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  1. #1
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    Simon43's Avatar
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    Trip report - Return to Luang Prabang - with photos

    Right-eo, here we are...

    Last weekend, I made an overnight visit to the northern Lao city of Luang Prabang from my current, temporary home in Bueng Kan, just east of Nong Khai on the Mekong river.

    Having had enough of the 'slowly-boiled-frog' syndrome that many expats are enduring in oh-so-friendly Thailand, and having no easy solution to obtain my next visa in September, (I don't and won't put 800,000 baht in the bank and I won't jump through hoops any more with the immigration guys), I decided to check out the fair city of Luang Prabang, where I lived and worked in 2012/13.

    At that time, I loved the city, with its mixture of Lao and French architecture, the unspoilt city centre on the peninsula (protected by UNESCO status), and the slow pace of life, not forgetting Beer Lao.

    My work as an online teacher means that I can work from anywhere in the world that has decent internet access.

    So onto visit Luang Prabang.

    Would the lousy internet service that existed in 2012 be unchanged?

    Would the Yunnan - Bangkok train line that was being built close to the city turn the city into a mini-Phuket, crowded with rowdy mainland Chinese shitting in the gutters?

    I had to go and see for myself.

    Early on Saturday, I drove to NK in my pick-up, leaving it in the safe hands of a car-park company for 100 baht a night. I exited Thai immigration without a problem, took the 20 baht bus over the bridge, and completed my visa on arrival form for Lao immigration. The two immigration officers were very friendly as we spoke in both Thai and Lao, and they joked about my wonderful Lao language skills, (crap nowadays because I hadn't used Lao for years, but basically all you have to do is to change letter r to letter l, (or letter r to letter h), plus chuck in a few local words and Bob is your 'lung'.

    It cost me 50,000 kip to take a taxi from the Friendship bridge to Vientiane Airport for the short flight to Luang Prabang.


    While waiting, I had my first snack of the day.




    Having got that out of the way, it was time to board Lao Air QV101.



    I first visited Laos in about 1985, and at that time the road between Vientiane and Luang Prabang was too dangerous to use, either because of bandits, or because of treacherous road conditions. You can understand why when you look at the topology.



    As the plane neared Luang Prabang, I spotted the the construction site of the new Yunnan-Bangkok railway line, with tall cement piers leading to a new tunnel. When you consider the topology in Laos, this railway line construction is an amazing feat of engineering. That photo shows the small road to Kuang Si waterfall passing by the construction site.



    Would the town be overrun with Chinese labourers? Er... no! In fact, although it was a sunny day, there were very few tourists of any nationality in the picturesque town centre.



    I wandered by the Nam Khem river (the smaller river that joins up with the Mekong river at Luang Prabang. Although it was the rainy season, the seasonal bamboo bridge across the river was in place and the river very low.



    On to Utopia Bar to chill out with a fresh salad, cold Beer Lao and a chat with my landlord from 2012, from whom I was going to rent a house again. The bar chill-out area overlooking the river was populated with the same unwashed backpackers 'finding themselves' as in 2012. Nothing had changed.



    Here's an outside view of the hardwood, traditional house that I'll rent. It is furnished 'opulently' (my landlord is a well-off Swiss guy), and the house is about 200 metres from Utopia and a few minutes from the town centre. It's ideal for me because I can safely jog and cycle (lorries and buses etc are banned from entering the town centre).



    I stopped by one of the wats in the town centre to watch the monks chanting - I recorded all of their chant if you're interested.



    What I like about Luang Prabang is the large choice of cafes and restaurants. That vintage car has been there for decades...



    To show you how quiet the tourist centre was, here is a 360 degree pan on the main tourist street.

    http://teachersimon.org/video-1561973052.mp4

    Spot any tourists? No, nor did I...

    It was oh so relaxing to sit at a cafe with a strong glass of Lao coffee.




    Definitely, I felt just like the cat that got the cream




    Right, but what about pros and cons of living in Luang Prabang? Here is a list, according to what I want, (so you may not agree).

