Monday, January 23, 2017

Laos Cycling Route Maps

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker Cycling Route Maps / Laos Cycling Route Maps
                                                   AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                                  
LAOS CYCLING ROUTE MAPS
Below are maps of routes that we had cycled in Laos, while on a 2016 cycling tour of Isan Thailand with a cross-border route to Vientiane and around Luang Prabang. These are short routes and I do hope to be able to explore the country more in the future.
The maps are dynamically scroll-able and zoom. Click on relevant screen zoom rectangle (at the top right hand corner of each map) to go to the respective route map:

Nong Khai To Vientiane Thailand-Lao Cycling Route Map (27.27km)
Cycling Distance: 27.27 km.          |             Level: Easy
The route is rather flat and started off with a bit of rural road cycling approaching the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. On the Laos side, there is a switch over of traffic directions, we had to remind each other to cycle on the right side of the road. Also, as we got nearer Vientiane, the roads got wider and busier.
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Around Luang Prabang Town Lao Cycling Route Map (11.93km)
 
Cycling Distance: 11.93 km.          |             Level: Easy
The route is slightly hilly and short, with its cool weather, laid back and easy going Luang Prabang was a pleasure to cycle around. Includes the route from the Luang Prabang International Airport to Luang Prabang old town centre.
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Luang Prabang To Kuangsi Waterfalls Lao Cycling Route Map (58.40km)
 
Ride Distance: 58.40 km.          |             Level: Hard.
The route is undulating with certain stretches of steep hills and take one pass interesting small towns and villages.
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Luang Prabang Town To Luang Prabang International Airport Lao Cycling Route Map (4.96km)
Ride Distance: 4.96 km.          |             Level: Easy.
A straight forward and easy route from Luang Prabang town to the Luang Prabang International Airport.
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Wattay International Airport To Vientiane Lao Cycling Route Map (4.93km) 
Ride Distance: 4.93 km.          |             Level: Easy.
An easy route from Wattay International Airport to downtown Vientiane, the map also includes a route to a traditional Lao herbal sauna and massage at Wat Sok Pa Luang.
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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker Cycling Route Maps / Laos Cycling Route Maps
If you like this, view my other blogs at Jotaro's Blog
(comments most welcomed below. if you like this pls share via facebook or twitter)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 11 & 12 - A Traditional Lao Massage & Goodbye Laos!

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cycling Laos / Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 Day 11 & 12 - A Traditional Lao Massage & Goodbye Laos!    |     Go To D1 / D2 / D3 / D4 / D5 / D6 / D7 / D8 / D9 / D10
                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 11 & 12 - A Traditional Lao Massage & Goodbye Laos!
Tour of Isan Thailand & Laos : Day 11 & 12, 12th-13th December 2016

This is page 11 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D10- Luang Prabang D2     |     Go to Other Days     |                                             

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions, Ride Conditions & Flights
- Laos  is left-had drive, so ride on the right hand side of the road. Do remind yourselves of this when entering Laos. Same thing applies when crossing the road, so do take care.
- We flew from Vientiane to Luang Prabang via Lao Skyway at a return fare of about RM500 which included free checked-in luggage (inclusive of sports equipment for our bicycles) of 20kg.
- This is a short an easy touristy route. Year end temperatures in Luang Prabang is quiet cold with early mornings at 15ºC and afternoon at 23ºC.

2. Communicating with Local
    For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Lao can hardly speak English, and learning some basic phrases will be helpful.
    This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.
Vientiane and Luang Prabang have quiet an international exposure; most international eateries and drinking joints have staff that speak fairly good English.
In Laos, doctors and pharmacists speak relatively good English. Seek out clinics or pharmacies for help when necessary.

3. Staying in Connected
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Other than wifi provided by hotels, home-stays and restaurants, getting pre-paid card is a good option.
In Laos:
We crossed over to Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai and bought Lao Telecom high speed 4G SIM cards from a mini-mart at the Laos side with 1.5 GB data that last for a week for 150 Bahts. This was a mistake as the mart attendant was not very familiar with setting up the phone. Un-noticed by us, there is a Lao Telecom booth right after the immigration booth (at an island on the centre of the road), buy it there as the staff can set up your phone for their system for it to work properly. Click here to view a range of Lao pre-paid sim packages.
For Lao Skyway, once one have checked in, there is free wi-fi available, the password is shown in the passenger's copy of the luggage tag.

