Sunday, December 12, 2010

Coffee journeys with Akha Ama Coffee, Chiangmai/Chiangrai

Akha Ama Coffee is a little organic coffee enterprise started by a young Akha friend (Lee), to support the farmers in his village & neighbouring communities in the Mae Suai area of Chiangrai province. It aims to foster & support sustainable farming practices & help the farmers gain access to both local & international markets for their crop. It is also seeking to obtain fairtrade certification for their products.

Akha Ama Coffee has a cafe at its office in Chiangmai city, not far from the ITM & SMH massage schools north of the old city area.
Address: 9/1 Mata Apartments, Hussadhisewee Soi 3, Chang Phuak, Muang Chiangmai 50300
Map with address in Thai (for local transport)
Located at KF188-189 on this map
Phone: +66 086 915 8600
Akha Ama Coffee on facebook
A review here.

Lee has also started a series of coffee journeys, where visitors are brought on a 3D2N trip to his home village in the mountains of Chiangrai to trace the journey of coffee from seed to cup.
17-19 Dec 2010 (coincides with Akha New Year in his village)
28-30 Jan 2011
25-27 Feb 2011
Cost: 1900 baht
More details of what's involved here (conditions to expect & cost breakdown) & here.
A good review of & photos (1, 2, 3, 4) from earlier journeys.

Would recommend this for coffee lovers who want to transform the way they look at their brew, & also those with an interest in the culture & food of the Akha ethnic group, the challenges they face as a marginalised group in Thailand, the life of ordinary villagers in rural Thailand, & sustainable farming well as for anyone who has wondered about what goes into the magic potion that wakes many around the world up & fuels countless hours of overtime work & all-nighters for deadlines & exams.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Vientiane Khua Din bus station

- errors, suggestions & contributions, kindly contact: laomeow at gmail dot com
- last updated 11 September 2010
- old version of this page (info from August 2007) here
- thank you to gopeace for 09 August 2010 info

Located next to Khua Din market, across from the Morning market/Talat Sao shopping mall (at ID202 on this map). Hence often referred to as 'morning market bus station' in travel guides:

P8020475 P8030588
(Photos from August 2007)

Services within Vientiane municipality
(Photos from 28 November 2009; no change in timetables as of 09 August 2010)

Overview map (approximate location of Wattay Airport marked in red):

Click here for full size version



Fares are ~4000kip.
Buses often do not display their service numbers, but only their destinations in Lao script.
Passengers can board & alight anywhere along the routes.
To Friendship Bridge - #14 (Tha Deua) bus.
To Vientiane Southern bus station - #29 (Dong Dok) bus.
To Wattay Airport - #03 (Tat Thong), #30 (Thong Pong), & #49 (Nong Taeng) buses all pass by the turn off to the airport, a few hundred metres walk (red line on above map) to the international & domestic terminals. The outbound #49 (Nong Taeng) bus can also be flagged down along Samsenthai Road.

Services to Vientiane province & southern Laos
(Photos from 28 November 2009; except for Vang Vieng, no change in timetables as of 09 August 2010)

Overview map:

Click here for full size version

Timetable (destinations within Vientiane province):


Timetable (Vang Vieng, 09 August 2010):

Photo by gopeace, 09 August 2010

Timetable (destinations in southern Laos):


Distances to various destinations:

Click here for full size version

Services to northeast Thailand
(Photos from 01 December 2009; except for Nakhon Ratchasima, no change in timetable as of 09 August 2010)

Vientiane > Nong Khai (fare 15,000kip):


Vientiane > Udon Thani (romanised as Oudon Thany by the Lao, fare 22,000kip):


Vientiane > Khon Kaen (fare 50,000kip):


Vientiane > Nakhon Ratchasima (fare 82,000kip, 09 August 2010):

Photos by gopeace, 09 August 2010

The board lists the fare as 80,000kip, but the paper below says 82,000kip.
'Not accept get back ticket' is Lao-glish for 'no refund on tickets sold'.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

old Vientiane northern bus station

This bus station has moved. Please see here for info on the new Vientiane northern bus station (18 January 2011). This page is no longer updated.

- last updated on 02 Oct 2010
- thank you to gopeace for 05 August 2010 timetable info
- older version (28 February 2009) here

Vientiane (VTE) northern bus station aka. 'khiew loht saai neua':

(Click here for full size; photo from 03 December 2009)

PA110060 PA110074
(Photos from 11 October 2008)

Located along T2 Road. Telephone no.: 021-261905. As of December 2009, tuktuk mafia demanding 30,000kip to go there, but can be bargained down.

* Note: in August 2010 it was mentioned that this bus station would be replaced by a new one located in Ban Dongnathong (at GT161 on this map). In September 2010 it was announced that the new bus station would be completed by the end of October 2010. Those travelling from Vientiane capital to northern Laos by bus, please check with locals for updates. News, photos & other info about the new northern bus station are most welcome.