    PROS:
    - Easy, cheap one-year business visa with work permit and ID card for about $500 all-in per year. You can get that visa even if you're not working.... just smile nicely in the immigration office. No 90 day reports, no TM30 registration every time you stay overnight at a different place, no money required in the bank.

    - Easy to open a bank account with ATM card. I asked at 2 banks. They will open an account on sight of your work permit and passport - no other documents required. Term savings interest is up to 7% pa.

    - No need to speak Lao. Most people speak some English, everyone understands Thai, some speak French, (and no doubt Chinese by now).

    - Quiet and unspoilt. The Chinese workers all live in a China town area near the stadium. Smoking in the street in the town centre is not allowed.

    - Availability of loose women. In 2012 I never had a problem to find loose women, in spite of the ban on foreigner-Lao sexual relations. With the influx of Chinese, several Vietnamese karaoke/massage/fuck-you-until-your-teeth-fall-out venues have opened on the edge of town.

    - Cheap. some say that LP is expensive. I don't agree. My intended residence at 15,000 baht rental per month is expensive by local standards. My huge fresh salad and chicken and red wine for less than $10 is hardly expensive. Cheap charlies can eat for $1 in the veggie all-you-can-eat street at the night market.

    - Wine is available at prices that will not make your eyes water, (unlike Thailand).

    - If you're into nature, rivers, hills, culture etc, Luang Prabang and its environs offers it all.

    - Mobile internet speeds were like shit off a shovel ==> 40 Mbps up and down, compared to 4 Mbps that DTAC gives me in Thailand. The international internet gateway didn't seem to be a bottleneck either, because I tested speeds to servers in China.

    CONS:
    - The hospital healthcare sucks. You need medical evacuation insurance if you get something serious. Chiang Mai and Udon hospitals are 1 hour away.

    - LP does suffer to some extent from smoke in the burning season, due to its proximity to the wooded hills and mountains and local Hmong and Khamu hillfolk who get kicks from slashing and burning. I will deal with this problem when it comes.

    - Banking connections are not great. One cannot link a local Lao account to Paypal for example.

    - Lazada doesn't deliver to Laos.

    Anyway..... I was very happy with what I saw during my short trip and will make a move to live in the city over the next 2 months, before my Thai visa expires.

    Questions and comments invited!
    Groping women when you're old is fine - everyone thinks you're senile

  2. #2
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    Ukan Kizmiaz's Avatar
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    I'd be pretty damn happy if i was moving to LP.

  3. #3
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    happynz's Avatar
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    Thanks. I enjoyed that.

  4. #4
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    Every morning when i stayed there i used to go to a little open air coffee/Tea servery under a massive Tree right on the front of the river where the tourist boats dock. They serve those Pa Thong Ko donuts and it was great to watch the world wake up and go by. Obviously LP didn't tick The Gents box but for me the whole point of the place was the slow pace, lack of traffic, wankers on Mocys with loud exhausts, music blaring and generally people shout at each other when the are stood two feet apart. Plenty of bars for drinkies but the place (used to) close early and that's fine as it just encourages you to dial the clock back a bit and start earlier

  5. #5
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    All good for you so far Simon. I would be interested in the property details, maybe with some interior pics of the furnishings and facilities, bogs, aircon etc.

    Not planning another move for a while yet, but with a UK state pension due soon, it could make an interesting option in the future. I’m paying a similar price for very well appointed apartment in Sanur, Bali right now.

    Bon chance.

  6. #6
    Thailand Expat cyrille's Avatar
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    I love LP!

  7. #7
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    Term savings interest is up to 7% pa
    I assume that's fraught with peril.

  8. #8
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    I could quite happily live in LP if not for the things you pointed out simon. 1. Decent medical care ( its bad enough in vientiane) 2. Lack of work opportunities for me. 3. Schooling for the kids aint great. 4. I would quickly get bored.
    But thats not to say its not a great place. It is. But for me only for holidays. My wifes got an aunty there who bought up a shitload of land 20 years ago when no one could even spell the place. Shes sitting on a goldmine. ( should of married the auntie). Her latest project is an arty farty cafe set in a 100 year old wooden building. Can put you onto her simon . MILF. Right up your alley i reckon. She might even buy YOU a hotel. Thank me later.

