the stairs, reaching the top. Full of tourists, also waiting for the sunset. Nice views from the top of the hill. The sun sets at about 5:30pm. After that we walk down to the street and head towards the bus.

I fetch my (small) backpack, which I had left in the bus, and walk back to the guesthouse, picking up the laundry on the way. In the evening I process the images and check my emails.

Tomorrow is my last day in Luang Prabang and the last day with the group. Will probably visit again some temples and take a taxi to some village near Luang Prabang. My flight to Vientiane is scheduled for 7:50pm.

Internet cafe: 100-200 Kip/minute, reasonably fast (but some Internet cafes are slow).

30.12:  Luang Prabang -> Vientiane
Mali Namphu guesthouse, Vientiane. USD 15 for a double room.
Weather: overcast in the morning until 10:30am, then the sky opens up and it is sunny for the rest of the day. Fresh in the morning, quite warm, even hot later in the day. In the evening warm enough in Vientiane (24°C when we land) to walk around with shorts and a T-shirts. Looks like it is finally getting warmer.

I'm woken up by the alarm clock at 7:50am, and am ready for the breakfast at 9am, only to see Tim and the others walk away at 8:30am. Woudln't have minded joining them for the museum visit, which yesterday was planned for 9am, since the sky is overcast anyway.

So I instead finish my breakfast and at 9am start walking around Luang Prabang. I'm expecting that the sky will open up like the previous two days, around 10-11am, so to kill the time by going to an Internet cafe and checking my emails and my site until 10am.

After that I walk around a bit, because the sky is still covered. In a temple I have a brief chat with a monk. He's 16, has been in the temple for about half a year, is planning to spend two more years in the temple and then wants to study information technology at the university in Vientiane. He says he is saving money for that because his parents are poor. But how much money can he save in two years? Anyway, this guy is ambitious and will probably have a more affluent life, if his dream comes true.

By the way, I ask this guy for a scenic villlage with nice traditional houses. he tells me to go to Ban Xang Hai.

At 10:20am the sky finally opens and the sun shines through. Time to start the temple photographing session. Until about 12:30pm I walk around Luang Prabang, shooting photos of temples and other subjects, every now and then running into AsiaExplorers people who have split into subgroups.

At 12:30pm I walk to a restaurant, where I have a lunch. At 1:30pm I look for a riksha to drive me to Ban Xang Hai and find one pretty soon, who is willing to do the trip and be back at 5pm for USD 15 (I don't negotiate this fee as it seems reasonable).

At about 2pm the trip starts. It turns out that the village is on the way to the Pak Ou cave. Almost sure this is the same village which I visited five years ago. But when we arrive at this village at 2:40pm (after a couple of photo stops) it turns out that this village has completely changed. No more wooden houses with leaf roofs. Almost all roofs are now of corrugated tin and lots of houses are made of bricks and cement. Lots of construction activity is undergoing while I'm visiting the place. In fact the whole town is one huge shopping mall - everybody, every house is now selling tourist stuff. What a radical change since last time I came!

Looks to me that the peaceful and laid back Laos which I experienced five years ago is now completely gone (unless perhaps for some isolated place in the mountains).

So, around 3pm I get back to the taxi driver and ask for a rural villlage with traditional houses with leaf roofs. We drive to another village near Luang Prabang, behind the Wat Pa Phonphao temple. But even this one is like the other one. Concrete houses, satellite dishes etc.

So, at 4:20pm, we drive back towards the hotel. On the way we make a brief stop at the Wat Pa Phonphao hilltop temple, where I meet some Buddhist nuns. In fact the entire place seems to be run by Buddhist nuns, as I can't see any male monks.

At 4:50pm we are finally in the hotel. I pack my things and at 5:20pm and ready to go. While walking out of the room Tim jumps out. Surprise, surprise he is in his room instead of being somewhere sightseeing and shooting photos. Tim says he needed some rest, which is kind of an understatement. Also the husband of Li Ping gets out of the hotel room. Brief chat, we'll keep in touch, I'll let you know when I post the travelogue...

