The bus only took about 3 hours, when supposedly it’s a four to five hour trip, bonus! At first I thought we were in another town, but it did look a bit too busy really. Yes we’re in the Laos Capital – Vientiane for our debuts, we’ve heard it’s mellow.
First impressions are good and it looks lively enough, we check into the hotel which we are happy to find has a lift, not a common feature in the country so far, even when we’ve been on the fifth floor. Now we’re on the sixth so it’s a welcome addition. To break the mould of recent days we set off on an adventure! Nothing too exciting just a simple walk around the city to get our bearings. One step at a time mun ;-). The first thing that becomes apparent is the city is small, smaller than Cardiff even. Ideal for the ankle then, which is not recovering swiftly by the way, the swelling is still highly prominent. There’s plenty of landmarks around town, the museum, presidential palace, many temples and an interesting stone Dam – That Dam it’s called, that one there! I believe the Vietnamese or Siamese stole all the gold and it’s never been replaced. There’s also your usual array of crazy telecom cables that adorn the sky in Asian cities. It’s the first time we’ve seen them proper tho’ in Laos. The guide-less book suggests a bike tour which we plan to do in the next few days.
We’re in no rush to move on & it’s the perfect city for that, meant to be well laid back it is, a city to enjoy slowly. Which I suppose it’s what we’ve come to expect, but come on this is the capital! One that had quite a bit of a reputation, however that was back in the 70’s. There’s a more serious reason as to why we are not in such a rush, the KP needs a Thai visa so we are not limited by the 15 day restriction imposed at the Thai border on those that hail from Kazakhstan, ready for when we return to the Island to finish off our trip. That will be when the offices open on Monday morning, now it’s Saturday so maybe we’ll go to a club tonight?
We chill before the evening then grab a pizza in a busy place across the street, we try a few other bars, one with live music – the band are excellent especially the guy on the ivory keys, the piano in question is a grand one and looks very fitting in this fancy venue, but come 23:00 it’s relatively quiet. Everywhere we’ve been actually has not been packed with people, the KP doesn’t fancy a club for the last hour or so, so we retire when the city is closing down. There are a few street prostitutes out and about, it’s the first time we’ve seen any in the country. I’m surprised actually as there are no girly bars in Laos which are usually the norm in Asia. Actually it’s an offence for a foreigner to spend the night with a national unless they are married. The penalty I believe is quite severe plus your likely to find yourself in the local newspapers. Here they are though in the capital strutting their stuff. The KP declines having fun with a few, I tell her she’s becoming boring! Hey come on I’m only playing with her mun. Who wants to be in the local press for the wrong reasons, huh ?
On the Sunday morning we stroll the street our hotel is on and it has a wide selection of french patisseries, with the smell of fresh bread, pastries and croissants,one is advertising Sunday Roast so we’ll be back for that, it’s something we are yet to see this trip. The city seems mega laid back especially considering it’s the capital, it’s surely has to be one of the most chilled on our planet. We choose one of the venues and take coffee with Croque Monsieur, melted cheese on toast to you and me – Welsh Rarebit. We enjoy breakfast whilst filling in the visa application together, it reminds us we need to sort out our travel arrangements back to the Island. We decide against the push bikes, looking at the route we walked most of it yesterday by chance. There’s a temple near by and we take a look, but once you’ve seen a few you’ve seen them all, taking photos is almost futile. We agree to settle down for a few beers, which is followed by the Sunday roast, chicken with all the trimmings, a rare treat. Then as per the tradition at home we sleep it off, a post Sunday dinner nap. In the evening we check out a number of the scattering of the bars that are local to our digs. Then head to the fountain area which is surrounded by a host of restaurants, bam, another first of our trip. I spot someone I know from back home and it’s not a pleasant site. It’s a guy who used to be involved with the travel for Cardiff City Football Club in the late 80’s. I used to travel with Adar Glas from the valleys, ran by a very loveable old couple, Roy & Mair, I’m not so sure Roy was loveable actually, as he always had this big drip hanging from his nose. This guy I’m keen to avoid was involved with those from Cardiff. They crossed swords a few times, the different branches. I’ve also crossed swords with the individual in question during later years never forgetting his disrespect towards the valley branch. The last thing needed now is a Cardiff City conversation that will no doubt involve our complete wanker of an owner vincent fucking tan. Coz of him I don’t even love them anymore, to the point I don’t even know who or when they are playing? The change to red was just too much for me! Plus the two arguments that I’ve been engaged in during our trip have both been about the madpot malaysian chairman currently killing the club that was my first love. The KP thinks its hilarious that we relocate tables away from the toilet to reduce the chance of a meet. Thankfully he who I want to avoid most probably has a reciprocal amount of love for me and by now is maybe half a mile away hoping to avoid me also, mutual respect is a great thing 🙂 ;-).