Types of buses (11 October 2008):

Ordinary - 1st, 2nd, 5th & 6th from left. AC - 3rd from left. VIP - 4th & 7th from left.

Timetables & fares

Vientiane to Luang Prabang (05 August 2010):
AC (95,000kip) - 0630, 0730, 0900, 1100, 1330, 1600, 1800
VIP (115,000kip) - 0800, 0900, 2000

To Bor Nam Oun: 60,000kip by VIP bus (03 December 2009)
To Phou Khoun: 80,000kip by AC bus (October 2008)
Buses to Bokeo, Luang Namtha, Oudomxay & Phongsaly will also pass through Luang Prabang.

Vientiane to Bokeo (Huay Xai) (05 August 2010):
Ordinary (180,000kip) - 1730
AC (200,000kip) - 1730
VIP (220,000kip) - 1730

VIP bus passes through Oudomxay town in mid-afternoon.

Vientiane to Houa Phan (Sam Neua) (05 August 2010):
via Luang Prabang
Ordinary (150,000kip) - 0700

via Phonsavan
Ordinary (150,000kip) - 0930, 1200
VIP (160,000kip) - 1400

Vientiane to Luang Namtha (05 August 2010):
Ordinary (140,000kip) - 0830
AC (150,000kip) - 1700

Vientiane to Oudomxay (05 August 2010):
Ordinary (110,000kip) - 0645, 1345
AC (130,000kip) - 1700
VIP (155,000kip) - 1600

Vientiane to Phongsaly (05 August 2010):
Ordinary (160,000kip) - 0645

This bus arrives in Boun Neua around 0830-0900++AM the next day.

Vientiane to Sayabouly (03 December 2009):
Ordinary (90,000kip) - 1600
AC (110,000kip) - 1830

Vientiane to Xieng Khouang (05 August 2010):
Vientiane > Phonsavanh
AC (95,000kip) - 0630, 0730, 0930, 1600, 1830
VIP (115,000kip) - 2000

Vientiane > Phonsavanh > Muang Kham > Nong Het (new extended route)
No mention of type of bus (130,000kip) - 1100

3 of the daily buses to Houa Phan (Sam Neua) will pass through Phonsavan.

Vientiane to Vang Vieng:
Any of the buses listed above.

Vientiane to China (05 August 2010):

Translation - Notice to all passengers: with effect from today, the fare for the Vientiane-Kunming route will be changed to RMB445.00, please take note & thank you, wishing (all) a happy & smooth journey, Tongli Bus Co. Ltd., 3rd March 2009.

Misc info (incomplete/unverified)
(Photos from 03 December 2009)

Vientiane to Cambodia?



The poster & notice were displayed at different parts of the ticket office, no indication if Sorya Transport Co. is partnering Chitpasong Transport Co. to run this service, or if the two are rivals competing on the same route...

Vientiane - Attapeu sleeper bus?

Click here for full size.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

231209 Muang Ngeun

A 'crash post' whipped up for the benefit of those who intend to spend time in Muang Ngeun, & also those who do not intend to but get stuck there after missing transport connections while crossing the border :P

Muang Ngeun (romanised as Muang Ngoen in Thailand) is a series of mostly Tai Lue villages spread out along 2 perpendicular roads:

Muang Ngeun map
Click here for full size map

Place names in Lao script (& Thai script for Huay Kon) are included so that those who don't speak Lao or Thai can point to them when asking locals for directions. For a rough idea of the non-existent scale, a slow walk from the white stupa to Ban Phia Ngam & back took ~5 hours, including a lot of time spent on taking photos, exploring the temples & talking to locals & listening to them explain about their temples.

The cat takes note of landmarks by photographing them, hence almost all government/military buildings are not shown in this map, & for the place labelled 'police' it can't recall what type - 'normal', border or 'interior security' - cos it had walked past facilities belonging to all three.

Guesthouses along the border-Hongsa road are not included as the cat didn't walk along that road. Three guesthouses are listed in the Sayabouly provincial tourism department tourist info leaflet printed in August 2009 - Duangmala GH Tel. 020-2366793, Sai Nam Ngeun GH Tel. 020-2358687 & Deuamphen GH Tel. 020-2366931. Wong Chaeng Kaew GH seemed more like a truckers' stop, then again the cat met only 1 single other tourist in Muang Ngeun, who spent all of 10 minutes in town before heading to the border.

For transport info see here.