Around 5:50pm we are at the airport. How much shall I give the driver now? We did more than we originally agreed. He asks for USD 30, and we settle on USD 24. When I pull out the Kip he says, dollars please. Funny, in this country they don't accept their own currency...

The flight to Vientiane leaves on time with an ATR72 propeller plane. Who manufactures this plane ? It's the same type of plane which we used for the Vientiane-Phonsavan flight. At the airport I quickly retrieve my luggage, then head towards the exit. At the taxi reservation counter I book a taxi. The trip to the hotel costs USD 6 (= 65000 Kip) and takes 15 minutes. All in all we are at the hotel at 8:30pm. I tell the driver to pick me up the next day at the hotel at 5:15am. (later I hear from backpackers that if you walk out of the airport and just fetch a taxi and negotiate the price, you only pay USD 3 to get into Vientiane).

After that I briefly check my emails. While walking around I run into an international 24h ATM. This one, from the Joint Development bank, however only gives cash advances on VISA cards - Mastercard is not listed here.

Tomorrow I have to get up very early at 4:30am in order to catch the 6:30am flight to Pakse.

31.12:   Vientiane -> Pakse -> Bolaven plateau
Guesthouse in Tad Lo, Bolaven Plateau. USD 6 for a basic bungalow with fan (no A/C, two beds, some furniture, no TV/phone, but own bath with hot water. Good location near the waterfall. Should be ok in the winter, but not in the summer, because there is no A/C. It's probable better to stay in the Tad Lo lodge, although I can't comment on that, as I haven't been there.
Weather: fresh, but not cold at 5am in Vientiane. In Pakse the sun is shining and it is warm (some clouds in the sky). In the Bolaven plateau the sky is partly overcast, partly blue (it even rains a little bit). Later in the afternoon the sky opens up.

Very early morning wake up at 4:30am. As I later learn I could have slept half an hour longer, because I see people arriving at the departure hall at 6:05am, while I'm there at 5:30am sharp. In any case I'm ready to leave the Mali Namphu guesthouse at 5:18am. The gueshouse guy is there (!) and hands me a breakfast package (some fruits, some slices of bread, butter+jam - nothing special, but not bad for 5am).

The taxi drive to the airport takes only five minutes (yesterday it took the driver 15 minutes to get from the airport to the guesthouse). The taxi driver asks for USD 10, which is a bit steep considering that yesterday I paid USD 6 and the drive is very short anyway. But ok, he woke up at 4 something am to bring me to the airport, so we settle on USD 8 (85000 Kip).

Still not 100% sure but the plan for the south of Laos would be to settle down in a guesthouse in Pakse and do the Bolaven plateau as a day trip with my own car + driver. Will have to find one at the airport in Pakse or in Pakse town. Then the next day it would be great to go to Si Pa Don island by boat and to do the Champasak temple as a stop in between. That would give me a day of buffer, in case something unexpected happens. Still unsure if it would make sense to spend one more day in the Bolaven plateau or if I should spend the night in the Bolaven plateau.

Well, the plane lands at 7:50am in Pakse, 10 minutes later than scheduled. Everything now happens very fast. As soon as I retrieve my luggage and reach the exit, somebody offers a tuk tuk to me, USD 4 to Pakse. I take it (am not in the mood to negotiate prices down, besides it's quite low anyway). On the way to Pakse, chat with the tuk tuk driver. What are you doing today ? Wat Phu (Champasak) ? No, am actually planning to go to the Bolaven plateau. Ah... I can bring you there by tuk tuk... No please, I want a car ...

So the tuk tuk driver brings me to the Sodetour travel agency in Pakse (13 Road Ban Phabath), which is near the Adam Internet cafe. Maybe the tuk tuk driver gets a commission ? Some discussion and we agree on USD 100 (=4100 Baht - initial asking price was USD 120) for a car+driver for two days, making a round trip across the Bolaven plateau. The car itself is actually a comfortable minivan, with A/C and I'm the only passenger. The driver hinself is a very friendly and relaxed guy.

So it's 8:20am and I have already organised the trip to the Bolaven plateau. I'm surprised about how fast things went. Since I'm hungry I walk to the Adam Internet cafe and check my emails while having breakfast.

