Recollection of Xishaungbanna and Laos
As time flies, my memories of these places will fade away. Thus, I’m jotting down my recollection of the recent trip …
· This is a region situated in southern tip of Yunnan province that borders Laos and Myanmar.
· Main city is Jinghong. First time entering the city, one can feels the tropical atmosphere where there is abundance of lush green vegetation and palm trees lined avenues.
· Flew into the airport from Kunming. Flight time is about 45 minute. From the aircraft window, one could that it was hills and mountains all the way, until one reaches the Xishuangbanna area. Airport is about 10 minutes drive to Jinghong city centre.
· This city is has a night market selling mostly clothing and traditional crafts . There are a number of pubs and cafes for tourists, mostly Chinese. Few Western tourists were seen, though there seemed to be a cafe that is owned by a Frenchman who married local.
· The Mekong river (called Lancang in China) is at the edge of the city. There are a few pubs with live band near the beautiful cable-stayed bridge that crosses the Mekong river. However there are few customers there, as the weather was rather cold.
· This is a multi ethnic city, with people of Dai minority group being the majority. There is also a significant number of Han who travelled from other provinces, usually from Jiangsi and Hunan. Just like everywhere else, the locals resent the more recent arrivals from other part of China, as the recent migrants are more willing to work harder and at lower pay.
· There are a number of eateries here, but we settled at the café called Mei-mei. This is because the lady boss is very knowledgeable about Laos. Managed to get good advice from her. Beer and food are reasonably cheap and good, for a café that is geared for Western tourists. This is one of the few times I have to use English in China. My travelling companion told her we are from Australia, and she then seemed suspicious of us. I know it was a mistake to say that we were from Australia. Should have just told her we are Malaysian / Singaporean, to cut the story short.
· Hired a car through a tour agency situated close to our hotel. The rates are usually more reasonable. The per day hire rate should be less than RMB 400, if it does not include travelling long distance, say of more than 50 km away.
· I was curious at the sight of jewellery stores, where the vendors spoke highly accented Chinese, asking us to buy Burmese jade. These people do not look Chinese, and they are almost as dark as the south Indian Tamil people. I’m told by a driver that these are Burmese people, and that they came from Myanmar. They driver could be wrong though, as I’ve seen a very dark girl in Shenzhen too, and she looked like these people. These people could be Chinese citizen of Burmese ancestry.
· Stayed two night in Jinghong, at a hotel complex that’s somehow is also part of a police station.
· This is a small town about 150km south of Jinghong, and about 50km north of the Laos border. We managed to hire a taxi to bring us to Mengla, for about RMB 400 and stayed with us almost until 5 PM.
· While it may be a small town by China’s standard, it is certainly larger than many town that one can find in Malaysia or Australia.
· This town is booming at the other part of the town that is connected by the highway to Laos. There are numerous construction projects in the area.
· This is also a multi-ethnic town. Had lunch at ethnic Hani restaurant. Food is not bad, just like Dai food. Some of them don’t really look like the Han, more like Burmese. They called themselves Han Zhu, and I was initially surprised, thinking that they were Han people though they don’t really seemed Han.
· One of the main attraction nearby is the jungle aerial walk, at a place named after tallest tree in China, the Wang Tian Shu – Looking At Sky tree (望天树）The park entrance fee is rather steep at RMB 160, though it includes also a 10 minute boat ride, aerial walk, swimming etc. We had a guide with us, and I think it’s worth the money. The aerial walk was a let down, as it was slow and boring walk. There’s a lot of waiting, as someone in front slowed down to enjoy the view or froze in fear of height, and everyone behind will have to pause. To make matter worse, there was a group of a__hole that rocked the aerial way, thinking that it was funny and exciting.
· Bought Mengla-Luang Prabang bus ticket at station. Cost RMB 98 for a 12 hour journey.
· In the evening, we took a taxi and asked the driver to recommend and bring us to a local restaurant. He took us to a rather secluded traditional house of a family run Dai restaurant, about 10-15 minutes drive away. We had a pavilion for ourselves. There was no menu. Just walk into the kitchen, and point out the vegetables and meat that you wish t have. The cold beers here were stored in thermal flask that shaped like penguin. The food was good and inexpensive. As I was paying the bill at the counter, I notice that the family were having deserts. Told the hostess I would like to have a desert too, and she then kindly offered it to me free. It was a ‘guilin gao’ that they have just bought from somewhere else. I offered to pay her after noticing that they have bought it and may not have enough for other family members, but she refused. They may not be rich, but they are generous people.