4. Places of Interest
- Luang Prabang Royal Palace (GPS: 19.8921, 102.1356).
- Haw Pha Bang (The Palace Shrine) (GPS: 19.8917, 102.1364)
Luang Prabang Morning Market (GPS: 19.89062, 102.1336).
Wat Sok Pa Luang (GPS: 17.94571, 102.62695).
- Traditional Herbal Sauna & Lao Massage (GPS: 17.94582, 102.6251)

5. Currency Exhcange
Although the Thai Bahts is widely accepted in Laos it is better to change to the local Kips at the hotel or money changers for better rates. Market stalls and restaurants generally give poorer exchange rate. In Luang Prabang, there are several money-changers that open early and close only at night. Do note that they will do not give back change in the currency that you offered, i.e. if you want to change 50USD, don't offer a 100USD note and expect a return of 50USD. Try to change Kips to your daily requirements as buy back rates are lower.
A convenient money-changer offering good rates (GPS: 19.88885, 102.13308) is situated near the Luang Prabang Post Office. This money-changer is opened everyday from 7:30 am to 11:00 pm.

6. Accomodations
Our accommodations for the night at Vientiane was at the Khampiane Botique Hotel (GPS: 17.96689, 102.60569) at around MYR120 per twin-sharing room per night inclusive of taxes.

7. Food
Breakfast a good fusion spread of Lao & Western fare at the Mekong Moon Inn (GPS: 19.88992, 102.13255) 
- Brunch was pork broth at a roadside stall next to the Mekong riverside (GPS: 19.89044, 102.13242) near our hotel In Luang Prabang.
- Dinner was very good French fare at the La Terrasse (GPS: 17.96472, 102.60545) in Vientiane.

8. Weather
November and December are good months to ride in Isan and Laos as the weather is quite cooling and the possibility of rain is low. Early morning temperatures is between 18 to 20°C, mid morning between around 22°C and afternoons 26-28°C.

9. Navigation
Where data signal is available and strong, one can use Google Maps to navigate around. If the cycling options may not be available, just use the walking options.
In cases where data signal is weak or unavailable (like in remote rural areas), install MAP.ME into your phone. It's an off-line map app.   
Alternatively, use a dedicated GPS unit like those from Garmin. However ensure that one install the Thailand and Laos maps into the unit.


PRELUDE

The previous day was a non-cycling day as we took a motorcycle ride up to enjoy the scenic Kuang Si Waterfalls (Tat Kuangsi) some distance away from Luang Prabang. Along the way we met a fellow Malaysian who was riding her Brompton all the way to the waterfalls. Dang, she sure put the two of us gentlemen to shame.
Today we shall be flying back to Vientiane to stay another night before returning home, but had a surprise in the morning .....

THE RIDE

I have included two maps here; one from Luang Prabang town to its airport, and the other from Wattay International Airport to downtown Vientiane.

Ride Distance: 4.96 km.          |             Level: Easy.
A straight forward and easy route from Luang Prabang town to the Luang Prabang International Airport.

 

Ride Distance: 4.93 km.          |             Level: Easy.
An easy route from Wattay International Airport to downtown Vientiane, the map also includes a route to a traditional Lao herbal sauna and massage at Wat Sok Pa Luang.


With time to spare after the in-house breakfast, we popped over to the Luang Prabang Royal Palace for a visit. The palace is a relatively new building when compared to all the old temples, but then it is still over a century old. It was built in 1904 AD for King Sisavang Vong and was occupied by the Lao royal family until 1975. On the grounds of the palace is the beautiful shrine, the Haw Pha Bang.


Entrance to the palace shrine, with nagas guarding the steps leading up.


An impressive statue of King Sisavang Vong sits on the garden grounds of the palace.


Another view of the Haw Pha Bang.


Chew, Poh Nee, Betty & me.
We were admiring the fine architecture of the place when suddenly somebody shouted out my name.... "Ah Pek!" And who did we see but two fellow Malaysian cyclists, Poh Nee & Betty! It was great to catch up with familiar faces, but it would have been greater if they were to join us cycling around here too; but that was not the case, they were on a ground tour with some other friend.



No photography is allowed withing the main palace building, nor even that of the small entrance foyer. It took on of the foyer and one guard asked to check my photos and had me deleted that 😟. But the two cheery girls did make up for this with their happy poses at the steps leading up.


The Luang Prabang Morning Market is right at the side-entrance to the palace, so conveniently we had another walk through to be charmed by this colourful place and its warm people. The Hmong indigo blue batik is always a draw for tourists.


Not into blue, there are other colours with equally beautiful batik motifs.


Discovered another odd food - black ravens or crows being sold like poultry.