Around 9am we leave Pakse, initially driving through the town, along the Mekong river, then to the market in Pakse, which at this time of the day is already brimming with activity. Brief stop there, some photos, then at 9:40am we continue our drive. Pakse itself looks like a dynamic and relatively well developed city.

The Bolaven plateau road is wide, straight and smooth. The plateau itself has a very gentle and soft slope, with no or few steep parts. Compare that to the narrow and winding roads in northern Laos. The Bolaven plateau is a relatively well-off and developed farming area, with good roads and infrastructure. Mobile phone (Lao GSM) coverage almost everywhere we pas through.

The next stop is the tea and coffee plantation at Km 32 from Pakse, which we reach at 10:18am. We stop there for half an hour. Then we continue driving and reach the impressive Tad Fen waterfalls at 11:14am. This is a twin waterfall dropping over 100m from an opposite cliff. Most impressive waterfall I have seen in Laos so far, and perhaps alone already worth the trip to the Bolaven plateau.

At 11:45am we continue driving. The next stop is the Tad Yueang waterfall (we arrive there at 12:04pm), smaller than Tad Fen, but very nice. On the top of the waterfall there is a picnic area, popular with tourists from neighbouring Thailand.

It's almost 1pm when I finish shooting the photos of this waterfall, so I have some food at the food stalls next to the waterfall parking. I can see that people have mounted big loudspeakers and are making tests. Probably here there will be a New Year Eve party tonight.

Shortly after 1pm we leave and drive towards Paksong, making brief photo stops every now and then. We reach the not so impressive central market of Paksong at 1:45pm. We don't spend too much time there. Paksong itself is not an interesting town. It looks like a "centrally planned" artificial city.

We leave Paksong shortly after 2pm. We spend the next few hours driving across the Bolaven Plateau, passing through Thatheng and making several stops along the way and in villages. The weather improves and the sun finally shines through.

At 5pm we finally reach the Tad Lo waterfalls. Less spectacular than the Tad Fen waterfalls, but still very nice in very charming setting. The driver brings me to a guesthouse, which is relatively basic, but OK. Later I hear from other travellers that most other guesthouses in the area are fully booked. I guess probably tourists from Thailand came over to celebrate the New Year here and filled all guesthouses.

I take a few photos of the waterfalls before sunset, then settle down in the room. Don't do much for the rest of the day. The driver tells me that he booked the elephant for tomorrow's jungle trek at 10am.

01.01:  Bolaven plateau -> Pakse -> Champasak
Thavisab hotel, Champasak. 400 Baht (USD 10)  for a big room with A/C, fan, private bath with shower and hot water, even a TV. No phone or fridge. Despite what the Lonely Planet writes, the price seems ok.
Weather: spotless blue sky in the Bolaven plateau, very hot in the sun (strong sun by the way). Later in the afternoon some clouds in the sky, when approaching Pakse. Quite warm in the evening in Pakse and Champasak.

I wake up at 6am, then sleep again. In the end I'm ready at 10am for the elephant ride. Kind of interesting, with a walk through the bush, across the river, brief stop in the village, then back to the start, all in 1h 40 minutes. But very hot, with a very strong sun (even stronger due to the altitude) directly striking from above. It would have been better to do the elephant trip at 8am, as the driver had originally arranged it. I'm charged only 50000 Kip for the ride (it's 50000 Kip per person, but an elephant can carry two people).

After the elephant ride I'm back in the guesthouse, where I have some food. At 1pm we leave the guesthouse for the drive back to Pakse. I've picked up Tina and Milos, a Slovenian couple who is travelling in Laos too and who is also going to the islands. Together we drive back to Pakse, stopping at a few villages (Longaom, Hoay Hoon Tai and others) on the way and at the Pha Suam waterfalls. Next to these waterfalls there is a "cultural village" with traditional houses and people wearing traditional costumes. By the way, we are the only western tourists at the waterfalls - there are only Asian tourists (probably mostly Thai) there. We have some food/drink at the waterfalls, then head back to Pakse, arriving at 6pm at the Sodetour travel agency.

