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Stray Asia 2012/13

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Stray Asia 2012/13

introduction Sabaidee, Sawadee Krap and Hello, Welcome to our totally biased guide to getting further off the beaten track in South-East Asia - compiled by our crew and many mates around Asia. It is of most use to people travelling around on Stray, but it should also be helpful to anyone else wanting to properly experience Thailand, Laos or Cambodia.

Why you should Stray? This is all going to be expanded on but in case we only have your attention for a few minutes: Stray gets adventurous travellers access to amazing things - many exclusively - around Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, which blow them away. It doesn’t matter how else you are travelling you won’t be able to experience most of the truly great things that we offer. Stray attracts the best people, exactly the sort of people that you’d want to share your adventures with. Intelligent, worldly, fun, interesting, adventurous and most of all very attractive people (although some of us only to our mothers). We accept that some of these points are open to debate so either go and hop on a trip and find out for yourself, or read on until you are convinced to do so.

What is Stray? Stray's South-East Asian travel network links outstanding attractions on and off the beaten track; we take our time getting to our destinations so that you can enjoy every inch of our travel network; we use four different types of transport (boat, bus, train and tuk tuk) for the best adventure; employ both western and local guides to make sure that you get the most authentic cultural experience possible, and run a flexible service in Laos so that you can get on and off the bus anywhere you want to spend more quality time with the Lao locals.

The key things you need to know: Stray is a flexible hop-on hop-off transport network which covers northern Thailand, Laos and the highlights of Cambodia. All the places you may have heard of - as well as going out of its way to access places off the beaten track for local culture and activities. The things that you come here for. Things, which can’t be easily accessed any other way. We attract and train characters as your local and western guides; people who are hugely motivated and capable of showing off alternative South-East Asia - our trips are designed for, and appeal to, travellers not tourists. Because of the crew - guides and customers - we attract, we can really push the edge and do so with amazing unique stops and attractions over all of our routes. Interestingly our top rating activities and attractions are often things that only we offer.

Why ‘Stray’ off the beaten track? We offer outstanding unique stops and activities: No one goes where we go. Pioneering into the Lao landscape will be a daily occurrence! On Stray you will do more than you could have thought possible; elephant riding, silk weaving, multi-day treks to villages that are so off the beaten track they aren’t even on the map! We stay closer to the action: Luang Prabang for the temples and to witness monks’ alms giving ceremony at sunrise; Vieng Xai to hang out in a communist bomb shelter; Don Det to chill on an island in the middle of the Mekong; Luang Namtha to visit different ethnic villages; and Kong Lor, the famous 7km cave. We become immersed in the culture: Sampling everything from sticky rice to Beerlao; buying the freshest produce from the local markets and putting money straight back into the community. Visiting more wats (temples) than you can say “what’s that?” and getting a superb insight into the Buddhist religion and monk lifestyle.

The mighty orange Stray bus in northern Laos

Save by getting off the beaten track: You will save money on Stray as we can get group discounts on activities and accommodation and go out of our way to visit attractions (so you don’t have to pay for side trips). We have worked out the best routes and timetables so you can save time by knowing where you are going and not waste time working out how to get there. We stop to do things along the way: Unlike local transport we include time for activities such as the iconic pub crawl tubing in Vang Vieng, swimming at giant waterfalls, sampling tea and coffee at the Bolaven Plateau without having to hop off the bus. Plus each day we include time for photos, wats, cows, chickens, locals, elephants, egg on a stick and more… We use our own mini-coaches for much of the route and local transport where needed: This means we can go where we want and ensure safety, reliability and service. Smaller groups also mean it’s easier to meet other travellers and we can get further off the beaten track for activities like communist cave exploration; Mekong river fishing and remote villages. We have the flexibility to stop for photos or just to have a Beerlao with the locals. The best people: We don’t attract an age group – we attract an attitude, one of exploration, open-mindedness and trailblazers. This goes for our crew as well as you, our crew (both western and Lao, drivers, guides and office-based) are prepared for an awesome cultural experience. Our western staff have intimate knowledge about the Lao culture and our Lao guides know about western culture.

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Stray Asia 2012/13

HOW IT WORKS + What's included? Your train, bus and

+ How much money do I need? Extra

longboat transport is included in your pass. Your guides will help you book accommodation and activities, and give you commentary on the local history, wildlife and culture of the area. You just pay for your accommodation, food and activities (plus extras like museum entries and short tuk tuk rides as you go).

money of up to $15 will be required each day for toilet use, view points, caves, waterfalls, and other entrance fees of places Stray stops on the way. A minimal price for getting you off the beaten track!

+ Where can I hop on and off? You can get on and off the Stray bus in Laos anywhere on the route, as often as you like, so long as you verify your trip changes online or with our reservations team. You can also hop off at an overnight stop on the rail/unguided sectors in Thailand and Cambodia, but you can't hop on and off between the overnight destinations. Overnight destinations are shown as a white dot on our maps (with the name in capitals), whereas places of interest or activity stops are normally in an orange colour. You need to update your plans on our online booking system or by contacting our reservations team after any changes, to ensure that your seat is confirmed.

+ How long is my pass valid? All passes are valid for 12 months from your 1st day of travel, subject to normal Thai, Lao and Cambodian visa restrictions.

+ Who do we travel with? We get the people that you’d want to play with - local and western guides who are down to earth characters who want to show you the real South East Asia, and travellers who want to really explore it, rather than just tick destination boxes and party every night.

+ Is accommodation included in my

Stray pass? We reserve accommodation for each night on your Stray trip (even in peak season). Prices vary depending on location and season but expect to pay from US$5 for a shared room to US$24 for a twin or double (up to US$60 for top end private rooms in the main cities) and you pay for this direct to the accommodation. Our preferred accommodation is usually in guesthouses - but in some remote stops we have homestay and premium tent options. Please note: this is South East Asia and we have to be prepared for anything - so if the unexpected happens we have tents available for us.

+ How will we travel? Be prepared to take on any form of transport, you will be on buses, boats, trains and tuk tuks where needed.

+ Visas. When crossing into Laos a visa will cost you between US$30 and US$45 depending on your nationality. You need to bring a passport size photo to give to the immigration officials on entry for this visa (if you don’t you’ll be charged for a photocopy of your passport). Please note: the Lao officials don’t like working on weekends just like the rest of us so it will usually cost you US$1 more if you enter Laos on a weekend!

+ How do I carry it? The best (and easiest) way to carry gear around Laos is in a sturdy backpack. You can bring a suitcase with wheels but you may find yourself dragging it down a dirt track! Bring a smaller daypack so you can carry bug repellent, a camera, sunscreen and water.

+ What do I eat? Western food is sparse

+ Where do the trips depart from? We pick up from selected locations in each town (specific accommodation places and our offices). You need to advise us before 5pm the day before you want to depart where you want to be picked up. Please login to your bookings to confirm your departure time and place. Please note we do not visit all departure points every day, only if we have confirmed pickups, so please ensure you let us know where you will be waiting.

+ What we do: Things may change depending on the group, driver, season and local conditions, we make updates on our website as regularly as possible to make sure you're aware of any changes. On our bus routes you can break your journey and spend longer anywhere along the way.

+ Travel Insurance: There is no travel insurance cover included in the price of a Stray pass. Adequate and valid travel insurance is compulsory to travel on Stray.

outside the main centers of Laos so be prepared and open-minded about eating local food. At our stops we recommend tasty restaurants but when you get into local villages and homestays be prepared to eat simple local fare, with maybe the odd wildcard ingredient (which is part of the fun). Supermarkets are not the norm but we will point out places where you can stock up on food for the day. Depending what you eat, you can spend US$5 - 15 a day on food. Please note vegetarian meal options are not always available but excellent fruit and vegetables are plentiful at the local markets.

+ Should I reconfirm my trip? You will be emailed a link to allow you to book and confirm your pickups online, please log in via the Travellers’ Login (located at the bottom of the homepage of www. and check we have your correct date and correct location to meet or be picked up from. We recommend your 1st travel day should be booked/ confirmed 1 week prior to departure. Sector bookings close at 5pm the day prior to departure. If you do not receive your login link, please email us and we will send it to you. If you are short on time and travelling in peak season we recommend you book all your sectors in advance to guarantee your seat. Hop off to explore your favourite places

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Stray Asia 2012/13

Where it started I grew up with buses - my parents owned the local bus garage and according to my Mum, I crashed my first bus at age 4. As soon as I could legally drive passengers I was driving bus tours around NZ in my university holidays. In 1988, after travelling around Europe and extensive roadies with two of my best mates Duncan and Mike around our homeland New Zealand, we started what is now credited as being the first ever 'get-on get-off' (although we called it 'get off on us') backpacker bus trip, a.k.a Kiwi Experience. Twelve years later, we sold out and I went on to start ‘Stray’. I remember my first trip around New Zealand for Stray - it was in my old truck with a clean sheet of paper and an open mind to find alternative things for travellers to better show them New Zealand. I remember being blown away by how much great stuff there was out there that people were missing and how much potential there was to offer something great and different. Finding accommodation was one of the biggest challenges we faced in the amazing places like Abel Tasman National Park, Hahei and Raglan and we had to work hard to find suitable options. Since then Stray in New Zealand has grown to carry over 14,000 travellers a

Graham and Neil pioneering the Lao wilderness!

year. In 2010 we won the NZ Tourism Award for Best Visitor Transport and Australasian Golden Backpack Award for Best NZ Tour/Transport Operator. In 2009, my good mate Graham Freeman convinced me to head over to Laos where he was living, to experience this beautiful gem of a country. He was right - it absolutely blew me away, and we knew we had to start Stray there. With Graham and his wife Emi’s huge efforts working with the locals, plus a few other key crew, we managed to launch Stray Asia in October 2010. We were pleased to become Lao’s first

licensed western tour operator and the first hop-on hop-off backpacker travel network in Thailand and Laos. Anyway the point is, - we have huge experience and a passion for adventure travel and we are now bringing this expertise and love for getting off the beaten track to South-East Asia. The best thing is, and our customer surveys and reviews prove this - either here in Asia or in NZ, you will love it! Neil Geddes, Founder of Stray.

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RESPONSIBLE TOURISM Stray's Responsible Tourism and Village Visit Policy Please read this page, Stray takes responsible tourism seriously and one of its main goals is to provide a sustainable service, being culturally aware and minimising our company and groups’ impacts.

+ We only visit a village if it is beneficial to villagers!

+ Stray will brief you on information about

+ Stray has a project ‘Donate a Tile’

+ We try to find a local villager to show

where you can collectively purchase tiles to make a new roof for the Ban Lad Khammune temple.

+ We always give items to a village

Stray Provide correct size vehicles so clients are comfortable, without wasting fuel.

us around.

+ We suggest giving pencils not pens.

chief, elder or teacher rather than to individuals.

They work for longer and don’t pollute the village!

+ Our local guides try to find out what

+ We never stop at the same village every

a village needs - so we can bring it with us next time.

time (outside of our overnight stays); we have a rotation policy which benefits the wider community.

ethnic groups before arriving.

+ Our tour leaders arrange to take photos back to villages. We can all help..!

Tour Leader/Guide Brief passengers on cultural ‘dos and don’ts’ in Laos (see page 25 of magazine).

Stray Travellers Behave sensitively in villages. Dress respectfully.

Tell clients not to accept plastic bags from shops. “Baw tong” means, “no plastic bag”. Ensure all crew (drivers/guides/tour leaders/boatmen) are paid fairly and treated well.

Talk to travellers about ethnic groups and traditions before visiting local villages. Teach group how to say hello and thank you in native village language

Always ask before taking photographs. Never take photos of naked children.

Support small, family run guesthouses so the money stays in the local community.

Use/recommend local handicraft shops and restaurants.

Collectively purchase a tile/tiles for the village temple.

Water - we point out places to recycle plastic water bottles along the way.

Encourage clients to visit small local museums and use a local guide there if available.

Never give sweets or money to village children.

Include community projects in tour programs.

Treat your crew fairly - allow drivers full breaks, respect hotel staff, boatmen, and local guides.

Don’t pay for photographs.

We never stop at the same village every time (except for overnight stays).

Learn a few words of Lao language.

Make village visits beneficial for villagers - Use ‘Donate a Tile’ project to make a new roof for the village temple. Arrange to take photos back. Brief clients on community projects in overnight stops.


Stray Asia 2012/13


Early Lao History - The dominant people of Laos, the Lao Loum, are ethnically very similar to the Thai who are both significantly influenced in terms of culture and religion by the Indian subcontinent to the west. What we know as Lao civilization and culture was first recognized as an entity in the 14th century with the consolidation of the Lane Xang Kingdom (pronounced Lan Saang) based in Vientiane. In the late 17th and early 18th Century this kingdom was split into three separate kingdoms based in Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak in the south. In the 1820’s Laos was conquered and Vientiane was virtually destroyed by a Siamese (present day Thai) Army so that the city would not be controlled by the threatening Vietnamese. The Siamese and Vietnamese have historically competed with each other for domination of Laos, a pattern that was repeated (with the addition of the world’s super powers) during the Vietnam conflict in the 1960’s and 1970’s. French Colonialism - Later in 1893 the French arrived in Laos determined to include Laos in its plans for French Indochina and by 1889 were a powerful force in Laos drawing up its present day borders. They were a presence in Laos for much of the first half of the 20th century (although they left briefly during WWII when the Japanese ruled over Laos) until they were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 defending Luang Prabang from threatening Vietnamese forces. Post-Colonialism - After this time Laos was contested for by the world’s superpowers. Communist Vietnam (with support from China and Russia) supported a communist Lao movement and America backed the Royalist government. The American government undermined the political process for years in order to stop Communism from taking root in Laos which, eventually escalated into what is known as the Vietnam War but, could more accurately be called the second Indochina War as it also involved Thailand, Cambodia and Laos as well as Vietnam. In Laos you will hear this conflict referred to as ’The Secret War’, ‘The CIA war’ and ‘The American War’ and probably a few other names. The Secret War came about largely due to the world political situation defined by the Cold War. American politicians at the time believed that if Laos was to become a communist regime then so would all of South East Asia. Their aim in the Cold War

Stray Asia’s crew member Mr Phong, Luang Prabang

was to limit the influence of communism as it threatened its own world influence. The war itself can be said to have started in the early 1960’s when Hmong hill tribe forces (backed by America via the CIA) clashed with Vietnamese troops in Laos however, the bombing campaigns, the effect of which has made Laos famous, started in 1964 and ended in 1974. Bombing campaigns were used largely because 1) US Air force believed in its ability to stop the enemy (they turned out to be wrong), and 2), it was illegal for them to commit troops to the area after 1962 when they signed a Geneva Accord which stated that they would not have troops posted in Laos (this is why the war is sometimes called the Secret War). Vietnam was also a signatory to this accord however; they did have troops in Laos after this date. The Hmong hill tribe forces accounted for their lack of ground forces and acted in co-operation with bombing campaigns. The Secret War was concentrated mainly in present day Phonsavahn and Hua Phan provinces in the North East of Lao and in Khammouane, Savannakhet, Champasak and Attapeu provinces in the South where the Ho Chi Minh trail passed through Laos. This was a supply line that fed North Vietnamese war efforts in southern Vietnam. In far northern Laos the war was also concentrated, to a lesser degree, in Luang Namtha

and Luang Prabang provinces. To this day Laos is affected by the bombing campaigns as many of the bombs (including anti-personnel cluster bombs) remain active on Lao soil and kill people every year. There are NGO’s working to deactivate these bombs however, this will take many years at the current pace. In 1975 The Lao government was officially taken over by the communist Lao party and is currently a communist (or socialist) state known as the ‘Lao Peoples Democratic Republic’ or ‘Lao PDR’, one of only five remaining communist governments in the world (see if you can guess the others!) In saying this you will see a lot of private enterprise going on and this is because the Lao constitution does allow market principles as a means of development for its people. The Stray Asia flexible transport network gives you access to all of the places mentioned above and a whole bunch more. Laos is an extremely interesting (we haven’t even mentioned the hill tribes, rice and coffee fields, opium trading, wildlife, Buddhist and Animist religions) country and is home to what many people have described as one of the most relaxed peoples on earth. After all Lao PDR also stands for ‘Lao Please Don’t Rush’ and the national catch phrase is ‘Bor Pen yang’ meaning ‘no worries’.

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Stray Asia 2012/13

Geography of Laos Laos is a landlocked country surrounded by Thailand, Myanmar, China, Vietnam and Cambodia; hence its geography is largely made up of rivers, mountains, lowland river plains and high altitude plateaus.

+ The Mekong River forms much of the western border of Lao and is a major lifeblood not only in Laos but in South East Asia. In general rivers form a major part of Lao life as they are a means of transport (where roads do not access), a great source of food (i.e. fish and river-weed) and even a place to gold pan in the dry season! The Mekong River is over 4000 km’s long (2485 mi) with about 1/3 of this through Laos itself and is the 12th largest river in the world! Its largest tributary within Laos is the Nam Ou River which Stray will take you on when travelling to Luang Prabang!

+ Much of Laos is mountainous as a result of the greater tectonic forces at play in the region. The Luang Prabang Mountain Range in Northern Laos is actually the result of the Eurasian and the Indian Tectonic plates colliding-the same forces that created the Himalayas! Along its eastern border it is bound by the Annamite Mountain chain which extends throughout Laos, Vietnam, China and Cambodia. This range give Laos its largest peak in Mount Phou Bia-at 2 817 m. Interestingly, many of the hill tribes that still exist in Laos prefer living in these mountain ranges as opposed to the flatter areas and hence you will see many hill tribe people while travelling around these areas.

+ Laos isn’t all mountains though, with the millions of years of river action in the area the Mekong and its tributaries have formed extensive areas of flatland largely around Savannakhet and Champasak but also around Vientiane. These areas have good fertile soil and are good for farming and raising livestock although there are periods of drought as both the timing and the level of rainfall can change from season to season.

+ Laos’s latitude within the Tropic of Cancer means that it has a tropical climate which also has a monsoon with a wet season from May through October, and a dry season from November to April. Within the dry season Laos has a cold season from December to February and a warmer season from March-April. In the warm season temperatures can reach 40°C in lowland areas and as low as 50°C in some of the northern provinces from December to February. Ever wondered what a Monsoon is? It’s essentially a seasonal wind pattern that brings with it very moist air from the ocean and hence rain. During the months of May to October low pressure zones form over the land that makes up South East Asia and this creates an air flow to that area, commonly known as wind funnily enough! This air comes from over the ocean and hence picks up moisture on its way that it then drops on the inhabitants (and tourists!) of South East Asia.

Country Statistics • Laos is about 236 800 sq. km which makes it a bit smaller than the United Kingdom, California or New Zealand but about 5 times larger than The Netherlands! • Has borders with 5 other countries Burma (235 km), Cambodia (541 km), China (423 km), Thailand (1,754 km), Vietnam (2,130 km). • Its lowest point is the Mekong River at 70 m above sea level and its highest peak is Phou Bia at 2 817 m. Population Statistics • Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong and the Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1% (ask your guide about the Khmu people which are an example of this group). • Buddhist 60%, Animist and other 40% (including various Christian denominations 1.5%). • Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages. • Population 6,217,141 people as at July 2005. Government Statistics • Laos has 16 provinces • Became a communist state on December 2 1975 • Its legal system is based on traditional customs, French legal norms and procedures and socialist practices • Has only one political party (others are condemned), The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Economic Statistics • Laos has several key exports being, wood products, tin, gypsum, garments and coffee but also other obvious exports you’ll see electricity (hydro), rice (although most of the rice you see if for subsistence living) and of course tourism!

