Laos and Vietnam by boat, bus, and train

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There were dangerous roads, CIA secret airbases, crowded boats and trains, beautiful beaches and parks, great and not so great restaurants.  Member Nathan Russo regaled his fellow Pattaya City Expat Club members at their meeting on April 10, 2011 with his description of his recent adventures and misadventures on a trip to Laos and Vietnam.  Rather than flying, they traveled by boat, bus, and train from Thailand through Laos and within Vietnam.

 

As the room was darkened and the projector turned on at the Amari’s Tavern by the Sea Restaurant, Nathan began his slide show tour.  It started in the Thai border town of Chiang Khong where they took a not too sturdy ferry across the Mekong River to the Lao town of Huai Xai.

Nathan had heaps of pictures to illustrate his trip - here he is photographed beside the Kouang Si waterfall, near Luang Prabang, Laos.Nathan had heaps of pictures to illustrate his trip – here he is photographed beside the Kouang Si waterfall, near Luang Prabang, Laos.

For their River trip to Luang Prabang, they were offered the opportunity to take a large boat that was limited to 6 passengers. But, at a cost of 6,000 baht per person, they opted for the regular boat. As Nathan described their two day trip down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, he said that in retrospect, they probably should have taken the more expensive boat as the regular boat was crammed with over 100 passengers and departed a few hours later than scheduled; likewise, after staying onshore during the night, they had a similar delay in their next day’s departure with even more passengers crammed in.

MC Richard Silverberg opens the meeting by welcoming guests, followed by introducing speaker of the day, fellow member Nathan Russo.MC Richard Silverberg opens the meeting by welcoming guests, followed by introducing speaker of the day, fellow member Nathan Russo.

Nathan and his group spent several days in Luang Prabang visiting surrounding sites, including waterfalls, temples, Cham ruins, elephant rides, etc.  He said that if you had visited Luang Prabang just five years ago, you would not recognize the place, as it now has every trapping possible for the tourist.

But, part of his reason for taking the trip was to visit a place he read about in a book entitled “The Ravens,” which covered the exploits of American airmen operating out of a secret air base near the Plain of Jars during the Vietnam War.  He then described their visit to nearby Phonsavan where they learned that the air base area was off limits for foreign visitors. They did get to see the Plain of Jars and stayed in a guest house mentioned in the book that was started by a colonel of the Pathet Lao which had a lot of memorabilia on the ground floor.

Leaving Phonosavan, they traveled in a non-air conditioned bus to the Lao/Vietnam border where they stopped for Immigration clearance and then on across to the Vietnamese coastal city of Vinh. This trip took about 12 hours over winding mountain roads and then down Vietnam route 7 through many rice fields.

Nathan said they arrived in Vinh after dark and chose to stay at a nearby guest house.  He opined that this was probably the worst place he had ever stayed. Much to their chagrin, the next day, they found there was a nice hotel not that far away with air conditioned rooms and a great breakfast.

Nathan then gave a rundown on the trials and tribulations of travel by train in Vietnam with a caution that in obtaining tickets, be sure you have someone who speaks Vietnamese and English to help you, otherwise you might find yourself in a car sitting on a wooden bench.  Nathan pointed out some of the good and bad of the 20 hour trip to Nha Trang.

Nathan shared with PCEC members his recent trip with friends to Laos and Vietnam.Nathan shared with PCEC members his recent trip with friends to Laos and Vietnam.

In Nha Trang, Nathan said there are enough things to do to keep you busy for at least 4 days – lots of Pagodas to visit, Cham ruins and temples everywhere, beautiful beaches, offshore excursions to islands for snorkeling or scuba diving and a visit to one of the premier entertainment facilities in Vietnam called Vinepearl, a mixture of amusement park, tropical resort and spectacular sea aquarium.

One of the more unique things that Nathan especially enjoyed in Nha Trang was a visit to the photo gallery of a famous photojournalist as well as the studio of a well known artist.

After 4 days in Nha Trang, they went on to Mui Ne. Nathan said this was his fourth visit to this coastal city that has been made into a premier tourist area; you can choose to stay in superior hotels or moderate to low price hotels.  One of the unique features here is that a short distance inland, you will find an area that is nothing but sand dunes that you would expect to more likely find in the desert.

After a few days of rest and relaxation in Mui Ne, they took one of the many tourist buses to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), which Nathan says is always a wonderful place to visit. Nathan concluded his presentation by showing several of the sights in and around Saigon. Throughout his presentation, he offered travel tips with recommendations for lodging, restaurants, and sight seeing. Nathan’s narrative, which provides more detail and lists many of his recommendations, is posted in the General Interest section of the Pattaya City Expats Club’s website at www. pattayacityexpatsclub.com.

Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg then updated everyone on upcoming events, Club activities, and called on David Meador to conduct the always informative Open Forum.

‘Frugal Freddy’ organiser, Hawaii Bob advises this Monday’s restaurant location, following it up with a drawing for a twoferone at another of Pattaya’s better value restaurants.‘Frugal Freddy’ organiser, Hawaii Bob advises this Monday’s restaurant location, following it up with a drawing for a twoferone at another of Pattaya’s better value restaurants.

Nathan & friends elephant trekking through Laos.Nathan & friends elephant trekking through Laos.