We left LP around 7am in the morning, so that we had plenty of time to admire the scenery as it went past. We were greatful to have made this decision, as the landscape was stunning. The bus passed through enormous mountains with lush green forest, where we were able to spot hill tribes going about their daily routines. We saw many kids dressed in traditional clothing doing chores or playing. At one point we got so high we were lost in the clouds, and stopped to find a wild life market that sold all strange animals most Westerners don’t even consider food – squirrel and others I can’t even identify. Half way through we passed the gorgeous valley where Vang Vieng is located, a tourist spot famous for its night life and for the amount of drunken idiots that died while tubing down the rapids.
By the time we made it to Vientiane bus station, in was already dark. The process of negotiating with tuk tuk drivers to be taken into town began. We met a cool Australian called Mickey who joined us in our crusade against ridiculous prizes. After a lot of haggling and walking away a few times, we agreed to 10k (about 2NZD) for the 2km ride. On board we met another Aus, this time a lovely woman called Nicole. She had planned to get an overnight bus into Thailand, but given how late it already was she decided to stick with us instead.
The tuk tuk dropped us off at Nam Phu Square as per my request, and I found a bench to hang out while I waited for our party to find a hotel. As per usual, I ‘married’ all our packs (intertwined the straps) so that no one could grab one and run off. Upon their return, they were quite marvelled at the technique, and we were happy to share other travel tips our long time on the road has taught us. In exchange, I got a tip that would save us a lot of time and headaches in the future: Offline maps. I promptly downloaded the Android App Maps.Me and started getting all the countries I would need. GPS works without an internet connection ❤
We checked into a pretty grubby hotel and set out together to find some dinner. We went past the local market and walked around taking a look at the products and chatting lots. As usual we soon found out we had much in common and many stories to share.
Eventually we stumbled upon a Chinese restaurant that sold all the usual delicious dishes, which of course included dumplings. We immediately got home sick for Balmoral, but the price was slightly out of our price range. Micky confessed it was hard to find good dumplings in Perth, so he was offering to invite us for dinner. We first refused (not really used to letting people pay for us) but he insisted and the offer was too good to refuse. We sat down, got given traditional Chinese tea and ordered a few things from the menu. We had a really good time chatting and eating delicious food. When we were about to leave and Mickey went to pay, he pulled out an AUS bill by mistake. The ladies at the counter (I suspect slightly infatuated by the handsome Asian descendant Australian) asked him to use those to pay for the meal, but as they did not know the exchange rate, so he proceeded to guess one. Long story short, without meaning to, it was very much in his favour. Call that instant karma or what!
Our guardian angel then took us out for a drink at a nice river front bar where a talented band was playing live music. We walked along the waterfront for a while longer getting to know each other and admiring the view. It was a magical night and kindness from a stranger we will never forget.
The next morning our mission was to get to the Vietnamese embassy to drop our paperwork and sort our visas. We walked through town, mainly sticking to the main roads to make sure to stay on track. Things went swiftly at the embassy: our paperwork was in order and we were asked to return four days later to pick our passports up. That task off our hands, we returned to our hotel, this time taking side roads and getting lost in this new city.
Vientienne is the nation’s capital, and also a pretty small city that is bustling with life and has a wide offer of food. To our delight, there are a few Indian restaurants that served amazing food, and we indulged in them. The market had very limited vegetarian food offer, but we found a side stall that made pretty decent noodle soup quite cheaply. The sandwiches were still ever present and provided a cheap alternative, though we were unable to match the flavour and size of the ones in LP.
We had a few days to kill while we waited for the embassy to return our passports. We changed hotels to one that was slightly cheaper and much cleaner than the one the guys had found the first night. There were two gorgeous puppies that hung out by the reception desk, so I spent quite a while playing with them. The night market/sunset was a few blocks away, and we enjoyed it a few times. One night we discovered a full on aerobics class going on at the river front. Tim acquired new awesome glasses as well.
We walked around the city many times, exploring as much as we could and getting a feel for the place. There were a few big parks around the place, ideal for relaxing or hanging out. On one of our excursions we got to the Laotian Arc de Triomph. It seems like they built it just a little bit taller than its French cousin (to spite them), though I doubt the original is quite like this one, with its Buddhist embellishments and four doors. To complete the picture, parks and fountains surround the monument.
One afternoon we visited the national museum, where we got to learn a lot about Laotian history. We were surprised to find Laos was deeply damaged during the Vietnam war, when 1.8 million tons of bombs were dropped on their territory. There were pretty gruesome stories to read about, and a lot of hate for Americans. They have a few quirky displays, like items of clothing and random pieces of equipment that belonged to some of the founders of the communist party, the national heroes. Some of the translations were also funny, so there were parts that made me want to cry and others that made me laugh.
There is also a part dedicated to tribes and culture, which was very informative and cool to discover. All in all it was a great place to spend an afternoon in and learn more about Laos.
A few days later we finally got our passports back and celebrated by eating Indian food (we are original, I know :P). The next morning bright and early we left for our next destination: Pakse