There Tina, Milos and I talk about the next steps. I wouldn't mind spending the night in Pakse and tomorrow morning hiring a car for one day, going to the islands with a stop in Wat Phu. But Tina is sort of in a hurry and wants to be in Champasak already tonight (Champasak being 35 km south of Pakse). In the end we take a car for USD45 (15/person) to bring us to Champasak.

Leaving around 6:10pm we reach the river crossing point on the Mekong, opposite Pakse, at 7pm. There, there is no ferry to carry us through or the driver does not want to get through with his car. Whatever. I'm forced to carry the heavy suitcase on my back until the small boat, because there is sand and stony terrain along the riverfront through which I can't roll the suitcase. Same situation on the other side of the river. I'm starting to think that it would have been better spending the night in Pakse and taking the car the next morning.

On the opposite side of the river there is a tuk tuk which brings us to the Thavisab hotel (actually more of a guesthouse than a hotel). Tina hesitates for a while before accepting to stay there, because the room costs USD 10 and she would like to spend less. Dear Tina, all guesthouses are fully booked in Champasak, and there are only USD 1 dorm places available, where else do you want to go ? For a moment I think about offering them to pay half the cost of their room.

After that, at 7:45pm, I go by tuk tuk to the only Internet cafe in Champasak (how is this possible - this place is really to the edge to nowhere). There the owner tells me that they actually close at 6pm and go to sleeping at 8pm. But I'm allowed to briefly check the emails. Again I wonder whether it would have been better to spend the night in Pakse and make the trip by private car for USD 110 to the waterfall at the Lao border with a stop in Wat Phu.

02.01: Champasak -> Don Khong island
Souksan hotel, Muang Khong, Don Khong island. 20 USD for a clean and comfortable room with two beds, A/C, fan, (of course) electricity, bath with hot shower.
Weather: blue sky with a very thin layer of clouds which reduce slightly the sun's intensity. No rain, very hot. Later in the afternoon clouds over the Khon Phapheng waterfall, which obstruct the sun.

GSM coverage with Lao GSM also in Khong island - I'm surprised.

I get up at 8am and am ready at 9am for the tuk tuk trip to Wat Phu with Tina and Milos. The tuk tuk drive takes over 30 minutes, partly because of the distance, partly because the driver stops at a petrol station. Already at 9:30am it is hot and uncomfortable - would have been better having a car with A/C.

We reach Wat Phu at 9:35am. The entry ticket to Wat Phu costs 30000 Kip. Initially we visit the (small) museum of Wat Phu, actually just an exhibition hall. Wat Phu is one of the only two UNESCO world cultural heritage sites in Laos. The temple is relatively small, if compared to Angkor, but it is interesting to see another Khmer site. Interestingly the site is still used as a pilgrimage site by the locals.

We're at the site until 11am, then get back to the tuk tuk. The tuk tuk brings us to the hotel, where I pack my things. At this point I change my plans and decide to get to Khong island by private car. I ask the tuk tuk driver if he knows somebody who could bring me there. After some searching we find a guy with a pickup truck, willing to do the trip for USD 60 with a stop at the Khon Phapheng waterfalls first. No A/C however in his car <sigh>.

It's 12:10pm when the trip finally starts. We first wait for the ferry to cross the Mekong, a pretty long wait which lasts almost half an hour. At 12:40pm we finally start crossing the Mekong. It's almost 1pm when we reach the opposite side.

Then it's a very fast drive to the Khon Phapheng waterfalls (top speed is 110 km/h), which we reach at 2:20pm. In between we stop at a petrol station where a pretty lady in an elegant dress refills our tank. Lots of pretty girls and women in Laos by the way. If you are male, single and looking, head to Laos.

The ticket for the Khon Phapheng waterfalls is 10000 Kip. The waterfalls are very impressive - very wide and big volume of water flowing. I spend around 20 minutes at the waterfalls, then get back to the car.

The driver then drives back north for about 10km, and then turns left towards the Mekong. We take the ferry in Ban Hat at the southern tip of Don Khong island, around 3:10pm. After crossing the Mekong we drive to the hotel in Muang Khong. I spend the rest of the day essentially doing nothing. Around 6pm I check my emails in the Internet cafe of the Souksan hotel (expensive at 1000 Kip/minute, min. 10 minutes, but I don't know if there are other Internet cafes on the island). By the way, here it is possible to burn CDs.

