It was another early morning, since I have to ride the airport bus going to Suvarnabhumi at 7am. Instead of having to go to the travel agency’s office, the agent told me that the bus will pick me up from my hostel. At that note, I knew it was a mini-bus, rather than the actual airport bus. I was right, and I ended up squished between two other travelers, one still with the lingering smell of booze from the night before.
It was just past 7am on a Monday morning, and this being Bangkok, there was a build up already. Though we are driving out of the city, the inner roads leading to the express way was already congested. However, once we got to the expressway, the roads started to clear up and in just one hour, we were at the airport. My flight wasn’t until 11:40am, so I had plenty of time to kill. I walked languidly as people around me are rushing to get on their way.
Last night, when I got back at the hostel after posting my entry, I realized that I forgot the one important thing I should have done while I was online: research for guesthouses in Luang Prabang. I e-mailed an inquiry to one guesthouse the day before, so I was hoping for that reply. There wasn’t any, so I totally forgot about it when I opened my e-mail. After checking in and going through passport control, I looked for an Internet cafe. One thing I noticed while I was wandering inside the huge new airport, is that unlike Changi, there are still plenty of empty spaces. Changi has plenty of amenities to help you pass the time, but in Suvarnabhumi, there’s really not much you can do except to shop and eat. I was directed to the Internet cafe on the 2nd level, and received a shock when I saw the prices. I knew the prices in airports are bloated, but THB 100 for 20 minutes of Internet time is just too much. Still, I felt I had no choice and paid the absurd fee.
Vilay Guesthouse replied to my e-mail, and said that they do have a room for me. On that note, I hardly bothered checking out other guesthouses, since they didn’t have websites. When my 20 minutes was up, I made my way to Gate C1A. I was flying with Bangkok Airways, and all around the airport, I saw signs of their passenger lounge. I never did find that lounge, but I passed by he Thai Airways lounge on my way to the gate. The waiting lounge outside the boarding gate was virtually empty. And to my annoyance, I see two Internet kiosks being used by two other tourists. Damn it. I walked passed them, settling myself near the TV to watch the news. I was rapidly getting bored and then I remembered that I had my notebook with me. I boot up my laptop, and eagerly checked to see if there’s Wi-fi inside the airport. There were 2 unsecured networks, but only 1 works. I think I was able to get a wisp of the wi-fi from the Thai Airways lounge.
Thirty or so minutes of free wireless surfing later, the gate opens. We were directed to buses on the tarmac that would bring us to the plane we’re taking. I knew rigth then that we were taking a small plane, but it seems some of my fellow travelers weren’t expecting it. When the bus stopped beside an ATR plane, one lady gasped and said “omg, it has propelers!”
Bangkok Airways planes are all festively decorated, depicting sites and landmarks from their destinations. The plane has a 2-2 configuration, and has 19 rows (though row 19 only has 2 chairs). There was just enough legroom, as as soon as we were settled, the flight attendant went down the row, offering a wet towel for freshing up. The plane was just about 35% full. We can all have our own rows, and there’d still be empty rows. It’s not surprising — it’s the off peak season for traveling, and Bangkok Airways isn’t quite the backpacker’s choice for traveling up to Laos.
The plane was out of its parking space and into the runway within minutes and in no time, we were up in the air. We hit some turbulence on the way up, which probably didn’t do much for those flying on a prop plane for the first time. As soon as we reach cruising altitude, everything was smooth. We were offered drinks, then the lunch meal. There were no questions asked, it was chicken or nothing. The meal was chicken curry with steamed white rice and steamed red fragrant rice that was organically grown by a community in Thailand. I was a bit hesitant about eating it first, since I’m not really into spicy food, but I thought since it’s airline food, it probably wouldn’t be spicy or have any flavor at all. Boy, was I wrong! It was flavorful, and it had just the right amount of spiciness. It’s like that wasabi nuts they served in Singapore Airlines before — it had the taste, but not the spice. I like it! The meal comes with a Thai salad made of bean sprouts and a cake-y bread pudding-like dessert. This is easily one of the best airline meals I’ve had.
Bangkok Airways brands itself as a boutique airline. I’m not sure how a boutique airlines should be, but their service is really quite good. The flight attendants were courteous and very professional, and for the wine lovers, they enjoyed the rounds of red and white served on board. They also have the best inflight catalogue. All of the airline catalogues I’ve seen selling various duty free items and airline branded goods are boring. Their is very cute, has a very imaginative layout that makes you just want to buy or kick yourself for not having enough money to buy the cute things on offer.
One-hour and forty minutes after we took off from Bangkok, Thailand, we landed in Luang Prabang, Laos. The weather seemed fine, though there were clouds that treaten to rain. Like all the other airports, there was a health screening at the entrance of the building, though no thermal scanner. The lady was concerned about my congested and runny nose, but I assured her that I never had any fever. I passed the screening, and was directed to the immigration booth. Of the entire plane, I think there were only five of us that didn’t need to apply for a visa on arrival. Thank you, ASEAN.
The Luang Prabang airport is tiny. Right after clearing immigration, you find yourself in the baggage claim area, boasting of one conveyor belt. I pick up Viktor, and made my way to the airport’s exit. I exchange my dollar to kip at the forex just inside the door, at the rate of US$1 to 8,500 kip. It’s like being in Indonesia again with the numerous zeros in the local currency. I walk out, looking for a tuk-tuk, but there were none in sight. There was a taxi counter, and a ride to town costs 50,000 kip. Seeing that I have no other choice, I accept it and got on a taxi that looks like a multi-cab (truck with two seats running on both sides of the bed). There were no traffic, but the driver drove leisurely. I’m not sure if there’s a speed limit in Luang Prabang, but this is already an indication of how laid back the Lao people are.
It was short drive to the center of town. I was dropped off right outside Vilay, and I made my way inside the house. I was showed the room I inquired about, that has a double bed, a fan and ensuite toilet and shower. The room rate is US$7 per night or in the local currency, 180,000 kip for three nights. I question if I did the right thing, since I found out later on that the internet is down. Curses! That was my only reason for booking here! Oh well. Let’s just hope for the best.
I rested a bit then went out to walk and explore Luang Prabang. It’s a lovely place for walking. The streets aren’t crowded, and there are plenty of things you just want to take photos off. I came upon the night market, that has already started setting up. There are plenty of lovely items that I’m just wishing I can buy, but I’m only on my 2nd week of traveling, so it’s not really advisable for me to buy that cute wooden parasol. At the end of the market, there’s a row of stores and restaurants. I pick one out randomly for an early dinner. Dinner tonight was steamed chicken with Lao herbs and sweet chili. It didn’t look appetizing, but it was actually pretty tasty. The chicken was tender, and the herbs were really packed with flavor. It was perfect with steamed rice and the blanched unseasoned veggies that came with it.
After dinner, I slowly made my way back to Vilay to write this entry and to check if the internet is already up. It’s still down, so I have to hurry up and finish this because the Internet shop closes at 9pm.