Posts Categorised: Travel

Living in Manila, a packed city of 1.7 million people, can be a drain on you. The noise, the smog, the traffic become too much after a while. Luckily, there is a nearby escape that doesn’t require a plane ticket out of the Philippines metropolis. I’m talking about Antipolo City.

By Grab, Antipolo Rizal is only about a 400 PHP ride away from Makati. In distance, it is around 28 km from downtown Makati. In regular traffic, it takes a little over an hour to get there. Once you get to Antipolo, though, it feels like a world away.

Day 1:

Check-in at LeBlanc Hotel Resort, 3 Taktak Rd., Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

Choose LeBlanc Hotel if you want to stay in a new hotel that is centrally located. The hotel is across from Robinson’s Place and directly behind the Antipolo Public Market.

As you can surmise from the name, the LeBlanc Hotel is painted white inside and out. It is a minimalist designed theme. Being all white, it is no surprise that it is a popular venue for weddings. Indeed while I was there, a wedding party was also there.

The staff at the hotel is very accomodating. There are many staff members. They include trainees. No worries though. Even the trainees are good at making guests feel welcomed.

There is an outdoor pool on the same floor as reception desk. The restaurant offers a good selection of Filipino food including Salmon Sinigang and Bulalo. If you are craving a Western meal, I did notice Grilled Steak on the menu. And yes, there is a full bar.

The rooms are bright. They do run a bit small, especially the Single Deluxe. I recommend booking the Twin Deluxe. Also request a room on the poolside. You will hear less noise from the cars on the main road.

The Crescent Moon Cafe Antipolo City

Lunch at The Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery, L. Sumulong Memorial Circle, Sitio Parugan, Dalig, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

After we got settled in our room, we were famished. So off we went to start our adventure in this “art town.” The destination was The Crescent Moon Cafe. It is about an 80 PHP ride from LeBlanc Hotel via trike. Uber costs about the same. There are less Uber cars in Antipolo as compared to Makati, so you may have to wait for a little while to find a driver. Trikes are everywhere though so that is a good transportation choice.

Upon arriving, the first thing you will notice about The Crescent Moon Cafe are the canopy of trees that shade the property. There is a fish pond too so you will hear the relaxing sound of water flowing. We felt immediately at ease. The painted mural put our minds in the proper mood to be artistic, even if we are only talking about lunch.

Try the Alagao. It is a signature dish that is good for 2 or 3.

We also had the Vietnamese Chicken Wings with Mayo Mulberry Sauce.

Both were delicious.

As for the drink, we had the superfood drink called Moringa Calamansi. That was good too. It paired well with our healthy lunch.

For dessert, we had the homemade Suman at Mangga. It tastes a lot like Mango Sticky rice which is one of our favorite dessert combo.

After eating, you can stroll the grounds. People make pottery here so you can certainly try your hand at creating something that is truly your own. It is easy to spend a few hours here.

Alagao

Alagao

Vietnamese Chicken Wings

Vietnamese Chicken Wings

Vietnamese Chicken Wings

Suman at Mangga

Watch Sunset at Cafe Augusta, Grand Heights Rd, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

One of the top things to do in Antipolo in the early evening is to enjoy a view of the sunset with the Manila skyline as a backdrop. On this first night, we decided to watch the sunset from the outside tables at Cafe Augusta.

The Peak 360 Spa

We arrived 2 hours before sunset in order to secure a good table. Lucky for us, the Peak 360 Spa had a soft opening. It didn’t take too much persuasion to get us in there for a one hour massage. We tried the hot stone massage. That one hour went by too quickly it seemed. But we were completely refreshed for our sunset viewing.

The spa is steps away from Cafe Augusta.

Day 2

After our lovely first day in Antipolo, we woke up feeling recharged, alive, and well. We were ready to embark on our soul rejuvenating journey. But first, we needed to fortify ourselves with the most important meal of the day — breakfast.

Breakfast at LeBlanc Hotel

A breakfast buffet was included in our room rate. The lineup included rice, a meat dish like fish or pork adobo, ham, scrambled eggs, cereal, toast, fruit, and waffles or pancakes depending on the day. Fresh brewed coffee was also served. Yay.

Day at Pinto Art Museum, Grand Heights Rd, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

We were excited to go explore the Pinto Art Museum after we had our breakfast. The ride from Le Blanc to the Pinto Art Museum was about 80 PHP by trike or Uber.