Beyond the bridge over the Nam Yang at Ban Keodonekhoun there are pretty views across rice fields against a mountain backdrop. Unlike those in most of the rest of northern Laos, the fields here were flooded in the dry season reflecting the clouds in the sky above, & a new crop of rice was being planted. Tai Lue are known for their textiles & a few homes along the main road still had looms set up outside the house. There would be a cotton weaving fair at Ban Phia Ngam a few days after the cat's visit. Hmong New Year celebrations were already over for other places in northern Laos, but the kids at Ban Nam Ngeun school were still playing 'pov pob' (ball-tossing courtship game).

In late December 2009, almost all temples were under renovation, & the temple in Ban Phia Ngam was locked up. But this meant that the cat got to meet the majority of the adult population of Ban Luangmixay - who'd turned up in full force to repair & spruce up their temples (Wat Luang & Wat Sibounyeun). As the temples in Muang Ngeun are Tai Lue, they have long banners hanging from the rafters, & a set of wooden weapons on either side of the altar (either on the floor or placed high up in the rafters). To see this in other parts of Laos, one would have to travel to places like Ban Viengkeo in Hongsa, Muang Sing, rural Oudomxay province or Ou Tai & Ou Neua in Phongsaly.

From Wat Done Keo, Pha That Mat Kham stupa can be seen in the distance. The tourist info leaflet mentions it as the 'source to a nice fairy tale about a flea & a silver elephant', but the cat didn't have time to try & find a trail leading to it. Wat Sibounyeun (spelt as Wat Saliboun Nyeun on another signboard) has a huge Buddha statue within. Wat Khone (mentioned in the LP guidebook as Wat Ban Khon) was the prettiest of those that the cat managed to enter, with both interior & exterior walls covered by detailed paintings.

For those who wonder why some of the temple names don't match the village names - Ban Luangmixay was formed by the merger of Ban Luang (where Wat Luang is) & Ban Done Xay, & Ban Keodonekhoun was formed by the merger of Ban Done Keo (where Wat Done Keo is) & Ban Don Khoun.

Thank you to the following:
Thongsavanh & everyone at Wat Luang
Mankhian & the other guys at Wat Sibounyeun
the guys at Wat Done Keo
novice monk at Wat Khone
Muang Ngeun songthaew station ticket office lady
Craig Schuler
Ian Taylor
Monica of Jumbo GH, Hongsa

Sunday, March 21, 2010

010107 Huay Xai to Chiang Khong

Hopelessly lost cat finally found its way back to Thaveesinh Hotel at ~10AM, long after its companions from the Pak Beng-Huay Xai boat had checked out & left for Chiang Khong.

Based on reports from other travellers it was expecting to have to pay an 'overtime fee' for crossing the border on a public holiday, but the two Lao immigration officers on duty just waved the cat through after collecting the immigration departure card & adding their bit of red ink to its passport. Making its way down the slope to the Mekong, no-idea-who called out to the cat & told it to hurry up & jump into a boat with 2 guys that was already pulling out to cross the river. In the middle of the Mekong...

Mr Passenger 1: yiam Thai leu yiam Lao? (visit Thailand or visit Laos?)
Cat: ??
*scratch head* isn't this boat going to Thailand...?
Cat: yiam Lao laew bpai yiam Thai (visit Laos already go visit Thailand)
Mr Passengers 1 & 2: ?!
Mr Passengers 1: khon Thai leu khon Lao? (Thai person or Lao person?)
Cat explains that it is from Singkapor...

Turns out that Mr Passengers 1 & 2 were trying to figure out if it was a Thai visiting Laos or a Lao visiting Thailand - so why on earth was it saying that it's visiting BOTH? :P

Looking back at Huay Xai with the bell & drum tower of Wat Chom Khao among the trees:


Only at this point did the cat realise that there were sheltered boats - both times it had crossed on unsheltered ones. Mr Passengers 1 & 2 headed off to start another day of work operating the cross-river vehicle ferry, while the cat made its way to the Thai immigration:


20 baht + 1 chatty tuktuk driver + 1 more round of explaining that it isn't a Siamese cat (my ears, face & paws might be tanned from the sun but my tail is black not brown!) later, the cat was dropped off at a roadside fruit stall in Chiang Khong market. Madam Fruit Seller asked the cat where it was going & then yelled out no-idea-what to no-idea-who - apparently the bus to Chiangrai was about to leave & she was getting the driver to hang on so that the cat could jump on board through the back door - just like how it had scrambled onto the bus to Chiang Khong a fortnight earlier...& so within 20 minutes flat of stepping back on Thai soil the cat was waving goodbye to Chiang Khong:


1 police road block + 2 seat changes (to make way for monks) later the cat was back in Chiangrai city to meet the others at Baan Bua Guesthouse...

Sunday, March 07, 2010

010107 Get lost! (in Huay Xai)

Also at Wat Chom Khao to welcome first sunrise of 2007 - Mr Japanese Businessman...

Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ (rattles off excitedly in Japanese)
Big fat question mark balloons above clueless cat's head...
Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓
Cat rummages through memory archives - where da hell is dat magic incantation when i need it??
Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓
!!!! WAIT !!!!
Cat pulls Japanese rabbit outta magic language hat

Cat: 日本語はできません nihongo wa dekimasen (lit. Japanese language cannot)

Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓
Cat: 日本語はできません nihongo wa dekimasen

Mr Japanese Businessman: !!!! ah sodesu ka! Sorry I thought you said dekimasu! (dekimasu = can)

* Thank you to Japanese-literate colleague for teaching the cat how to recite this magic incantation in preparation for its 2005 trip to Kyoto - long after that trip it's still coming in useful :P

Beside the stairs leading from riverside road up to Wat Chom Khao - chickens that don't care about the sky falling on their heads...


...but for stars(fruit) falling from the sky:


The 4 men who sponsored the cat's trip:


Within Laos - the 20,000 is worth less than the 500 or 5. Outside of Laos - the 20,000 is worth less than even the 2. Such is the deal with 'soft' currency. Hence this morning's project to use up the remaining 20,000 & a few of its counterparts.

The cat left Wat Chom Khao shortly after the resident monks & novices returned from collecting alms. They + a temple boy + Mr Japanese Businessman + a few scattered almsgivers had been the only sign of life on the otherwise empty streets + empty temple. Wandering south along the river road...

Stationery shop with a few books in glass display case - 50,000kip for standard green Lao-English/English-Lao dictionary - second last souvenir for this trip.
Little gift baskets wrapped in red cellophane on a table outside - in ones & twos they disappear with people stopping by on motorbike to pick up their orders - reminder that it's New Year's Day.

Turn inland somewhere beyond the Post Office - intended destination = market.
Roads leading inland don't run perpendicular to the Mekong but curve off at all sorts of angles...??

Every road seems to go uphill...
Every road seems to have both paved & ex-paved sections...


Every roadside plant seems to be brown...


At last - crowd of people - but no market...?
Many green uniforms with red + gold epaulettes.
Civilians carrying babies.
Tall fences topped with barbed wire.
Uniforms & civvies squat + stand around outside concrete building.
Bare rooms with wooden beds & not much else, not even doors.
3 ladies walk past in pristine magically dustproof white nurses' uniforms...
Cat has wandered into military base + military hospital...

Hopelessly lost cat asks for directions...
Puzzled but friendly green uniforms point to steep dirt path through backyards of several homes.
Cat walks downhill past several households' worth of laundry & chickens into back of Huay Xai market.

Dry goods section - no luck.
A little row of shops behind dry goods section - a seamstress points to another structure further behind.
An entire section devoted just to clothing!
Stacks of sinh piled on wooden platforms + more sinh hanging from bamboo poles.
Wooden floor raises market above grass + mud beneath - exactly like pasar malam in Singapore :)

Mission to track down green silk sinh accomplished:


Prices all quoted in Thai baht - cat requests to pay with combination of kip + baht...
450 baht sinh = 88,000kip + 125 baht = last souvenir for this trip.
Mission to use up remaining Lao kip accomplished!

More ex-paved road + brown roadside vegetation...
Cat now hopelessly lost somewhere to the east of Wat Chom Khao.
Not even a passing soul on motorbike around to ask for directions.
Bokeo province hospital - like Nambak district hospital, even sadder-looking & more run down than the military hospital...
Unlike Nambak district hospital - devoid of all sign of life...& this serves the entire province...

Gas station.
Arimid Guesthouse - extremely vague recollection of mention in Lonely Planet guidebook.
Nice paved road - the main riverside road again!
To the right - Mr Luang Prabang-Pak Beng slowboat captain & sons walking into town - big fat smiles :)
Cat has walked entire inland road from market to junction near slowboat landing...

First Beer Lao delivery of the year for roadside noodle stall:


Sunday, February 28, 2010

010107 Wat Chom Khao - 07 view

Singha on guard duty at the top of the stairs:






They never knew what hit them.

One could literally roll all the way down the stairs from Wat Chom Khao & the slope past the Lao immigration & splash into the Mekong:


Thai immigration at Chiang Khong across the Mekong:


Yellow + red shelter marks the cross-river boat waiting point, vehicle ferry to the left. Watching boatloads of backpackers coming ashore at Huay Xai - with their huge numbers, bandannas, sunburnt skin from time spent baking on the islands & beaches of Thailand, & big fat 70++L backpacks, the scene pretty much resembles a roasted Ninja Turtle version of D-day at Normandy.

010107 Wat Chom Khao - 06 misc

To heaven & beyond - banner offering for deceased:


Education for monks - Buddha & his first 5 disciples:


Education for monks 2500++ years later - secondary school: