Laos > Vientiane
VIENTIANE, 02 Oct 2009
Today we are traveling from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, some 425km by road – which can take about 9-10hrs – or just 40min by air. A no-brainer for us, so we find our way to Vientiane Wattay International Airport VTE to catch the morning Lao Airlines flight to Luang Prabang LPQ.
The domestic terminal is the old terminal, which is dwarfed by the new (international terminal) next to it.
The no-nonsense Flight Information Display for Lao Airlines. Ours is QV101.
Actually the Lao Airlines FID is accompanied by the FIDs for the other two Laotian airlines: Lao Air and Lao Capricorn Air. I should call this part of the terminal ‘The FID Corner’.
Lao Capricorn Air is the baby of the family, with only one plane: a Czech-made LET L-410, only 19 seats (odd number?).
On schedule, we are promptly bussed to our ride parked on the ramp right in front of the international terminal.
Well, aren’t we lucky or what? A brand new ATR72-500 is our transport to LPQ for today.
The colourful Lao Airlines insignia on the tail – the champa or frangipani flower. Very distinctive.
The cabin reeks of new
car plane smell, whatever that is.
Sitting still on the ramp, almost ready to go with full anticipation!
We are soon airborne, after taking off from Runway 31, heading northwest.
This side of Vientiane has plenty of rice-fields and aquaculture ponds.
Just 10min after take-off, the huge Nam Ngum hydro reservoir passes on the right. Completed in 1971, this hydro plant supplies electricity to the whole of Vientiane and most of Laos, yet 70% of its output is sold to Thailand, earning about 25% of Laos’s foreign income.
Cruising at 30,000ft, we skim above a thick cloud cover, thanks to remnants of deadly Typhoon Ketsana, which battered the Phillipines, Vietnam and the southern part of Laos.
We enter the mountainous region of central Laos, where desolate villages are in the middle of nowhere.
A break in the clouds as the plane descends, and I see the mighty Mekong.
The Mekong snakes around countless mountains, with its banks dotted with villages. The river is an important transportation route in Laos, and a key food source too.
That looks like Route 13 linking Vientiane and Luang Prabang. No wonder it takes 9hrs to cover 425km, and that’s in good weather.
The mountains suddenly give way to terraced rice-fields.
And the new part of Luang Prabang comes into view as we return to civilisation.
Landing at Runway 06 of Luang Prabang Airport LPQ, I spot my first wat (or ‘vat’) atop a hill. There are 23 notable wats in Luang Prabang alone.
Soon our brand new ATR72-500 sits elegantly on the ramp at Luang Prabang Airport LPQ.
Next to it, an elder sister awaits passengers.
Leaving the aircraft we stroll to the terminal building. It is a cool breezy pleasant day, with a hint of humidity.
Warm greeting as we enter the terminal building airside.
Landside, this is Luang Prabang International Airport terminal. Only 7 scheduled flights per day: 3 to Vientiane, 2 to Bangkok, 1 to Hanoi, 1 to Siem Reap.
A modest open-air waiting area for passengers and friends. Only bona fide travelers are allowed into the small building.
A wooden plaque proudly announces the World Heritage Status of Luang Prabang.
Close-up of the English text.
Nearby a welcome note from the local authority …
… with some wise words from the boss.
From the state-of-the-art French-made ATR72-500 plane, we exit the airport gate and are back on Planet Earth, as we ride a rickety van to town.
Such juxtaposition between technologies in print and on the ground. I remember seeing an airport road like this at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport way back in the early 90s, and now that ‘airport road’ is a modern gleaming dual carriageway!
And yes, we are heading in the right direction, no worries.