It was a cloudy day so we were apprehensive about being able to enjoy the museum. We weren’t sure whether it would rain.

It did rain a little bit but there was plenty of shelter to wait it out. The museum is larger that we thought so allot plenty of time to see the whole place. There are also many Instagramable backgrounds so set aside plenty of time for picture taking too. Needless to say, there will be queues as you wait for your turn to do your selfies at certain choice exhibits.

One day at the Pinto Art Museum convinced us that Antipolo is the art capital of the Philippines.

Dinner at Tahanan Bistro, 22 Loresville Drive, Lores Farm Subdivision, Antipolo, 1870 Lalawigan ng Rizal, the Philippines

We took a trike from the Pinto Art Museum to the Tahanan Bistro after our tour. Like most destinations in Antipolo, it was a relatively short ride. We only got a little lost because the trike driver was confused that a restaurant would be located in a residential neighborhood. Since it was our first time, we didn’t know what to expect either.

I guided the trike driver using my Google Maps GPS. It led us to a narrow residential street. He dropped us off and quickly sped away. So there we were, standing in front of an old oversized door, in the middle of the street. Yet that was what the GPS guided us too.

It took us about a minute of staring before we tried to get the door to open somehow. First we tried “Open Sesame”. No effect. Then we tried “Abracadabra”. No effect. Next we tried the unlocking charm from Harry Potter. No effect. The fourth attempt better work because we were getting hungry. And did I mention that it was dark?

The fourth attempt was reaching for the oblong ball shaped lever on the top right of the door and using it to tap on the wooden door. Tap. Tap. Tap. The sunflower face ornament moved and we saw a person’s eye peering at us from behind the door.

“Yes?”, she asked. We felt like door-to-door salespeople. “Uhhh, we’re looking for the Tahanan Bistro”, we replied timidly. “This is Tahanan Bistro. Do you have a reservation?”, the voice with the peering eye said from behind the door. “No, we don’t”, was my honest answer. Then silence.

A moment later, the door opened just a crack. The woman looked us over from behind the door. I think she wanted to make sure that we weren’t vagabonds. Then she told us, “This is a reservation only restaurant. We are fully booked for tonight. We serve set menus. It is 1,200 PHP per person.”

Wow. That was a lot of info that she blurted out. It was dark. We were hungry. So we were desperate. “Sorry we didn’t know. We are from out of town. The trike just dropped us here. We have no car. But we do have 1,200 PHP”, was what I remembered saying to her.

“Wait here. Let me go the kitchen and see what I can do”, she said and closed the door.

So we waited. We had no other choice. This must have been how Mary and Joseph felt trying to find a vacant inn. At least we had mobile phones with charge and a signal showing 3 bars.

Finally, the door opened again. This time, it opened all the way and we were welcomed inside. What a miracle.
Once inside, we were struck by the beauty of the place. Imagine an expansive garden, finely carved wood, a stream, a canopy of trees, foliage, and a view of Laguna de Bay all in one take. That would be the property that is called Tahanan Bistro.

It was night time so we had the added bonus of the city lights from down below since we are on the hills of Antipolo.

It would be a bon appetite night for sure. We ordered Tindalo and Yakal Set Menus.

Our dining experience at Tahanan Bistro was absolutely first rate. We made a mental note to go back so that we could see the museum in the day time. We also heard that they changed the menu regularly.

Day 3

This was our last day in Antipolo. We wanted to try another restaurant so we skipped breakfast at LeBlanc and headed to a place that a friend recommended. It was nearby so the trike ride was only a few minutes.

Breakfast at Casa Abuela, 167 Ortigas Avenue, De la Paz, Antipolo City, Luzon 1870, the Philippines

This is a Filipino restaurant with some very California influenced dishes. It also has a bakery. This is a perfect place for breakfast. Try the California inspired burrito. It is a big portion so you can share.

Thunderbird Resorts, 1940 Eastridge Ave, Binangonan, Rizal, the Philippines

Since this was our last day in Antipolo, we had a longer list of places that we needed to see before heading back down the hill to Manila. The first stop was Thunderbird Resorts. It is only about 10 km from LeBlanc Hotel. You can take an Uber car. Once you are there, it feels like you’re really far away from civilization. And that is a good thing.

When we arrived at the resort, we immediately made a mental note to self to try staying at this place the next time we are in Antipolo. The property is well manicured, has a nice pool, and a great view.

We had a drink at the Koi Restaurant. Hung out by the gazebo. Checked out the views. And generally just chillaxed. The setting was enough to put us into a great state of mind for the rest of the day.

Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Daang Bakal Rd, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

Our time at the resort was way too short. But we had to head down the hill and back towards LeBlanc Hotel. Since we saw many wedding parties at our hotel, there must have been a church nearby. Sure enough, that church is none other than Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Apparently this was where a couple of famous Filipino celebrities got married so it must be really nice.

We took Uber to the church and when we arrived, we were definitely not disappointed. The architects did a great job of integrating this modern designed church into the hill and forest surroundings. Try the station of the cross. It was a good journey.

Hinulugang TakTak Falls, Taktak Rd, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

About 1000 meters or less down the road from the church is Hinulugang TakTak Falls. There is a small entrance fee. The fee is higher if you are a foreigner.

From up top, the falls doesn’t look so impressive. However, as you descend the steps it gets nicer. There are picnic tables and a pool area. If you plan to have spend a day there, you can. This would be a good place for families with young children.

Dinner at Vieux Chalet Swiss Restaurant, 456 Taktak Rd, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal, the Philippines

Since Antipolo was so much about the views, we decided to have our last dinner of this trip enjoying a final view of Manila from atop the hill. We also wanted to try Swiss food since we normally eat Filipino food. Vieux Chalet hit the checkboxes so off we went.

We took a trike to the restaurant. After that journey, I suggest that you take a car instead. The hills gave the trikes a bit of a workout.

The restaurant looks like a genuine European cafe. We arrived early enough so that sun was still far from setting. It allowed us to check out the property and afforded us our choice of dining table.

The menu is also set. The portions are large, as in European large, so plan accordingly.

In terms of ambiance, the place is quite romantic. The jazz mix that they played was perfect for relaxing and enjoying the meal.

Tomorrow we have to head back to the hustle and bustle of Manila. But the 3 days spent here in Antipolo was very close to perfect. It would have been more perfect if we had more time to stay for even longer. Antipolo is a hidden gem. It is much easier to get to than Tagaytay. It has less wind yet still is cool. The food and the art and the people here are first rate. Antipolo is a Real Pinay winner destination.

 

Vang Vieng, Laos is about 3.5 hours north of Vientiane by van.  It is close to the halfway point between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. As such, it is a natural pit stop for travelers between those two Laotian cities.

When I googled “Vang Vieng Laos”, I saw old posts that referenced Vang Vieng as a party town for backpackers. When I looked in Google Images, I saw pictures of people riding hot air balloons in Vang Vieng. Now that would be a lot more interesting to me.

So instead of flying directly from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, my boyfriend and I decided to make the trip by van. We would stop for 2 nights in Vang Vieng.  

You can book a van ticket from almost every travel agent in Vientiane. It is a popular route so you will have many van operators to choose from.  Most times, they will offer you a choice of a van or a bus. We chose the van because we felt we would get there faster.

The “trick” to getting a seat with good views in a van and not be stuck in one of the middle rows is to ask for the front seat. That’s what I did. The van driver accommodated us with two front seats. That allowed me to look around, take pictures, and take videos. The added bonus is that there is a phone charger upfront.  Just be sure to wear your seatbelt. The roads are often windy and there are a lot of potholes and obstacles.

Outside the Vientiane city borders, the buildings and small shops quickly give way to farm plots and houses. What struck me was the number of new mansion style houses being built. For what was supposed to be a poor third world country, I saw that people had nice cars like Toyota Land Cruisers, Range Rovers, and Lexus. They also had really nice farm houses.

The scenery doesn’t really change from farms to rugged mountains until you get closer to Vang Vieng, which is about 2.5 hours out.  At that point, the scenery abruptly changes to jagged mountains covered with lush vegetation.  It is quite the sight. That’s when you start to sense the real beauty of Laos.

As you approach the town of Vang Vieng, it isn’t really all that impressive or nice. There are restaurants, massage parlors, touristy clothes shops, and tour operators all over town. They make up most of what you see.

The van dropped us off at a tour operator in the middle of town. From there we are supposed to walk to our hotel.  Even though the hotel is only a few blocks away, I’m glad we packed light. The last thing you want to do is to drag a bunch of heavy suitcases with you on a dusty street.

We booked our room at the Elephant Crossing Hotel right next to the Nam Song River. Our room was on the top floor with a balcony.  That sounded great except for the fact that the hotel doesn’t have an elevator. So we had to climb 4 flights of stairs up to our room. Again, it was a good thing we packed light. Nevertheless, we got our stairmaster exercise a few times a day. It’s a good thing both he and I are fit.

Getting up to the room was a chore, but once we were there it was well worth it. The view was amazing.  We had a big window and balcony that overlooks the Nam Song River. Across the river was a mountain made of limestone covered with vegetation. French sliders opened up the room to the wondrous view.

If you stay here at the Elephant Crossing Hotel, make sure you book the Deluxe Balcony View room. We got up early the next morning to be rewarded with a fantastic sunrise with clouds shrouding the mountains.

Our room also included a buffet breakfast by the river in the morning.

My boyfriend wanted to take advantage of the half off happy hour drink special and watch the sunset by the riverfront restaurant. So we went back downstairs. He ordered a mojito for both of us.

It looked pretty. It had mints. It had carbonated soda water. It had ice. But after take several sips from both glasses, I don’t think it had any rum. Disappointing. So in the end, we just had carbonated detox water. At least sitting by the riverfront was pleasant.

Since we only have 2 days here, we needed to get our plans in order. Step 1 was to book a bus ticket to Luang Prabang. Step 2 was to book a ticket for the hot air balloon ride.

 

Step 1 was easy. We just purchased our van ticket from any of the many travel shops around town. As long as you don’t book it from the hotel, all the rates are about the same. The only choice you make whether to book the van or the bus. The bus will take about 6 hours. The van will take about 4 hours. The van will take the winding road which is the more scenic route. But if it rains, the only road is the straighter road that the bus takes. We chose the van.

Step 2 wasn’t what we expected. It turns out that the hot air balloons don’t operate during the wet season. This includes August. Arghhh and major bummer.  We tried checking around with the different travel agencies. Some said that there were flights available. After they made the call though, their answer changed. There is only one or two hot air balloon flight operators so whomever you check with will get the same answer.

So it was onto Plan B.  We had to choose other activities.  The major things to do here include ziplining, tubing, kayaking, cave exploring, trekking to see the vista, motoring on dirt roads, and swimming in the blue lagoon. Most of the tour packages included some combination of these activities. We chose the package that included the cave tubing, kayaking, blue lagoon, and ziplining. The last activity made me very nervous because I had never done that before. But this was an adventure and where else better to do it than in Laos?

There are many tour operators in town. Make sure you choose one that have newer equipment. For example, ask to see their canoes. Ask to see their life jackets and helmets. Since there are so many tour operators to choose from, make sure you don’t get stuck with one that is subpar.

Our tour truck picked us up from near our hotel in the morning. It made a pitstop at a small restaurant to pick up our lunch. Then we were off to our adventure. If you go, bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, a towel, water shoes, and dry gear for your phone.

Dinner in town is nothing special. There are cafes with relatively good coffee and baked goods. There are restaurants that served Laotian and Thai food. There is Western food. But people don’t come to Vang Vieng for the food, they come here for the adventure.

Follow me to my next destination Luang Prabang in my next article. And if you are hesitant about adventures, be sure to read my articles about the art of adventure here.

La vie est faite de petits bonheurs.  Forgive me if I am feeling a bit inspired with French right now. I just came back from Vientiane, Laos. The capital city of Laos is, perhaps, the most French you can get in the Far East.

Some of you may say that Vietnam is the French ambassador of the Far East. Arguably, that is true. The French did colonize and occupy Vietnam for a really long time. They were there for about 67 years.  They constructed French style buildings. They influenced the food by introducing French pastries, coffee, and pâté. They made Western clothing like neckties and business suits trendy.  You could say that the French influenced Indochina as much as the Spanish influenced the Philippines.

All this about the French and Vietnam is true. However, the French did also rule Laos for almost as long a period of time. The introduced French cuisine to Laos. They influenced the architecture. They influenced the dress.  And most distinctively, they influenced the building of the Far East version of the Arc De Triomphe.

In the center of Vientiane is the Patuxai war monument. It is smaller in scale than the famous Arc De Triomphe war monument in Paris but it is unmistakably French inspired. In real life, it looks pretty cool. You won’t find such a monument in Vietnam. But more on that later. First I will need to show you how to get around in Vientiane.