Stunning Mekong sunsets

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Stray Asia 2012/13

Thailand Bangkok - Infamous, heaving, hot, spicy food, tuk-tuks, The Chao Praya River, canals, South East Asian travel hub, floating markets, ping pong shows, ladyboys, red-light districts, frog ladies on Khao San Road, finance, business, politics, Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts, culture, fashion, entertainment. Exoticism! Just a few things that make up a Bangkok experience and Stray Asia is right amongst it with an office near Khao San Road and the Democracy Monument. Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand dates back to 1782 when the capital was moved from the Western bank of the Chao Phraya River to the current main settlement on the Eastern bank, is the largest urban area in the country with a population of over 9 million people. The city with its strategic location near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River at the Golf of Thailand is riddled with canals and rivers, many of which were filled in or diverted to make way for development. This extensive network of waterways has also led Bangkok to be known as “Venus of the East” but doesn’t come without its problems. Bangkok lies a mere two meters (6.5 ft) above sea level, which can be problematic each wet season with flooding (as seen by the notorious flooding of 2011). But a

slightly more pressing, long term problem is that Bangkok is sinking! Built entirely on a swamp, Bangkok is rumoured to be sinking an average of two inches a year and there are fears that Thailand's capital will be submerged by 2030…. best not to invest in a ground floor apartment. The city government has stopped the use of ground water which is slowing the process down so now only time will tell. Unlike most of its neighbouring countries, Thailand prides itself for never being colonized by the French or British and is unique to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar who all drive on the right hand side (well that’s subjective, some may say they drive all over the road, but by law, it’s the right). In Thailand, they drive on the left. Logistics - With the convenience of a Stray Asia shop in Bangkok, this means easy access to northern and southern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia via our flexible, ‘hop-on hop-off’ travel network and our knowledge of great activities, the best places to stay and how to stray off the beaten path. To find Stray Asia in Bangkok, it’s very easy as everyone knows the infamous backpacker mile, ‘Khaosan Road’; and we are located in the Viengtai Hotel on Rambuttri Road

which runs parallel to Khaosan Road. Stray passes starting in Bangkok leave from this office Tuesdays and Saturdays at 0700 for Northern Thailand and Tuesday at 1700 for Vientiane, Laos. You will need to check in the day before and on the morning of departure, it’s best to get there at least 15 minutes before this. N.B. departure days are subject to change. The office also provides free internet and bag storage (THB 30/bag/day) for Stray passengers and can book transport logistics to anywhere else you need to go including Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai). Stray contact detailsBangkok, Thailand 42 Viengtai Hotel,Rambuttri Road, Banglumpu, Bangkok 10200 Ph. (+66) 2 629 2144 Fax. (+66) 2 629 2133 Email. Skype: stray.bangkok Opening Hours: Mon, Wed, Thu and Fri 10.00am to 7pm Tuesday – 6.30am to 7pm Saturday – 6.30am to 3.30pm


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+ Sawasdee Khaosan Inn: This is

+ Grasshopper Adventures run bicycle

+ On top of all of these Bangkok has

a nice, quiet, hotel with friendly staff and clean rooms, it's very close to the Stray Bangkok office. THB 1000 -1300 (US$30-40) for standard rooms.

boutique hotel situated in the Khaosan area, which is located in the historic district of Bangkok. Walking distance to the Stray office. Private rooms range from THB 1250 – 1800 (US$40- 57).

tours around Bangkok and all over South East Asia and share an office with Stray Asia in Bangkok. They have a range of ½ day, full day and night bike rides in Bangkok and its surrounding areas. This is one of the most popular tourist activities in Bangkok and is a great way to see parts of the city you would never have found on your own (at least without being lost!) Prices starting from 1000 THB for ½ day ride.

many tourist attractions including The Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Jade Buddha, the Giant Swing, bustling China Town, many famous temples, floating markets, Ping Pong shows, market shopping, the famous MPK shopping centre, endless entertainment and access to anywhere within Thailand and abroad.

+ At Home Guest House: A simple,

+ Bar hop Khao San Road or just

+ Buddy Boutique Inn: Stylish, modern

clean and quiet guest house near Khaosan Road (on the small street or soi behind Burger King) offering rooms from THB 350 for single fan, THB 400 for double, THB 500 for AC double (in USD these are approximately $11.50, $13, $16). Has great restaurants nearby and WIFI on the first floor. It’s usually much quieter than hotels on Khaosan Road so you can actually sleep (if you want to). Activities + Stray Asia arranges transport to the southern Thai islands like Koh Tao (great, cheap scuba diving) and Koh Phangan (infamous Full Moon parties!) and anywhere else in the south you want to go. Check out the Stray ‘Bucket’ Pass.

walk the main drag taking in the sights (frog ladies, hawkers of all varieties, shopping and clubs).

+ Go see the famous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ which was part of the Death Railway. Trains run twice p/day for THB 100 and there is a tourist train on weekends.

+ Koh Chang and Koh Samet are two islands near Bangkok and a good place to while away the last few days before a flight if you’re a bit stressed out by Bangkok. Transport can easily be arranged by minivans if you go to the Victory Monument (they depart from the roundabout every few hours but best to get there early) or bus from the Eastern bus terminal.

Notes + Embassies of all kinds are found in Bangkok so if you have time you can apply for any visas you may need.

+ For Laos you can get a visa on arrival at the border valid for 30 days. Passport photo and US Dollars required (the amount varies depending on nationality but is approximately US$30 for Australia, New Zealand, Germany and France, US$35 for USA, UK, Ireland, Netherlands and US$42 for Canadians. Add US$1 for a service fee if entering on a weekend or before 8am in the morning or after 4pm in the afternoon).

+ Thailand gives automatic 15 day visas when crossing into it from a land border and usually 30 days if arriving by air. For longer stays, you will require a visa (not available on arrival).


Stray Asia 2012/13

THAI ISLANDS – BUCKET PASS Travel Day: Koh Phangan TO Bangkok

Travel Day: Bangkok to Chumporn Depart Bangkok (from office near Khaosan Road) at 2100 (be waiting by 2030), then try and get some sleep on the comfortable overnight bus to Chumporn. Notes

+ Booking your trip: You need to visit

If you have a spare few days (or weeks) head south from Bangkok to the beautiful Thai Islands and the home of the Full Moon party, Koh Phangan. Travel by bus to the coast and then high speed ferry to and from the islands. Hop off for awhile, relax and chill out or just head straight there for the party and return.

our Stray Bangkok office at least 48hours prior to the date you wish to travel. We will issue you a voucher to present to Lomprayah when boarding the coach to the islands. If you are short on time and travelling in peak season we recommend you book your dates 7 days in advance to guarantee your seat. + If travelling for the Full Moon party you need to book a few days in advance and pay a surcharge of $US 7 (direct to the Stray Bangkok office).

Travel Day: Chumporn to Koh Phangan (via Koh Tao) Depart Chumporn at 0700 on the high speed ferry to Koh Phangan (via a brief stop in Koh Tao). You arrive at 1045 and have the day and night to explore this beautiful island, chill out and/or get loose! You have the option to stay here longer if you wish. Travel Day: Koh Phangan to Bangkok (via Koh Tao and Chumporn) Jump on the high speed ferry at 1pm to Chumporn (via a brief stop at Koh Tao). Then catch the bus from Chumporn back to Bangkok, arriving at 0030.

How the Bucket Pass got its name

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Stray Asia 2012/13


We start our day at 0645 at the Stray Office in Bangkok for a tour briefing before leaving at 0800 for the Mo Chit bus station for our bus to Old Sukhothai. Our bus departs at 1000 and passes through Bangkok’s hinterlands and eventually into small towns and countryside. The bus is an interesting mix of Falang (foreigners)

and Thai people of all parts of society, including monks. We arrive at our stop of Old Sukothai around 1600 in time to cycle around the spectacular historical park as the sun sets on the ruins of this ancient city. Phitsanulok - capital of Phitsanulok Province which stretches all the way to the Lao border, and is one of the oldest cities in Thailand dating back over 600 years and playing a significant part in the country’s history. Once the capital of Thailand and remaining so for 25 years from 1463 in order to strengthen the northern boundary of the kingdom during Siam’s war with Burma. After that, the town was downgraded to a strategic border town but continued to play a major role in blocking the invasion of Burmese troops. Phitsanulok is famous locally for being the birthplace of King Naresuan, who freed the country from Burmese domination in 1584. Thailand (formally known as Siam) has a long history of war with Burma and following the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese in 1767, a mad monk seized control of Phitsanulok from its royal governor. Even the king of the time, King Taksin the Great, was wounded during an unsuccessful attempt to capture the city from the monk.

Old Sukhothai - established between 1238 and 1257, Sukhothai translates to “Dawn of Happiness” and is located 427 km north of Bangkok. The relatively small city, with a population of around 37,000 was the capital of Siam (today’s Thailand) for 120 years, during this time being ruled by many kings and is credited as being the cradle of modern Thai culture. The ancient city of Sukhothai was a confluence of numerous cultures and traditions that gave rise to the foundations of modern Thai society. It introduced Theravada Buddhism, gave birth to the Thai alphabet and created an artistic style (known as the Sukhothai Style unusually enough) that has become representative of Thai art. It also set the foundation for social and military organization. No wonder Sukhothai is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of our favourites include Wat Mahathat; one of the largest of the remaining ruins; Wat Sra Sri has a large chedi and Buddha figure and Wat Si Chum has the largest Buddha statue in the area. On top of these there are over 190 ruins in the greater Old Sukhothai area so, get exploring! Today the sleepy old town is full of ambiance and focused on the historical ruins of what once was this mighty empire. Accommodation + Old City Guest House: a very nice place with fan rooms (double bed plus limited twin rooms) for THB 300, AC rooms from THB 400 and share bathroom rooms from THB 150, quad room THB 700. Great location a stroll from the Historical Park, surrounded by restaurants and has WiFi.

+ PinPao Guest House: a modern guesthouse with a boutique feel and a pool. THB800+foradoubleortwinroom.Located a 10 minute walk from the Historical Park.

Bike around the amazing temples


A late morning departure from Sukhothai allows those who want to visit the Historical Park for sunrise and more photos, the time for exploration. We depart Sukhothai from Old City Guesthouse at 0930 and catch a bus from Sukhothai Old City to Chiang Mai arriving in around 1600 in time to checkinto your accommodation for the next couple of nights and head out on the town for dinner, drinks and Muay Thai Boxing!

See for seasonal updates/changes


Before leaving Sukhothai, grab some snacks for the journey, keep your book and MP3 handy and then sit back, relax and take in the Thai countryside as you climb higher through the mountains into the hinterland of Chiang Mai. The following day is a free day in Chiang Mai so a perfect opportunity to do some of the great activities the city and surrounding area has to offer.

+ On Saturdays in the Old City there is

Activities + Bike or walk the ruins in the three Sukhothai Historical Parks (evening or sunrise are best). Bike rental THB 30 per day, each park costs THB 100 and an additional THB 10 if biking. The recommended cycle route within the map takes about 1 ½ - 2 hours but could be longer depending on how long you stay at certain ruins. It will take you through two different parks and so will double the costs stated above for entrance fees and bike fees.

Thai Language Lesson In Thai, greetings and the way you speak is determined by your gender. Each gender finishes sentences and questions with a suffix that makes the conversation polite. For example, if you are female, to say hello you would say “Sawasdee Kha”, if you are a male, you would say “Sawasdee Kraap” and if you fall into both categories, you would say “Sawasdee Ha”!

+Take one of the songthaew’s that ply the main road to New Sukhothai about 15 km away for a large night market and bars after dark for approx. THB 20 per person. The last songtaew back is at 22:00 but if you plan to be later than that hire your own tuk-tuk for 200 THB return.

an eclectic market come festival with food, rides, shopping, and it’s free!

+ Narrowcasters’ Audio Tour of Sukhothai Historical Parks. 150 THB for audio tour only i.e. doesn’t include entrance fees. Great info and an interesting, fresh way to learn about the various styles and histories of the structures you see.


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Chiang Mai Chiang Mai - located 700km north of Bangkok, amongst some of Thailand’s highest mountains, but itself with an elevation of only 316 metres (1,037 feet) is a beautiful, relatively large city but with a small city charm. Surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, Chiang Mai is a haven for trekking, activities and further exploration. Chiang Mai gains much of its relaxed atmosphere from the fact that it was only accessible by an arduous river journey or by elephant back until the 1920s meaning that it developed at a much slower pace to Bangkok. Chiang Mai dates back to 1296 when it was founded and became the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (see below). Due to a constant threat from Burma, the city was surrounded by a moat and defensive wall. Much of this 700 year old legacy remains and wandering around the old town will reveal ancient city walls, gates and the moat, as well as temples that have stood for half a millennium or more. Within this walled city is where Chiang Mai’s historical, cultural and tourist centre can be found, together with a great atmosphere, easily navigable streets and a host of bars and restaurants, not to mention 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality, in a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles, decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree. Outside the city wall, the tourist centre spans east towards the Ping River and it is here where you can find the famous Night Bazaar with seemingly endless stalls of shopping heaven! The Kingdom of Lanna - which literally translates to “Kingdom of Million Rice Fields” existed from 1296–1768 in present day northern Thailand, and Chiang Mai stood as its capital. The Lanna Kingdom which was culturally made up of Tai Yuan people had a long history of war with Burma and other kingdoms which are present day Thailand, such as their rival, the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Over the centuries, the Kingdom was ruled by the Burmese as well as other kingdoms as well as intermittently enjoying autonomy. In the early 1770s, Burma was at the peak of its military power, having defeated Siam (1765–1767) and China (1765–1769). The Burmese army commanders and governors became "drunk with victory". This arrogant repressive behavior by the local Burmese government caused a rebellion in the Lanna Kingdom. The

The famous zipline

new Burmese governor at Chiang Mai was disrespectful to local chiefs and the people, and became extremely unpopular. One of the local chiefs revolted with Siamese help, and captured the city on 15 January 1775, ending the 200-year Burmese rule. The Kingdom of Lanna was broken down into a number of tributary kingdoms and hence Chiang Mai was born, which became a vassal state of Siam.

Accommodation + Manee House: A comfortable and friendly guesthouse located within the old city walls and only 5 minutes walk from the Thaphae Gate and 15 minutes to the Night Bazaar. Offers AC and Fan rooms with TV and private bathroom from THB 350 for fan and THB 450 for AC. Restaurant and travel agent on site.

Chiang Mai Activities + Flight of the Gibbon: Zip line Canopy Tour starting with 3 start times per day, THB 3299 p/person

+ Mahout Training courses and riding:

See for seasonal updates/changes

+ Half day Thai Cooking Classes: including marketvisit,cookinginstructionsfor 4meals and food obviously. THB 800 per person.

+ The Playhouse Theatre: Get dressed

1 hour rides and 1 day Mahout training courses available. From THB 800 for rides and THB 6000 for 1 day courses. Transport and entrance fee not included. Ask your tour leader to arrange.

up and spend a night at the theatre. Stylish, professional theatre with nightly shows “Sequins and Dance” with is a lighting and costume extravaganza. The theatre also features a classy bar and meal options. THB 1000 p/person.

+ Chiang Mai Mountain Bike: Various

+ Hilltribes and Trekking: Stay in award

difficulty levels available on and off road for 1 day tours. Can combine with trekking. From THB 1200, ask your tour leader. Extreme fun!!

+ White Water Rafting, Trekking, Rock Climbing, Abseiling and Rappelling, ATV Quad biking. You can do combinations of these over 1 day tours or do these activities solely. Multiday tours available also. Check with tour leader for pricing and options.

Extreme mountain biking!

winning eco-lodges built in the traditional styles representative of the ethnic groups you are visiting, but with a touch of luxury in remote, stunning surroundings. Get really off the beaten path in an ecologically sustainable manner and experience the natural heritage of the hilltribes of northern Thailand combined with stunning scenery. Some itineraries include elephant riding, white water rafting, multiple hilltribe villages and of course trekking. Prices start from THB 4300 for 2 days/1 night to THB 17,460 for 5 days/4 nights. Includes accommodation, food, water, guides and equipment. Transfer not included.


+ Muay Thai Boxing: A trip to Thailand is not complete without a Muay Thai boxing show! THB 600 per person for ringside tickets. Shows are nightly.

+ Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep: The quintessential image of Chiang Mai with its large gold-plated chedi, visible from the city on a clear perched on a. mountainside 13 km away. Notes Chiang Mai is a modern city with most of your luxuries including

+ ATMs and Money Exchange. You will get better exchange rates here than in surrounding, smaller towns so get your USD for your Lao visa in Chiang Mai. See page 23 for details on Laos visa requirements. • Western supermarkets • Modern hospitals • International and domestic airports

Stay longer and do a Muay Thai boxing course!


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ChIang Mai Thai Language Lesson Chiang Mai is a shopper’s Mecca! With the Night Bazaar, Sunday Market, art galleries, boutique shops and bargains galore, you are bound to be filling that backpack with some souvenirs. So here is a quick shopping orientated Thai lesson to help you impress the locals!


Lek lek mee mai?


Aow orkk


Mai chai

I need this

Aun nee mai aow

I don’t need this Aow aun nee How much is it? Tao rai kha/krap? Do you have a new one? Mee arun mai rue plao? Do you have another colour? Mee see ern mai?

Chiang Mai is also the starting point of the Stray Asia PHOU pass. Phou, pronounced ‘poo’ means mountain in both Thai and Lao. Appropriately named, the PHOU pass brings you from Chiang Mai to Vientiane via the stunning scenery of the mountain passes that cross the northern provinces of both countries.

Do you have another size? Mee zai mai rue plao? Thank you

Khop khun krap/kha


Aow ekk




Porr leaw


Yai yai mee mai? Head up to Pai if you have time

Stray Stories Stray Asia Tour Leader Tony took his group to a Muay Thai Boxing show on arrival in Chiang Mai. Ensuring the group got the best possible ring side seats in the house, Tony then disappeared. His group didn’t think much of his absence as they were enthralled by the action in the ring. That was until 20 minutes later when Tony himself jumped into the boxing ring, as one of the competitors, ready to take on his professional and experienced competitor…. WTF!!


See for seasonal updates/changes



Leaving Chiang Mai at 1200 we will drive towards the Thai-Lao border stopping off at the White Temple to show you an amazing example of Thai art and religious architecture unlike anything you’ve seen thus far. After the temple we’ll drive through Chiang Rai City centre to pick up/ drop off any passengers before arriving in Chiang Khong in the afternoon around 1730. Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple the magnificent, hidden gem of the north is an extremely different Buddhist temple in terms of its design and artistic influence which will cure a case of ‘temple-itis’ in no time. This modern temple was designed and built by the famous Thai artist Mr Chaloemchai Khositphiphat who started in 1998 and continues to design, build and expand as he gets more funding. It’s predicted he’ll continuing expanding this living masterpiece for decades to come! The eccentric design is like no other temple in Thailand, nor the world and will have you intrigued as the immense white and silver facade and intricate colourful interior will have you finding story after story, character after character, bizarre creatures after bizarre creatures! One of the highlights is the beautiful white ordination hall which glitters silver with a mosaic of mirrors on the exterior and large mural paintings of Buddha in different gestures on the interior, together with a whole lot more hidden secrets! Chiang Khong - has a fantastic view of the Mekong River and from here you will get your first glimpse of Laos, as it spans the shore on the other side. The Lao counterpart of Chiang Khong is Huay

Incredible White Temple

Xai, Chiang Khong itself is a pretty quiet, one-road town stretched across about 5 km along the Mekong River and serves as a base before entering into Laos. Chiang Khong is located in Chiang Rai Province and is very close to the famous Golden Triangle which refers to an area about 60 km north, where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar share a ‘triangle’ of borders with each other and is famous for its once great opium trade. At this point opium grown in Laos would be transported to Myanmar to be further processed before being passed on to Thailand through black market channels to Bangkok and abroad. Notes + Chiang Khong has basic services like ATM’s, cash exchange, 7 Eleven + The White Temple is still a temple, so appropriate attire and respect needs to be adhered to when visiting the monument. Both men and women (they provide skirts for girls at the entrance) must have their shoulders and knees covered and maintain a quiet ambiance. Cameras are permitted but no photos allowed inside the halls. No entrance fee, but proceeds from the gift shop go to expanding and completing the temple.

Activities Today is largely a transit day however; in the evening we have a few options of things to entertain us… + Bicycle to the local bars and restaurants. There are a bunch of local bars and restaurants in town including 999 Bar, The Hub Bicycle Museum and Bar, and 18 Coins Resort and Restaurant (The owner gets dressed up in some kind of elvis look-a-like gear and does hilarious covers of famous songs, thoroughly enjoying himself providing AWESOME amusement for us!), which occupy spaces on the main road a few kilometres from our guest house. + Thai Massage: Sorry guys, no happy endings (we think…) being offered by the few massage parlours in town. Also along the main road. Accommodation + Sawasdee Homestay: Offers spacious, clean, comfortable fan rooms. 550 THB per night (approximately $18 USD) including breakfast, Wi-Fi and TV. Not to mention an awesome, friendly and welcoming owner, Charlie; amazing views of the Mekong, a swimming pool, free bicycles and a two minute walk to the border.


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LAOS IMMIGRATION Lao visa requirements: + A passport valid for at least 6 months after your arrival date

+ Between $30 - $42 USD per person; ask your guide which one applies to you as it depends on the country you are from.

+ An extra $1 if crossing before 0800, after 1600 or on a weekend or public holiday. Better to get USD in Chiang Mai where there are better exchange rates. + Two forms. One is an arrival and departure card for Laos, the other is a visa application form (both are issued on arrival).

+ Either a passport photo of yourself, a photocopy of the details page of your passport, or THB 40 for the Lao immigration office to photocopy it for you.

+ A sense of humour and a little patience.

See for seasonal updates/changes

+ If you can’t find your departure card, your guide will advise you on what you need to do, but essentially you will need to photocopy your passport details page and your Thai entry stamp (photocopy place available on the way to the Thai border – convenient right!). Then you will need to submit these documents together with your passport and best smile to the immigration official. If the immigration official is having a good day, you’ll probably be charged around THB 150 for this inconvenience. If he’s not, well, you could be charged anything above and beyond that amount. It’s Asia, just go with the flow and keep polite and patient!

+ If you have overstayed your Thai visa, you will need to pay THB 500 per day. +

When exiting Thailand and entering Lao, double check they have stamped you out and in respectively.