Our last meal at the serene town, pork and chicken porridge with a raw egg thrown in. Eating at this roadside stall just next to the Mekong, listening to the chatter of the locals; these are the simple charms of Luang Prabang, we will miss this place and will definitely come back soon.


11:00 am - It's goodbye Mekong Moon Inn. They had been wonderful hosts, and I would recommend this place to my friends - it's affordable and clean.


Part of our route would took us through more of the quieter parts of town with narrow streets and rustic timber houses .....


..... and then onto areas with newer housing and finally to the more modern looking Luang Prabang International Airport which cater for both domestic and international flights 

Our flight again took us over the Laos countryside, this time we had a better view of the lakes of the Nam Ngum Reservoir; reminding us the our next cycling Laos should include this area and the nearby rural riverside town of Vang Vieng, which lies slightly north of this lake.


The entrance arch to Wat Sok Pa Luang. Don't make the same mistake of going into the temple to ask for massages.
Back in Vientiane, we cycled to the Khampiane Botique Hotel, which would be our last night stay in Laos. Chew was feeling slightly under the weather and decided to stay in and sleep it off. Me on the other hand decide to wander off to look for a traditional Lao Massage which a friend Anne had tip me off on with this link : http://www.visit-laos.com/vientiane/activities/lao-herbal-steam-sauna.htm, which is located at the Wat Sok Pa Luang. So off I went looking for the temple, with wondrous thoughts of "magical" massages by the temple monks or nuns!
Nearby the temple, I stopped to ask the locals for clearer directions and also about the temple massage. They did give me both directions and also odd stares to a "mad" man looking for massages from temple nuns? Hey come on... I am looking for something straight-forward and legitimate! I may be an AhPek but I am no dirty old man for sure.


I went into the temple and asked the monks about the massages. They could not understand English, so with sign and body languages I tried to communicate. They must have got my intent... as again I got incredulous stares!
After half and hour of searching, I was about to give up when I saw a Tuk-tuk. Who better to ask then the driver, they know everything! He directed me to turn left and then left and look out for a sign board. Sure enough, I saw a faded sign board at a narrow lane, which led to another signboard at an earth track road with no houses around, just lots of trees.



The place was set among trees, like a kampong house, one sitting on stilts. Adjacent was a ramshackle stone hut, this was the sauna. Massages are done at the stilted house.


Yup, here I am after the herbal sauna bath. I was in there a long time, at least half an hour. It's that good; it's a sauna with some steam. The steam is infused with herbs like lemon-grass, eucalyptus, etc. I changed into a sarong and took it all in, breathing deep, enjoying the fragrance and medicinal values, and at the same time sweated out buckets of toxins. After the sauna, it will be good to drink in lots of the tea that they provide to re-hydrate.



After cooling of, it was up some the rickety steps. At the verendah were four wooden beds sitting on timber floor board. All four beds were occupied, so I waited for my turn. Hmmm..... many must have heard about this place, hopefully they did not have the episode with the monks 😝.


The massage was good, somewhat like Thai massage but better. After each rub-down, with his hand, my masseuse gave a vibrating shake which seems to relax the muscle after the hard and precise massage.
Okay, no photos of the massage as I was too relaxed and in fact fell asleep with the soothing movements of the masseuse; plus my camera was somewhere in the lockers.
Here's my masseuse giving me the thumbs up, I must have been a good client; one who was snoring away!


En route back, I stopped at the Mix Restaurant. They had a stage there and I took a photo of my Brompton with the appropriate words "Vientiane" in neon at the back.
But nearby guards cast weary looks at me, every ready to shoo me off eventhough the stage was empty. Dang! What's do these people have against cyclists!


Boo to them! I have nice places to go to like La Terrasse, for a delicious dinner of Braised Beef In Red Wine. The beef was super tender and succulent and went very well with their brown sauce which had a hint of red wine. !YummY!



Early the following day (like about 6:00 am) we rode to the airport and flew home.

ດີ, ລາລາວ. ຂອບໃຈສໍາລັບການໃຊ້ເວລາສິ່ງມະຫັດ!
(That's "Goodbye Laos. Thanks for a wonderful time!" in Lao)

This is page 11 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D10- Luang Prabang D2     |     Go to Other Days     |                                          

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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cycling Laos / Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 Day 11 & 12 - A Traditional Lao Massage & Goodbye Laos!    |     Go To D1 / D2 / D3 / D4 / D5 / D6 / D7 / D8 / D9 / D10
If you like this, view my other blogs at Jotaro's Blog
(comments most welcomed below. if you like this pls share via facebook or twitter)