Today was our last day in Chiang Mai (and in Thailand) before leaving for Luang Prabang, our first stop in Laos. We wanted to visit the famous Buddhist temple on Doi Suthep, a mountain about 15 kilometers west of Chiang Mai’s old town and then try out a fish spa before catching our flight out at 3pm.
We started the day relatively early around 7:30am and got breakfast at our hotel before checking out. We asked a couple of tuk tuk drivers how much it would be to go to Doi Suthep and back and were not happy with the quoted prices (600 THB). While it’s true the mountain is far from the old town, we were not willing to spend almost $20 on transportation to see one temple. Mimi knew that tourists wait at the northern gate for sharing a songthaew to get there for a lot cheaper so we walked in that direction. We stopped at the moat trying to figure out where the waiting point was.
Soon after, a local guy asked us if we were trying to go to Doi Suthep and pointed us to a sign that said 100 THB round-trip per person, 10 passengers minimum. We sat down in front of a 7-Eleven and waited for more people to join us. There were already two girls waiting before we arrived. It took about 20 minutes to assemble our very international group: with us were a French couple, a 73 year old Japanese man, a German guy who lived in Mexico, two Korean girls, and two Chinese couples, one of which had a little boy.
When we arrived at our destination, our driver set a time for all of us to return to the vehicle for the way back to Chiang Mai. He gave us an hour and a half. Some people in our group thought it was too short and looked visibly annoyed. Us on the other hand, we were anxious about making it back in time to catch our flight. We were dropped at the temple’s base, 309 steps away from the temple proper. There were several Buddha statues there and along the staircase.
I also liked the dragons on both sides of the stairs that lead to the temple.
After taking a few breaks along the way we finally reached the top and entered the temple grounds. It’s definitely a very popular temple with many foreign tourists as well as Thai people walking around the golden stupa. We walked around with everybody else.
The temple had some very colorful and detailed murals and as usual many Buddha statues surrounded by flowers and other offerings.
Inside the temple, a monk was blessing a couple of Chinese worshippers, saying prayers directly in Mandarin. He wanted us to join but we both respectfully declined.
We kept walking around in the complex at the top of the mountain. It’s quite green with many trees, we even spotted a durian tree there.
Next, we checked the view from the mountain. Unfortunately today was very foggy and we were unable to see Chiang Mai.
It was almost time to go back down so we quickly finished our visit of the complex. We passed by this elephant statue which Mimi had to photograph.
The temple also has nice gardens next to it… well until I realized that most if not all of the flowers were in fact fake. The trees are real, however.
In addition to durian trees, we also saw cannonball trees such as the one depicted below.
We left the temple and got back to the base of the hill which has plenty of souvenir shops and food stands. Everyone was back on time and we returned to Chiang Mai in just 20 minutes as the driver was speeding like a madman. The ride back was more fun as people apparently decided to be more social. The old Japanese man in particular was very chatty with the Chinese lady that was sitting right in front of him. The adorable little kid that was sitting on her lap also provided an excellent source of distraction for the rest of us.
With a little bit of buffer time before our flight, we decided to go for a quick (15 minutes) fish pedicure at a fish spa we had walked by yesterday. Initially, Mimi was not particularly excited to try it out. On the other hand, I was very curious and definitely did not want to miss this opportunity. As soon as we put our feet in the tubs, we both started laughing uncontrollably due to the extreme ticklish sensation created by these hundreds of tiny fishes nibbling at dead cells from our most sensitive skin.
The first five minutes were definitely the worst. I was not able to keep my feet submerged in the water the whole time. I had to take little breaks every 30 seconds or so. Mimi was more brave though also more vocal. The spa owner behind us was chuckling. I suspect he even used our initial reaction as the trigger to start the timer for our 15 minutes session! Eventually we got more used to the sensation and slowly calmed down. By the end of the session the skin on our feet felt noticeably smoother.
It was time to go to the airport. Since it’s so close to the old town, we decided to take a tuk tuk rather than a regular taxi. We were lucky enough to find a tuk tuk large enough to hold all our luggage and still give us plenty of room to sit comfortably.
We got to the airport on time and proceeded through the check in. As we got to the gate, we saw that our Lao Airlines flight to Luang Prabang was delayed with no explanation given. We were not too worried, having read that one should not expect transportation to be smooth in Laos. In our case the delay was not that bad and by 3:40pm we were on the tarmac ready to board the aircraft.
We took off shortly after and of course I wanted to share the take off video with you readers.
The flight was short and without turbulence. As we got closer to Luang Prabang we started seeing more mountainous terrain. Since then, I read on Wikipedia that until early 2011 Luang Prabang International Airport was considered a risky place to land due to the surrounding mountains. Our pilot (who we could tell was neither a Laos nor a Thai citizen) had no problem and we landed on time, less than an hour after taking off.
Here too we walked on the tarmac into the airport terminal.
We cleared through immigration without issue and got a one month visa stamped. Before leaving the airport, we also changed our remaining Thai Bahts into the national currency which is called Lao Kip. With a rate of $1 to ~8,100 Kips we will need to get used to seeing prices with ridiculous number of zeroes.
We took a shuttle with a few other tourists and got dropped at the Namkhan Riverside Hotel where we will spend our first three nights in Laos. When we arrived, we were welcomed with refreshing fruit shakes. A little boy from the owners family was also very happy to see us. He came over to our table and started playing with our camera’s lens cap.
Our room was in the attic. Take the tour given by Mimi.
We left for dinner and walked along the Nam Khan river, a tributary of the Mekong river which it joins in Luang Prabang. We passed by a beautiful bamboo bridge over the river that was illuminated at night.
We walked in the town for a good hour and found it really pleasant and super clean, especially after our trip in Myanmar. The buildings are in very good condition and the alleyways that bisect the main street are super cute.
Our initial impression of Luang Prabang was that it’s also very pedestrian friendly and heavily focused on tourism. Most of the businesses on the main street are directly related to providing services for tourists: restaurants and bars, guest houses, souvenir shops and travel agencies. We checked out the night market as well.
We eventually walked back towards our hotel and found a restaurant, Cafe Toui, where we tried Lao food for the first time! The streets were very quiet when we left the restaurant and we got back to our hotel for a good night of sleep.