Visa requirements for leaving Thailand: + You’ll need your passport and Thailand departure card that was originally attached to your arrival card when you entered Thailand (and should be in your passport). Lao border crossing


Thai Language Lesson This morning we left Chiang Mai, drove past Chiang Rai and arrived in Chiang Khong. That’s a whole lot of ‘Chiangs’! So what does it mean? Chiang means ‘city’, Mai means ‘new’, Rai comes from the founding King of Chiang Rai King Meng Rai and Khong means ‘Mekong’ as in the Mekong River which the town lies on. So put all that together and Chiang Mai is the New City, Chiang Rai is The City of Rai (or Rai’s City) and Chiang Khong is the Mekong City. Lao Language Lesson Sabaidee! That means ‘hello’ in Lao. But today and/or tomorrow, you may visit a Hmong, Khmu or Akha village (some of Lao’s ethnic minority groups) to see the different way of life they live, religion they practice and architecture they use. The Hmong, like all of Lao’s ethnic groups, are linguistically different to the low land Lao. To say hello in Hmong is najong. In Khmu, hello is samai leur and in Akha hello is ahv yuuhxv ohf. So go ahead and impress them with your local greetings!


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NOTE: Please see pages 24-27 for the Stray ‘dry season’ itinerary for Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang. In the wet season (May – October), we may alter these days with more time on the river Mekong to avoid driving on the wet roads. See page 28 for the alternative wet season itinerary. This morning we say goodbye or “la khorn” to Thailand, driving on the left; 7 Eleven and Charlie at Sawasdee Homestay. We check out of Thailand at 0730 from the Chiang Khong immigration building and catch a boat across The Mekong

River, marking the border over which we will cross to Laos and the town of Huay Xai. On arrival in Huay Xai we will complete the immigration process needed for your Lao visa and head up to the top of the immigration street with your tour leader. Here you will see the mighty orange STRAY bus and your lovely local Lao guide and driver. We depart Huay Xai at 0930 for the very scenic journey through rural Lao to Luang Namtha. A lunch stop will be made at 1200 before arriving in Luang Namtha approximately 1430 After check in we will explore the area by taking in some local hilltribes. Luang Namtha - is a small city, located about 90 km from the Chinese border, lying on the banks on the Nam Tha River thus aptly called ‘The area’ (luang) around the ‘Tha River’ (nam Tha). While it has a very long history (cave painting and tools dating from 6000 years ago) Luang Namtha has been more recently a stronghold of communist ideology during the Indochina War of the 1960’s and 1970’s. This can be seen in the That Poum Pouk Stupa and also the Luang Namtha airport. With Luang Namtha Province having the largest number of ethnic groups in the country and the Nam Ha National Protected Area

(Nam Ha NPA) with its rich biodiversity, the past few years has seen Luang Namtha become increasingly popular as a gateway to the remote hilltribes who live in the surrounding areas and the NPA. Nam Ha National Protected Area - is an impressive 224,000 hectare nature reserve stretching to the Chinese border and covering 24% of the Luang Namtha Province. The large area results in a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna found between altitudes of 560m on the plains to 2,094m at the mountain peaks. The NPA is populated not only by Laos’ colourful ethnic minority groups but also the dwindling tigers, leopards, Asian elephants and many bird species of Laos.

Luang Namtha night market

See for seasonal updates/changes



Stray Asia 2012/13


Leaving Luang Namtha at 0800 we drive through windy, mountainous scenery before arriving at our lunch stop of Oudomxai around 1100. Continuing on from Oudomxai we drive for another 2½ to Nong Khiaw arriving around 1430. The scenery today will be of mountain jungle and local crops as well as precariously perched hill tribe villages that scale the edge of narrow mountain passes. Two prominent plantation crops which span the local scenery are teak and rubber trees, most of which are exported to Laos’ neighbouring countries, namely China. Keep an eye out for the rubber plantations as these trees are a replacement crop for the vast amounts of opium which used to be grown here and transported to the Golden Triangle. Just imagine all the rubber trees you are seeing are opium plants and you’ll get an idea of the vast scale of its previous growth. Oudomxai - is a relatively large, heavily Chinese influenced town and capital of Oudomxai province. It has few tourist attractions due to its poor roads and relative remoteness however this also allows for some very original ‘off the beaten path’ trekking and caving options. Nong Khiaw - is a rustic little town on the banks of the Ou River, squeezed in between some of the most dramatic limestone mountains to be found north of Vang Vieng. On arrival in Nong Khiaw you have the option of visiting Tham Pathok Cave (seasonal access only) or doing a

fishing trip where you’ll learn how to fish with a net. During the dry season, we can drive to Tham Pathok cave where large numbers of people lived and conducted village life from its protection, using it as shelter during American bombing campaigns and venturing out at night to tend their crops. Nong Khiaw is a great place to hop off to relax, trek, rock climb or head upriver to Muang Ngoi; a small, very relaxed town, see page 32. Accommodation + Sunrise Bungalows right on the banks of the Nam Ou River, providing overwhelming views of the river valley for sunrise and sunset. Bungalows are rustic and made of bamboo, have squat toilets, hot showers and basic bedding (mosquito nets provided). Oh and a private balcony with a hammock where you can take in the incredible scenery right in front of you! Ranging from LAK 60,000 (low season) to LAK 80,000 (high season). They also have some newer, more solidly built rooms with western toilets (bucket flush) ranging between LAK 80,000 (low season) and LAK 200,000 (high season). Activities + Tubing and Fishing Trip: 3 hours of traditional Lao net fishing and tubing back to Nong Khiew on the Nam Ou River with dinner. Those big catfish you caught (hopefully!) and a side salad will be prepared for you on your return to Mekara restaurant after the trip. (Costs vary per group and the tubing option may not be available due to seasons and times).

+ Tham Pathok: A historic cave located about 2.5 km from town which villagers used as a war shelter during the ‘Secret War.’ Admission – LAK 5,000. Note: The cave is sometimes inaccessible in the wet season when the bridge can be washed away due to heavy rains.

uphill rice fields, local Khmu villages you can get a great impression of how people living off the land in the villages before returning to Nong Khiaw by river. Starts at 0800, max 8 people. Lunch and snack is provided as well as 2 litres of water. • Climbing and Abseiling: Full day or half day climbing or abseiling. Suitable for beginners to experienced climbers. Cost starts from LAK 200,000 p/person and includes lunch and water. Dry Season only (November – April).

+ Teach English in Nong Khiaw’s schools: Spend a few days or a month. Can be arranged through the local Ministry of Education officials. The role is unpaid and expenses are your own for the duration of your stay. This could be a very rewarding part of your holiday and Nong Khiaw has lots of things to do when you aren’t teaching. You don’t have to have a teaching qualification; just a love of kids and imparting a little knowledge.

+ Wake up early and watch the locals give alms to the monks from the street, near the many temples on the peninsula, (located at the north end of the main street). This is a very significant and highly respected part of Buddist Culture, so please respect local customs by covering your arms and chest, and do not wear short shorts or skirts. Women are not to touch the monks. Please avoid taking photos too close to the Monks, and if you are sitting, do not point your feet towards them.

+ Play Petanque (the national sport of Laos) with the locals opposite Sunrise Bungalows. They take the game pretty seriously though!

+ Green Discovery Trekking and Cycling (Costs vary per group) • 1 Day Hike the Phou Nang None: Follows old hunting trails to the top of the highest mountain in Nong Khiaw. Starts at sunrise and returns late afternoon, max 4 people. Lunch, snack and 2 litres water included. • 2 Day Camp at the top of Phou Nang None: Same as above only will take an alternate route up the mountain to an overnight camp at top. • Cycling and Boating (8am start): Cycling along hunter’s paths, forest, mountains, Stray bus at Oudomxai


See for seasonal updates/changes


TRAVEL DAY: NONG KHIAW TO LUANG PRABANG Today we depart at 0800, journeying by road for about 3hours, until we leave the Stray bus behind, to board our private boat, and cross the Mighty Mekong to visit the Pak Ou Cave at 1330. After stopping here to check out the many Buddha statues and caves we should arrive in Luang Prabang around 1500.

Highly Recommended Hop off in Luang Prabang to make the most of this beautiful city. Learn to weave silk or take a course to be an elephant mahout! Go trekking, kayaking and rock climbing or just relax, have a fruit shake and take in the night market. Visit the friendly team in our Stray Luang Prabang shop for any local tips or information. The Nam Ou River - is the Mekong River’s largest tributary, has outstanding scenery and gives you an appreciation of the importance of the river systems of Laos as throughout the year you can see various practices like river bank farming in the low season, riverweed collection, hydroelectricity generation, gold mining and of course fishing. Laos’ rivers truly are its lifeblood. At Pak Ou cave the Nam Ou joins the Mekong River and it is this river we are on for the rest of our journey. Pak Ou Caves - holds around 4000 Buddha images across two caves and is a powerful symbol of religious devotion as each Buddha image has been placed here by Buddhist faith followers from all over South East Asia. Notes + There are two ATM’s in Nong Khiaw

+ Sometimes Lao ATM’s aren’t that reliable so it’s a good idea to have a reserve of cash just in case you’re unfortunate enough to have one eat your card or not recognize your bank!

Some of the many Buddhas at Pak Ou Caves

Lao Language Lesson We all have nicknames, some undesired but hard to shake, just ask the past and present Stray Asia tour leaders; The Wan, Midge, Tigger, Dribbles, Spits and so on. The Lao are also given nicknames which make it a lot easier for us to pronounce and get it right! Unlike us though, their nicknames are usually given by their families at birth or during their infant years, and it’s usually a single word that describes their size! Over the course of your travels in Laos, you are going to meet a lot of Dtui’s ”fat”, Joy’s “skinny”, Noy’s “small”, Nyai’s “big”. Stray Asia even has a Dtui Pass. This fat pass covers all of Laos or alternatively we have a Noy Pass which is a small, short and sweet trip.

Stray Stories Tour Leader Comrade had a mobile phone blowout in Nong Khiew and bought a “genuine” Nokia from the local market (not recommended!) The boat trip from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang was a quite humourous one as Comrade realized her phone could only TEXT IN CAPITAL LETTERS APPEARING THAT SHE IS YELLING EVERY TIME SHE SENDS ONE. This conversation expanded to phone brands being discussed and Alice, a Stray Asia passenger from England asked her local guide Mr Phone (pronounced Pone, as in bone, not phone as in telephone) what type of phone he had. Mr Phone replied with “I have an Erection in my pocket right now but at home I have a Nokia”. He then proceeded to pull an Ericsson out of his pocket to show the group.


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WET SEASON ITINERARY WET SEASON ITINERARY If you’re travelling between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang between May – October, you will follow this route unless otherwise advised. TRAVEL DAY: CHIANG KHONG TO PAK BENG This morning you can sleep in or go for a bike tour around Chiang Khong. At 10.30am we depart and take a short boat trip across the Mekong to Laos. After clearing customs we hop on the slow boat to Pak Beng. Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery, your guide will introduce you to Laos and you’ll soon see why it’s called the ‘Jewel of the Mekong’. There are plenty of great Lao and Falang (Western) options for dinner tonight. Accommodation Mon Sa Van Guesthouse: Price per room 300 THB / US$8-10 Notes + You’ll need cash for the next two nights so get it out here at an ATM (US$50/Lao Kip 400,000 will be plenty). + On arrival, we suggest you pre-order 2 x baguettes, 1 for breakfast, 1 for lunch for you on the boat the next day.

TRAVEL DAY: PAK BENG TO BAN LAD KHAMMUNE VILLAGE We depart Pak Beng on the slow boat between 8-9am (need to be ready by 8am at the boat ramp). We cruise along the river to our incredible, off the beaten track stop of Ban Lad Khammune (Ban means village). We climb up the rocks (no boat ramp here!) You will be greeted by the village women and children, and either the Village Chief, and Mr Wandee (a village elder). You are shown to your home for the evening and then have the afternoon free for activities. There is a school built by a Kiwi charitable trust that you can donate textbooks to and/or spend an hour at with the local kids; you can go fishing; or check out bamboo weaving, cotton spinning, whiskey making... We have a traditional Lao style group dinner together and at 8pm we’ll take part in a very special ‘Baci’ ceremony.

TRAVEL DAY: BAN LAD KHAMMUNE VILLAGE TO LUANG PRABANG We wake up about 7.30am for 8am breakfast (fruit and omelette), and 3 in 1 coffee, then depart on a private boat at 8.30am. We stop at the famous Pak Ou Cave with its hundreds of Buddha statues before cruising into the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. On arrival, take a tour to the famous and impressively high Kuang Si Waterfall, complete with a bear sanctuary.

Accommodation Remote village homestay: $11-13 Notes + Insect repellant, dressing appropriately and torches are all essential here. Holly arriving at Ban Lad Khammune

Learn how cotton is made

Luang Prabang Luang Prabang - a UNESCO World Heritage Listed town, is predominantly based on a narrow peninsula bounded by the Nam (River) Khan on one side and the Mekong on the other with the rivers converging at the top of the cape. This quaint town is a highly recommended Stray stop with loads of activities and things to do, including great shopping, eating, drinking and bowling! With a long history including being the former Royal Capital of Laos, Luang Prabang sits beneath a temple-topped hill (a great sunset spot), surrounding the former Royal Palace which today is the National Museum and is dotted by dozens of gold roofed wats (temples) which hundreds of monks call home and can be seen walking the streets, bare footed at dawn, collecting alms which make up their food for the day from the devote Buddhist locals. Luang Prabang is a wonderful patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of colonial architecture - reminders of when Laos was part of French Indochina. Beyond the peninsula and rivers, you can see mountains and forest surround the town making Luang Prabang a very picturesque city and a playground for adventure activities.

See for seasonal updates/changes

History - most significant history dates back to when it became the capital of Laos, back when the Lao PDR was called Lane Xang – Land of a Million Elephants from 1353. At the end of the 16th century, Luang Prabang became weak and the capital was moved to Vientiane as it appeared more vulnerable to Burmese invasion and the whole Lao kingdom became disjointed. Luang Prabang however, remained the religious and spiritual capital and continued to be the seat of the royal family. In 1887 Luang Prabang was attacked by Chinese warriors forcing the monarchy to accept protection from the French, whose influence can still be seen today with beautiful colonial villas, ice cream and baguettes! But they were reluctant to leave and Luang Prabang fell into decline in the latter half of the 20th century and finally in 1975 the revolution brought an end to the Luang Prabang Monarchy with the king relinquishing the throne and Vientiane formally announced as the capital of the newly named Lao Peoples Democratic Republic; The Lao PDR.

In deep contemplation



Stray Asia 2012/13

Luang Prabang Accommodation + X-Capsule: A comfortable hostel offering 8-bed dorms with dorm beds for LAK 35,000 (approximately $4.50 USD). Very comfortable and new backpackers hostel centrally located, cheap and with free Wi-Fi in the lobby. Dorms fill quickly so get in early. + Phashoke Guest House: Very nice double and twin rooms with ensuite available from LAK 120,000 (approximately $15 USD). Centrally located and friendly staff. Activities + Elephant Village: An elephant-friendly, eco-friendly elephant camp a little outside Luang Prabang, offering elephant riding and mahout courses. • Full and Half Day Elephant Riding: and full day elephant riding $42 p/person for half day and $65 for 1 day. • 1 Day Mahout Experience: $79 USD p/person. Note: longer mahout courses are available also. + Stray Long Thaang Pass: 4 nights and 5 days starting and finishing in Luang Prabang. Departs every Wednesday during the dry season. For full routes see page 32.

+ The Kuang Si Tour: ½ day afternoon tour 14:30-18:30, LAK 100,000 p/person. Visit Kuang Si Waterfall, bear sanctuary and Phousi Mountain. (Includes all entrance fees: Kuang Si = LAK 20,000/person, Phousi Mtn LAK 20,000/person). + Ock Pop Tok: Natural Dyes & Weaving Class (full day, includes lunch) $59/ person. Other tours are available also. Ask you guide. + Green Discovery: Kayaking, rock climbing, trekking (costs vary per groups) • Half Day Tour Option: Approximately: 3 hours kayaking / 1 hour transfer. • 1 Day Tour Option: Approximately: 1 hour transfer / 5 and half hours kayaking.

pink mosaics. LAK 20,000 admission. Wat Mai at the centre of the main street, Wat Visoun with its watermelon stupa, Wat Sene for its beautiful red façade and of course the temples on top of Phou Si Mtn with 360 degree views and the Royal Palace Museum for a glimpse at how the former Lao monarchy lived life in grandeur. + Banana Boat Cruise: a refreshingly different sunset cruise with Romar, the special ingredient. Let his tunes ignite the sunset and embrace the local aptitude for a great evening on the Mekong! Wine, beer, soft drinks and delicious Lao snacks are all included. 150,000kip (US$19) per person. During low season (May - Sep) we regret to say we need a minimum of 4 people to run this cruise.

+ Rock Climbing • 1 Day Course: Instruction, learn basic knots, climbing techniques, and how to use belay device. Approximately 15 minutes transfer / 30 minutes instruction / 6 hours climbing. + Temples: A trip to Luang Prabang isn’t complete without visiting some of the most beautiful temples on the peninsula. Highly recommended is Wat Xieng Thong; the oldest and most beautiful temple with

You’ve got to visit the markets

Luang Prabang

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Stray Luang Prabang Office For any Stray enquiries, activity bookings, mountain bike and motor bike hire. Open 8am – 8pm, 7 days. 02/58 Ban (Village) Xieng Mouane, Sisavangvong Road (Main St) Luang Prabang Ph. (+856) 71 260584 Skype: straytravel.lpq Postal: PO Box 1145, Luang Prabang, Lao PDR Notes + ATM and money exchange available + Luang Prabang is a conservative town so remember your Lao etiquette as on page 2533. + International air and bus connections to Vietnam and Thailand. Lao Language Lesson Luang Prabang is a great place to ride an elephant or even learn to be a mahout! And with Lao formally being known as Lane Xang – ‘Land of a Million Elephants’, it shows how significant these pachyderms are to the country. So how do you say elephant in Lao? Xang means elephant, therefore Lane, pronounced lan, means 1 million (no doubt you are a millionaire here). While we are on the topic of animals however, here are some common animal names in Lao: cat is maow (as in the pronunciation of the sound they make!) Also Lao people don’t name their pets, therefore every cat in the country answers to “maow”! Dog is ma, but said in the wrong tone could mean ‘mum’! Watch out for that one! Buffalo is khouay and pig is mu, but again, said in a different tone means ‘friend’ – I fell for that one when I thought a Lao person I had recently met was calling me a pig! Turns out I made it to their friend category! If you have a spare 5 days we highly recommend the Stray Long Thaang Pass to experience the essence of off the beaten track Laos (operates dry season only). If you are heading straight to Vang Vieng please skip forward to page 40.

Stray Stories

Tony, one of Stray Asia’s guides asks to order a Beerlao from a waitress. “Large or small?” replies the waitress. “Large Beerlao thanks” says Tony. “We only have small…” says the waitress.

Elephant trekking is a must!



Stray Asia 2012/13

Long Thaang PASS NOTE: If you are not doing the Long Thaang and heading straight to Vang Vieng, skip to page 40. LONG THAANG A 5 day trip starting and finishing in Luang Prabang. The Long Thaang is a wonderfully rich and rewarding trip that comes from the heart of our company ethos; you will see, understand, literally taste, touch and discover Laos’s truly off the beaten track experiences. Here are the highlights! + You are unlikely to see any other foreigners for at least two days of the trip! + Travel the ‘roof of Laos’ passing stunning, remote and wild scenery through some of the highest mountain passes in Laos. + Learn about the real history of Laos as you see first-hand the bomb craters, caves and unexploded ordinance of the Secret War. + Go on rarely touristed jungle paths to see the 2000 year old remains of what was once a Giants Lair at The Hintang. + See the Plain of Jars and decide for yourself if they are huge whiskey glasses or the last resting place of a forgotten culture. + Hold real bomb casings that the locals use to make home-wares and turn a small profit.


Leaving from Luang Prabang at 0830, we take the short 3 hour drive to Nong Khiaw arriving around 1130. On this day you have the option of staying in Nong Khiaw or the remote Muang Ngoi. If traveling onto Muang Ngoi there are two boats per day (1100 and 1300) leaving from the boat pier in Nong Khiaw. See notes for details or this and the return journey.If you are staying in Nong Khiaw then your ready to relax or get into some activities see page 26 for details. Muang Ngoi - is a very quiet little town set on the Nam Ou River, with access only possible by boat (see below), and power for only a few hours a day. It is well known for its ‘chill-out’ opportunities but also its ability to kayak, cave and trek and it’s is a good option if you have already passed through Nong Khiaw with Stray

Get off the beaten track

Asia. Muang Ngoi is about 1 ½ hours upstream of Nong Khiaw and flanked by mountains, this beautiful village has become a relaxed haven for backpackers who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life! No roads access this village so you won’t be dodging cars or motorbikes here, nor dealing with noise or air pollution! Life is based around the river. And without electricity forget about Wi-Fi! Muang Ngoi is for relaxing, enjoying a book, and of course a cocktail as you watch the sunset over the mountains and river (and with 2 for 1 happy hours, it’s even better!). The tiny village of Muang Ngoi is made up of guesthouses, restaurants and chilled out bars. With generator electricity for a few hours each evening, use this time wisely to charge those camera batteries! Then when the generator goes out around 9pm, the village pretty much retires to bed (all that beauty sleep explains why the locals are so good looking). If you decide to go up to Muang Ngoi you’ll likely arrive in mid-late afternoon depending on when your boat leaves. The current town of Muang Ngoi dates back to the 15th century and was settled early on by the Tai ethnic group. Also called Muang Ngoi Neua (Muang Ngoi North); the name was changed to Muang Ngoi Neua to reflect population shifts that occurred in this district during and after Laos’ civil war. However locals just know it as Muang Ngoi. Muang Ngoi was always a regional centre but during the war it was almost completely destroyed, including three of its ancient temples with the oldest dating back to the 16th century. Because of the heavy bombings the village was abandoned for two years and the villagers hid in caves around the town. Muang Ngoi was "discovered" by travellers in the late 1990's, who came here for its amazing beauty and relaxed atmosphere. The population of the village today is about 800 and foreigners are well catered for with many restaurants, locals who can speak English and a lot of small travel agencies that can arrange kayaking or tubing trips, and guided hikes to even more remote villages in this area.

