Vientian, Luang Prabang, Vientian
December 1996

Under Construction


This is an abridged description of a trip to Laos commencing December 1996. The intention is to give a firsthand personal experience of how we, Manfred and I, did get to and through the country.

Despite the fact that we did not book anything in advance at all (except for the flight to Bangkok) and that we covered around 1,500km within the country during the 14 days, it was no problem getting any means of transport (with one day advanced booking of any domestic flights) or accommodation on the same day. I only did some kind of pre-planning in so far that we wanted to be back in Bangkok a couple of days before our flight back to Germany.

At the time of writing all this, almost 25 years have passed. What I had seen and experienced, may not be the way today anymore, though cultures and customs however do not change much in this very religious country but the political situation.

Also after those many years the slides have suffered a little too. And the digitalizer was also not able to improve the photos very much. I know that I will not win any prize with them but at least it will give you an impression of what we have seen.

Getting from Germany to Vientian

We had a round trip ticket from Frankfurt to Bangkok. The ticket did cost 1224 Deutschmark at that time, that would be around 600 Euro today, but you would not get it for that kind of price today. In order to get from Düsseldorf to Frankfurt we had to take the train. We also could have taken the train from Bangkok to Nong Khai at the border to Laos, but the trains just went on strike one day before our scheduled departure.

Yes, we had already bought the tickets as soon as we arrived in Bangkok. But then the currency of Thailand, the Baht, was devalued quite a bit all of a sudden. It was good for us changing Dollars to Bahts and was only bad the other way around.

The railway personnel (and others) didn't need Dollars but wanted to have a salary increase by the same percentage as their currency was devalued. Unthinkable of in other countries, but this was the illogical Thai mindset, which also erupted in demonstrations to even overthrow governments without a real cause like the president who was only accused of having his own cooking television show, or trying to bring the former president Taksin, who was really guilty of graft and corruption, back to office. Only the king is taboo. Criticizing the king means jail.

Ok, but at least it was no problem in having our tickets refunded. A train ride would have been more comfortable but now we had to take the bus. It took the whole day to get to Nong Khai, more than 600km away from Bangkok. We stayed there one night and next morning we took the taxi to the border to Laos, which was exactly on the bridge, the Friendship Bridge, over the Mekong, built by Americans.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

Thailand border town Border to Laos


Vientiane is the city of the elephants. But we didn't see any elephants. Though, they could have easily roamed the streets because there was not much traffic. Vientian was more a provincial city than a capital of a country, two thirds the size of Germany. Even the half a million inhabitants call it a big village.

We only stayed one night in Vientiane in a cheap hotel in the center close to the impressive Victory Gate, built with cement originally donated by the United States to built an airport. The relationship between Laos and America is a different story.

Exchange rate was 1 USD = 1000 Kip.

We wanted to get up north to Luang Prabang as soon as possible. The bus was out of the question because there have been some buses reported ambushed and robbed. So what was the alternative: flying. It was easy to get a flight for the next day. But was it more safe to fly with old Chinese propeller planes?
First night in Vientian Next morning leaving Vientiane
Flying over Laos' countryside and the Phou-Si Hill in Luang Prabang
After 50 minutes we safely landed in Luang Prabang, the old royal capital of Laos, founded at the end of the 15th century. Until 1975 it was the kings residence of the Unites Kingdom of Laos until the communist takeover. The last king's name was Si Savang Vatthana. His palace is at the front of the hill Phou-Si at the embankment road.
First temples we saw in the old king's capital
Standing beautifully in a nice surrounding
Wat Xieng Thong temple is the most famous temple in Luang Prabang with a long history. It was built in the year 1560. The beautiful glas mosaic representing a Life Tree, however, was build in 1957 in commemoration of Buddha's death 2500 years ago. Also the other glas mosaics representing ancient life were created around the same time.
Buddha's Tree of life The Lao people 's life
There were also other pictures not so nice. But bad people must know that they have go to hell. Are the good people then supposed to punish them?
But also hell seem to exist in every religion
Fight for life Hard life
Ok, we are not here for the temples only. It's also interesting to watch people's life today by strolling around the small town More interesting, though, were the locations along the river to be easily reached by boat. So we had to get down to the riverbank to hire one.
Handicraft and business in one hand women are trying to meet both ends
These students must learn seriously These kids can still take it easily
Now we are at the Mekong bank Looking onto the Mekong traffic
We hired a boat like this one
The first location was the most respected holy sites in Lao, the Pak Ou Caves. They have a history dating back thousands of years. Packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons, the caves, a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha, are set in a dramatic limestone cliff at the point where the Mekong joins the Nam Ou River. There are two caves, the lower cave called Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung, both with miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood.

Read more at:
And went up the Mekong until we reached this spot
What a treasure cave with thousands of Buddhas
Standing upright or sitting on platforms
To be viewed from the side or looked at from behind
All are neatly arranged looking out to the river
Shall we buy snacks here? Better eat a meal right here
This village was very hospitable She also may have cooked for us
She is weaving bags for us He is making brandy (lao-lao) for us
Making Brandy seems to earn good money so that nice houses could be built with it
Brandy seems to be already an export hit for the future education of the kids
Let's go but the vehicle broke down on the way to this nice waterfall
It looks very picturesque Climbing up too high is a risk
Back to the road we met this family Going home to this indigenous village
Mother still in a traditional dress. What will she nurture? Will kids wear T-shirts or traditional outfit in the future
They may still continue to work the old way A haircut may already be done the modern way
Which transport shall we take Not the bus but the truck
The guy with bagpipe got off the truck We had to cross the Mekong by boat
Then we had to cross this bridge to get to a guesthouse to stay the night
Next morning quick drive to the pier and were lucky to get a place here
Though, we were not the only foreigners and we couldn't take a bath like the locals
The morning was cold and foggy and I was cold and groggy
A stopover for new passengers and bananas But our new passengers were animals
Do I have to sleep next to the pigs? First I needed some fresh air on deck
Fortunately it was only a short trip for the pigs It was not easy to get them off the ship
Getting close to Vientian with its speed boat transport system The rush hour seems to have been started already
Taking another boat to get to this secluded place
At another river and a small village
with people working to make both ends meet
Happy children playing and having fun
Working people Back in Vientiane
We could have eaten Laotish here but we preferred Danish and French
Do we have to take the bus again? No Strike was finished, the train running again

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Created December 2021