Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia

This is the introduction of our ‘Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia’ trip report, in which we will travel to Laos and a few other destinations in Asia.

A trip to Laos

Some trips look perfect on paper at the moment you book them but might not be as good of a plan at a later point. This is the perfect example of such a trip. Laos is one of the few countries in south-east Asia which I haven’t visited to date, so it made for a logical destination. There are some great sights and wonderful nature to see in the country – and the food should be equally superb.

To get to Laos, I booked a one-way ticket from Bucharest to Athens, from where I booked a great 350 EUR one-way journey to Kuala Lumpur on the recent Saudia business class deal. For a lie-flat bed all the way to Asia that is an unbeatable price.

From Kuala Lumpur it is then a short hop on low-cost airline Air Asia to the Laotian capital of Vientiane (40 EUR one-way).

saudia 787 business class
Business class on a Saudia Boeing 787 from Jeddah to Kuala Lumpur. ©Paliparan

China stopover

The return journey looked excellent on paper too. I booked a business class ticket on China Eastern from Luang Prabang to Dubai with a 24-hour stopover in Kunming, China, using a chunk of my Flying Blue miles (74,000 miles plus 233 EUR in taxes). Although not a particularly good value for miles, it wasn’t bad either – and a paid ticket would have set me back well over 3,000 EUR for these flights.

More importantly, it would give me the opportunity to fly a new airline (which includes China Eastern’s excellent Boeing 787 from Kunming to Dubai) and explore Kunming for a day as China gives visa-free access to many cities if you have a stopover en route to a third country.

From Dubai I would then head back to Bucharest via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines in economy class (240 EUR one-way). Itinerary decided and settled for, you would think.

Then came the Wuhan corona virus crisis.

bucharest laos trip otp vte map
The trip to Laos as originally booked, with the return journey passing through China. ©Great Circle Mapper

Rebooking the ticket

When most countries giving a negative travel advisory to China and doctors warning that it is perhaps better to rethink all non-essential travels to the country, I decided to cancel the return journey. Luckily, most airlines have issued waivers allowing you to cancel a booked trip to China for free.

Although even in normal circumstances I could refund my China Eastern ticket as I booked it using miles, Air France as the issuing carrier was this time also waiving the 50 EUR redeposit fee which the airline normally charges to deposit the frequent flyer miles of a cancelled award ticket back in your account.

As the Dubai-Bucharest ticket was now no longer needed, I decided to cancel this too as the ticket was semi-flexible. I however had to pay a 120 USD cancellation fee for this, which Turkish Airlines deducted from the refund.

Alternative travel plans

After a lot of last-minute stress (and admittedly, also a wee bit of fun puzzling together a new itinerary!) I finally managed yesterday – only a day before departure – to come up with an alternative way how to get home from Laos.

I would say that the new route is perhaps even more exciting than the original route when it comes to airlines flown and places visited on the way!

Japan Airlines

In the end, I thought it would be a fun idea to route my travels through Japan instead of China. Even though there were quite a few corona cases in Japan too, at least there wasn’t the danger of being quarantined, which was probably a worry as big as the actual disease itself.

The reason why Japan was that I somehow found an excellent miles redemption to fly in business class from Bangkok to Tokyo on Flying Blue partner Japan Airlines (JAL). I could hop straight on the direct Bangkok to Tokyo flight, but as that flight is relatively short it is not really getting the most out of the business class experience.

For the same amount of miles – and only a fraction more in taxes – I could route the trip through Jakarta, first flying on Garuda from Bangkok to Jakarta where I would connect to the JAL flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. As the Jakarta to Tokyo flight is a seven-and-a-half hours overnight flight, it was a much better opportunity to try out Japan Airlines’ new Apex Suites in business class on the Boeing 787 – and I got a  cool Garuda flight thrown in for free as well.

For both business class flights on Garuda and JAL I only paid 55,000 Flying Blue miles plus 115 EUR in taxes, which I thought was excellent value for money (err.. miles). And as I had never been before in Japan, it would be an excellent opportunity to explore Tokyo!

Booking the last few flights

I still had two minor problems at this point. First of all, I needed to find a way to get from Luang Prabang to Bangkok. Second, I now found myself stranded in Tokyo and still required a flight back home to Europe.

Luang Prabang to Bangkok was relatively simple as the route is flown by four airlines. I settled for an economy class ticket on Thai Smile (95 USD) as it was the cheapest and had the most reasonable departure time.