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NONG KHIAW / MUANG NGOI Accommodation + Rainbow House (Muang Ngoi): Double or twin rooms from LAK 50 000 (low season) and LAK 80 000 (high season) with private but basic bathroom. Western toilets but no hot water (no electricity means no hot shower!). It has the red roof that you can see from the boat pier after you arrival – head up the path from the river and it’s on your right.

+ Sunrise Bungalows (Nong Khiaw): Right on the banks of the Nam Ou, providing overwhelming views of the river valley for sunrise and sunset. Bungalows are made of bamboo, have squat toilets, hot showers and basic bedding (mosquito nets provided). Ranging from LAK 60 000 (low season) to LAK 80 000 (high season). They also have some newer, more solidly built rooms ranging between LAK 80 000 (low season) and LAK 200 000 (high season). Activities (Muang Ngoi) + Lots of good restaurants and drinking spots. Go find Rainbow House and its neighbor Riverview for good food and cocktails respectively. Happy Hour at Riverview is from 1600 – 1900 and has ‘2 for 1’ cocktails.

+ New fair-trade coffee shop located at intersection on the way to caves also offers good drinks and friendly conversation. They offer a ‘2 for 1’ happy hour cocktails between 5 and 7pm.

+ There is a cave within walking distance of the village (entrance fee of 10,000 kip; BYO torch). From the boat dock take a right at the main intersection and left at the sign for coffee shop/cave. The cave is pretty much undeveloped and has a turquoise steam running through it. The walk to the cave, about 30 min, is picturesque with the mountains in the back ground. + Visit a local weaving village by boat. 2 ½ hours return trip, LAK 150 000 per 3 person boat. You can buy some great woven products here, Aot at Rainbow House can organise this for you.

+ Sleeping in a hammock. It’s free and relaxing ;) Notes + There are ATM’s at Nong Khiaw and Vieng Xai (end of 3rd day) but they’re not always reliable so please make sure you have some cash before you leave.

+ Transport to and from Muang Ngoi: Two boats leave per day to Muang Ngoi, at 0830 and 1400, costing LAK 20 000 p/person. One boat per day goes the opposite direction from Muang Ngoi to Nong Khiaw which leaves at 0900 and costs the same. If you go to Muang Ngoi and are still wanting to carry on the next day with your same group, be sure not to miss this as it’s the only one going that day. Boats in Laos usually leave when

they are full so, if it’s crucial that you catch this boat if you wish to rejoin the Stray trip, show up half an hour earlier at 0830 to be sure you get a ticket. Remember this is Laos and everything is done on ‘Lao time’, so departure times aren’t fixed and will leave when full, around these designated departure times. This could mean they leave early, on time, or late!! Alternatively private boats can be hired on availability for around LAK 400,000 one way.

+ Very little other shops in Muang Ngoi so best to bring everything you need; and it’s probably a lot cheaper elsewhere anyway. Lao Language Lesson The word “Stray” has been defined as the following: • To move away from a group, • deviate from the correct course • go beyond established limits • to become lost or • to follow a winding course but, how do you say that in Lao? Well guess what; this Stray pass hasn’t been called the “Long Thaang” simply because it sounds good. ‘Long Thaang’ is Lao for ‘Stray’! The unfortunate thing is that the tones for ‘Long Thaang’ are so complicated that it’s highly unlikely that a Lao person will understand you if you try and say this!

Stray Stories Tour Leader Charlotte aka ‘Winnie’ joined her group on the fishing/tubing trip in Nong Khiaw. The group were all really excited to be able to tube down the Nam Ou River amongst its stunning, dramatic scenery with steep limestone mountains. (Sorry guys, no bars on this river! You’ll have to wait for Vang Vieng for that scene – this is the real deal, how tubing in Laos started in the first place; purely for the beauty, serenity and joy of the experience, the river and the mountains). All was going well and the guide was distributing the truck inner tubes to each customer. By the time he got to Winnie, he had run out and handed her a motorbike inner tube hahahahaha!!! Needless to say, Winnie did more swimming than tubing on that trip


Muang Ngoi


Stray Asia 2012/13

VIENG THONG TRAVEL DAY: NONG KHIAW TO VIENG THONG Leaving Nong Khiaw at 1230 we drive to Vieng Thong, arriving in the mid-afternoon around 1630. It is another short drive today but get ready for some incredible scenery as we leave Luang Prabang Province behind and climb upwards to Hua Phan Province. The road is going to be very narrow and windy from now until we go back to Luang Prabang, so hang on and enjoy the spectacular views! See notes. Road number 1 - in which we travel along today, is historical in its own right as it was the first paved road in Laos! It was built by the French in the early 20th century and along the way you can actually see holes in the surrounding cliff lines where Lao soldiers hid to ambush French troops marching along the road - keep your eyes peeled! With fantastic mountain scenery to soak up, ask your guides to stop wherever you want to for photos - the top of the bus (while stationary) gives you great views over the immediate tree cover for those extra special panoramic shots! Vieng Thong - is one of the smallest, most remote places we go on the Stray network and is perhaps more influenced by Vietnam than Thailand (as much of central and southern Laos is) which makes sense as before the French were a force in Laos this area and where we go tomorrow was part of Vietnamese territory. At first glance Vieng Thong may not appear to offer much, but it’s this lack of tourist infrastructure and its real frontier atmosphere that makes this place special! Take a look around - you will see there aren’t any other tourists here! It’s remote, it’s special, and it’s eccentric! The locals speak a crazy dialect so all that Lao you have learnt may be of little use here. Vieng Thong is a great place to wander through some of the villages that line the river. Here you will see the traditional way of life of various ethnic groups that are different to the Lao that live in Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw. But the most significant feature of the area is Vieng Thong’s great example of natural geothermal activity aka hot springs. The hot springs have largely been left to their raw form for the most part with a small dam at the end that channels the boiling water through pipes creating a shower on the other side! Head here in the dry season (Laos’ winter) and you will see a substantial queue of locals lining up for

their chance to shower under the town’s only reliable hot water source! Be brave and do as the locals do (just remember to shower in a sarong or clothes). If a hot shower doesn’t appeal to you, a fun way to test how hot the water is, is to bring some fresh eggs and two-minute noodles from town and boil the eggs in the streams further up. It doesn’t take long – trust us. Heat up some bottled water, add two minute noodles and boiled egg and voila, dinner is served! With a population of 4,000 people, Vieng Thong is mostly an agricultural centre and offers stunning scenery if you take a walk off the main road. Located within the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NPA), Vieng Thong is a gateway for further exploration of this remote wilderness and wildlife spotting (Nam Et NPA is the last known place for wild tigers in Indochina). As such Vieng Thong is still called by some of the locals Muang Hiem, which comes from the Tai Daeng word that means "watch out". It was known as a very dangerous town to be passing through because of the prevalence of tigers and hence the locals would call Muang Hiem to those passing through. So be aware…..

Nam Et - Phou Louey National Protected Area - located in the north-east of Lao PDR, is one of twenty NPAs in Laos. With an area of 5,959 km2 it is one of the largest in Lao and covers 7 districts and three provinces (Hua Phan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang provinces). The NPA is mostly hilly or mountainous and is the source of many rivers. It is named after its two main features, the Nam Et River and Phou Louey Mountain (“Forever Mountain”). The area has primary forest remaining in many areas, a high level of biodiversity, and a number of endangered species including tiger, gaur (wild bull), Sambar deer, and white-cheeked gibbon. Most of the NPA is inaccessible; however treks can be arranged through the NPA Office to limited parts of it. Since 2010, two day wildlife watching excursions are being pioneered in the park and the camping and trekking area has been cleared from UXO's. The highlight of the trip is a nighttime boat spotlighting for animals. Seeing a tiger is unlikely (as there are only a dozen left) and you are more likely to see sambar or barking deer. An interesting idea to get villagers aid against poachers is that for every animal spotted the villagers would get a small payment. The Nam Et/Phou Louey NPA Office is located in Vieng Thong but doesn’t boast the most welcoming opening hours.

Overlooking Vieng Thong

VIENG THONG Accommodation Vieng Thong has only two guesthouses with Souksakhone GH being our preferred option as they have western toilets rather than squat toilets.

+ Souksakhone Guest House: LAK 50 000 for dbl/twin with basic bathrooms (western toilet and hot water- usually).

+ Dok Champa Guest House: LAK 50 000 for dbl/twin with basic bathrooms (squat toilet and hot water – usually). Activities + Boiling eggs in the local hot spring. Add some salt and pepper a few beers and your away! Cost of some eggs and beer.

+ Head to the bus station for dinner (we know, not the most common location for a dining experience but can be great fun and possibly the most atmospheric in town!) Cheap food and beer and if you are adventurous, aside from the usual noodle and rice dishes, this market has been known to serve all sorts of…..delicacies!

+ Take a path leading off the main road through town and explore the surrounding villages. A very rewarding experience and an insight into rural Lao life.

+ Are you an early bird? Get up at 4am

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on, don’t take it for granted as it could only last 10 minutes - use it wisely (i.e. charge camera batteries and take a hot shower!)

+ Some small shops and restaurants providing standard Lao favourites like noodle soup, fried rice and some fruit and vegetables. Bring anything you need with you like mosquito repellent or harder to find items. Travel sickness tablets aren’t a bad idea on these roads - a good pharmacy is located at Souksakhone GH. Lao Language Lesson In Australia and New Zealand you would say ‘woop woop’ to describe a place that is outback and remote. Far from everything and everywhere! Americans may use ‘boondocks’ or ‘out in the sticks’, Brits often use ‘back of beyond’, the French use ‘pé gu’, and the Russians may say ‘zaperdyaevka’ which means in the middle of nowhere or God’s forgotten place! We all have a word to describe these places and so do the Lao! The provincial Lao also have a similar term to describe the remote, isolated and hard to reach places of their country. In Lao you would say “Ban Nok”. Broken down ‘ban’ means village and ‘nok’ means rural. So you can say you are heading to Ban Nok! But don’t use it for people as that can be taken as derogatory. For example don’t say ‘oh he must be from ban nok’.

Stray Stories

Ever found footprints on a toilet seat in Asia? We all know that the traditional bathroom in Asia, including Laos is a squat toilet. Asians are so used to their leg strengthening, hygienic squat toilets that when they are faced with a western style toilet they sometimes hop right up on that toilet seat and squat on the throne. Now that’s talent! Some bathrooms even have animated signs above the porcelain of a ‘X’ through a person squatting on a western toilet. But do they need to have a similar picture of a ‘X’ through a person sitting on a squat toilet?! Possibly ask Stray Asia’s Swedish Tour Leader Winnie…..! On her first trip to Asia, Winnie was a little confused and..... attempted to sit on a squat toilet eeew! Thanks to her sister Gillette, the entire Stray community now knows about Winnie’s toilet ordeal! I still can’t imagine sitting on a squat toilet with my legs straight out in front of me hahaha (sorry Winnie!)

and head out the door of the guesthouse to the market. This ungodly hour is when all the locals trek into town from their villages and sell their wares, catch, produce etc. By 6am everything is under raps as they head back to work in their rice paddies, farms and homes. It’s an exciting way to start the day. Notes + There are ATM’s at Nong Khiaw and Vieng Xai (end of 3rd day) but they’re not always reliable so please make sure you have some cash before you leave.

+ If you get road sick it is advisable to buy some motion sickness pills in Luang Prabang before leaving. This day’s roads are quite windy but the same advice goes for other roads in Laos. If in doubt get some.

+ Vieng Thong is powered by hydroelectricity and this of course relies on the level of the river and dam. Electricity is rostered with 1 day yes, 1 day no…… and today it is no! In the dry season, if the power does come


Cook your two minute noodles here!


Stray Asia 2012/13

VIENG XAI TRAVEL DAY: VIENG THONG TO VIENG XAI Departing Vieng Thong at 0800 we drive for 2 hours to Laos’ very own Stonehenge for a small trekking opportunity. After our time here we trek back to a local village for lunch around 1230 before heading to Sam Neua. Arriving at 1430 we stop in Sam Neua for 20 minutes or so to have a look at some local monuments and stock up on any supplies we need (the first ATMs since Luang Prabang are available here but not in Vieng Xai so cash up!). About 1600 we will arrive in Vieng Xai in time for a cave tour or just a BeerLao as the sunsets over this dramatic scenery. Depending on timings, we will visit these caves either the day of arrival or departure in Vieng Xai and undertake an audio tour learning about the areas key communist figures and the fascinating history. Hintang Archeological Park - or in Lao; Suan Hin or literally ‘garden of stones’. Older than the Plain of Jars, but one of the least visited, historically important ruins in Laos because of its location, this mystical trek will take you through a remote village to view some of the hidden 2000 year old stone arrangements. Hintang is an ancient bronze-age, human made, structure, or rather 14 km’s of a collection of structures stretching over the surrounding hillsides. We take a short 40 minute hike (steep but manageable gradients) to a section of The Hintang set in thick jungle where we can hear how a powerful giant by the name of Ba Hat together with his three magic objects, made the stones. Vieng Xai - can be described as ‘Halong Bay on Land’ with its beautiful Karst Mountain scenery. Haven’t been to Halong Bay? What about Yangshuo in China? Krabi in Thailand? No? – Ok, just wait and see! Vieng Xai is an extremely important town in the recent political and war history of Laos and a beautiful part of Laos in its own right. After the Pathet Lao became fearful of American bombing raids they moved their headquarters to Vieng Xai where a very large number of caves can be found in the surrounding Limestone. These caves became the shelter for a revolution as the Pathet Lao was able to survive by living in these caves for the 10 years that they were bombed. Unbeknown to the world, during this period the 4,000 + caves sheltered more than 20,000 Lao people from the ‘Secret War’ that was being carried out.

Sam Neua - is the ideological capital of the Lao Communist State, where Pathet Lao (Lao communist movement of the mid-20th century) politicians and supporters held their capital before the American bombing campaigns of the 1960‘s and 1970’s. Sam Neua looks and feels very different to much of Laos and it’s interesting to note the difference in architecture, people and ‘vibe’. Accommodation + Naxai Guest House: LAK 60 000 (low season), LAK 80 000 (high season) for dbl or twin, nice comfy beds, hot water and western toilets

+ Ton Ta Von Guest House: LAK 80 000 for dbl or twin, hot showers and western toilets. A very nice and similar quality hotel to Naxai above. Activities + Communist Caves Audio Tour: LAK 50 000 for audio headset commentary and a guided walking tour of many of the more important caves. The audio is well researched and very detailed and provides a very good ‘nutshell’ to frame your understanding and knowledge of the Secret War in Laos. See page 8 for a brief history of the war in Laos.

Notes + For the trek to the Hintang stones: + trekking shoes, water, bug repellent and an orange handkerchief to keep Ba Hat’s ancestors away are recommended. + ATM’s available in Sam Neua + Snack food: • It is recommended to get snack food (fruit, nuts, water, chips, vegetables) in Vieng Thong for this travel day and the next (the market outside our guesthouse will have fruit etc. and takeaways from the restaurant). or you can grab something in Sam Neua). • Always wash your fruit in water if eating the skin or peel as appropriate • Also, remember that restaurant service may be very slow in these parts so if ordering breakfast or takeaway lunch, give yourself an hour. HEADING TO VIETNAM? It is possible to get a bus from Vieng Xai to Hanoi however, for most travelers it is recommended to take one from Phonsavan, as this bus will take you all the way to Hanoi and not just to the border, plus it’s more reliable in its schedule (and you will get to see the Plain of Jars with Stray!)

Incredible scenery, Vieng Xai

PHONSAVAN TRAVEL DAY: VIENG XAI TO PHONSAVAN Our departure time today depends on if we have already done the cave audio tour or not. If you have you will depart at 1000 from the cave tour office opposite Naxai Guest House and if not then you will depart at 0700 from the same place. See notes below re: breakfast. Afterwards we have a late breakfast around 1000 in Vieng Xai township where we will also pick up a take away lunch to have at Tad Salouei Waterfall around 1300. After lunch we continue our journey high into the ‘Roof of Laos’ into the two most heavily bombed provinces arriving in Phonsavan around 1840.

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Today, Phonsavan the capital of Xieng Khouang Province is a relatively large and modern town with a population of around 38,000 people. The province is home to five different ethnic groups; the Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, Phuan, Khmu and Hmong as well as a sizeable Chinese and Vietnamese community. The city of Phonsavan, the gateway to the enigmatic, iron-aged Plain of Jars is likely to be the first time you see other foreigners since leaving Nong Khiew on the Long Thaang! The town offers great restaurants, Wi-Fi and internet cafes, banks and ATM’s, bars, nightclubs, markets and more.

Accommodation + Dokhoune Hotel: Very large and nice rooms with comfortable beds, hot-hot showers and western toilets. LAK 100,000 for double or twin rooms in the high season and LAK 80,000 in the low season. Wi-Fi available.

TheViengXaiAudioCaveTour-describes the living conditions of thousands of supporters of the Pathet Lao over a 10 year period during the Secret War of the 1960’s and 70’s. The tour will visit the most significant of the hundreds of caves used during the war effort. Tad Salouei Waterfall - makes a peaceful lunch spot sitting on the rocks, dangling your feet in the water and eating your fried noodles or ‘deep fried goodness’ (local deep fried bread snacks) you picked up in Vieng Xai! The ‘Roof of Laos’ - from Hua Phanh province to Xieng Khouang province has some of the country’s highest and most spectacular mountain passes. One of the most scenic drives in Laos you will get some incredible views as you drive along 1200m+ ridges looking into the heart of Laos (and Vietnam if your eyesight is good!) Phonsavan - and its surrounding area is on a high altitude plateau which gives it strategic military importance compared to the surrounding mountainous terrain and as such it was an area where Communist and Royalist Forces clashed. Because of this you can see many, many signatories of war in the way of old tanks, bomb craters, old bomb materials and artillery of all kinds and even trenches dug into the sides of mountains. Phonsavan was also subjected to napalm and due to this its countryside looks a lot different to the rest of Laos; on many of the surrounding hills rice and other crops cannot grow due to the chemicals remaining in the soil even 40- 50 years later.


Ceremony Cave


Stray Asia 2012/13

PHONSAVAN Activities + ‘Bombies’ movie: free and plays at 1900 at Craters Restaurant. This is made by the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an INGO working in Laos helping to dispose of unexploded ordinance from the war. This film provides a sad but well told story of what it is like to live with death quite literally at your feet on a daily basis, as is the reality for many people in the Xieng Khouang Province and other areas of Laos today.

Lao Language Lesson The area around the Plain of Jars was once inhabited by a race of giants. One of the giants, named Khun Cheung became king after fighting a long and victorious battle against his enemy. To celebrate his victory he created jars to brew and store huge amounts of lao lao rice wine and hence stands the Plain of Jars today. With over 90 known sites (of which only 7 have been cleared of UXO and opened to the

public), each containing 1 to 400 stone jars, that’s a lot of lao lao! The word lao in Lao means Lao (that’s a tongue twister!). Lao, said in a long flat tone means the Lao country, people, food etc. Said in the same tone but different context, lao means ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’ or ‘her’. But lao said in a short falling tone means whiskey! So that’s how they get lao lao. It literally means ‘Lao whiskey’ and man is it strong!

+ Spoon Village or Ban Napia: Free to go and 5,000 LAK per spoon or bracelet.

+ MAG museum/shop: a small shop on the main street which has a lot of free information on the impact of the Secret War on Laos, together with their efforts to demine the country.

+ UXO Visitor Information and Survivor Information Centre: similar to MAG, located opposite Craters Restaurant.

+ Mulberries: A silk farm run by a fair trade organization has a weaving centre and shop. Located out of Phonsavan beyond the bus station. Open 0800-1600 Mon-Sat. Notes + If we do the cave tour on this travel day we will start the day very early and don’t have a scheduled food stop until 1000 so if you need food before this then pick up some fruit or another snack beforehand. Remember to wash fruit in water before you consume, or peel the skin off.