  9. #9
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    beerlaodrinker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by harrybarracuda View Post
    I assume that's fraught with peril.
    Not necessarily harry. A few years ago banks here were offering 13% on term deposit. To me that raised a few red flags. Thinking it sounds to good to be true. A few friends locked in money for a few years and got the promised interest and capitol back. Lately the Lao govt have capped term deposits in baht or Dollars at 5% if your getting 7% thats unusual. You can still get upwards of 10% on kip deposits though. . There are a few serious banks here but i trust none of the fuckers to have a large wedge sitting in there coffers. I banked with the ANZ here for about 10 years only to be told to come and with withdraw my money as they were no longer interested interested in domestic accounts. No great loss as they were pretty fooking useless anyway.

  10. #10
    Thailand Expat Dillinger's Avatar
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    Looks fantastic for a romantic weekend away. Enjoy it while you can, the Chinese won't be flooding in for at least 2 years
    https://www.ttrweekly.com/site/2019/...akes-progress/

  11. #11
    Thailand Expat David48atTD's Avatar
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    Great report Simon ...

    Re the high returns, I posted this in the finance section.

    The research from my Thai Broker.

    Quote Originally Posted by David48atTD View Post
    Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao ... (BCEL)

    Outstanding yield, attractive valuation Cheap valuation and solid dividend yield the main positive catalysts.
    We maintain our Buy rating for BCEL.

    We still see the bank as attractive in terms of its undemanding valuation at current (with2019P/BVandPERofjust0.58xand3.6x,respectively), the outstanding dividend yield of ~17% and its improving financial position.

    We also see BCEL being a prime beneficiary of Lao PDR’s GDP growth of ~ 7% , given that it is among the leading banks in the country and the core banking arm of the Lao government.



    Too good to be true?

  12. #12
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    Term savings interest is up to 7% pa


    I assume that's fraught with peril.
    As beerlaodrinker said, although I wouldn't bank all of my money in a Lao savings account, AFAIK, there has never been a problem with the Lao banks paying up. Same as Cambodian banks who also offer similar rates.

    Schooling in LP would be great if I hadn't resigned as headmaster of KIS LoL. Every decent policy that I had to improve the standards of that school were overruled by the school owner....

    Dillinger, the hoards of Chinese WILL come to LP of course, but thankfully coaches etc will not come to the peninsula, due to the UNESCO status. Outside of daytime hours, I can't see the Chinese blocking up the place. I get up and jog at 5 am, before the monks get up

  13. #13
    'ello 'ello 'ello Luigi's Avatar
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    Very interesting Simon, cheers for the report.

    I reckon I'll end up moving to Laos or Vietnam in 15-20 years time.

  14. #14
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    Last time i was in Utopia about 3 years ago, the place was full of South Korean Super Models, not joking.
    I mean everyone was a stunner. And they knew it.
    Even my missus was impressed.
    What got me , note in Simon's pic of the main drag, no overhead wires just on that main street.
    Wonderful town.

  15. #15
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    What got me , note in Simon's pic of the main drag, no overhead wires just on that main street.
    Yep, seems like the local government knows how to run a tourist attraction:

    - No overhead wires
    - No tour buses
    - No lorries (except delivery vehicles at restricted times)
    - No public smoking of cigarettes allowed
    - No brash plastic shop signs

    etc etc

  16. #16
    disturbance in the Turnip baldrick's Avatar
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    is no unsightly mold on that list ?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon43 View Post
    Yep, seems like the local government knows how to run a tourist attraction:

    - No overhead wires
    - No tour buses
    - No lorries (except delivery vehicles at restricted times)
    - No public smoking of cigarettes allowed
    - No brash plastic shop signs

    etc etc
    And electric tuk tuks.

  18. #18
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    Yep, looks nice.

    I've never been, but very much hope to one day (I guess sooner would be better than later with that train on the way...).

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