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The holiday within the holiday - Vientiane

LAOS | Wednesday, 6 May 2009 | Views [1198]

The bus, or a tuk tuk was supposed to pick us up at the GH between 1 and 1.30. At 2 the GH owner came over to us and called up to see what was going on. Within minutes a tuk tuk arrived and we were taken to the bus station outside of town. A minibus crammed with way too many people and way too much luggage was waiting for us. Only 2 seats remained the back seat over the engine and the jump seat beside the driver. I took the jump seat and looked at the other double decker luxurious thing that also said “Vientiane” on the front and cursed myself for not spending the extra few thousand kip and getting a better bus.

It was hard to hang on at points – not having a steering wheel or a seat in front – but the journey was fine – better not to pay too much attention to the actual road. Simultaneously overtaking water buffalo, trucks and weaving mopeds at full speed is a bit of an adrenaline sport in these parts. Unsurprisingly as we approached Vientiane there was a crash on the road ahead. A truck had overtaken but not returned to the right lane in time and it had glanced off a bus, leaving a 2m long . The very bus I had been wishing we were on. Everyone was being told to take their bags off the bus and wait for another. Good job I got the cheapo ticket after all!

On arrival we made for Syri Guest House near the stadium. It was clean but a bit tired and had a great veranda. Thankfully the French left a few decent restaurants before their colony was snatched back from them in the 1950s. La Terrasse is a good example and we had a pair of delicious steaks there on our first night. A large American family took a table beside us. We started chatting – they were pleasant, soft spoken missionaries who taught the bible, set up a drug rehabilitation centre and had all of their eight children in various parts of Laos. Most of the kids wore dayglo Jesus loves you t-shirts. We chatted to a Dutch guy, Paul, back at the GH. He was witty and intelligent but spoke regularly of his grandmother. Too regularly.

The heat was unbearable the next day, Sunday, so we decided to find a place with AC and the internet and stay there. The Scandinavian Bakery ticked all the boxes. Here, in the cool air and amidst the sunday papers and the coffee we decided to do something we had not done yet on the trip: go on holidays! When you're travelling it can become a bit gruelling – an endless slog to tick boxes – boxes for sights, activities, cities, countries. We needed a break – not from the places, of course but from the box ticking. We would be on holidays for the rest of our time in Laos. Our first act was to go for another steak.

We rented some bicycles the next day to have a look around Vientiane. In 1969 the US government donated cement to the Laos nation – it was meant for a new runway for the airport. The government decided that a Victory Monument would be more appropriate so they built one, in the style of the Arch de Triomphe, instead of a runway. It's prettier from far away than the up close concrete monstrosity. Rather than a well kept museum in the inside there is a market selling buddha images, t-shirts and fabrics. Seven floors up there are some great views of the city.

Vientiane's Lane Xang hotel has a kidney shaped swimming pool which you can laze around for a minimal sum. After our cycle it was high time for a dip. Once the sun stated to set we took the bikes back and walked along the banks of the Mekong once again. Restaurant and bars seem to pop up out of nowhere, all vying for the sunset seeking tourists strolling along. We walked up to the ornate, new Mekong River commission building, right beside a decrepit sixties apartment block with no windows, but still very much inhabited. It was hard to know where to choose for dinner but we were delighted with our pick. Excellent street food with the comfort of a cushion and a great sunset to boot. We feasted on perch, straight of the Mekong and played chess and it was good. Claire got me to a stalemate.

The holiday continued on our final day in Vientiane – we played games, went to the bakery again, went to a bookshop and bought enormously overpriced UK magazines to read on our journey – we would get the “sleeping bus” to Pakse in the evening.

It was a very strange bus – so strange in fact that it gets an MOT – 36. No seats on the bus just beds. All doubles, one on top of the another (so it was nice to be acquainted with my bed buddy in advance – otherwise you could be being spooned by a stranger). The the ones at the back. These were amazing – 5 little sleeping sections in a row – top and bottom so if you suffered from claustrophobia you would be in for a pretty nasty 10 hours.

Some of the cots were small – about 5 ft long. Others were about 6ft – presumably for the taller foreigners. A German girl had the same bed number as I – 29. The conductor seemed to gesture that all three of us sleep in the same cot but eventually he found her an Asian cot and we were off. I felt like I was going to roll violently out of the window and in to oncoming traffic in the night during some of the turns. Everyone was happy to get off when we arrived in Pakse.

Tags: arch, bike, bus, swim


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