Saturday, November 9: Leaving Laos

Last night, while we were in the room house relaxing after dinner, we got a phone call from Mr. Something-or-other (1) who introduced himself as the country head for Tours of Indochina for Laos. TOI is the outfitter who actually booked all of our arrangements here, although we worked with them indirectly through Kelly, our travel advisor based in California. Sally found Kelly great to work with, and all of the arrangements made by TOI have been both what we expected and well executed. Mr. Something wanted to know how everything was going during our stay in Laos, which of course was going well. Then he suggested that he have our luggage picked up early in the afternoon, about four or five hours before our flight, so we just would need to deal with our hand luggage from then on. He said it would simplify our check-in as the luggage would be checked in early.

Trails of Indochina, November 2019

Now this all sounded very strange. First, since we were on the only flight from Vietnam Air that afternoon or evening, check-in wouldn’t start until 5:15, about two hours before the flight. Second, I can’t imagine how the airline would allow some random person to drop off two bags to go in the luggage hold. And of course, there’s no chance I was giving him our passports as ID. Finally, the idea of sending our luggage off ahead when flights can be delayed or cancelled seem way to risky.

So we declined.

Luang Prabang departure gates, November 2019

We took the luggage with us when we traveled to the airport, but of course never touched it. The hotel staff carried it out to the van, and the TOI guide wheeled it 30 feet from the van to the check-in. Where we waited about two minutes for the passenger ahead of us to finish. Checking in took about five minutes total. Security line was non-existent. The airport is tiny, with less than ten gates total. We were seated by our gate 25 minutes after boarding the van at the hotel.

All very strange.

But back to our last day in Laos. Normally, checkout time at a hotel is 11:00am. On occasion, when we’ve had a late flight or just don’t want to leave that early, we’ve asked to check out at noon or even 1:00. Often (but not always) the hotel will accommodate us. Of course, if they’re sold out and need the room for an arriving customer, they’ll say no. All very reasonable. And we were planning to ask about it for today.

Sally asked Avna, the front-of-house manger, if we could have late check out. She said it’s already been arranged. Sally said we weren’t leaving until 5:00 and asked how late. To which Avna replied: as late as you want. So we stayed in the room house until 5:00. No charge.

After a late breakfast, we went out for a long walk and went all the way down the main drag, further than we had gone before. Came back, packed, cleaned up. Lunch.

As we were loading into the van (2) at 5:00, the entire front-of-house staff came out to say goodbye. Avna, Jovan (the Executive Chef), the waiter and other staff who greeted us each time we left or returned to the hotel (3). The Amantaka was truly a great experience.

—-_——————

(1) I apologize for not being able to actually understand his name, which is Laotian, between his English accent and the lousy cell phone connection.

(2) With our luggage!

(3) Wish I had a picture.

Wednesday, November 6: More temples, more markets, more food

 

Breakfast room at the Amantaka, November 2019

So I’m beginning to develop a sense of how this vacation is going to look. After breakfast Wednesday morning our guide, Oudone, met us at 8:30 for a “Temples of Luang Prabang” tour. Luang Prabang is much smaller than Chiang Mai, and also much poorer, so there are fewer temples of note.

Which Buddha is this?, November 2019

But the drill is the same: out of the van (1), walk around the grounds a bit, guide buys tickets, shoes off, wonder at the Buddha, shoes on, off to the next stop. The temples are nice, and the statuary and decorative arts are often beautiful, but it’s kind of like the 58th church you’ve seen while touring Italy.

Which is scarier, King or monk?, November 2019

We also saw the former Presidential palace. Before the communist Pathet Lao took over the country in 1975, two successive Kings lived in this large building, which is quite simple by Western standards. We had to do the shoes-off thing here as well, even though it is neither a temple nor a home (it’s now a museum). There are lots of era-appropriate artifacts in the palace, per our guide, but I’m skeptical that they were originally from there (2).

Either 300 steps uphill, or a telephoto lens, November 2019

 

Another activity that was part of this tour was climbing a hill to a temple at the summit. But it was pretty warm, and the climb was more than 300 steps, so we decided to bail. I could do it any time on my own, anyway.

Around 11:00 Oudone asked if we wanted to see more temples, and we declined. So the four hour tour was over in 2 1/2. The way I look at it, we already paid, and we would be happier back in our room house than taking our shoes off and on again.

Lunch at the Amantaka: inside or out?, December 2019

We decided that we would try lunch at the hotel, giving them another chance, and then go out for dinner. Since we had so much fun at the Thai cooking class a couple of days ago, we had Lao-style food for lunch and booked a reservation at a Lao restaurant (3) for dinner. Turns out that this restaurant, Tamarind, also runs cooking classes. One of the people serving us had a name tag saying “Trainee”.

Luxury tuk tuk, November 2019

The Amantaka has a pair of luxury tuk tuks, so they drove us over to the restaurant, probably saving us $3. The restaurant manger was very attentive; the hotel had given him the garlic speech and he spent a lot of time working with us on ensuring our selections were safe. Which they were.

Preparing for the night market. November 2019

After dinner we walked over to the night market. It’s obviously much smaller than the ones in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, stretching over 4-6 long blocks. From there is was a 10 minute walk back to the hotel.


(1) The four of us – Sally & me, guide, driver – are covering basically no distance in a 13 person van.

(2) No pictures were allowed inside the palace.

(3) There is plenty of Western-style food in town, but I suspect it is as tasty as what the hotel served us.