We’re still on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand and enjoying it so much, we may never leave! In this post, Mila goes back in time once again to wrap up our Laos travels.
We took a nice short four hour bus ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, which we had decided would be our final city to explore in Laos. Vientiane is the capital city and it shows. Upon arrival, directly across from the bus terminal, we noticed a French bakery and many, many Western faces all about. Since we arrived on a Friday, just before a weekend, the plan was to enjoy Saturday and Sunday exploring the city. We would be able to submit documents on Monday, wait for them to be processed on Tuesday, allowing us to depart by train on Wednesday for Bangkok, Thailand.
We decided to book a guesthouse upon arrival, rather than booking in advance, a method that has worked well for us in the past. Negotiating in person can sometimes result in a better rate and allows for inspection of the actual rooms, where quality and cleanliness can vary GREATLY. Waco and Jette relaxed in a cafe and I spent some time inquiring with several guesthouses in the area. I discovered that many places were either full or were asking extremely inflated rates for the quality of accommodation. It was starting to get late and in an effort to get settled, we opted for an inexpensive, if undesirable option for one night. It was the Ministry of Education Guesthouse, just a short walk away from the cafe where all of our bags were. I won’t offend your sensibilities by showing you our Maoist room; it was pretty gross. Here are some photos from the lobby. It felt like the kind of place that had been repurposed, yet somehow suspended in time. Just down the street, capitalism was everywhere. Vientiane was filled with modern design, upscale boutiques, latte-sipping ex-pats and cleaning supplies. But here sat the Ministry of Education in a fog of Maoist former glory days, replete with baffling choices for hanging framed artwork, a heavy dose of grime, and a communist staff frozen in time and inaction. Our bathroom especially was the stuff of nightmares. You’ll have to take my word for it that these two photos make this place look deceptively tidy.
The next morning, we splurged on a cute inn just around the corner and down the block and were much, much happier for our remaining time in town.
Our suite had a nice living room which Jette quickly appropriated as her gym.
The Nam Phou color changing fountain was the designated cartwheel spot.
I had a chance to visit a traditional Lao weaving boutique, Carol Cassidy. Both Jette and I treated ourselves to a small coin purse woven in bright silk colors.
We found a delicious spot for dinner called Ice Cream Garden. It was quite hot, so to cool off, we were *forced* to eat quite a bit of ice cream for dessert.
The influence of the French is quite strong still and there were many patisseries and cafes for us to enjoy as well as an outpost of our beloved JOMA.
We walked around and explored the central part of town. We were curious about the mix of building styles and the incongruous, yet often adjacent, mix of very busy places with places that appeared to be abandoned. Our thoughts were clouded by the intense heat, so we found refuge in some ice cream shops. Waco also discovered a public swimming pool and took Jette to swim a couple of days.
We stopped for ice cream more than once. The Swensens chain is very popular in Asia and has a very 50’s diner feel, but with some Asia-specific additions like an entire menu incorporating durian ice cream.
We visited the Lao National Museum which had some interesting artifacts and displays. One nice display included bound palm leaf books and a table where visitors could test their palm leaf-writing skills. It’s impossible to visit Laos without discussing the fact that it has the sad honor of being the most bombed country in history. The museum made great effort to give their interpretation of history and we stood impressed with the way Laos has persevered in the face of such massive adversity.
There was a nightly street carnival along the river. We enjoyed walking in the cooler evening temperatures and Jette found the balloon popping quite fun.
Jette and Waco also tried their luck as sharp shooters.
There was a Dairy Queen across from the carnival area. I promise we did NOT go, opting instead for cold water and fresh fruit smoothies.
Tuesday came quickly and we stood in line with everyone else waiting to pick our Thai visas.
Visas in hand, we purchased tickets for an overnight train to Bangkok and went out for delicious bowls of noodle soup. Finally, in our (now) usual fashion, we stocked up on our favorite train snacks. These include the elusive Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Goldfish and lots of fruit. Luckily, we found a good supply of both.
We were picked in the afternoon by a songthaew truck that was to take us to the train station. It was quite full; we ended up squeezing a total of eleven people plus luggage. Cozy!
The roads leading to the train station were very busy, dusty, in poor condition and lacked order. Though we are now used to the chaos, on this day, we experienced something unexpected.
We were in the back of the truck, in conversation with a Swedish family, when our truck swerved and jerked. We all heard a crunch and felt a grinding bounce as our truck ran over something. That something was a guy on a motorcycle. The songthaew trucks are open enough, especially for the passengers in back and we could all see a motorcyclist down on the ground, his mangled motorcycle laying next to him. Had we run over him or just his motrocycle? Was he ok? We all gasped and sat anxiously as our driver hit the brakes, but then…slowly…unbelievably…he hit the gas and sped away! We all looked at each other and then back to the accident to see that the motorcyclist was standing up. Figures became smaller as we continued to drive away. Was our driver actually not going to stop? There was outrage expressed in Thai, French, Swedish and English, but what could we do? Was this is typical for accidents in Laos? We certainly don’t know anything about Laotian traffic laws, nor do we know what local protocol is for accidents. We do know something about simple, human decency, and it works like this: If you are driving a truck and run over a guy on a motorcycle, you stop to see if he is OK and render aid if necessary. The remainder of the ride to the train station was solemn.