Do yourself a favor and DO NOT BOOK THROUGH THEM.
I walked in here to book the shuttle to the waterfalls/bear sanctuary. I was told the next shuttle wasn't for another 2 hours but the guy was REALLY putting on the pressure to book ahead, so I paid him the 50,000 kip in cash and went to wait in a cafe.
I returned at the time he told me and ended up sitting and waiting for the shuttle to show up. After 40 minutes had passed and it was getting late and cold, I asked him if I could take the trip another day. I was a little bummed that I'd wasted my whole day waiting around for this.
He said no problem.
Two days later I showed up (before the 11:30 shuttle was set to leave) and was told it had already left. I knew this wasn't true as it was before 11:30 & even if it had been on time it would still be picking people up. After I pointed this out, the man at the desk admitted that it hadn't left, but then said it was full. He offered for me to take the late shuttle (in 2 hours) again.
I explained I had a limited amount of time here (as all people visiting here do, most are only here for 2-3days & I really need him to be flexible). He refused and suggested I pay a tuk-tuk to take me there. (So much more expensive!!!)
I told him that in that case I would like him to refund the money I'd paid if he couldn't provide the service I'd paid for. He got aggressive, laughed in my face & said, "No! No refund!" and shooed me out with his hand.
So now I've wasted another day not getting to the waterfalls and I'm out 50,000 kip.
DO NOT DEAL WITH MANIFA TRAVEL!!! THEY THINK IT'S OKAY TO STEAL TOURISTS' MONEY and take advantage of the fact that they can cheat you because you're foreign and won't be here long enough to sort it out.
Try to avoid sitting directly under trees. Huge branches fell near us a least twice on our 4 day stay as well as a sudden shower of twigs. This in the dry season on non-windy days.
The first incident was as we strolled along the Nam Khan we heard a sudden cracking noise and watched a couple of huge branches crash down to the riverbank nearby. The second incident was while we ate dinner on the Mekong. There was a loud bang as a branch crashed down just between my husband and a girl at the next table.
Finally as we ate breakfast in our hotel on our last day, there was a sdden shower of small twigs raining down in the gardens.
I know bits of trees fall down; it's just that it happened a lot in a very short period of time.
The short version: Do not buy any trips or tickets at Manifa's. They are incompetent, don't understand English and they will lie to your face.
The slightly longer version:
We booked a boat trip (110.000 kip per person) to Nong Khiaw, seven hours north of Luang Prabang for 110.000 kip per person. 10 hours later we discover, that we have arrived somewhere west of Luang Prabang - Pak Beng, a bordertown where people ONLY go because they are on their way to Thailand. We tried to make the best of it and wanted to go on a trek the next day. But since there was a boxing match on the tv, nobody wanted to take us. Instead we decided to leave immediately by speed boat: 1.000.000 for two people, three hours back to Luang Prabang.
In Luang Prabang we went back to Manifa Travel Company and complained. The same guy was there (his English wasn't any better) and he promised that we would get our money back. We had wasted two days so we wanted to be on our way to Vientiane. According to him he had no cash so we bought a bus ticket from him, and payed an additional 40.000 kip since the bus ticket was more expensive than the boat ticket. The guy wanted us to show up early next day before we left, so he could get the money back from the ticket office by the river.
Next day we showed up, went to the "harbour" and there we had to wait half an hour because the Manifa-employee had problems getting his money back. Looking more and more troubled and frantically calling his boss, he then asked us for more money to cover his expenses. We explained to him, that that was out of the question, because he already promised us our money back. When he again disappeared behind the boat office, we jumped on a tuk-tuk and rushed off to the bus station.
We arrived at the South Bus Station half an hour before the bus departure. We went to the ticket office to check in, showing the guy in the booth our receipt from Manifa Travel Company. He looked at it, then at us, and told us, that the company's tuk-tuk driver had been there 20 minutes earlier to cancel our tickets. We could only get on the bus if we payed for two new tickets.
So, please. For the sake of future fellow travellers going to Luang Prabang - please don't use Manifa Travel Company!
This tip has no photo attached for obvious reasons, insofar as I don't think it is a brilliant idea to stick a camera in a drug dealers face. You will frequently be asked "smoke weed?" and cannabis / marijuana seems to be freely available. Your call whether or not to indulge but I would pont out a few things to you. There are strict penalties in Lao for possession and trafficking drugs up to and including the death penalty. Even simple possession can land you in jail. Remember that food is not provided in Lao jails and prisoners are catered for by their families bringing in food. You will not have that facility available to you. I am told the current "gratuity" to avoid jail time is around $500 US which will put a nice hole in your travel budget.
In fairness, the dealers are not persistent and will move on quietly if you decline but remember also that many of them are either undcercover police trying to engineer the situation for the "gratuity", as above or genuine dealers who have an arrangement with the police. In a country where the average wage is $400 a year, it is maybe not surprising.
As I say, your call but you have been warned.
One evening, when I got back to my guesthouse, there were some notices to inform guests that there would be no electricity the following day after 6am. I wasn't too sure as to why but it didn't come on until the early evening (6pm) which meant that it wasn't possible to have a shower as it was electric! This also happened on the following day so I ended up having bucket showers at my guesthouses. Be warned about this as it'll affect ATM machines and coffee machines etc.
There are herds of kids who work as street peddlars on the streets of Luang Prabang. If they find that you are an easy pushover, a horde will descend on you, begging you to buy their wares (usually pendants, weaves and stuffs). The cafes certainly aren't doing their best to ward them off as well, so they do enter cafes and disturb clients.
Don't get me for trying to demonise kids. Wait till they descend upon you and should you survive, you can come and tell me off.
Of course, I am not asking you to be rude. To their credit, most of them will take the hint after you had told them, politely of course, no, a couple of times.
I did see a few ladies getting entangled up with them though, once they purchase something from one. It's hunting season for all now.
So, don't say I didn't warn you.
We were looking for a little trek and some kayaking and stumbled upon White Elephant Adventures, we thought we might do a trip with them but we ended up getting a little weird vibe from them so we checked out other options. We decided to not do their tour and the Canadian owner completely and inappropriately freaked out. He came over to our hotel the night before and told the workers that he was our friend so that he could get our room numbers. I called his business and home phone to let him know that we were not going on the trip. The next morning he still came to our hotel, I had left with my girlfriend for breakfast, but my other two friends who are going to go with us was still there. He yelled at them and threatened to call the police on them.
They were confused and left. I thought maybe there was just a miscommunication between the staff, the owner, and my friends. So my girlfriend and I went to find the Canadian owner of White Elephant Adventures who had yelled at my friends to try to tide things over with him. This was not to be. He completely lost is cool and began to yell at us in the street (which incredibly culturally inappropriate in Laos (or anywhere for that matter)). He yelled at us that we are shorting is Laos staff that depended on us to go, I offered to pay for myself for the trip and split it evenly with the Laos staff. He refused the offer and by the end, he threatened our lives. He said that he paid the Laos police to retrieve his money from us, and if they do anything else he is not responsible. He also told us to not come crying back to him if the police take us. Arrest us for what? We didn't even do anything wrong!
Please, anyone who is traveling to Luang Prabung do not go on White Elephant Adventure Tours!!! There are many other good adventure tours there...Enjoy your trip there great place! Just stay away from White Elephant Adventures!!!!
Another change in Luang Prabang since our last visit was the presence of children wandering along the streets and at tables outside restaurants selling souvenir items and small trinkets. The closer you are to the street, the more likely you are to fall prey to their persistent attentions. If you engage them, you will immediately have 2 or 3 other children crowding around you. The asking prices are always exorbitant! These pesky little critters learn early about extorting money from tourists.
If you definitely don't want anything, just say "no thank you" pleasantly. We watch a lot of tourists who continue to talk and basically ignore them. This usually results in them continuing to stand there - impasse. They will generally leave if you give them a clear message.
I had read about the holes in the footpaths in Luang Prabang, but I was gobsmacked when I saw them! I saw a few tourists getting around with bandaged legs (true story!), and wondered if this had been the cause.
As you can see in the pic, the street lighting is very poor in the evening - and the second picture was taken at the same time as the hole picture! Can be an idea to take a torch (or flashlight, depending on where you come from!) if you venture out for an evening stroll.
I am pleased to say that during our recent visit to Luang Prabang, all the footpaths have been replaced and/or repaired - so this warning no longer applies!!