03.01:  Don Khong island
Souksan hotel, Muang Khong, Don Khong island.
Weather: same as yesterday: blue sky with a very thin layer of clouds which reduce slightly the sun's intensity. No rain, very hot. Some clouds which obstruct the sun later in the afternoon.

Actually the strong sunshine wakes me up already at 7:10am, but I decide to sleep longer and only get up around 9am. After breakfast I talk to the hotel owner and I ask him if there is a way to see a number of places, all in one day. Basically I'd like to have a look at Don Khong island, see the dolphins and do a boat trip around the islands. The owner suggests USD 50 for a day trip inclusive of car and boat, coming back at 4-5pm. Seems ok, as I'll be able to cover all places I want to see.

So we leave the hotel around 10:30 am and drive north, for the round trip across the island. At 10:53am we stop at a newly renovated (in fact they are still painting the walls) Buddhist temple, probably Wat Phu Khao Kaew. Then we head south along the western coast of the island, briefly stopping at the Mou Ngse pumping station, which is supposed to provide water to irrigate fields in Don Khong. But according to the owner (he is driving me around) nobody yet wants to plant rice in the dry season, so the pumping station is essentially unused.

At 11:20am we are in the sleepy and hot Muang Saen village, on the western coast of Don Khong island. We continue our drive and at 11:38am briefly stop at a place where people harvest and sell sugar from palm trees. At 11:45am we are at the ferry pier in Ban Huay/Ban Hat, but the ferry just left, so we have to wait for a while. The ferry in Muang Khong/Hat Xai Khun no longer operates. According to the owner they will build a bridge at some time in 2007-2008.

We then drive south along the road Nr. 13 to Veunkham (or Voen Kham as spelled in the Lonely Planet), arriving there at 12:48pm. That's actually a border crossing point as the opposite riverfront is already Cambodia, but trips to watch the dolphins are allowed, without having to officially leave Laos.

At 12:55pm I get into the boat and we head towards the place where there are supposed to be dolphins. We stop at a rocky islet, where already a couple of Japanese tourists are waiting. According to the owner there are just 20 dolphins left, so I wonder if I will see any at all. But after about 20 minutes the first dolphins show up, very far away (perhaps 400-500m from where we are). It's not possible to get closer, because we are already at the Cambodian border and the dolphins actually are in Cambodian waters. The dolphin watching continues for about 10 minutes, then the dolphins disappear. At 1:50pm I tell the boatsman to bring me back to Veunkham.

At 2pm (it's only 10 minutes between Veunkham and the dolphin spotting place) we drive back along road Nr. 13, turning left at the junction to Ban Nakasang, arriving there at 2:43pm. There the owner speaks with some people and arranges for a boat to bring me to Don Khon. Ban Nakasang is actually the place where you fetch the boats to go to the Don Det and Don Khon islands.

The boat leaves shortly after that, heading towards Don Khon, passing along the channel separating Don Khon and Don Det. Lots of bungalows along the river on these two islands (but no electricity yet). We arrive at Don Khon at 3:05pm. There a lady with a motorbike picks me up and brings me to the Li Phi waterfalls, which we reach in about 15 minutes. These are more rapids than waterfalls, as they are smaller and the fall is only a few metres (entry ticket is 9000 Kip).

We then head towards the west coast of Don Khon, where there should be a good place to spot dolphins, according to the guy who sold me the ticket for the waterfalls. It turns out however that you have to take a boat from there for 70000 Kip (non-negotiable). So I just stop there briefly, then tell the lady to bring me back to the boat to Ban Nakasang. By the way, while walking to the west coast we spot a snake on the way.

Don Khon looks nice, but is perhaps a bit boring after a day or two. There are coconut trees along the waterfront, which gives the island kind of a tropical look.