If you arrived by air, Wattay International Airport is about 20 minutes from the center of town where all the main attractions are. If you arrived by train, Thanaleng train station is a bit further out. I arrived by overnight train from Bangkok. The minivan from the Thanaleng train station to downtown Vientiane took about 25 minutes. It is about 20 kilometers away. By the way, this railway station is also called Dongphosy train station.

If you can, try and stay close to downtown. That way, you can walk to most of the major attractions. There are tuk tuks, but sometimes walking may be the best way to see, hear and feel all the happenings in the city.

New Rose Boutique Hotel

I stayed at the New Rose Boutique Hotel, 339 Pangkham Road off of Samsenthai Road. It is around the corner from That Dam.  The New Rose is centrally located and walkable to almost everywhere around downtown.  It is close to the sights, restaurants, massage shops, and even Patuxai.

As a note, you will see the word “road” interchanged with “rue” on maps and street signs. The word “rue” is French for “road”. The Laotian word for road is “thanon”.  Of course they don’t spell it that way. They just pronounce it as “thanon”.

After your journey, the best way to ease yourself into the city of Vientiane is to have a drink. I recommend checking into your hotel, leave your luggage in the room, and head out to a cafe nearby.  You will have plenty of choices.

The coffee is really good thanks to the French. And the fruit smoothies are great too thanks to the availability of fresh tropical fruits in this part of the world.

It will most likely be hot or even very hot when you arrive in Vientiane. So I recommend availing yourself of a nice cool fruit shake.  The best place that I know for a freshly made fruit shake is called House of Fruit Shakes. It is only a block away from the New Rose Hotel.

BCEL Currency Exchange

If you haven’t exchanged currency yet to Laos Kip, head to the money changer. There is one near the hotel on on Rue Pangkham called BCEL.  To get there, turn left after you exit the hotel and walk south on Rue Pangkham for about 7 minutes. You will cross Rue Samsenthai and  Rue Setthathirath.  If you don’t mind a lower exchange rate, the M-Point Mart right around the corner from the hotel on Rue Samsenthai and Rue Pangkham.

House of Fruit Shakes and Manivanh Sandwich Shop

After you get some Laos Kip, head to House of Fruit Shakes located at 128 Rue Samsenthai at Rue Chanthakhoumane.  You will see a booth with hanging fruits out front as you approach the House of Fruit Shakes. There is a menu out front with all your choices of juices and shakes. They have everything from fruit juices to detox style drinks.  The prices are in Kip.

I tried the Avocado shake on one visit. And I tried the Lime Mint on another visit. Both were AAA perfect. Very refreshing and very healthy.

If you want a bite to eat, head next door to the Manivanh Sandwich Shop.  Experience for yourself what a really good baguette tastes like. Remember that Laos was a French colony. There are many downsides to being a colony. The upside, though, was learning how to make excellent baked goods. The Laotians have mastered this to the nth degree.

I ordered the baguette with butter, pâté, and pork salad.  One bite into this exquisite combo and you will be hooked. It is that good. Combine this with my shake and I was completely satisfied.

The total bill was 28,000 Kip.  18,000 Kip for the Avocado shake and 10,000 Kip for the half baguette.  That’s about 172 Philippine Pesos (PHP) or $3.40 USD.

After my stomach was full, it was time to plan my time in Vientiane. I want to visit the capital, then head north to Vang Vieng for some outdoor adventures, and then to Luang Prabang for some traditional culture.

There are two ways to do this. One is to fly and the other is to take a bus or a van.  I chose to take the van because there are no flights to Vang Vieng.

Van Ticket to Van Vieng

Since I wanted to secure my seat, I walked over to a travel agency on Rue Samsenthai.  Scenic Travel Co. is directly across the street from House of Fruit Shakes. The van ticket to Vang Vieng cost 50,000 Kip which is 307 PHP or $6 USD.  The van company will pick me up from my hotel and take me to the main van.

After that was out of the way, it was back to planning my tour of Vientiane. I definitely wanted to see the Buddhist temples, the Night Market, the Shopping Mall, and Patuxai war monument. Vientiane is very hot during the day, so you will not be able to see too many places without a lot of rest stops in order to avoid heat exhaustion.

Taking my own advice, I rested at the hotel until the evening. The staff at the New Rose Hotel is very warm and accommodating. You can tell it is a family oriented hotel because some of the staff members had their young children at work. That was okay by me because the Laotian people are very well mannered.  They are also easy going.

