The trip could not have gone any better. It was perfect from beginning to end. I will try to go through the trip chronologically with my comments.
Our guide met us at Changi Airport (Singapore) and took us to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. The hotel is an absolute wonder. It’s massive size, architecture, and efficiency of operation is really something. Check-in was smooth since we were in a Club room, which has a special check-in area with no lines. Our room was on the 40th floor in the center of Tower 2 facing the bay/city. The Club rooms are very large with floor to ceiling windows which gives guests a great night view of the city and the Laser Light and Water show put on by the hotel each night. The Club floors also give guests free access to the negative edge rooftop pool on the 65th floor. The pool was never crowded and there is a separate section for adults only. It is strictly controlled by a very big lifeguard that will remove a youngster immediately. After all, it is Singapore. The pool is really cold which may be why it was never crowded–usually about 5-10 persons in the water. It is a big pool. Lounge chairs were plentiful and a waiter was regularly available for drinks. The hotel itself never felt crowded despite its enormous size. The main floor is so large there was plenty of room to walk. The restaurant “Rise” on the ground floor has one of the best buffets we have ever experienced. It is expensive, but worth every penny. There are about 25 restaurants in the complex.
The 2 tours we booked were just right for the 3 days we were in Singapore. Doing nothing the first day gave us a little time to adjust to the time change. The tours were excellent with very good English speaking guides, which can sometimes be a problem in that part of the world. All our guides were not only knowledgeable, but very helpful with our limited mobility. They were so kind in helping us in/out of vehicles and negotiating steps and uneven terrain. We could have spent another 2-3 days just exploring the area around the hotel. The gardens, Skywalk, Double Helix bridge, Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, etc. are just a few of the attractions within walking distance of the hotel.
The transfer to the Eastern & Oriental Express train is a two-step process. We were transferred to the Fullerton Hotel where we went through the check-in process in the hotel lobby, then put on a bus to the Butterworth train station. It is fairly time consuming, but there seems to be no alternative. The train is very luxurious, but not as much as the Rovos Rail in S. Africa. The State class cabins are the best, unless one wishes to spend a lot more on a Presidential cabin, or less for a VERY small Pullman cabin. The warning to bring no more than 2 small roll-on bags should be heeded. We checked our one 26″ bag and took only our small roll-ons. There was barely enough space for our 2 small bags. The train had four very elegant dining cars with excellent meals beautifully presented. The dining and bar cars are in the center of the train so it is not a very long walk. If you are in one of the cars near the engine, it is a very long walk to the rear observation/bar car. The train is about 24 cars long which can be a long walk with the train motion on the sometime not-so-smooth roadbed. The train stops near the infamous WWII Bridge on the river Kwai and takes the passengers on a good tour of the area where one section of the original bridge still stands. There is also a very good museum covering the period when the bridge was built. We would recommend seeing the 1957 movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” before taking the trip. Other than the tour, the train offers a lot of tropical scenery on the route.
On our arrival in Bangkok, we were transferred to the Peninsula Hotel on the Chao Phraya river. It is one of the most luxurious hotels we have ever experienced. The room was on the 9th floor overlooking the river with all the colorful boats constantly moving up and down. The hotel room was very big with automatic controls for everything. The bedside control panel looked like a launch control console I used during a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. We wish we could have stayed another day or two; unfortunately, we only stayed overnight.
We next flew to Luang Prabang and stayed 2 nights at the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao. The hotel is small and extremely well designed in keeping with its original use as a guest house. Our excellent guide gave us a tour of the city. Luang Prabang is not very big–only about 50,000 people–so the city can be toured in one day. Plenty of temples, French architecture, and other places to visit. The hotel has a very good restaurant.
We then transferred to the Plain of Jars by SUV. There are no flights. It is a seven plus hour ride through mostly mountainous terrain to Phonsavan, where the Hotel Vansana is located. The drive gave us our first real sight of Laos. The country is probably the least developed in SE Asia. Our guide explained the extensive activity by the Chinese that we observed on the way. China is building a high speed rail line from Beijing to Singapore passing through Laos. There was also extensive mining operations by the Chinese. The Laotians are not very happy with the situation because China brings in Chinese workers, builds a fenced work camp, and operates independently, using no Lao workers. We found that the Chinese were not liked in all the countries we visited because no work was provided for local people.
The Plain of Jars consisted of three separate (by miles) sites the are seldom visited by outsiders. The sites have been cleared of land mines by MAG, an international mine clearing charity. Sites 1 and 2 are relatively easy to visit. Site 3 involves crossing a very rickety bamboo bridge and across rice paddies, then a long hill climb. We would not recommend Site 3 if you are not in pretty good shape. All 3 sites offer good photo ops to show how the jars were damaged by the wars from 1967-1979. The damage is extensive near the bomb craters, but fortunately, most are intact. There is a small MAG museum in town that describes the mine clearing project and they have t-shirts and other unexploded ordnance related things for sale. Laos was a dumping ground for bombers that could not land with a load of bombs, so there were 3 areas in Laos where the bombs were dropped. About one third did not explode, leaving a large part of Laos unusable. It will be years before they are all cleared.
The Vansana Hotel is the best available in the area, but is in need of new management. The property is fine, but maintenance is deteriorating and there are no English speaking personnel. With the number of tourists visiting the area, there should be one or two English speaking employees. There were other nationalities visiting and they also were having language problems. I think a new hotel is almost finished and should be considered for future visits.
We then flew to Vientiane on the one (and only) daily flight to/from Phonsavan. The Settha Palace hotel in Vientiane is located in the downtown area and has the feel of a luxury hotel from Colonial times. The only concern is the lack of an elevator. The hotel is truly elegant with very large rooms. The street is busy and noisy, but not noticeable in the rooms. The bar is a good place to people watch on the street.
Flew from Vientiane to Siem Reap to spend one night at the Raffles. Hardly recognized the hotel since our last visit shortly after it opened. The area around the hotel is filled with businesses, hotels, etc,. but once inside it is the same as always. The elephant Bar is still a great place to have a drink in the evening.
We can’t say enough good things about our Destination Asia guides. They were so kind and helpful in assisting us because, at our age, it is a little difficult on stairs, high steps, in/out of vehicles, etc. The guides always held our arms and kept a close eye everywhere we went. It should be noted that elderly people are very respected in that part of the world. When we were walking on our own a few times, people were eager to help us cross the street, step off the curb, etc.
The return flights home were good. Vietnam Airlines Business Class Lotus Lounge in Saigon is really good. Of course, the Singapore Airlines lounge at Changi is about as good as any in the world.
Our decision to stay overnight in Singapore and LAX was good for us. No worries about missing a transfer and plenty of time to relax between flights.
Overall, it was a great trip, thanks to you.