· The kindness of the ordinary people is what makes many trips highly enjoyable. While having buffet breakfast at our hotel, I spoke to the waitress about taking back some of the steamed buns, for our 12 hours bus trip to Luang Prabang. I knew we were not allowed to take the food away, but I offered to pay for them, as I was in a hurry to the bus station. The waitress then informed me to just take the buns, as long as it was not seen by other customers. Anyway, I left a bottle of Dynasty red wine, for her and her other co-workers to enjoy, as we did not want to carry the wine to Laos.
· Mengla is about 50 km away from the frontier checkpoint. The checkpoint is called Mohan, and it’s been upgraded rather recently and thus looked impressive. The only problem I had was that they officer have not seen an Australian passport before. They had to verify that I carry an authentic Australian passport, and it took about 10 minutes.
· Entered Laos from China through the northern checkpoint of Boten. The Laos checkpoint looks like a tin shed.
· Cost of one the spot Laos visa is US32 or RMB 280. Pay another RMB 10, if you do not have passport photo. The officer will then photocopy the passport’s photo.
· The unit of currency is called Kips. There are many zeros in the currency, as AUD 1 is equivalent to about 7200 Kips.
· The passenger cum cargo bus that we took from Mengla, had 3 crews. The captain, a stout chain smoker, will ensure that everyone gets through the immigration.
· The road to Luang Prabang is winding and narrow. Currently, the northern side is being upgraded. Lots of Chinese workers can be seen working on the road. But it will never be like those in China, where they just cut through the hills and mountains and built excellent straight highways.
· Bus ride is about 12 hours, and is fairly interesting. One can get to see glimpses of the rural folks in Northern Laos in the bus ride. Some of these people still wear their traditional attires and it was quite a sight.
· We were fortunate that the bus was not full. Thus we do not have to share the sleeping bunk. One could have a good sleep on the bunk actually, as the bus chugged along the narrow and winding mountain path.
· It is the second most important city in Laos. Located in central Laos, this is a rather elegant small town, which is on the Unesco’s heritage list.
· The town centre is full of foreign tourists, especially those back packers type. I think many are heading to other parts, for hill trekking, elephants rides etc. In fact, many activities can be arranged for the tourists, including a visit to part of the North East Laos that was badly bombed by the American.
· I never really like the sight of seeing many Western tourists in Laos. Somehow, I feel that they are very intrusive and a threat to the local culture. Their way of lives and habits are very different from the locals, and in many cases the locals have to adept to the tourists need, instead of the other way. Thus one the street of Luang Prabang, one could see many Western styled pubs, vendors selling crepes , restaurant serving American / Continental breakfast , French bread etc, all to serve the pampered Western tourists.
· Also, the sight of old Western men with young Lao girls, is a turn-off too me. Someone may say, it has always been the way in these poor countries, where it is common to have young girls marrying rich old men. I guess so, but the sight of these Westerners, many of them who are just at the bottom rung in social status in their own countries or social failures, ‘exploiting’ the local ladies is non too comforting for me. Laos is a poor country, and I’m afraid many will not be able to resist the allure of the dollars.
· There is a main night market, where there a rows upon rows of petty traders selling traditional clothing etc, is a favourite place for those who love shopping. There are also restaurant and cafeteria beside the Mekong, one of which happened to be my favourite. Just opposite it, one can get a very relaxing Thai/ Laotian massage. A foot or traditional Thai message that takes about an hour will cost 40,000 kips (AUD 5.5 ).
· The only form of transport there is the Tut-tut, and it cost about 20,000 kips to anywhere within the city.
· Capital of Laos. It is a rather modern city, with wide avenues, and even a massive arch that is comparable to the one in Paris.
· Tax ride from airport to downtown area is US$6.
· Stayed at the Novotel Hotel, which is one of the best in the area. For future visit, will have to try Mekong or the Ramada hotels,
· We met a Chinese girl in a bus, who gave us her contact in Vientiannne. Upon arrival we contacted her, and her friend came to fetch us in a car. Brought to a place abut 15 km south of downtown area. The place was newly opened hotel. We were soon invited by the Laotian owner to his party, together with the Chinese girl, her boy friend and a Laotian friend.
· What’s most attractive about Vientiane to me is seeing people in graceful traditional attires. The ladies here just love wearing the traditional ‘sarongs’. It’s a treat to see Laotian office ladies walking in their sarongs.
· The night market which is beside the Mekong is a popular tourist area. There are a number of hotels, restaurants and pubs in the area. It is also a popular place for outdoor eating. We had wonderful barbecued food there. The barbecued fish, pork ribs and frog legs were excellent.