Night Market at Chao Anouvong Park

Stepping outside again after the sun goes down is a big relief temperature wise. It is still very warm but it is more tolerable. To get to the Night Market at Chao Anouvong Park, head south on Rue Pangkham all the way to the end. The Night Market is between Rue Fa Ngum and the Mekong River.

You will find many items for sale from souvenirs to clothing all at really low prices. You can also try local Laotian foods and snacks from the street vendors. One snack that I really like is khao lam. Basically, it is sticky rice and beans with coconut milk stuffed into a bamboo then grilled. The combination is delicious. You can taste the creaminess of the coconut milk and smell the aroma of grilled bamboo. It costs 10,000 Kip per bamboo stick.

You will find many items for sale from souvenirs to clothing all at really low prices. You can also try local Laotian foods and snacks from the street vendors. One snack that I really like is khao lam. Basically, it is sticky rice and beans with coconut milk stuffed into a bamboo then grilled. The combination is delicious. You can taste the creaminess of the coconut milk and smell the aroma of grilled bamboo. It costs 10,000 Kip per bamboo stick.

In terms of items for sale at the Night Market, the most interesting thing to me were the traditional Lao skirt called “sinh”.  I noticed that many Laotian women wore this skirt to work. It is very pretty and on the conservative side. Curious I tried one on. It was heavier than I thought.

That meant that it was rather hot to wear especially in this weather. I guess you get used to it. There were many colors and patterns to choose from. The vendor would alter it to fit perfectly. I decided to pass since I didn’t have any room in my small luggage. I am a light packer.

Across the street from Chao Anouvong Park, there are many places to eat. There is street food and many types of restaurants from Japanese to Western. I was already full from the baguette sandwich and khao lam so I only ate a small bowl of Laotian noodle soup.

On the morning of Day 2, I had breakfast at the hotel. The buffet style breakfast was included as part of the hotel price. There was a good mixture of Western and Laotian food. The coffee was decent.

Wat Sisaket

Then I was off to see the Buddhist temple. I wanted to get a good luck bracelet for my wrist. I was told that you can get one at the temple if you visit a real Buddhist monk.  Wat Sisaket was within walking distance so I headed there. It is located on Ave Lane Xang between Rue Samsenthai and Rue Setthathirath.  It costs 5,000 Kip to get in. For women, you will need to cover your legs so don’t wear shorts. If you do enter with revealing attire, they will loan you some conservative Laotian clothes to cover yourself.  I had to wear a sinh.

This is a relatively small temple. There are over 6,000 Buddha statues here but no monks so I couldn’t get my lucky bracelet. Maybe at the next temple stop..

Kualao Restaurant

Dinner on my second night in Vientiane would be at the famous Kualao Restaurant located on Rue Samsenthai. It is walking distance from the New Rose Hotel. The building looks like an expensive house rather than a restaurant. There is a cool retro Jaguar sedan parked out front.

I didn’t make reservations so getting a seat would be tough. Luckily they were able to accommodate me. However, my table was not close to the live music and traditional folk dancing show.

It was hard to make a choice from the menu. At last, I decided on larb which is a traditional Lao dish. I love the taste of herbs mixed with meat. You cannot normally get fresh herbs in the Philippines.

Dessert was banana flambé with ice cream. That was surely inspired by the French. Yummy it was.

Parisien Café

It was really hot on my last full day in the capital. Rather than risk getting heat stroke, I decided to sip some coffee and work at one of the local cafes. The Parisien Café on Rue Pangkham looked suitable so I popped in.

The place looked very Western. They had all sorts of pastries including macaroons and cheesecake. Choices, choices. I decided to try both. You only live once. The sweet goods went well with a cup of cappuccino.  

They offered free and reliable wifi so I was happy. The hotel’s wifi, by the way, was not as reliable.

Patuxai Monument

In the early afternoon, it was not as hot as midday. I decided to head out and see Talat Sao shopping mall, the Lao National History Museum, and Patuxai.

I headed to the museum first since it was only a block away. Unfortunately it was closed.

I then headed to the shopping mall. It was closed too. Being that there aren’t that many malls in Vientiane, I was out of luck. Oh well. I don’t think I missed much.

Luckily Patuxai Monument was further down on Ave Lane Xang. So I continued my walk down the avenue towards Patuxai.

The view as you approached the monument did not disappoint. It was especially picturesque with the early evening sun shining on it. For a capital city, there wasn’t that many cars on the avenue.