+ ATM’s, money exchange + Western style food + Internet cafes + Bus connections to Hanoi and Hue, Vietnam.

+ Phonsavan is one of the most heavily bombed places in history. There are unexploded ordinances everywhere. On average 60 people die each year due to UXO's. Take extreme caution when wandering around any off-beaten paths. Stay within the paths unless it is necessary and stick with your guides.

Emergency bunker, Pathet Lao Caves

Stray Stories “It’s not about the destination, but the journey”. Xieng Khouang Province and Phonsavan aren’t exactly teeming with facilities, prospects and international opportunities for the locals, in fact, the same could be said for all of Laos. In a turn of events however, a group of football mad teenagers from the bomb ravished countryside of Phonsavan, met a British traveller called Gareth Carter who proved that embracing the journey could lead a man…a whole team of men…to a destination they had never dreamed. This motley football team, without even so much as a uniform or proper football shoes but instead, a whole lot of diligence, discipline and enthusiasm became the first ever Lao team to play outside of Asia when they travelled to Sweden in 2010 to play in The Gothia Youth World Cup. Gareth was instrumental in making this happen and seeing the young Lao boys experience their first flight, the salty ocean, the long summer days in Sweden (when it doesn’t get dark), foreign food (not a highlight for them) and international camaraderie and competition, as these generally tiny but nimble guys took to the grounds in their toughest year yet as they competed amongst 71 nations. The boys made it to the Under 18s B semi-finals after many great victories, including those against teams from the United States (2-1), Brazil (5-0), Sweden (3-0), Hungary (2-0) and Scotland (3-2). In recognition of their outstanding record of good sportsmanship, the Lao team was awarded the Fair Play Cup and returned home elated and …. hungry and really looking forward to a home cooked meal and sticky rice! Stray Asia has sponsored a local football team in Luang Prabang. Ask our guides when they are playing - it’s always a great day out!

PHONSAVAN TRAVEL DAY: PHONSAVAN TO LUANG PRABANG Leaving at 0730 from Phonsavan we spend the morning touring the Plain of Jars. Afterwards, we head back to Phonsavan for a quick lunch. The drive back to Luang Prabang is quite long but beautiful and takes us via Phou Khoun at about 1445. We will stop in Phou Khoun briefly before completing our trip to Luang Prabang around 1830. The Plain of Jars - We first travel out to Site 2 and 3 of the Plain of Jars which allows us to view the 2000+ year old stone jars which are of mysterious purpose and origin. Nobody knows exactly what they were for or where the stone came from but there are a few theories around. The most promising seems to be that of a burial tradition involving putting the corpse inside the jar and a stone lid over the top of it however, some also say that they could be for salt storage for non-sedentary ancient peoples and more comically giant Lao-Lao whiskey cups for the giants who local legend says used to live in this area. Either way they serve to wake our brains up in the morning and provide fantastic photo opportunities. Sites 2 & 3 are small but atmospheric sites containing fewer but more condensed jars than Site 1 in addition to beautiful rural scenery and a cool morning mist. BanNapiaor‘SpoonVillage’- showcases locals making the best of the left over ordinance in the area as they melt down the bomb casings and re-cast the metal into spoons, bracelets and chop sticks. You can buy them if you like and even have a go at making one- LAK 5,000 p/spoon or bracelet. This is optional depending on time spent at the Plain of Jars. After this it’s off to Site 1 of the Plain of Jars which is the largest of the 3 sites with around 330 jars and lids. Another stark reminder of how close and how real the Secret War was in Laos is the bomb craters and trench lines in and amongst the jars at this site, not to mention the clearly marked path leading around the area that shows which areas have been cleared of UXO and which are still a deadly threat to Lao today. Site 1 also has a cave that relates to another theory about the jars with some local tradition claiming the jars were moulded using natural materials such as clay, sand, sugar, and animal products in a type of stone mix and that the cave at Site 1 was actually a kiln and that the huge

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jars were fired there and are not actually made of stone. See page 30 for details on accommodation, activities and special notes. Lao Language Lesson We arrive in Luang Prabang early enough to go shopping in the colourful night market which has a host of handmade souvenirs and offers the best shopping in Laos – definitely not to be missed. To help you get that great bargain, here are some key Lao sentences: How much is that? - a ni tao dai? Too expensive - peng lai Can you discount? - lut dai bor? Thank you - khop chai And to be environmentally friendly and help reduce the immense amount of plastic and rubbish in Laos: I don’t want a bag - bor ao toung


Stray Stories Simon, a Stray Asia passenger from Australia attempted to make a spoon at “Spoon Village”. After watching the dexterous staff quickly and easily melt down the metal UXO, poor it into a mould and produce a perfect utensil, Simon decided to give it a go but realized pretty quickly it actually took a lot of skill, patience and agility. With giggles and offers of help coming from the staff, Simon’s attempt at making a spoon didn’t really work so they helped him to turn it into a chop stick, which also failed eventually falling over itself to coincidentally make a perfect braclet – well a unique designer bracelet that is!

The mysterious Plain of Jars


Stray Asia 2012/13


Today we leave Luang Prabang at 0700 for Vang Vieng. We make a few short stops along the way including a breath-taking view point for photos and snacks and arrive at approximately 1330 in Vang Vieng. This drive takes us high into the mountains winding past magnificent peaks up to 2000 m above sea level and large valley systems before

dropping out of the mountains to the relative flat geography of Vang Vieng.

You can still see the abandoned air strip behind the centre of town.

Vang Vieng used to be a small stop off on the way to Vientiane. Imagine small smoky opium dens with Lao men lounging around in a haze of utopia, red beetle-nut stained teeth on hardworking Lao ladies in the fields, naked innocent Lao kids playing with truck inner tubes on a river and spectacular, dramatic karst mountains surrounding a rural village. This idyllic setting is what attracted foreigners here, starting with the French during their colonization of Lao, the Americans during the Secret War in Laos and later the masses when Lao opened to tourism in 1989. Who wouldn’t be attracted to the spectacular scenery with limestone mountains flanking the blue skyline, a beautiful river cutting through green rice paddies and traditional wooden housing all making this place a menagerie of colour and a menagerie of activity and potential.

‘Vang Vegas’ (Vang Vieng) - today is the centre of hedonism in Laos but, despite being the tubing and partying capital of Laos, it is still easy to find some peace and quiet and enjoy the spectacular scenery surrounding the town. The town is also a base for adventure tourism with rock climbing, kayaking, trekking, cycling and endless caves to explore, tube through or climb. The small town, based on three streets and the river, has been taken over by guesthouses and TV bars which show reruns of Friends and The Family guy, forcing the locals out of the centre to make way for all the debauchery.

‘Lima Site 6’- an airstrip, just outside of Vang Vieng township, used by the CIA’s privately owned airline, Air America, and by other pilots running classified missions during the ‘Secret War’ that occurred in Laos at the time of the Vietnam War (1960s-mid 1970s).

Accommodation + Somphathai Guesthouse: A simple and clean guesthouse with large rooms located in the centre of town near the tubing office. Free Wi-Fi in lobby, AC and Fan rooms with TV and private bath starting at LAK 60,000 for fan DBL up to LAK 120,000 for AC triple. + Inthira Hotel: A quieter and more posh option in Vang Vieng. Guests can use the swimming pool at a nearby hotel for free. Free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and AC rooms. Rooms from $23 USD.

Vang Vieng Activities + Tubing: Cost is LAK 115,000 – LAK 55,000 tube hire + transport and LAK 60,000 deposit (you can get this back by returning your tube before 6pm or before 8pm for a LAK 40,000 refund). Warning: While Vang Vieng is largely a playground for tourists it also has its dangers. Don’t be caught by yourself at night, party sensibly and stick with your friends at all times - this means on the river, in town or in transit in between. Beware of tuk-tuk drivers, cops and people selling drugs as extortion, blackmail and theft can be a problem here. If you need medical assistance the contact details are below for those in Vientiane and Thailand. Vang Vieng hospital is not recommended for safe medical treatment!

+ Hot Air Ballooning: One hour hot air balloon rides during the dry season over the area’s spectacular limestone peaks. $70 for adults and $50 for children with 3 runs per day (weather dependent).

+ Rock Climbing, Trekking, Caving or Kayaking with Green Discovery (cost varies on group size- ask your Stray guide). • Green Discovery offer various combinations of the activities above whether half day or full day. Enquire with your Stray Guide. Prices vary per group size.

+ Wake boarding, Jet Skiing at Blue Lagoon Resort: Prices vary however jet skiing is around LAK 100,000 for 15 minutes.

See for seasonal updates/changes


Notes + Vang Vieng has ATM's and Internet Cafes

Lao Language Lesson Hopefully you won’t need to use these phrases, but just in case….

+ Australian Embassy Clinic in Vientiane can be reached on +856 (0)21 353840 and is open Monday Friday from 0830-1230 and 1330-1700. It is the closest western standard clinic and can handle non-emergency cases. For anything more serious contact Aek Udon International Hospital in Udon Thani which operates an ambulance service to Vientiane. Transport will need to be arranged once you are in Vientiane.

I haven't done anything wrong khoy baw dai het ee nyãng pit

Aek Udon International Hospital is at 555/5 Posri Rd, Amphur Muang, Udon Thani 41000 Tel. (+66 42) 342555 Fax (+66 42) 341033.

Can I just pay a fine now? - khoy jaii kah pup mai dieo nii dai baw

Connecting ambulances (very, very basic cars) from Vang Vieng Hospital can take you to the Lao/Thai border in Vientiane to connect with the Thai ambulance. Driving time to the border is approximately 4 ½ hours and then another 2 on the other side to Udon Thani.

Stray Stories

Anna, aka Comrade, aka Elephant Poop, another Stray Asia Tour Leader who weighs in at a mere 47kg is tiny in size but large in energy and enthusiasm! She was once named “Elephant Poop” by one of her groups when she was stating that elephants poop on average 50kg per day, continuing to say “they poop one of me a day!”

The infamous tubing. As your Mum would say “Have fun but be careful!”

It was a misunderstanding - man penh kharn khao jai pit Where are you taking me? - Jao sii pha khoy bai sai Am I under arrest? - Khoy teuk jop bor

I'm lost - Khoy lohng taang I lost my wallet - Khoy seeuh gkapow I lost my bag - Khoy seeuh tong I'm sick - Khoy pben kai/Khoy boh sabai I've been injured - Khoy jep/Khoy Theug baad jep I need a doctor - Khoy tong kan Ma Can I use/borrow your phone - Khoy sai/yeum tolasup dai boh? I don’t understand - koi boh kow jai

Try hot air ballooning!


Stray Asia 2012/13


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undertake a city tour of some of Vientiane’s significant monuments including the That Luang Stupa (also known as the Golden Stupa) and the Patuxai Monument. Tham Jjiang Cave - situated at the top of a mountain, provides panoramic views of the Nam Song (the river you tubed along yesterday!), the surrounding mountains and rice paddies. It was actually used as a bunker in defense against marauding Yunnanese (Southern China) Chinese in the early 19th century. Here we can check out the Buddhist cave system that now dominates the cave and if you are up for it, take a quick swim at the base in cold, blue water straight from the mountain!

Leaving the debauchery of Vang Vieng behind, we depart from Somphathai Guest House at 1000 for the capital city of Laos. Shortly after departing Vang Vieng, we make our first stop at the impressive Tham Jiang Cave, arriving in Vientiane at approximately 1400. On arrival, we

Vientiane - Laos’ capital city. you will notice the increase in traffic, wealth, large cars, traffic lights (possibly the first you have seen in Laos!), roundabouts, high rise buildings (up to 14 floors!) and all the amenities (kind of) and chaos that a capital city entails. It is the largest city in Laos and also the economic centre but, in terms of large cities and infrastructure, Vientiane is still relatively small and quiet and charming in its own right. Based on the Mekong River with Thailand on the other side, Vientiane has a long history of struggle


with continuous inhabitation (or possibly more appropriately called - invasion) since the 10th century. The Khmer (today’s Cambodians), Siamese (today’s Thai), Burmese and Vietnamese have all governed at one time or other, repeatedly conquering and often sacking Vientiane even after the city had been integrated into the first Lao Kingdom known as Lane Xang or ‘Land of a Million Elephants’ of which the main boulevard running through Vientiane today is aptly called. That Luang Stupa - which is the symbol of Laos and Patuxai Monument which the concrete was given to Laos by the US to build a runway, but Lao thought better and decided an Arc de Triomphe would be more suitable! The city tour gives you a great overview and orientation of Vientiane and an idea of where you’d like to go back to and explore in-depth later. Ending the day at our accommodation around 1600, the city is a great place to walk around, especially on the Mekong River front as the sunsets over Thailand (the Thai town on the other side of the river is Nong Khai).


Stray Asia 2012/13

VIENTIANE Accommodation + Phoung Champa: A modern, centrally located hotel with WI-Fi, cable TV, ensuite bathroom, air conditioning and breakfast included. Rooms cost LAK 160,000 (approximately $20 USD) for twin or double.

+ Mixay Guesthouse: A centrally located guesthouse offering small, basic dorm rooms. Beds are around LAK 60,000 each ($7.5 USD). Reservations are hard to get in the high season so can’t be guaranteed. Activities + Tham Jiang Cave: LAK 2,000 to swim and LAK 15,000 to see the cave.

+ Sight-Seeing: Wat Sisaket (Vientiane’s oldest temple. Admission - LAK 5,000. Hours- 8am - noon; 1pm - 4pm) and Buddha park (an eccentric mans artwork. 8am - 4.30 pm. Cost is LAK 10,000 (separate fees for admission, motorbike, camera). That Luang Stupa (the symbol of Laos), Patuxai Monument (Lao’s version of the Arc de Triomphe), Haw Pha Kaeo (the royal temple built to house the Emerald Buddha which Siam stole).

+ The COPE Visitor Centre: a nongovernment organization supplying prosthetics primarily to victims of cluster bombs dropped during the Vietnam War. They are open every day until 6pm. Admission Free. It sounds at odds with its purpose to say this is a great place to go for ice-cream…. but it is!! Grab one to cheer yourself up while you are there learning about what is a very important issue in Laos. Proceeds go to COPE anyhow so don’t worry.

+ Me time! Massage, facials, manicures, pedicures and hair washing. Treat yourself at an affordable price anywhere in town. Notes + Train to Thailand. If going with Stray a tuk-tuk will pick you up from Phoung Champa Hotel at 3-3:30pm to take you to get tickets as well as to the first of two trains that will get you to Bangkok. Lao and Thai immigration is done at the respective train stations and you will need LAK 10,000 to exit Laos.

+ International buses to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Lasy Tour on Francois Nginn Street can help.

+ Multiple foreign embassies for assistance and visas.

+ As Laos most developed city Vientiane has the below services • ATM's and Money exchange (If going south of Vientiane make certain to get enough money for the next 4 days, there are no ATM’s for several days. If going back to Thailand, make certain to get rid of all your Lao kip; it is not accepted as currency outside of Laos). • Western standard doctors at the Australian or French Embassy. See page 41 for contact number. • Visa assistance for surrounding countries • Western minimarts, restaurants and bars • Bicycle hire for around LAK 10,000/day is a great way to explore Vientiane

+ International air and bus connections to Vietnam and Thailand.

That Luang Stupa


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in three places in the world Tad Leuk, another area within this NPA and in Thailand. So look out for these very cool lizards which can run upside down! Ethnic Groups - the people in and around the park belong to different ethnic origins, from Lao-Tai to Mon-Khmer to Hmong-Mieu groups. To the north of the park, the Long Xan valley is home to four different ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Khmu and so-called Lao Loum. There are only two villages left inside the reserve, located in the western part of the park. But there are many villages along the periphery of the park, more than 70 in the 5-kilometre buffer zone alone. All of them utilize the park in one way or the other for their livelihood.

We leave Vientiane at 1100 from Phoung Champa Hotel (see below for directions) and take the short easy drive to Tad Leuk, within the Phou Khou Khouay National Protected Area, stopping along the way to gather supplies for tonight’s camping experience. After arriving at around 1330 there is plenty of time to relax, take photos, swim, and trek the nature trails to explore the area. Phou Khao Khouay - means ‘Buffalo Horn Mountain'. ‘Phou’ means mountain, ’Khao’ means horn and ‘Khouay’ means Buffalo. This National Protected Area, is a beautiful nature reserve just a few hours from Vientiane giving access to mountains, rivers and forests and opportunities for getting up close and personal with the rich biodiversity of Laos’ jungles and if you are lucky, you could spot some of Laos’ rare wildlife which inhibit this NPA. Phou Khao Khouay spans a large area and features a variety of different ecosystems providing an ideal home for wild elephants, tigers, wild cats, bears, monkeys, civets, Sambar and Muntjak deer, slow Loris, Mouse deer, badgers, porcupines, Pangolins, otters and martens. These animals are all living in the NPA although the chances of seeing them are as rare as the wildlife itself in Laos! In 2001, the sighting of a Siamese Crocodile near to the Nam Leuk reservoir was reported, but this may have been a hoax. Whether there are still tigers present in the park remains to be reconfirmed. The very rare Phu Wah Rock Lizard is plentiful to the area but is only found

Tad Leuk - is a waterfall within the Nam Leuk, one of the three major rivers of the reserve (‘Tad’ means waterfall, while ‘Nam’ means river). The riverbed is a relatively wide sandstone plateau, dotted with numerous, sometimes deep holes. These so-called ‘whirl pools’ have been drilled into the ground by water currents, setting quite big and heavy stones into motion. The waterfall itself is not a very high one, only about 6 meters high. The amount of water varies considerably with the seasons, thus the river will get calm and gentle during late October/ November, falling nearly dry thereafter.


Lao Language Lesson Tuk Tuks – they are everywhere! These nimble, noisy and sometimes pimped out vehicles are the Lao version of a taxi and a great way to get around but remember to bargain hard. But it can get a little confusing because the Lao word for ‘every’ is also tuk tuk - of course said in a different tone that sounds exactly the same to us! So not every time you hear a Lao person say tuk tuk will they be talking about tuk tuks. They could be saying tuk tuk mer (every day), tuk tuk khun (every person), tuk tuk sing (everything), tuk tuk tuk tuk (every tuk tuk!)

Stray Stories Vman, Stray Asia Tour Guide, was wandering around Vientiane trying to find the mafia owned shooting gallery for about an hour only to find it and be told you have to bring your own bullets! Suffice to say he wasn’t walking around Vientiane with AK-47 shells - next time maybe!

Abundant Water is a not-for-profit organisation based south of Vientiane that Stray supports. It makes incredible clay-pot water filters for Lao locals.


Stray Asia 2012/13

TAD LEUK Accommodation + Campsite - Cost to stay here is LAK 60,000 pp (LAK 40,000 for the entrance fee to the NPA and LAK 20,000 for tent and gear hire). Activities + Tad Leuk is a great site for relaxing, swimming and camping, or as a starting point for trekking in the surrounding forests. All free.

+ Campfire and open fire BBQ with the local rangers, a Lao feast and a few BeerLaos. Turn up the bus stereo and relax with the stars above your head and a warm fire at your feet. Cost of a few beers and some local produce to make a meal.

+ The Tad Leuk Visitor Information Centre is very basic but holds a permanent exhibition of the flora and fauna to be found in the area. It is written in Lao as well as English.

Notes + Only two squat toilets and a visitor centre with no electricity. Truly off the beaten path!

Stray Stories

+ Because there are no facilities here

It takes all types… 10 minutes after arriving in Tad Leuk most of Amanda the guide’s group had spent a few minutes pulling their bags out of the bus and finding a change of clothes to go trekking or swimming. Not all however, Amanda walked down to the waterfall to check the river level and found two naked Austrian passengers frolicking in the shallows. After talking to a few other tour guides she finds the Austrians have been flashing it about all over the Stray Asia Network, treating (??) other guides to a shock in Vang Vieng also! Remember cultural discretion people!

(no electricity, no running water – except the river and waterfall of course, no restaurant, no shop etc. Tonight is a true camping experience in a National Park). Remember to BYO toilet paper, insect repellent, money, medication and enough food, water and beer for the afternoon, evening and the next morning! Any food we bring in will be cooked over a fire.

+ Stray keeps some outdoor games, tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and cookware at the campsite.

+ No ATM’s or cash exchange in Tad Leuk. Upon leaving Vientiane please get cash out for the following four travel days (i.e. until you reach Pakse) as ATM’s are not regularly available for this time. Also, see the section on Vientiane.

+ The visitor centre is also the start of the ‘Houey Bone Nature Trail’ (not always well maintained). Red and white triangular markers guide this 1.5-kilometre trail on trees along the way. It offers a good overview of the flora and fauna in the park.

+ When doing your grocery shop, please minimize the plastic bags you get and other rubbish. Rubbish collection at Tad Leuk is slim to none.

Getting back to basics, Tad Leuk campsite

Lao Language Lesson “Pai Na Lum Khouay” means “I went to the rice field and forgot my water buffalo!” This funny phrase is commonly used by Lao people when they make a completely obvious and very silly mistake….such as going to the field without their buffalo!


