The border crossing was really quite easy, a TukTuk driven by Granny to the Friendship Bridge, passport photo’s obtained and stamped out of Thailand, we then hopped on the bus which took us directly to the Laos immigration point. We filled in a form, handed over the entry fees in US Dollars, and waited for 10 minutes while we were hounded by TukTuk and Taxi Drivers for a fare to Vientiane. The longer you wait and show no interest, the more likely the price of the fare falls, and it did. So we accepted a 200 Bhat fare to take us straight to our chosen Guesthouse. The whole journey from Nong Khai had taken just over an hour.
The “City” has more of a town feel, and it is easily traversed on foot. The main central area, near Mixay Wat, is a small grid of streets maybe 3 or 4 maximum – so there is really no need for 10 or so TukTuk drivers waiting for a fare at the end of each. This was reminding me of Ubud, Bali, where you are constantly hassled for business every other minute by the shouts of “TukTuk Sir?”. It really can be quite draining having to say no thanks all the time, to the point where you just start to ignore these guys.
Vientiane does sound French, and it does have a very French feel. Streets are called “Rues”, and there is an abundance of Gallic Restaurants. It would only take a day or so to get our bearings, when we stumbled upon a mini Arc de Triomphe. The French obviously had a great influence when the country became a French protectorate at the end of the 19th century, and renamed it as the capital, the original being name being “Wieng Chang”. The Architecture is Franco styled, with massive colonial style villas and we noticed some kids playing the French game pétanque in the streets.
The food here has been great, not only local dishes, but a few decent Indian Restaurants as well. We were in heaven for a couple of nights with Lamb Curry, Tandoori Chicken, Tomato Aloo and fluffy light Roti’s. Michelle opted for some green stuff from The Exorcist.
Our base was right on the Mekong, and taking a walk one afternoon, we found a huge local eatery right on the water, and sat down for Vietnamese influenced Fresh Spring Rolls, with a spicy peanut sauce dip and some pickled local vegetables while watching the sun going down as it cast spectacular luminance on the clouds.
That night we met a couple from New Zealand, Patrick and Jezz, and it ended up a wee party night in a local bar. Live music was being played, and people would get up for a wee dance. Having had a few, it was time for Johnny Cash to have a go, and I ended up with a guitar strapped to me, and belting out “Ring of Fire”. The band then went for Robbies “Angels” and I decided to give it a bash. Not one of my favourites, mainly because it is always torn apart by lagered up blokes who think they are Elvis on Karaoke back home. I think I did the same 🙂
As the night ended, we grabbed a beer from a local shop and sat at the front of the hotel just finishing off the night, when Ewan from England and Jimmy from Scotland turned up, needing more beer. There is an 11.30pm curfew in Laos, but where there’s a will and all that. A local girl appeared on a motorbike, and for a small fee, could arrange this. Ewan went with her, and turned up half an hour later with 2 large bottles of Beer Laos. By this stage, we were tired, staying up for another 15 minutes, before turning in and completely zonked at just a little past midnight.
We decided to head up North to Vang Vieng. We booked an air conditioned mini bus for 9am next morning, both up, but feeling rough, we were a bit disappointed when a large vehicle with 2 makeshift benches in the back was waiting outside. We climbed on, and after 5 minutes of picking people up from their respective guesthouses, I was beginning to wonder if either of us would manage the 4 hour journey, given our current constitution. I was ready to stop the bus and get off. Luckily I didn’t, as we stopped shortly thereafter and were told to get on the awaiting mini bus. Luxury, we got the biggest seat in the front, and could sprawl out a bit.
We stopped midway at some roadside eatery, and it was time for a wee hair of the dog, while Michelle was happy to just snooze on the bus. No sooner had I bought the beer, than I was dragged over to a bunch of locals, getting wasted with some local police on Beer Lao at 11am in the morning. Beer Lao tastes great, it is light and refreshing, with no bitter aftertaste and it is a source of national pride. Reminds me in taste and body of Beer Bintang from Indonesia. Funnily enough, it is based on an old recipe for a Czech pilsner brought to Laos by a local woman who had worked over there in a brewery. The Lao share a bottle, each person has a small glass with a large ice-cube, and they will take turns at topping each other’s glasses up. The good thing about this, notwithstanding the communal social aspect, is that your beer is always cold. The locals were quite well on, especially friendly and amiable. They spoke to me, smiling while talking in broken English, and topped up my glass repeatedly – advising me “This is the Lao way, we always share !!”.
I was beginning to really like Laos, but Michelle just rolled her eyes when I got back on the bus half cut and told her what happened. I was bursting to relieve myself about half an hour into the remainder of the trip, turning green while praying for a pitstop. When we reached Vang Vieng, we stopped at the first hotel, and I left Michelle to do the negotiations while I legged it to the WC.