The monument looks like a small Arc de Triomphe. It sits in a property with a park and water fountain. It is a lovely area to spend the afternoon and watch the sun go down.

Indeed it was the perfect way to end the last day in Vientiane.

Tomorrow I will begin my journey to Vang Vieng for some outdoor travel adventure. Check back for my next article about Vang Vieng and follow me there.

Sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam is the undiscovered country of Laos. When I say “undiscovered”, I simply mean it was undiscovered to me.

There I was spinning the globe in my room looking for my next overseas adventure travel.  Spining, spining, spining, … I made the globe come to rest in Southeast Asia.  The first spot I tried to find on the globe was Singapore. I never really cemented in my mind where Singapore was located.  Searching around for a minute, I saw that Singapore was at the bottom tip of Malaysia. It is due east of the Philippines.

Okay, mission one was accomplished. Next, I let my eyes wander up towards Thailand. I see Bangkok, I see Chiang Mai, then I see Laos. The first thing I noticed was that there are only two cities listed on the map:  Vientiane and Luang Prabang.  

“There are only two cities listed. Laos must be an undiscovered country,” I thought jokingly.  I must make Laos my next overseas adventure travel destination.

And just like that, I would go to Laos.

I was already planning a trip back to Thailand so taking a side excursion to Laos would not be too bad. A quick look at Wikipedia showed me that the country has 6.7 million people in a land mass of 69 square miles. That means there is a lot of space to roam around. As long as there is internet, buses, cars, motorbikes, planes and trains, I’m good to explore.

Getting to Laos would be fairly straightforward. Option one was to fly.  Several airlines including Lao Airline fly directly into Vientiane, the capital.  From Thailand, I have the choice of Thai Airline, Air Asia, and a few others.  From the Philippines, Philippine Airline, China Southern, Air Asia and others service this route.

Since I would be in Thailand already, the other option was to take the train.  Hmmm. Taking an overnight train would

  1. Be cool to see the countryside;
  2. Save me money on an overnight hotel room;
  3. Cheaper than flying.

Here’s how it is broken down in more detail in case you are using this blog as an actual guide for your travel:

  1. Buy your train ticket at Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok. Do this at least a week ahead of time because tickets sell out. They will give you a choice of which class ticket to buy — 1st class, 2nd class or economy class.  1st class means you get your own room. 2nd class means you share a table with other passengers. 3rd class is rough. Forget about 3rd class.
  2. Arrive at the train station about 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. Pack light because there isn’t much room for luggage.
  3. Since it is an overnight train, it will be an evening departure. Grab some food from the train station before you board or you can eat in the dining car. You won’t have much to choose from on the train so it is best to buy food before you board. The other issue is that the dining car has limited seats so you will be forced to wait.
  4. The train attendant will convert your seat into a bed after dinner. If you are in 2nd class, you will lose your table. Your seating area will be converted into a bunk bed. Your privacy will be your curtains.  The noise will come through though so better hope that you don’t have noisy neighbors. Of course you could very well be that noisy neighbor to others. In the 1st class room, the bunk beds are already in place. The train attendant simply puts down our sheets.
  5. Wake up the next day and have breakfast on the train. Continue to charge your phone or read emails if the wifi is working. If you are in 1st class, there are shower rooms, albeit small.
  6. The train arrives at Nong Khai station. You get off the train.
  7. Walk to the ticket booth and buy a train ticket to Laos. They will try to sell you an expensive ticket that includes the van. If you want to save money, just buy the train ticket.
  8. Walk through Thai immigration. Have your passport and departure card ready to show.
  9. Wait for the train to Laos on the platform. The ride is very short but very scenic. You will go over the Mekong River which separates Thailand and Laos.
  10. At the Laos train station, be prepared to fill out the immigration form to enter the country. If you are part of Asean, the process is straightforward. I only had to pay $1 to enter. The fees and Visa requirement will vary depending on which country you are from.
  11. Since downtown Vientiane is not within walking distance, you will have to pay to ride in a van to get into town. The van driver will take Thai Baht or US Dollars. It is cheaper to pay in Lao Kip but there are not money changers until you get into town.

That’s it. You are in Laos!

In my next blog article, I will share what to do and how to get around Vientiane and other really cool places for adventure travel like Vang Viang and Luang Prabang.

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About Maria

Maria Peña is people connector. She created Real Pinay to connect foreigners with authentic Filipinas for friendship, romance, and perhaps even marriage.

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