Talking with several foreigners doing business in LP, I came to realize that dollars are a very welcome, even routinely used, currency in the area. One european guy said that he rarely used or encountered kip except as change from his purchases. This same guy kept a wallet with American $1's and $5's for his usual purchases @ 1 dollar per 1000 kip. You're not likely to get 'dollar' change back. A dime or quarter is completely unknown, as one would expect.
Given how huge is the stack of kip you get for a $100 or E100 travellers check at the few semi-surly places available to change money, I think I'll bring dollars next time.
I've been told that Thai baht are equally as welcome, although the exchange rate is a bit trickier.
A little scam artist plays his game on top of Phu Si hill. I was approached by a friendly 17 year-old guy who spoke excellent English. After making conversation for awhile, he invited me to have a look at Peacefulness Temple just outside of town.
I went along for the ride and he brought me to a beautiful wat with just a smattering of visitors. He next offered to bring me to his village a short distance away. I accepted and was taken to the Iron Workers Village, which was a squalid collection of shacks on top of each other with lots of litter about. I was introduced to his "mom" and was then informed about her bad liver or something like that. The kid produced some x-rays as evidence of her condition and then started about how it was only ten dollars for medicine, but he couldn't afford it. I was brought to another woman who showed me a photo of her daughter and offered her to me as a wife. I politely declined, informing her that I needed more time to think about it as such decisions shouldn't be reached with haste.
When we returned to town, my guide got started with the expensive school bit, asking me to sponsor his education. Returning to my guesthouse, I saw the kid acknowledge the proprietors. I later asked them if they knew the boy and they informed that they did and that he played this game with guests of theirs quite often. The owners told me the whole thing is a scam, that he doesn't even live in the village. The only contribution I made was paying for some gas for his motorbike, but others have most likely been instrumental in the boy's receiving an "education". He's pictured to the left.
When you are in Luang Prabang, during the Lao New Year (in April), first of all: watch out for the water throwing people. If you have a camera with you, be sure you have something to put it in so it doesn't get wet.
Or, what's even better: leave your camera at home, buy a bucket and throw some water back!
Laos is one of the most bombed countries in the world. During the Vietnam war, the US secretly bombed Laos and Cambodia, since the North Vietnamese moved the Ho Chi Minh trail into their countries. Over two million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on Laos, mostly in the north and southeastern regions.
Around town, you will notice how the Lao people have made trash cans and other items from the casings of the ordinances. In rural communities-some people find UXO and sell them to tourists. Do not buy these.
After 30 years since the end of the Vietnam war, people are still being killed or injured from unexploded ordinances. Around 11,000 people have been killed since the end of the war due to UXO. The UN and other international aid groups are training and employing Lao people to find and remove the UXOs. It is sad to think in our life time, Laos probably will not be free of UXO.
Luang Prabang and Vientiane are clear of UXO and safe. If you are traveling or trekking into rural areas, you may want to find out what the status of that area is, before you visit. Keep to worn paths.
Although it is considered illegal to be using different currencies in Laos, in reality, it is done everywhere. US dollars, Thai baht and Lao KIP are accepted in Laos. It is easy to convert USD into Lao KIP at the following rate.
1 USD = approximately 10,000 KIP
However, for Thai Baht, the rate is a bit more complicated. Sometimes, vendors take advantage of this and quote prices in Thai baht to confuse you and you may get ripped off as the conversion is a bit more tricky. I realize that after I bought some tribal goods from the night market. They started quoting me in Thai baht and when I ask them to convert to KIP, the prices were higher than some other similar items that I bought later.
The conversion rate for Thai Baht is 1 Baht = approximately 267 KIP when I was there in June 2005.
Make sure you are familiar with the conversion rate when you are there.
The official currency in Laos is the KIP. You can only change for KIP in Laos. Although it is considered illegal to be using different currencies in Laos, in reality, it is done everywhere. US dollars, Thai baht and Lao KIP are accepted in Laos. You can change for Lao KIP at Luang Prabang International Airport and also at a money changer in town. You will get a better deal with US dollars. For just one 100 USD note, you will get a thick stack of Lao KIP in return.
Try not to change too much Lao KIP as it is quite difficult or almost impossible to change that back to USD. Make sure you have small denominations of USD with you for use if you run out of KIP. If you use larger denominations, you will get your change back in KIP which you will not need if you are going to leave Laos soon. Lao KIP is worthless when you are out of Laos.
1 USD = approximately 10,000 KIP