This was a random trip I booked before all the ballyhoo at the end of the year. I chose to visit Laos because everyone was telling me that things would change a lot once the Chinese complete the railways from the Mainland down to Vientiane. My trip started at KLIA2, the hub for Air Asia.
Flight: AK 552
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
Not much going on at KLIA2. Check-in and CIQ were quick and efficient mostly because our flight is scheduled to leave at 06:40 AM. Unfortunately, that meant the shops and whatnot are closed. The smoking areas near the check-in desks would be a delight at another time. The views of the tarmac are impressive if there were any aircraft there.
We boarded about an hour late due to a crew change. Clearly, I haven't flown Air Asia in quite a while as I was surprised with all the ads inside the aircraft! Legroom was quite good on this aircraft. On the seat pocket was the in-flight magazine (Which was celebrating its 10th year last October), the menu, and the duty-free catalogue. The cabin itself has seen better days. All-in-all, an uneventful flight staffed by a cheerful crew on their first flight of the day. As we made the approach to Vientiane's Wattay International Airport, the sky, the land, and the water welcomed me to Laos.
For now, the airport is a bit of a spartan affair; but the terminal is being expanded through Japanese aid. The upgrade seems to be promising, with the Immigration counters getting the first phase of renovations. Processing was quick enough and I appreciated the ASEAN lane considering that this was a small airport for a capital city. After getting out of customs, I went straight to the money changer. The rates at the airport are actually quite competitive, if not better than some money changers in town.
As I had no suitcase to lug around and nothing to do at this time in the morning, I decided to walk from the airport to the hostel. There's a first time for everything! Just outside the terminal building, a Beerlao commercial greets visitors. Under this heat, I would like one, thank you very much. Along the way, I was able to see several Chinese and Japanese business ventures lining the road. It seems that they are quite bullish in investing here. A little under an hour later, I arrived at the hostel just in time for a quick shower and nap. Would I recommend doing this instead of taking a tuk-tuk? Nope. But definitely doable!
I miss my Beerlao.
After my nap; I went straight to the Pha That Luang, one of the country's main symbols, and the Pyongyang Restaurant, possibly one of DPR Korea's money laundering fronts. On the TV at the restaurant are the state orchestra and girl band singing peons to... rockets? Trying to keep it air and space-related folks! At the end of the ceremonial main street of the city is the Patuxai, a replica of the Arc de Triomphe. Described as a piece of "concrete monstrosity," the Patuxai was built to commemorate the Lao people who fought in the prerevolutionary war using concrete that was originally earmarked for the construction of the airport!
To be fair, I wasn't the one who described it as a "concrete monstrosity."
On the next post: the one when I walked to the Airport!
Luang Prabang has given me the worse case of separation anxiety. It truly is a wonderful city that deserves your time and attention. Please visit it before the railway is built! As it is, it can get quite crowded already. I was contemplating my plans to get a tuk-tuk to the airport when I thought of seeing the old bridge that used to connect the town to the airport. The Old Bridge was built more than a hundred years ago during the French rule and crosses the Nam Khan River. Nowadays, only motorcycles are allowed to cross. Pedestrians get to use a path beside it. Being the confident idiot I am, I decided to cross it. Alas, the wooden planks seemed to get shakier and snappier the father I got along. No worries, I thought as I was firmly grasping the handles... which were corroded to the base.
Nice view, though!
Flight: AK 563
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
Fortunately, I survived and set out to find a tuk-tuk. Unfortunately, no tuk-tuks. The ones I found came from the airport to pick up passengers. I decided to walk again, this time straight to the airport. Trust me when I say that the locals, and more so the visitors on their hired tuk-tuks looked at me like with bewilderment. To be fair, there were a couple of Japanese guys walking to the airport with me, so I wasn't the only one walking. Unlike in Vientiane, there weren't much to see and do; there were a revolutionary cemetery and the old airport terminal. Definitely, don't do this!
Just in time for check-in, I arrived at the Luang Prabang International Airport. Not much to see and do in the pre-departure area, so I made my way to the Immigration counter. There's an obscure ASEAN lane that no one seemed to use, so I got inside fast. The air conditioning was almost non-existent, so I'm glad to get to the departure area for a change of clothes. I'm sure my seatmate is writing about that one plane ride he shared with a guy who walked to the airport drenched in sweat.
There are some modest shops to burn your excess Kip. It's quite difficult to exchange the local currency outside Laos, so it's recommended to take out only what you need and spend it all inside the country. I spent my final Kip on a Beerlao magnet and a lapel pin of the Lao Communist Party. Those who read my previous report know that I collect pins :-) The Luang Prabang airport has a very different design from Vientiane. It projects a very leisurely style of architecture, complete with mountain breeze entering the terminal building from the outside. It feels very laid back, which I thought is a very Lao thing.
Onboard, not much different from my inbound flight. Departure was late as usual. The ads are louder on this particular aircraft. I slept through most of the flight, as I was tired after walking for most of the morning. The plane was equipped with streaming in-flight entertainment provided with Rokki. Unfortunately, the titles were not that good to keep me interested.
Pretty 'til the last sight. Darn it.
Unfortunately, my AirAsia experience has always been of delayed departures. 100% of my flights that I have taken with them. But with rock-bottom fares, who can resist? And with the case of Laos, you have to take it easy. It is after all officially called Lao PDR. Please, don't rush.
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