See for seasonal updates/changes

The Ho Chi Minh Train (the supply line utilised by the Viet Cong forces during the Vietnam War) was quite close to Kong Lor meaning the area suffered heavy bombing by US air forces during the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, the cave became a shelter for local villagers. The villagers lived inside the cave for about 90 days until one of the villagers spotted a duck that had paddled into the cave from the opposite direction from whence they came. The duck, a saviour, proved the cave had an exit as well as an entrance and for the first time the villagers went through the cave and discovered the exit


and escaped the bombing. Later, the cave also served as a smuggling route for ammunitions. Finally, it opened as a tourist attraction in 2002 and was lit (in the spectacular ‘Naga Palace’ area) in 2008. In addition to the cave and small amount of tourism, Kong Lor also supports a small agricultural community that has sprung up on the fertile alluvial soils planting rice during the wet season and tobacco during the dry. Today it is an idyllic village edged by impressive limestone mountains that mark the beginning of the Annamite Range, which separates Laos from Vietnam.

No doubt you’ll rise early at Tad Leuk, so we leave the campsite behind at 0800, stopping along the way for brunch and passing the breathtaking scenery of the Phu Phu Man Limestone Mountian Range. Here we find Sala Viewpoint which gives picturesque views of the limestone rock formations that punctuate the landscape in this part of Khammouane province. After stopping for a photo stop here we will arrive in KongLor around 1400. Kong Lor - in addition to its spectacular limestone mountain scenery, is the famous 7.5 km. (not 7…) Tham Kong Lor (‘tham’ meaning cave). In order to see the cave, you must first hire a boat to make your way through the cave via the river. Halfway through the cave, you’ll get out at the ‘Naga Palace’ (locals believe that a Naga, a type of snake that protected the Buddha in legend and even wanted to become a monk himself at one point in his snake life) to see the huge stalagmites and stalactites that decorate the cave. You’ll then continue through the cave, have a break on the other side and then express back. The cave is a little over a kilometre from the village and the crazy thing is, your experienced boat driver navigates the 7.5 km of pitch black by a sole head torch – that makes one amazing experience!

‘Cheese!’ Please always ask before taking photos of locals.


Stray Asia 2012/13

KONG LOR Accommodation + Chantha House: A clean and comfortable guesthouse located in Kong Lor village, only 1.5 km. from Kong Lor Cave. All rooms have fans and hot water as well as spectacular views over rice paddies and Karst Mountain scenery. So open your back windows to enjoy this location. There is a TV with a DVD player in the common area downstairs that guests can use as well as a large selection of English language movies. Restaurant onsite. Cost is LAK 80,000 for either a twin or double room (approximately $10 USD). Activities + Boat ride through Tham Kong Lor or the 7km cave: This comprises a return trip through the spectacular cave, one stop within the cave and one on the other end before returning. Cost is LAK 2,000 per person for the entrance fee and then either LAK 105 000, 110 000 or 115 000 per boat depending on if you have 1, 2 or 3 people within it. Confused? Ask your guide. Cameras should be ok to take unless you plan on dropping it, shoes/sandals may get wet so think if they will stink out the bus before you take them or not! For those who feel the cold, it can be a bit chilly in the cave at times, so bring a jacket and if you have a torch bring that too. Life jackets are supplied and you can hire headlamps.

+ Homestay opportunities can be arranged easily. Look for the signs on the main street. Prices vary but approximately LAK 50 000 pp/night. Stray’s recommendation is to lap up a bit of luxury at Chantha House after camping, because you’ll stay in a homestay in Monkey Forest. Notes + There are NO ATM’s or exchange services in Kong Lor Village so make sure you have enough money on hand. There are very few restaurants and convenience stores as well. The village is quite traditional and thus very basic.

+ The locals are really friendly. Make sure you ask before taking photos.

+ In the wet season, the red clay soil around Kong Lor cave becomes very slippery! Be careful. It’s not recommended to wear flip flops/thongs/jandals as they stick and slip!

+ In the dry season, you may be expected to hop out of your boat mid route through the cave as the boat men pull the boat up the shallow rapids. We recommend wearing enclosed footware that you don’t mind getting wet flip flops/thongs/ jandals may get washed away or break. Lao Language Lesson Laos is one of the only countries in the world where the locals eat ‘sticky rice’. If you haven’t tried it, we highly recommend it. Especially with Laap (a minced salad traditionally made of fish). Grab the sticky rice from the basket, roll it in your palm, dip it in soy sauce with fresh chili, use it to pick up the Laap and put entire contents in your mouth. Mmmm sep lai! Sep Lai means ‘very delicious’, or more specifically ‘delicious very’. But how do you order sticky rice or steamed rice? Well rice is ‘chao’ (pronounced cow), follow that with ‘niao’ for sticky or ‘jiaow’ for steamed and you have ‘chao niaw’ = sticky rice and ‘chao jiaow’ = steamed rice.

+ Kong Lor village is small, traditional and quaint. Take a wander through the village for some great photo opportunities of traditional homes, kids, buffalos, rice paddies and other spectacular scenery. Make sure you ask before taking photos of people though.

Stray Stories

Kong Lor village is a great place to get up close and personal with the rice paddies and meander through these perfectly placed crops. Some of Charlotte aka ‘Winnie’s’ passengers thought they’d do just this and get a first hand lesson on how rice grows. They were surprised to find out that the rice itself doesn’t grow underground like a carrot(!), but instead is located at the end of the rice stems in little brown husks! The next test is to be able to determine which is the steamed rice type and which is the sticky rice type…..a hint; sticky rice grains are longer. Good luck rice hunting!

Explore the Tham (cave) Kong Lor


Today the Stray Bus heads to Savannakhet province and then into the very remote Xe Champhone Wetlands to interact with pristine nature and an authentic Lao experience with a local family as we stay the night with them in their home. This is truly off the beaten track and takes us on three different modes of transport to our homestay in a really special village located in Monkey Forest. We leave Kong Lor at 0730 and drive until 1400 to have a Lao style lunch but, stop several times during this time to pick up supplies for a group meal with our home stay family. After lunch, we transfer to a local truck to take us another 30 minutes into Xe Champhone to some of the key attractions before heading to our homestay in Monkey Forest, via a short boat trip (seasonal), for a meal and an optional Baci ceremony with our Lao family arriving around 1800. Yay! The route taken today will depend on the season plus road and bridge conditions, but our visit to Xe Champhone will visit the 4 key features of the wetlands listed above either today or tomorrow. Xe Champhone Wetlands - east of Savannakhet city in the south of Lao is strikingly beautiful, remote and visually very different to the rest of Laos. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands came into force for Laos in late 2010 and designated 2 sites as Wetlands of International Importance. The Xe Champhone Wetlands with a size of 12,400 ha is one of them. It’s a remote

See for seasonal updates/changes

and difficult to access flatland area of marshes, swamps, flooded woodland forest and, amazing to see in Laos; wildlife – alive and in their natural habitat! Ramsar described the Xe Champhone Wetlands as “an outstanding example of a river with many oxbow lakes, deep pools and mats of dense floating vegetation, rare in Lao. It supports the largest population of the critically endangered Siamese Crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis) in the country and protects other species such as the endangered Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata)”. It’s highly unlikely that we will see any crocodiles but you will be guaranteed to get up close and personal with monkeys and turtles. Oh and of course, the beautiful locals that inhabit this area. Monkey Forest - or in Lao “Dong Ling” with ‘Dong’ meaning forest and ‘Ling’ meaning monkey, is a very picturesque and really quite incredible 3ha patch of sacred forest in Ban Dong Muong village. It is home to approximately 2000 Rhesus Macaque monkeys (i.e. too many monkeys for this sized forest so 100% chance of seeing them) and is an amazing place. As you walk through the forest you’ll notice that the monkeys aren’t shy but not aggressive either. The monkeys are protected and the locals believe they are the spirits of people that used to live there and therefore their customs and taboos protects any monkeys from be harmed, bought, traded, eaten etc. It’s even said that when a monkey dies, the other monkeys bring the body into the middle of the forest and perform a somewhat human like funeral. It’s really incredible to see wild monkeys in their natural habitat in Laos. The village is very small and basic with 1 temple and a couple of dozen houses, oh and who could forget the “Monkey Home Market” where the locals sell and buy food when the monkeys permit! Because of the over abundance of monkeys in this patch of sacred forest, there isn’t enough food for them. Locals tend to feed them sticky rice and candy and the patch of forest near the village is littered with rubbish. Stray can play its part by educating the village on cleaning up the rubbish and feeding the monkeys only bananas and not sticky rice and candy! The best part of all, we stay in a homestay here! Hotay Pidok Library - is a beautiful and very unique wooden structure built over 200 years ago to house Buddhist scriptures that are written in Burmese Pali,


Khmer and ancient Lao script on palm leaves. In excellent condition today, this structure high on stilts and raised above a pond is very different to other temples in Laos today. There are approximately 4000 palm leaf books in the library. The rest of temple complex is quite large and active today with monks, novices and villages frequenting the property. It overlooks the Xe Champhone river and the sacred Monkey forest on the other side. Shoes need to be removed before entering the complex, shoulders and knees need to be covered and women need to hire a traditional Lao skirt called a sinh. Nong Dao or Turtle Lake - is a really special village called Ban Done Deng is home to a natural pond that is home to the vulnerable Asiatic Softshell Turtle. The pond is 90-100 years old; the same age of the village which is home to Phu Tai people who are ethnically and linguistically different to Lao but are still within the broad, largest Lao ethnic group. The pond is home to 200+ softshell turtles ranging in ages of up to 100 years old, who are believed to be sacred by the villages and hence have helped protect them and see them grow in existence. The locals believe that if you harm a turtle or even speak ill of them, you will be cursed and get sick; so be nice even though they are a little hard on the eyes ;) The village has set up a fund to protect the turtles and of the $0.25 entrance fee, part goes to the village, part to the guardians who protect the turtles by night and part to the ticket seller. The turtles are left to their own will but if one escapes, the village puts it back. They are so revered in superstition that is a turtle dies; the village gives them the same funeral in a temple as a human would receive. It’s an amazing place and you can see many turtles. The turtles are called to the surface for food by the locals who sing (aka yell) at them from a board walk!

The amazing monkeys at Monkey Forest


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XE CHAMPHONE Old Wat Taleow is the ruins of what was an amazing and unique temple built before 1918 and was important to Buddhism in the local community until it was bombed by the American Airforce in 1969. Today, what remains of the temple is a bullet shrouded outer wall, bright and beautiful frescos on the inner sanctum, a tree so large it takes 6-7 people to circle it and bomb craters. This temple is like no modern temple in Laos today and is more symbolic of Wat Phou in Champasak and the temples of Bagan in Burma and Angkor in Siem Reap. Accommodation + Homestay with a local family: LAK 20 000 p/person. Basic communal sleeping arrangements with mattress and blanket in the family home. Everyone will be sleeping along side each other on the bamboo floor. A fun, unique experience where you get the best of genuine Lao hospitality. Activities + Stay longer in the homestay and further explore this fantastic natural area by visiting the attractions as below and enjoying the hospitality and originality of living with a traditional Lao Family.

+ Optional Baci Ceremony, LAK 50 000 p/person. See below for more info.

+ Explore Monkey Forest and feed the hungry Macques (bananas only please!)

+ Visit the Hotay Pidok Library which houses very old and sacred palm leaf Buddhist scripts written in Lao language. It’s said that the library is built on stilts over water to protect the scriptures from termites. PLEASE NOTE: Access to many of the areas mentioned above will change throughout the year with the wet and dry seasons. In the wet season we may stay overnight in Thakhek as an alternative if Xe Champhone Wetlands become completely inaccessible. If this is the case, we will undertake ‘Bomb Boat rides’ on the way out of Kong Lor to Thakhek. Locals in the Khammouane province have used old bomb casings and plane fuselages to fashion boats for daily use. These funky, unique and ingenious boats kind of look like mice! Ask your guide if you are travelling during wet season,.

+ At Hotay Pidok Library women must hire traditional Lao skirts and scarf for 5000 kip, while men are free entry at Library (sorry girls, we must be respectful of the culture). Both men and women must remove their shoes and cover their shoulders and knees.

+ At Monkey Forest locals tend to feed them sticky rice and candy and the patch of forest near the village is littered with rubbish. Play a part by educating the village on cleaning up the rubbish by setting an example and feeding the monkeys only bananas and not sticky rice and candy!

+ Visit Turtle Lake and watch the turtles and maybe even feed them, LAK 2 000 entrance fee

+ See hundreds of wild (but not dangerous) monkeys in their natural habitat.


Search out the rare and endangered Siamese Crocodiles further into the wetlands area, if you’re game to get off the Stray Bus.

+ Visit the Old Wat Taleow, which is like no other modern temple in Laos and is more similar to Angkor Wat in terms of its inspiration, however it is in ruins after being hit by American bombs in 1969.

Stray Stories

Tour Leader Steve started at Stray Asia with a severe case of Monkeyphobia and not even hypnosis helped him overcome this fear of monkeys. He tried many other techniques and found the only method that helped him was to wear a Tigger costume which made him believe that the monkeys would be scared of a tiger and hence would stay away from him. After 3 visits, he embraced these friendly primates at Monkey Forest and no longer requires the Tigger outfit! Luckily Steve doesn’t suffer from Gelotophobia (fear of being laughed at) and hopefully none of you suffer from Gephyrophobia (fear of bridges)….

Notes + No ATM’s in Xe Champhone Wetlands. Use one in Thakhek as we pass through on our way to Turtle Lake.

+ Monkey Forest Village is too small and remote to cater for Stray passengers in regards to food and drinks. We therefore will do a communal shop on the way to our destination and purchase all necessary supplies for the evening. Lao Language Lesson Try these Lao terms with your homestay family! Sabaidee (Sa-Bai-Dii) = Hello Jao = Yes Baw = No Sabaai-dii baw? = How are you? Jao seu nyang? = What's your name? Khop Jai = Thank You Mii ... baw? = Do you have... ? Nam Deum = Drinking water Tao dai keep = How much Kip? Paeng = Expensive Jao ngam lai = You are very beautiful (maybe not appropriate to say to your hosts, but you could try it on your tour leader!)

Traditional wear for visiting Library

Homestay etiquette Please read and follow the below guidelines on the proper behaviour while staying with a local family.

5. Never touch a Lao person on their head. This includes children. 6.

You should probably know by now that this might be one of the most rewarding facets of your trip - through staying with a Lao family, you’re able to gain valuable insights into the daily life of the country's culture which you wouldn’t normally get from staying in a guesthouse. To make this a better experience for you and for your host family, please be aware of the following: Every family has a specific set of routines and rules that they follow, and it is your job to ask about this as soon as you arrive. Politely ask questions such as when the family usually eats and goes to bed, and observe how the other family members act. Feel free to ask questions about any unfamiliar routines and realize that your local guide, tour leader and host family is essentially there to help you get the most out of this experience. It’s highly likely that there will be at least some awkwardness during the evening. After all, you and your host family are attempting to bridge cultural and spatial gaps that are so vastly different to each other. Enjoy the experience, that’s what their goal is for you anyway! 1. You are sleeping in the home of a local family. Traditionally Lao people go to sleep early and rise with the sun. Having you there is no exception. You’ll find your host family will retire around 8:30pm and get up no later than 6am (you may wake to the family’s radio or TV at this early hour!) The house is open and you can hear everything, so whilst it’s not expected that you also retire at 8:30pm, please be considerate of your host family and keep noise levels to a minimum or take the party out of the house. 2. Engage your host family by using your Local Guide to interact with them, asking them questions and involving them. Ask them about the history of the area and local traditions etc. 3. Remove your shoes before entering a Lao home and wear modest clothing as to not embarrass your conservative hosts and the surrounding village. 4. Greet your host family with a “Nop” which is an action where your hands are placed in prayer position in front of your chest or higher and you quickly, briefly lower your head. Do this whilst saying “sabaidee” which means hello. And of course a smile!

See for seasonal updates/changes





7. Stray passengers are hot. That’s a given! So if you’ve met that person of your dreams on your trip, or you’ve brought them over from afar, please refrain from public displays of affection. Lao people never canoodle in public; nor should you. You may want to keep that gap between your mattresses tonight too ;) 8. Give back to the host family by being polite. Do not give money and other gifts (besides the cost of the homestay of course). Giving money and goods away at random to individuals accentuates an unequal relationship between locals and visitors, with tourists being seen as purely ‘money givers’. It also strips self esteem away from people when they get money for simply being poor rather than having to solve their own issues of poverty through community action. We also need to be careful not to pay for acts of kindness in monetary terms. We do not want to encourage the development of a society that equates every human action as a potential money making scheme. There are many NGO’s and charities in Laos which can distribute any donations in a fair way. 9. Do not give sweets to children in the villages that we visit. Avoid feeling that you necessarily have to give ‘material‘ things. The best giving can sometimes be shared interactions like a smile, joke, sing-song, dance or playing a game. Giving something of your friendship, time and interest to interact with locals can be the best gift of all.


Why have a ceremony? The concept of Kwan explained… Kwan are components of the soul, but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”. It is an ancient belief in Laos that the human being is a union of 32 organs and that the kwan watch over and protect each one of them. It is of the utmost consequence that as many kwan as possible are kept together in the body at any one time. Since missing kwan are often the attributed cause of an illness, the baci ceremony calls the kwan or souls from wherever they may be roaming, back to the body, secures them in place, and thus re-establishes equilibrium. The ceremony itself usually involves local villagers and yourselves sitting around what is known as a Pha Kwan (a centrepiece made up of flowers and banana tree leaves among other things) while village elders chant and exchange white cotton bracelets with everyone present. After the ceremony you will usualy share a small meal with everyone present and drink some Beerlao or lao lao or both! The baci bracelets should be worn for at least three days subsequently and should be untied rather than cut off. Usually it is preferred that they are kept until they fall off by themselves. In Laos, white is the color of peace, good fortune, honesty and warmth. The white cotton thread is a lasting symbol of continuity and brotherhood in the community and permanence.

Baci Ceremony…a cool and very interesting optional activity! The Baci is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or one of the annual festivals. A mother is given a baci after she has recovered from a birth, the sick are given bacis to facilitate a cure, officials are honored by bacis, and novice monks are wished luck with a baci before entering the temple. The Baci ceremony can take place any day of the week and all year long. The term more commonly used is su kwan, which means “calling of the soul”.

Baci Ceremony


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Mr Coffee wok-roasting some beans

Departing our homestay family at 7.45am we walk through the Monkey Forest on our way back to the road and our local truck. After visiting the remaining Xe Champhone attractions we may not have seen yesterday, we meet back up with the Stray Bus at 1100 and head off, stopping for lunch along the way in Ban Pak Mouang and arriving at our destination; Ban Tad Lo in the late afternoon, early evening. Tad Lo - is a small, peaceful town located on the banks of the Seset River, surrounded by forests and villages primarily inhabited by Katu and Alak people. It is quickly becoming a popular stopover for backpackers keen on waterfalls, elephant riding and day treks. The Bolaven Plateau - is an elevated region in Laos located between the Annamite Mountain Range, along which runs Laos’ eastern border with Vietnam, and the Mekong River to the west. It lies in an extinguished volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. The name Bolaven makes reference to the Laven ethnic group which has historically dominated the region. The plateau's elevation ranges approximately from 1,000 to 1,350 metres (3,300 to 4,430 ft) above sea level. The region’s elevation, volcanic soil, and wetter and cooler microclimate makes it a spectacular place to grow coffee and tea. In addition to numerous coffee and tea plantations scattered about the region, a plethora of waterfalls can also be found. The predominant ethnic group in the

Bolaven Plateau is the Laven, though other Mon-Khmer (of Cambodian origin; the term Mon-Khmer refers to their language group) ethnic groups reside in the area including the Alak, Katu, Taoy, and Suay. Katu and Alak villages are distinctive because they arrange their palm-and-thatch houses in a circle. One unique Katu custom is the carving of wooden caskets for each member of the household way before they are expected to die. The caskets are stored beneath homes or rice sheds until their services are required. The Alak, Katu and Laven are also distinctive for the face tattoos of their women, a custom slowly dying out as Lao influence in the area increases. The majority of people belonging to these ethnic groups follow animist belief systems, with some groups still practicing animal sacrifices (e.g., there is a yearly water buffalo sacrifice at a Taoy village outside Tad Lo village). However, more recently, some of these minority communities are beginning to adopt Buddhist beliefs because of their contact with Lao Loum (the Lao majority) people. French colonization - in 1893, started when the French first seized territories east of the Mekong River and later annexed minor extensions of land to the west of the Mekong in 1904 and 1907. For the Bolaven Plateau, the period of French colonization in Laos is most significant because of the agricultural techniques acquired from the French by the inhabitants. The French planted and experimented with coffee, rubber, various other cash crops, and a variety of fruits and vegetables that were not

previously grown in the region. It was not until the French introduced farming to the region in the early 20th century that the Bolaven Plateau became a significant agricultural area. The Phu Mi Bun revolt - where local Lao Theung tribes (Alak, Nyaheun and Laven people) challenged French domination, erupted in 1901 and was not suppressed until 1907. Unfortunately there is not much literature on these particular revolutionary revolts in the Bolaven Plateau, but one can see that it is quite evident that the native communities desired to rid the region of the extensive and overpowering influence of their colonizers. The Vietnam War - meant the Bolaven Plateau was one of the most heavily bombed theatres, being under almost consistent bombardment by US aircraft in the late 1960s. The Ho Chi Minh Trail – the main supply line to the Northern Vietnamese Army, passed directly through this area. More specifically, the shortcut Paksong-Attapeu was part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that connected the 3rd North South Connection to the 2nd North South Connection. Controlling the Bolaven Plateau was considered strategically vital to both the Americans and North Vietnamese, as evidenced by the staggering amount of UXO (unexploded ordinance) still lying about and the number of huge bomb craters (you will see one of these near Tad Fane resort at Tad Fane waterfall). Don’t worry - many of the tourist areas have been cleared and rechecked for UXO; as long as you stay on marked paths there is little danger.

TAD LO Accommodation + Sipasert Guesthouse: A basic, but clean guesthouse on the banks of the river offering large rooms/ bungalows with a great view and (mostly) hot showers and private bath. There is a restaurant onsite. LAK 60,000 for a bungalow (only 2 available) and rooms for LAK 60,000 (approximately $7.50 and $8.75 USD respectively).

See for seasonal updates/changes

Lao Language Lesson If you haven’t guessed by now “tad” means waterfall and there is no shortage of beautiful waterfalls in the south of Laos that Stray visits. There may be a test at the end of the trip, so here’s a cheat sheet: Tad Leuk, Tad Lo, Tad Hang, Tad Fane, Tad Yeung, Tad Li Phi.

+ Saise Resort: A more deluxe option that consists of a variety of bungalows scattered across a hill with a view of Tad Hang. Restaurant onsite. AC rooms available with TV. Rooms start at LAK 150,000 (approximately $18.75 USD) for A/C with TV and hot shower. Activities + Volunteer - Teach or provide resources for the local computer training school run by Tim’s Guesthouse. They are interested in people with computer networking skills. Alternatively if you would like to provide blank CD’s, books (writing, novel, technical; it’s all welcome), writing supplies then feel free. Probably the best place to pick some up is in Vientiane before leaving for the south.

+ Waterfall spotting - Tad Hang is the closest and provides the best opportunity for taking a swim. Tad Lo is a 10 meter high waterfall reached by crossing the bridge over to the Saise Resort and following the road up hill and finally Tad Suong, is a beautiful waterfall located about 10km from town that is best reached by hiring a bike or motorbike.

+ Hour-long elephant rides can be arranged at Tim’s Guesthouse or at Tad Lo Lodge. The treks take you along the river, through the jungle, and past local villages. Cost: 100,000 LAK / person / hour. Elephants are limited and only available for riding a few times per day. Notes + There are limited services in Tad Lo – no ATM’s and only one small internet café offering internet for 500 LAK/minute.

+ The Seset River and nearby waterfalls are a great place to swim but beware! There is a dam located upstream that is released two times per day. Be sure to ask the locals when the next release will be so you don’t catch yourself in a massive surge of water.

Stray Stories

Swimming with elephants in the river at Ban Tad Lo is so much fun… or so Yuval aka ‘Wan’ and his group thought. That was until the elephant dropped about 10kg of dung in the water beside them! Tad Fane Waterfall


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Today we leave Tad Lo at 0900 and at 1000 we arrive in Paksong, the main town of the Bolaven Plateau, for an optional 1 ½ hour-long coffee workshops in which Dutch ex-pat, Mr Coffee, takes you every step of the way from planting the coffee trees to wok-roasting and packaging the beans. After our coffee workshop we head to Tad Yeung and Tad Fane, two of the most impressive waterfalls in Laos before arriving in Pakse. After four days of being off the beaten track, we arrive in the city of Pakse around 1430. Tad Yeung - is a beautiful, misty 50 metre high waterfall that plunges into a pool. There is a restaurant, coffee shop, and a resort located onsite as well as swimming opportunities in the dry season. Admission: LAK 10,000. Tad Fane - is one of the tallest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. This spectacular, emotive waterfall boasts a twin water stream that runs out of the high Bolaven Plateau and plunges 200 metres (656 feet) down the gorge to the valley floor below. Admission: LAK 5,000. Views are from the otherside of the circular canyon and makes a great photo (can be quite foggy at certain times throughout the year). Pakse - is situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Se-Done Rivers and was founded by the French as an administrative outpost in 1905. It was also formerly the capital of the Lao Kingdom of Champasak and residence of the King of Champasak although today Pakse has become the commercial

centre of southern Laos and with its central location and close borders to its neighbouring countries, the city is heavily influenced by the Vietnamese, Khmer (Cambodians) and Thai making it a cultural hub and all those Lao words you have mastered may be spoken in a completely different dialect here! Champasak Province - was once, about 1400 years ago, the centre of power in the lower Mekong basin. Later, the area became a strong outpost of the Khmer Angkor Empire and then one of the three kingdoms to rule over the remains of the Lane Xang Kingdom. The Kingdom of Champasak (1713–1946) broke away from the existing Lane Xang kingdom in 1713. The Kingdom prospered at the beginning the 18th century, but it was reduced to a vassal state of Siam (currently Thailand) before the century had passed. Under French rule the kingdom became an administrative block with its royalty stripped of many of its privileges. The Kingdom of Champasak was abolished in 1946 when the Kingdom of Laos was formed. The history of Champasak province began with participation in the Funan and Chena Empires (pre-Angkor Indianized Kingdoms) between the 1st and 9th centuries AD. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, Champasak became part of the extensive Cambodian Angkor Empire. After the decline of Angkor (between 15th and 17th centuries), it became part of the Lane Xang Kingdom, only to break away from it in 1713 to form an independent Lao Kingdom. The short-lived Champasak Kingdom only had 3 monarchs – Soi Sisamut (1713-1737), Sainyakuman (1737-1791), and Fai Na (1791-1811). Short History of Coffee Production in Laos (don’t tell Mr Coffee we told you this!) The first coffee plants were introduced into Laos between 1913 and 1916 by the French colonialists but the experiment failed very quickly. In 1917, coffee plants (Arabica and Robusta), selected from Saigon's botanical garden, were planted by the French at Thateng, a small village situated in the northern part of the Bolaven Plateau and the plants adapted well to the climate of the southern Lao province but most of them did not survive due to lack of care (and the French’s black thumbs). Coffee production did not really develop until 1930 when an annual production of 5.000 tons of Arabica coffee was harvested. Twenty years later, in 1950, most of the coffee plants

were destroyed by a combination of orange rust disease and severe frost. Production fell to less than 1.500 tons and farmers gradually replaced the Arabica plants with Robusta, a more resistant variety to disease and low temperature. In 1970, Laos had produced about 7.000 tons of coffee but production dropped sharply again during the war. During the early 1980's, farmers' interest in coffee production had renewed and nowadays about 15,000 tons of coffee is produced in Laos, 95% of which is Robusta. Accommodation + Lankham Hotel: A large, basic, hotel offering fan and A/C rooms and free Wi-Fi in the lobby. Although basic, the Lankham Hotel is the best valued hotel in town, with a central location, ensuite bathrooms and hot shower. On-site noodle soup shop (very popular with locals) and baguette stand. Double/Twin Fan rooms: LAK 60,000. Double/Twin A/C rooms: LAK 90,000

+ Seng Ahloun Hotel: A modern, deluxe hotel option located across the road from Lankham Hotel. The quiet rooms feature TV and AC. Includes breakfast and WI-FI. Superior Rooms start from $35

+ Champasak Palace Hotel: This hotel was originally built as the palace for the last king of Laos, so it is definitely fit for the royalty in all of us. Free high-speed internet access is available in Superior, VIP, Queen and King Royal Suite rooms at Champasak Palace Hotel. Rooms start at $26 USD and go to $160 USD

Stray Stories Locals say they have sometimes found tigers and deers at the bottom of Tad Fane. Poor things must have lost their footing whilst drinking from the water stream and plummeted the 200 metres to their death. Either that or the buffalo pushed them overboard…. Tony a former Stray Asia tour leader and experienced skydiver was travelling with his parachute and thought it would be a great idea to BASE jump off the top of Tad Fane. That was until he found out it was a 2-3 day hike out of the canyon! He stuck to Hot Air Ballooning in Vang Vieng after that.

PAKSE Activities + Mr. Coffee ‘Coffee Workshop’: A not to be missed experience. LAK 50,000 for coffee workshop, all you can drink coffee and plantation tour. You can purchase his coffee in ‘one way’ breathable, sealed bags so you can take it home without it going off. Even if you don’t like a cup of organic, fair trade coffee to get your day going, it’s still really interesting and you can have tea or hot chocolate instead.

+ Tree Top Explorer (multi-day zip-lining in the canopy of spectacular Lao jungle): This 2-3 day adventure involves jungle trekking, hidden waterfalls, zip lining and spending the night in deluxe tree houses in the middle of nowhere. Price includes all food, accommodation, water, safety gear, and an English-speaking guide. 2 day/1 night package from $197 USD p/ person (where group is 4 or more people). 2 night/3 day from $256 USD p/person (where group is 4 or more people).

+ Champasak Palace Massage and Sauna: LAK 50 000 for a 1 hour Lao Body Massage.

+ Riverside Bars and Restaurants: There’s a plethora of restaurants and bars all along the Mekong all of which are pleasant for a BeerLao around sunset.

See for seasonal updates/changes

+ Karaoke!: Just around the corner from the Pakse Hotel is a small Karaoke Bar which loves foreign guests showing up and belting out a Gwen Stefani ballard or two. Beware their selection is limited to really poppy songs from more than a few years ago.

+ Champasak Historical Heritage Museum: (Rd. 13, open Mon-Fri 8.3011.30am and 1.30-4pm). This small museum houses historical artifacts from ancient temples, textiles, musical instrument and some mildly interesting propaganda. Cost: LAK 5,000 + Don Kho (Saphai Village): Located about 17km from Pakse on the Mekong River, Don Kho is famous for its silk weaving. The island was settled by a group of families from Attapeu hundreds of years ago. The several houses on the island are all on stilts providing a cool space beneath where just about every family spends the day spinning thread and weaving fabric by hand -- when they aren't cultivating local crops of corn, watermelon, and rice. Tours can be arranged at the Visitors' Information Centre in Pakse or through any place that has travel services. A boat tour of the island should cost


about 50,000 kip per person, 40,000 kip extra for an English-speaking guide.

+ Talat Dao Heung (New Market): One of the largest markets in the country, selling anything and everything from shampoo to Bolaven coffee beans. Located near the Lao-Japanese Mekong Bridge.

+ Panorama Bar: The awesome rooftop bar on top of the Pakse Hotel, which offers a view all the way to China! Notes + Bus connection to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia + International Airport + ATM’s and Money Exchange (better rates here than Don Det) + Visa assistance for Vietnam visas Lao Language Lesson In case you are off to Karaoke tonight, you may want to try this sentence with a local: “Jiao long peng bor?” which means ‘can you sing a song?”. You generally won’t be turned down, but don’t count on getting that mic back!!


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Leaving Pakse at 0730 we head straight for Wat Phou, passing through the quaint town of Champasak, arriving 0900. We spend 1 ½ hours walking around the museum building and the temple itself. After leaving Wat Phou we eat lunch on the road (pick up some takeaways before you leave Pakse) while expressing to

Ban Nakasong; from here we will take a small river boat to Don Det within The Four Thousand Islands arriving around 1430. Wat Phou - is a large, ornate temple complex spread over a hillside and approaching river plain that dates to the 11th century but has a history as a temple site back to the 5th century. It was the capital of the Khmer Empire (based in present day Cambodia) previous to Angkor Wat and was therefore a very important site in its day. It is of special importance because of its natural water spring that comes out of the cliff behind the main temple building and the large natural ‘linga’ or phallic symbols that dot the horizon and mountain sides. The ‘linga’ was an important symbol in Khmer-Hindu culture and can be seen all over the complex and the museum. Currently a Buddhist temple and a recent UNESCO world heritage site, Wat Phou is an unexpected gem in Southern Lao and is relatively un-frequented during the morning. See notes for costs. The Four Thousand Islands - are a collection of small islands in the Mekong River which are sparsely inhabited and have been drawing tourists to its

bohemian shores for a good few years now. In Lao these islands are known as Si Phan Don which is actually, to get all fancy, a ‘riverine archipelago’. The principle islands are: Don Khong (the biggest), Don Det, and Don Khone (pronounced Don Kon). Key features of the islands include the laid-back lifestyle and lack of infrastructure (including a distinct lack of cars on Don Det and the recent addition of power in 2011!), the remains of the 1st railway in Laos, endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, and the Li Phi and Khone Phapheng Falls just to name a few.

Tubing but without the Vang Vieng bars and swings!

DON DET Don Khone - has the remains of the 1st railway built in Laos, the Don Det – Don Khone narrow gauge railway, constructed by the French in 1917 to bypass the Khone Phapheng Falls (a succession of impassable ridiculously strong rapids) and enable vessels, freight and passengers to travel along the Mekong River. The railway, which connected the two islands via a bridge that continues to exist today, was an essential link for colonial France’s trade and travel between their southern Vietnam port of Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh city) and their upriver administrative towns in Laos (including Pakse, Savannakhet, and Vientiane). The railway also allowed the French to export coffee beans. However, Japanese attacks against the French in Indochina during WWII forced the train to stop in 1945, never to run again. See notes below for costs.

See for seasonal updates/changes

Accommodation + Mr. Mo’s Guest House: Bungalows and rooms available or various configurations. Basic Bungalows from LAK 30 000, double/twin from LAK 80 000 – 150 000 and a triple (only one available) from LAK 100 000.

Activities + Dolphin Stalking: The endangered Irrawaddy dolphin exists in small isolated populations around SE Asia. They are identified by a bulging forehead, a short beak, and 12-19 teeth on each side of each jaw. The pectoral fin is broadly triangular. There is a small dorsal fin, on the posterior end of the back. When diving, this dolphin breathes at intervals of 70-150 seconds; the head appears first and then disappears, and then the back emerges, but the tail is rarely seen. Irrawaddy dolphins are distributed in shallow, near-shore tropical and subtropical marine waters. They are primarily found in estuaries and semi-enclosed water bodies such as bays and sounds, usually close to mangrove forests. Freshwater populations occur in river systems. The main threats to them are fisheries bycatch and habitat loss. Thank you WWF. Irrawaddy Dolphins can be seen (most likely in the dry season) in the Mekong river between Laos and Cambodia. It’s a great afternoon trip, not to mention incredibly scenic and fun, for when you arrive on Don Det. To get there hire a bicycle for LAK 10,000 and cycle along Don Det’s water's edge until you reach the bridge connecting Don Det and Don Khone. Trolls live under the bridge and will charge you LAK 20,000 to cross (return crossing involved, just be sure to keep your ticket). Once on Don Khone, follow the road straight off the bridge, passing the remains of Laos’ first train on the right, until you eventually reach a boat pier. You would have passed the entrance to Li Phi falls, which is a nice stop if you have time. To go dolphin spotting, a boat can be hired for LAK 70 000 p/ boat (fitting max 3 people). Depending on the water conditions and where the dolphins are chilling, you may have the opportunity to go to Cambodia (no passport required for this visit, but you will need $2 or LAK 20,000). Enjoy a Angkor Beer, spot some fins and head back!

+ Malina’s Bungalows: Nice bungalows

+ Kayaking: There’s a great kayaking day

with ensuite (western toilet and shower) from 70 000 LAK and is centrally located.

trip including Li Phi Falls, Done Khone Island, Dolphin area and more from $45 USD per day (for group of 4 people or more, includes guide, equipment and lunch).

Khonephapheng Falls - are well known as the prime reason why the Mekong River is not fully navigable into China. In the late 19th century French colonialists made repeated attempts to navigate the falls but their efforts failed. This difficulty led to the construction of the Don Det - Don Khone narrow gauge railway on Don Det and Don Khone islands. Khone Phapheng Falls is best accessed from the mainland or through a boat trip organized at the boat piers on Don Khone. Li Phi Falls - are a series of rapids than waterfall located just north of Khone Phapeng falls. It is best seen during the dry season when the cascade’s clear waters are tinted emerald green.

+ Little Eden Guest House: Located in a prime position at the top of the island to watch the sun set, Little Eden is a deluxe option with well finished, clean rooms starting from $35


+ Just rent a bike and go for a cruise, it’s beautiful and quiet. LAK 10 000 for bike hire with rental shops mainly in Don Det township.

+ Enjoy a drink as the sun sets at one of the best vantage points on Don Det; appropriately named ‘Sun Set Bar’.

+ Fishing: Fishing trips, involving traditional lessons and a BBQ dinner, can be arranged at Mr. Mo’s Guesthouse or at several other places in town. Cost is usually LAK 70,000 for a half day.

+ Tubing: Like in Vang Vieng, but without the bars and swings. Tubes can be hired for LAK 10,000 in town or you can go tubing as part of a day or half day trip. Most places will inform you on where is best to tube before they let you go. Notes + Entrance fee to Wat Phou is LAK 30 000 (an absolute bargain compared to its sister Angkor Wat, not to mention the lack of crowds!!)

+ If crossing from Don Det to Don Khone via the connecting bridge you may be charged LAK 20 000 p/ person to cross. Or you may not, you are in Laos after all! This is applicable if going to Don Khone or Li Phi falls.

+ Remember that the Lao Kip is no good in any other country and you can’t change it to any other currency outside of Laos. As Don Det will most likely be one of your last destinations in Laos, remember to get rid of your Kip.

+ There are no ATM’s in Don Det so make sure you have enough cash to last you. There are exchange facilities; however the rates are generally better in Pakse. If you get desperate you can catch a boat to Bak Nakasang where there’s an ATM and bank about 3 minutes away from the boat ramp.

+ For Cambodian visa information see page 59.


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Bangkok Returning to Bangkok or Vientiane with Stray + Many people head south from here to Cambodia however you can also get back to Bangkok with Stray Asia. You can also express back to Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Huay Xai if you want to.

+ The day after arriving in Don Det the Stray bus leaves for Vientiane (and Thailand) at 0700 arriving at 1100 to the Thai/Lao border. At this point those going onto Bangkok can cross the border and get onto an overnight train to Bangkok. Those that would like to travel on to Vientiane can stay on the bus arriving in Vientiane around 2330. Then the following days express to Luang Prabang, then Huay Xai. For further details of these travel days speak to your Stray Guide or check Stray’s website

+ Weekdays before 0800 and after 1600, on public holidays and weekends there is a LAK 10 000 exit fee from Laos. There is no entrance fee to Thailand. All you need for these border crossings is your passport. You will be given a free 15 day Thai Visa, unless you have a multipleentry Thai Visa, upon arrival in Thailand.

+ See page 13 for details on activities and accommodation in Bangkok and page 44 for Vientiane. Lao Language Lesson The 4,000 Islands are also known by the Lao name “Si Phan Don”. But does it really mean 4,000 Islands? Broken down, the three words mean the following: ‘Si’ means 4, ‘Phan’ means thousand and ‘Don’ means island. But Lao is a tonal Language (yes that’s right, be careful with how you say your words!) and ‘Si’ said in a slightly different tone means colour. Some say the original name for the 4,000 Islands was ‘A thousand colour islands’ which makes sense as well as you navigate your way through the beautiful archipelago, you will discover how colourful it is with hundreds of shades of greens, blues, browns and so on! But the Thousand Colour Islands has morphed with time and become Four Thousand Islands!!

Don Det is the perfect place to chill for a while

Stray Stories Vinay, aka Vman, one of Stray Asia’s tour guides gets in from the end of a great trip through southern Laos with a fantastic group. He gets all his passengers into Mr Mo’s Guest House, gets everyone sorted with activities, makes small talk with the owner and decides he better have a beer and a nap before meeting the group and local guide, for dinner. So he orders a beer and waits in Mr Mo’s restaurant for it to come… and waits…. and waits, you know Lao service! It finally comes and he asks for a glass as well; "pusou, nung jok kaluna" or “waitress, one glass please” he says trying to do his best with his Lao skills. After saying this, she shoots him a very evil look and backs away before saying something to her boss in Lao. He was actually kind of scared by her response as it was that venomous! The waitresses boss says to him, "it’s not 'jok' but 'jaawk'. Vinay says “OK”, sips his beer and wonders what went wrong; he finishes his beer and goes for a granddad nap before dinner. At dinner he repeats his Lao sentence to his local guide Phone, thinking that he had said something a bit wrong. After hearing Vman’s story, and rolling on the ground laughing for a minute or so Phone tells him he wasn’t just a bit wrong and that the word for 'glass' must be elongated in Southern Lao otherwise it doesn't mean ‘glass’ anymore like it does in the north. What he actually asked her was 'Waitress, can I have one squeeze of your breasts please?' Suffice to say Vman was mildly embarrassed… for some reason it’s very easy to say something sexual when you mis-pronounce the tones used in Lao language!