At 4:40pm I'm back at the car. We are back in the hotel at about 5:30pm. In the evening I don't do much. The owner of the hotel allows me to connect my notebook to the LAN of his Internet cafe, so I can download all emails. While reading the emails, I hear that the plane which was carrying back the Laos AsiaExplorers team to Penang (flight TG429) developed an engine problem and had to make an emergency landing in Hat Yai. This is pretty scary, as I'm using Thai Airways flights over the next two days to get to Kuala Lumpur. Luckily the emergency landing went well.

Tomorrow the hotel owner will drive me to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand for USD 130. The price seems ok, considering the distance. We'll stop at one or two places in between.

04.01:   Don Khong -> Ubon Ratchathani -> Bangkok
Rama gardens hotel, Bangkok (near the airport). 1883 Baht for a nice room with everything (even a TV with an adult channel - who would have imagined that they would offer this in Thailand?). My favourite hotel in this price range near Bangkok airport.
Weather: blue sky with a mix of a thin layer of clouds and some clouds. Strong sunshine, no rain, very hot.

Again the strong sunshine wakes me up already at 7:20am, but I sleep until 8:30am. After that I rush to get ready and at 9:30am I have breakfast. Shortly after 10am we leave the hotel by car. The brother of the owner will drive me to Ubon Ratchathani instead of the owner himself, for a fee of USD 130.

We reach the Khmer site of Um Muang (entry is 10000 Kip) at 11:45am. The temple is in the forest, and the trail to it is therefore relatively cool. The temple is in a very poor state, which not many structures left standing. I spend about 20 minutes there, then head back to the car.

At 12:15pm we start again, reaching Pakse about half an hour later. In Pakse we briefly stop at a government office (motorisation?), then drive towards the border at Vangtao, arriving there at 1:30pm. I go through Lao immigration and check out of Laos, then go through Thai immigration. The process is very speedy as there are no queues and the officers lose no time.

Surprise, surprise, I have to take all my things from the car of the hotel owner. The brother of the hotel owner hands me over to a Thai taxi driver. The new car is actually a minibus, pretty hot (the A/C is too weak).

At 1:45pm we leave Chong Mek, as the Thai border post is named, driving to Ubon Ratchathani, reaching the town at 3pm. Then we lose some time, as the restaurant I wanted to go to apparently no longer exists. I finally ask the driver to drop me off at the KFC restaurant in Changkayun road at 3:30pm.

After some fast lunch I leave my bags at the KFC restaurant and start exploring Ubon Ratchathani at about 4pm. The town looks relatively modern and developed, quite well off, while I thought it would be a poor and underdeveloped place, because the Northeast of Thailand is supposed to be very poor.

Until 6pm I walk around, having a look at the city. Then I take a tuk tuk to the airport, first retrieving the luggage at the KFC restaurant. I'm at the airport at 6:15pm, two hours early.

The TG031 flight leaves on time at 8:15pm and lands punctually at 9:20pm.The flight is full by the way. It then takes about 10-15 minutes to retrieve the suitcase. Unfortunately the hotel reservation counter of the domestic terminal (where I landed) is closed. At the information counter they tell me to go to the international terminal by shuttle bus. It's easier said than done, and while the distance may not be big it takes half an hour to get there.

Shortly after 10pm I'm at the international terminal and try to walk to the hotel reservation counter. A sweet and pretty young Thai lady in sexy dress asks me where I'm going and if I want a taxi. I say I need a hotel and she very insistently directs me to their booking counter. Well.... Thai people may be sweet and friendly most of the time, and it takes some effort to tell a sweet young&pretty Thai lady in sexy dress to get lost, but I'm in a hurry and I have to show some determination, otherwise I won't be able to get rid of this sweet-young&pretty-Thai-lady-in-sexy-dress. Whatever. I just walk away, looking for the counter.

For a moment I wonder why I'm doing all this, losing so much time just to make it to the hotel reservation counter, why don't I just go straight to the hotel. The answer is that the hotel reservation counter at Bangkok airport has great rates. 1883 Baht for a room which costs over 4000 Baht if you just walk in without reservation (and over 2400 Baht if you book through the Internet, as I learn later).

At 10:15pm I have the booking, at 10:30pm I'm in the lobby of the hotel. That's fast.

Copyright 2006 Alfred Molon