Japan to Europe

Finding a flight from Tokyo to Europe was a bit more difficult than I initially expected. There was a cheap flight on Aeroflot when I started rebooking my flights, but when it actually came to buying this flight the cheap fare classes had already disappeared. In the end it left me with no other choice than to buy a relatively expensive one-way economy class flight home on Turkish Airlines (550 EUR).

From a financial point of view it would have probably been better to ditch the whole Japan idea completely and just fly home from Bangkok for half the price, but as I was now dead set on flying JAL in business class and seeing Tokyo, I didn’t bother cancelling the miles booking again and decided to just bite the bullet.

As a bit of silver lining, at least the Turkish Airline flight was in a booking class which earned me a full 100% mileage, which would all but guarantee re-qualification for another two years of Star Alliance Gold status in Turkish Airlines’ own Miles&Smiles frequent flyer programme.

With the last flights decided on, the final route map looks like this:

laos itinerary
The final itinerary of my trip to Laos. ©Great Circle Mapper

Highlights

In this ‘Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia’ trip report, you can expect the following highlights:

– Business class experiences on Aegean Airlines, Saudia, Garuda and Japan Airlines
– Exploring the night markets of Kuala Lumpur, Vientiane and Luang Prabang
– Biking and tubing fun in the gorgeous backpacker town of Vang Vieng
– Three days between the temples, food markets and French cafes of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang

vang vieng pool laos trip report
Lazing by the pool in Vang Vieng, Laos. ©Paliparan
mekong luang prabang sunset laos trip report
Watching the sunset on the mighty Mekong river in Luang Prabang. ©Paliparan
japanese breakfast japan airlines jal
The Japanese breakfast set on board my Japan Airlines flight from Jakarta to Tokyo. ©Paliparan
tokyo japan
A perfect winter day in Tokyo. ©Paliparan

Trip report index

This trip report consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Aegean Airlines Business Class Bucharest to Athens (Airbus A320)
2. Review: Goldair Handling Lounge (Non-Schengen) Athens Airport
3. Review: Saudia Business Class Athens to Jeddah (Airbus A320)
4. Review: Saudia Alfursan Lounge Jeddah Airport South Terminal
5. Review: Review: Saudia Business Class Jeddah to Kuala Lumpur (Boeing 787)
6. Review: CitizenM Hotel Kuala Lumpur Bukit Bintang
7. Kuala Lumpur in One Day: What to See and Do in 24 Hours
8. A Batu Caves Half Day Trip From Kuala Lumpur By Public Transport
9. Review: Plaza Premium Lounge Private Resting Suite Gateway KLIA2
10. Review: Air Asia Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane (Airbus A320)
11. Review: Hotel Khamvongsa, Vientiane, Laos
12. Destination Trip Report: A Day in Vientiane, Laos
13. Guide: Domestic Bus Travel in Laos and How to Book a Ticket
14. Review: Simon Riverside Hotel, Vang Vieng, Laos
15. Trip Report: Vang Vieng – Worth a Stop on Your Laos Itinerary?
16. Review: Villa Ban Phanluang, Luang Prabang, Laos
17. Luang Prabang: The Stunning Pearl of Indochina
18. Guide: Luang Prabang Morning, Food and Night Markets
19. Kuang Si Falls: A Gorgeous Luang Prabang Day Trip
20. Review: Thai Smile Economy Class Luang Prabang to Bangkok (Airbus A320)
21. Review: Ibis Styles Bangkok Sukhumvit 4
22. Review: Air France/KLM Business Lounge Bangkok Airport
23. Review: Garuda Indonesia Business Class Bangkok to Jakarta (Boeing 737-800)
24. Review: Sapphire Plaza Premium Lounge Terminal 3 Jakarta Airport
25. Review: Garuda Business Lounge Terminal 3 Jakarta Airport
26. Review: Review: Japan Airlines Business Class Jakarta to Tokyo Narita (Boeing 787-8)
27. Review: Capsule Hotel Transit Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
28. Tokyo Stopover: What to See and Do in the Capital of Japan for a Day
29. Review: ANA Business Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport
30. Review: United Club Tokyo Narita Airport
31. Review: Turkish Airlines Economy Class Tokyo Narita to Istanbul (Boeing 777)
32. Review: Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Lounge Istanbul Airport
33. Review: Turkish Airlines Economy Class Istanbul to Bucharest (Airbus A330)

Koen

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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