See for seasonal updates/changes



Visas: Leaving Laos and entering Cambodia Note that it is not possible to use the online E-Visa option to enter Cambodia from Laos. It is however possible to exit through this border if you have an E-visa. Read below for details on visa on arrival. Firstly, when you arrive at the border you will have to check out of Laos and should have a Lao Immigration departure form inside your passport that needs to be filled in and stamped by officials. You just need this form, passport and USD $2 and you’ll have no problems leaving Laos. To get into Cambodia you need a visa but this can be processed on arrival at the Cambodian border. See note 7. You can either do this yourself or get the bus staff (see below) to arrange this for you.

+ If you do it yourself you will need the following a) Passport b) Two forms to be filled out either on your way or to the border (you can get them off the bus staff in Ban Nakasong as described below) c) Passport photo d) Money: Usually this will be $28 USD however this is subject to change (see note 1). This is made up of $23 for the visa itself, $2 for a Cambodian ‘stamp’ in your passport, and $1 for going through Cambodian quarantine. e) Including the exit fee from Laos this comes to $28 USD.

+ If you decide you would like the bus staff to sort out your visa for you then you need to give them your passport, photo, $29 USD (which covers everything mentioned above and little extra for the convenience), the two forms filled out. This should be done when you are in Ban Nakasong (see transport logistics above). Further bus and visa notes

1. At this point you can hand over your documents to the bus staff so they can arrange your visa for you or if you are set on doing it yourself then you can get forms off them to complete and use once you arrive at the Cambodian border. 2. Once at the border, if the bus staff are taking care of your visa just wait for instructions from them once you arrive. If you are completing your own visa; • Go to the Lao immigration window and “exit” by handing in your Lao exit form and get stamped out of Laos. • Say goodbye to Laos and walk to Cambodia (walk straight ahead!)

The bus staff will usually help you sort out your visa. • On your left you will be stopped at a table which is Cambodian quarantine. Fill out the form, pay USD$1 and have a gun pointed at your forehead (temperature gun!) • Opposite this is the next stop, this is where you will hand in your passport, photo, visa application form and $23. • Get your passport back and head to the next window. Pay $2 and get the official stamp. Now you are officially in Cambodia! 3. There is no real system to figure out which bus is yours and not a great deal of people to help you figure out which bus is yours. Head up to a bus, show your ticket and hop on (unless instructed to hop on a different bus). There is no system because at this point all buses are going to the same place; they will move you onto the appropriate bus at a later time that day. Don’t worry they have been doing this for years! 4. The bus companies start shifting people to different buses at a restaurant, along the way. Don’t worry if you and everyone else on your bus is heading to Phnom Penh but they move you alone to a different bus. You’ll all get there! Just make sure if you change bus you have all your personal belongings. 5. If you have a guesthouse in mind – don’t listen to the tuk-tuk driver if he/she says it’s burnt down or closed. They just want to take you to their friend’s guesthouse! Insist on going where you want to go. Carrying a business card or other written address for your accommodation is always a good idea.

6. You will be dropped off somewhere along the way to Siem Reap (this could be at a restaurant, in a town or in the middle of nowhere) and told to wait for the bus to Siem Reap (the bus will be coming from Phnom Penh so it may be delayed and not there waiting for you when you first arrive). It seems a bit daunting and disorganized to be dropped in the middle of nowhere and told to wait for the bus – but remember they have been doing this for years! Make sure you’ve got some water, food and a book and you’ll be fine. 7. Please note that all visa associated costs can change at any time at this border – especially if the immigration official is having a bad-hair day! Visa costs have been known to fluctuate from $28-$37. 8. Take all your valuables with you when you are hopping on and off buses just to be sure it doesn’t get stolen. It isn’t advisable to leave valuables in your larger backpacks or suitcases even if they are stowed in luggage compartments, as it has been known for thieves to steal from these also.


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You have the option to travel from Don Det to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap today. Your Stray guide can book as appropriate. Either way you will have to get a Cambodian visa on arrival; we have described this process on page 59.

Don Det - Phnom Penh 1. Leaving Don Det between 0900 – 1000 from Stray’s preferred accommodation, Mr Mo’s Guesthouse, you will be taken to the village of Ban Nakasong to await your bus to Cambodia there. You may or may not change buses while crossing the border. See notes 1 and 8 on page 59. 2. Once you board the bus in Ban Nakasong it is a 20 minute drive to the border. See note 2 for instructions once you arrive at the border point. 3. When you have finished your visa process into Cambodia head to the row of shops and wait until everyone has finished their own visa process and people start hoping on buses. See note 3. 4. Once you leave, you will stop along the way in various destinations and at a restaurant for lunch. See note 4 and 8. 5. You will arrive on the outskirts of Phnom Penh at around 8:30pm (however with delays you could arrive as late as 10pm). 6. The bus drops you off at Soriya bus station (between 2030 and 2200) near the intersection of National Highway 5 and Monivong Boulevard, there should be a bunch of tuk-tuks waiting to bring you into the centre of town. Allow about $6 for a tuk-tuk (or $1.50/per person for 4 people). See note 5.

Don Det to Siem Reap: You will have a similar experience to above however,

+ You will need to change bus again sometime after crossing the border as all the buses that depart from the border go to Phnom Penh directly. See note 6 and 8.

+ You will arrive late, around 0000 - 0100, and be dropped at the Borei Seang Nam bus station located at the intersection of Hospital Street and Street 9. This is about 1.5km out of town so we advise you have accommodation booked in advance. A tuk-tuk at this time of night costs around $6+. See note 5 and the next sections for Siem Reap's accommodation and activities. Phnom Penh - according to legend, was named after an old rich woman, named Penh, who found four Buddha statues in the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. Upon dragging them to shore she felt a huge desire to build a shrine to them. As such Phnom Penh was originally known as the ‘City of four faces’ and has certainly had a colourful history since Continued on page 61

Phnom Penh Continued from page 60

then. After being founded in the 14th century it later became the centre of the Khmer people from the early 15th century as Angkor Thom (just near Siem Reap) was overrun by invading Thai armies. It was intermittently the capital from this time until 1867 when it became the official capital with the arrival and strong influence of the French in Cambodia. Sadly, Phnom Penh was evacuated in the 1970’s by the Cambodian communist party ‘The Khmer Rouge’ and its population either murdered; or sent to what you may have heard of as the Killing Fields; or forced to work in agricultural communities in line with communist principles. The effects of the Khmer Rouge have given a bitter sweet reputation to Phnom Penh however with it being such a hub for backpackers it also has a reputation for chilled riverside eateries and bars to kill an afternoon, as well as some iconic and epic nightlife spots to head to afterwards.

See for seasonal updates/changes

Accommodation Your driver can make accommodation bookings for you with our preferred accommodations in each city.

+ Green Guesthouse - located about 1 – 1.5 km from the bus terminal where you will be dropped off has FAN: single/ double rooms from $7 and $8 USD respectively, AC: $12 and $15 USD respectively for single and double. Its address is # 53 Street 125, Sangkat Veal Vong, Khan 7 Makara Phnom Penh + 88 Backpackers - has 6 and 8 bed dorms for $8 USD which is a bit more expensive than many other backpacker accommodation but also has a pool, bar and is brand new so, if your budget stretches to it then it’s a fantastic option! Its located at #98 Street 88 Phnom Penh Activities + Phnom Penh is located right along the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers and has a parallel boardwalk for great evening sunsets as well as exquisite, diverse and cheap street food.


+ Foreign Correspondence Club or the ‘F’ as it was known in its heyday is an infamous bar in Phnom Penh where expats and journalists whiled away the hours in between filing reports and trying to interview those involved in Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Regime. It’s located riverside just where the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers join. Open from 0700 until late with happy hour from 1700 to 1900.

+ Heart of Darkness Club is another well patroned pub in Phnom Penh that made its reputation as being a mafia hangout. Nowadays the mafia have moved out and it has more of a dance club feel. Saturdays are most popular with a mix of Cambodian, first time tourists and ex-patriot residents of Cambodia.

+ The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a series of buildings, some centuries old and some more recently constructed by the French in a Cambodia style. They are well worth a visit and the museum on site has a lot of interesting antiquities. Wear sensible clothing or you can hire t-shirts and sihn from the palace itself. Continued on page 62


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Phnom PeNH honoured with its naming. As the only deep water port in Cambodia, Sihanoukville is very important to Cambodia’s exports and imports. It later became the site of the last battle of the Vietnamese War in April 1975 as Khmer Rouge militants captured an American boat in disputed waters. Its port infrastructure meant roads were built here and with this access and the stunning beaches and warm water tourists were bound to find their way here. The beaches set the tone for Sihanoukville as a relaxed and comfortable place to wile away a few days or a few weeks. With great food, an abundance of backpackers and the beaches it is idyllic.

fields were mass graves where victims, estimated at between 1.4 – 2 million people, were buried and while there are many ‘killing fields’ in Cambodia this is the most famous and is located about 15 km outside of Phnom Penh. Many of the prisoners from Tuol Sleng were bought to this site. USD $5 entrance fee.

Cambodian Language Lesson Cambodian or Khmer language is quite different to the Thai and Lao although it shares some similarities due to such a long history of contact and geographic proximity. The main difference is that it is not a tonal language meaning that, instead of having a different tonal sound for a different word (which is quite hard for westerners to master) they just have another word. Sound familiar? English is the same so hopefully you’ll feel a little bit more confident about being understood in the early stages of learning the language. Here are a few basics to start you off! Hello - sua s’dei Goodbye - lia suhn hao-y See you later - th’ngay krao-y Thank you - ow-kohn charan You’re welcome - sohn anjoe-in Excuse me / I’m Sorry - sohm-toh Yes - baat (for men) jaa (for women) I understand - k’nyom s’daap baan I don’t understand - k’nyom at yuhl Do you understand? niak s’daap baan te? Does anyone here speak English? tii nih mian niak jeh phiasaa awnglee te? How do you say ________in Khmer? kh’mai thaa mait? What does this mean? nih mian nuh-y thaa mait? Please speak slowly sohm niyay yeut yeut Please translate for me sohm bawk brai ao-y k’nyom What is this called? nih ke hav thaa mait?

+ You can hire a tuk-tuk at USD $2.50

Recommended Add On:

beaches. Victory Beach is no longer the hub it was having been overtaken in popularity by others like Independence Beach and Sokha beach (more suitable to families and couples) while most other travellers go to Serendipity beach, where the backpacker vibe is in full effect.

Continued from page 61

+ Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: Once a high school that was redeveloped into a security prison for prisoners of the Khmer Rouge Regime where an estimated 17 000 people were killed from 1975 – 1979. Open from 0800 – 1730 and USD $2 entrance fee. While most prisoners were Cambodian it is known that American, Australian, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao and New Zealand prisoners passed through also.

Tuol Sieng Genocide Museum

+ Choeung Ek Killing Field: The killing

p/person (assuming 6 people in a tuktuk) that will take you around all day (and wait for you) to killing fields and Tuol Sleng and probably a few others. Notes for Phnom Penh TourEx office address in Phnom Penh: #139Eo, Monivong BLVD, Phnom Penh, Cambodia Tel: 855-23 882 666/23 883 666 Fax: 855-23 882 228 E-mail: Open: 08:00- 20:00 Monday-Saturday

Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville While this leg is not included in your Temple pass it is a great idea to consider this as an optional add on to your visit to Phnom Penh. Sihanoukville is one of those places that is small enough where you really get to know everyone in town quickly (locals and travelers alike), but still large enough to provide you with variety and new entertainment. You can organize a bus ticket from TourEx in Phnom Penh where it is about a 4hour bus ride from Phnom Penh. You will be dropped at the bus station near Victory Hill. There are lots of buses every day leaving for Sihanoukville and back to Phnom Penh when you are ready to get back. Sihanoukville was originally a port town built in the 1950’s; King Sihanouk is credited for giving nationhood to Cambodia as its biggest supporter of independence and as such he was

Accommodation + The Big Easy: Have bungalows from $7 and dorm rooms from $3 situated in the heart of Serendipity Beach not far from the Victory Hill bus station.

+ Monkey Republic (although they don’t take reservations) is another great option in Serendipity Beach. They have similar priced bungalows and dorm beds as The Big Easy. Activities + The white sandy beaches are stunning and the water’s warm and beautiful. There are bars that line the beach as far as you can see, offering great food and drink; great music and good company. Every evening around sunset, these restaurants set up BBQ’s; where you can enjoy a fresh fish BBQ dinner for only a few dollars and watch the stunning sunsets.

+ There are a few options in terms of

+ Just off the coast of Sihanoukville are a number of islands that can offer you anything from cheap, high class resorts to simple huts on an island all by yourself. Bamboo Island for example is only one hour off shore and has only one bar that offers a few people accommodation in their dorms ($3 per night) or bungalows ($10 per night). Electricity is only available at certain times during the day; as is breakfast, lunch and dinner. You and your new mates are the only ones that stay on the island.

SIEM REAP Notes for Sihanoukville

Bus Timetable No 1 Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville Time 7:15am, 8:45am, 9:45am, 11:15am, 12:15pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm Price $ 5 per ticket No 2 Sihanoukville - Phnom Penh Time 7:00am, 8:00am, 9:00am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm Price $5 per ticket

Bamboo Island

See for seasonal updates/changes

TRAVEL DAY: PHNOM PENH TO SIEM REAP Transport logistics today are organised by our partner, TourEx, who will arrange tickets and logistics to Phnom Penh but it will go something like this; If you are staying at a guesthouse close to town then a tuk-tuk will come and collect you and take you to the bus station (buses depart either 0730, 0830, 1230, and 1425 daily with each journey taking around 6 hours) where you can board to Siem Reap. You will be dropped at Borei Seang Nam bus station in Siem Reap located at the intersection of Hospital Street and Street 9. This is about 1.5km out of town so we advise you have accommodation booked in advance. A tuk-tuk at this time of night costs around $6+ to central Siem Reap. See note 5. TourEx will issue tickets and advise pick up times and locations. See notes for their location and contact details. It is advised you book at least 2 days in advance to ensure your preferred travel date is available. In order to book with these offices you will need 1) Your Stray CFM number, 2) Email address, 3) Photo ID. Once you have been checked into the Stray system, you will be issued public bus tickets for this section and possibly the next if you have booked this one also.


Siem Reap - is the gateway city to one of Asia’s biggest tourist attractions. It literally means ‘Siam Defeated’ after the defeat of the Siamese at its locale, alluding to the long history of warfare between the two peoples. Despite this Siem Reap remained a very small village that has grown hand in hand as tourism has to Angkor Wat. Tourists first started to come here in the early 20th century in search of the ancient ruins of what was once the largest urban development in the world playing host to a population believed to be around 750 000 people at its height! Like the rest of Cambodia Siem Reap’s population was also evacuated during the reign of the Khmer Rouge but with their defeat people slowly started to come back and tourism started to boom again in the 1990’s. Today Siem Reap is Cambodia’s fastest growing city and all of this is based around its status as a gateway town to the Angkor ruins. Siem Reap lays beside the Tonle Sap River and its associated lake. This lake is also a great point of interest as its size changes dramatically from wet season to dry season; so much so that its flow actually reverses in the wet season when the flood waters of the Mekong River forces it back the other way!


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SIEM REAP Accommodation + Key Royal Guesthouse: Fan; single/ double/twins for $8, $10 and $12. AC; single/double/twin for $10, $13, $15. It is located at 143, Steung Thmei Village, Sangket Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap Town.

+ Millenium Guest House: Fan double/ twin for $9 and AC double/twin from $15. Located at No. 041, Group 10, Road Phsar Krom, Sangkat Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap. Activities + Angkor Wat is a must see activity in Siem Reap that most people see over a few days. Any tuk-tuk driver can organize a trip for you and will also be your guide. Usually around USD$20 p/day and $40 for a 3 day pass. The most famous and visited temples are Angkor Wat and Tah Prohm otherwise known as Tomb Raider temple. For something a bit different head to Bang Melia which, has many of the same charms (roots growing out of buildings, musty passageways etc.) as Tah Prohm but a lot less people. Note: Bang Melia is about 1.5 hours (with a $5 entrance fee and approx. $20 return tuk-tuk ride) from Siem Reap and is almost a day trip in itself. As this temple is outside of the UNESCO Angkor Wat grounds it is not included in the 1 and 3 day passes mentioned above. As such do it on a separate day to any passes you have bought so as not to waste the value of these.

+ If you would love to give back to the Cambodia kids, visit the Kantha Bopha Childrens hospital and learn about the relentless work of Dr. Beat Richner. He runs a private childrens hospital that has been giving free care to local Cambodian children. He plays concerts and speaks about his cause weekly to fund his hospitals (concerts are held every Saturday at the Jayavarman VII Hospital). As they are entirely privatized he manages to avoid the alleged corruption present in government run hospitals. If you feel like supporting the cause, you can donate money or better yet, blood. The hospital is first world in every way; clean and sanitary. If you give blood you receive a free t-shirt and vitamin pack. They also will do a full blood panel test for free; testing for all sorts of possible ailments. It takes a few days to a week to get results back though, so prepare to stay in town a bit if you would like to take advantage of this. Cambodian Language Lesson Where is the _____? neuv ai naa_____? Bus station kuhnlaing laan ch’nual Train Station s’thaanii roht plaeng Airport wial yohn hawh Plane yohn hawh

+ Siem Reap’s Pub Street is known for its… well… pubs obviously! Angkor What? and Temple Bar are the two larger ones however there are also jazz bars, smaller places with live bands and even some with half pipes!

The mind-blowing Angkor Wat

TRAVEL DAY: SIEM REAP TO BANGKOK Transport logistics today are organised by our partner, TourEx, who will arrange tickets and logistics to Bangkok but it will go something like this; if you are staying at a guesthouse close to town then a tuk-tuk will come and collect you and take you to the bus station (buses depart at 0800 and take around 12 hours) where you can board to Bangkok. You will be dropped within walking distance of Khao San Road where you will find entertainment and accommodation. Soi Rambuttri (parallel Khao San Road) has accommodation also. See note 5. TourEx will issue tickets and advise pick up times and locations. See notes for their location and contact details. It is advised you book at least 2 days in advance to ensure your preferred travel date is available. In order to book with these offices you will need 1) Your Stray CFM number, 2) Email address, 3) Photo ID. Accommodation and activities See page 13. Notes TourEx office address in Siem Reap: #550 2th Thnou, S.t Mondol 1 Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap. Tel: 855-63 760 071/63 765 999 Mob: 855-11 651 222/12 867 403 Fax: 855-63 963 338 E-mail: Open: 08:00- 20:00 Monday-Saturday Cambodian Language Lesson How can I get to _____? phleuv naa teuv _____? Is it far? wia neuv ch’ngaay te? Is it near? wia neuv jeht te? Go straight ahead teuv trawng Turn left bawt ch’weng Turn right bawt s’dam How much is it to_____? teuv ____________ t’lai ponmahn? That’s too much? t’lai pek Please take me to_____________ sohm juun k’nyom teuv. Here is fine chohp neuv tii nih kaw baan

See for seasonal updates/changes



Stray Asia 2012/13

Where to Next? If you’re travelling onto other countries after South-East Asia there are lots of fantastic travel options we can recommend.If you’re heading to Australia and loved the hop-on hop-off concept, try Oz Experience on the East Coast (check out; or if you are looking for a more adventurous option with your food and accommodation included, check out Adventure Tours at We also highly recommend our sister company Spaceships campervans with depots in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin so if you’ve made a special friend or two on your Asian travels and want to go roadtripping round OzStraylia check out www. or email ex-Stray customers get deals! If you want to hang ten, check out our mates at Mojosurf – they offer awesome trips in Australia and now in NZ. For more info visit If you’re heading to New Zealand, jump on Stray! Stray New Zealand offers passes from 2 days to 12 months and will get you further off the beaten track around this stunning country’s mountains, fiords, farms and beaches! Stray NZ offers amazing unique stops and stays next

to more national parks than any other backpacker bus. Lastly, we now operate your favourite two berth campervans in the UK and Europe! That’s right, Spaceships now has a depot in London where you can head off on your own personal adventure from chasing hairy coow in the Scottish highlands, supping with the best on a vineyard tour of southern France, soaking up the art and culture while camping in Italy, or doing the big European roadie - running with the bulls in Pamplona and chugging beers with frauleins at Octoberfest! Check out and don’t forget to mention you stray’d so you can get special deals! While you’re there, Europe’s Famous Hostels have some of the best places to stay on the continent so check out their website http://www. For more info on any of the above companies you can also ask your Stray guide or visit one of shops (in Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Sydney, Auckland)/ You’ve got further off the beaten track in South-East Asia now keep straying around the world!! Be led a’Stray in New Zealand

See for seasonal updates/changes



Stray Asia 2012/13

See for seasonal updates/changes



Stray Asia 2012/13

See for seasonal updates/changes



Stray Asia 2012/13

See for seasonal updates/changes



Stray Asia 2012/13

Stray Further Laos, Thailand, Cambodia  

Everything you need to know about travelling and adventure in South East Asia - Laos, Thailand and Cambodia

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