We end the evening in a Belgian beer bar. They have an impressive 100 plus Belgian beers and yes they all come with their individual glasses. The KP’s best choice a little peach number at 8.5% tastes like juice, with a hint of Bush. I settle on one of my Belgian favourites, Kwak, having only previously seen the glasses whilst in Belgium. When it comes in it’s cradle I’m suitably impressed, the city and the bar scores top marks there I must admit.
The visa office is open for applications from 8:30 until 11:30, our alarms don’t go off or the Belgian beers made us miss them. Anyway we’re up at 09:00 but decide to leave it today, we’ll go tomorrow as there’s still plenty of time to get the visa before the end of the week as the turn around is just two days. So let’s get our flights sorted then to Siem Reap, heading there to get to Battambang as we didn’t get chance during our time in Cambodia, we’ve done the temples during a previous visit. The best route is via Pakse but the flights are fully booked or at silly O’clock. We choose the option of going via the Capital. Yes I know we are already here, I mean the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh where it’s possible to get the bus to Siem Reap. The KP has not seen the mad Cambo Capital on the weekend and the flights we book are on Friday a steep $350 for the pair. We’re looking forward to going back especially as the weekend there is generally bonkers, a pleasant little surprise as it was not the plan. We take a Tuk-Tuk out to the countries most important monument, which was reconstructed in the 1930’s called, Pha That Luang. We catch the rush hour which is never pleasant when your exposed to the traffic, also it takes a while to travel the short distance, but we get there just before sunset, a great time for shots but it was all a bit rushed. We do get time to see and shoot a great example of local construction methods where they are using bamboo props for support, no bamboo scaffold this time, which believe is a sight to behold. I’ll get some shots for you all next time we spot some.
When returning to the city with another Tuk-Tuk, drive speaks some English and during conversation asks how long we’ve been in country, the KP replies “about 3 weeks”, I say it’s not “it’s about a month”. Shit best check the passports our 30 days must be up soon! Fuck it is, our last day in country is the 7th. That’s fucked the flights on the 9th we just paid for less than two hours ago. At times I can be such a fucking drongo aye. It’s the first proper fuck up of the trip tho’ and just as well we didn’t apply for the visa this morning or we would have out stayed our welcome, which is never good to have stamped in your passport! We cancel the flights, thankfully we won’t lose the full whack just $50 a ticket, we can collect our refund in the morning. Now we need another plan, hopefully better than the last!
Over staying your visa in some countries can be a serious affair, or I should say offence. Russia for instance or Kazakhstan where I know for a fact you’ll spend some time in a cell, how long is dependant on how good your agent is and how much they are willing to pay. It doesn’t help you out for future visits either. Here in Laos we are told it’s not a major problem you just get fined depending how long you’ve overstayed. It seems you can actually extend it in advance paying a small fee for each day. 30 days is enough and even tho’ we were looking forward to being back in Phnom Penh, it’s best to move on, forget the visa and just get out without complicating the situation. The best and only option really is to fly to Siem Reap via Bangkok, we considered the road but it’s a hell of a journey. Not only that Billy has informed us that during holiday time in Thailand “Stay off the roads”, so far this year there have been 2,446 accidents with 260 deaths and it’s only day 5 of the 7, chicken oriental (by day 6 there are 302 dead with 2,843 injured) & something to bear in mind if your in Thailand ever in early January. Flight it is then, the only problem being the five hour wait in the airport, not so bad we can just relax in the lounge, with free quality booze courtesy of the bank. So with the new plan sorted and booked we can now enjoy our last few days in Laos, all two of them, nights that is.
We celebrate our change of plan with a traditional hot pot at a busy street side eatery, whilst encountering our first bit of aggression since the bother with the big guy. A customer and the owner are having a very heated discussion over the cost of fish. It’s escalating and unsettles the KP, “I don’t like this” she says, “Just be happy I’m not fucking involved” which she finds rather funny. It settles down just when it seems it’s gonna explode, the customer having the sense to back down and fuck off even if he was maybe in the right. Good move, coz being in the right counts for fuck all in Asia, even in a city that seems so chilled as this. It’s a good reminder for us and for all you reading – “take care out there” a quote stolen from a Welsh bar in Pattaya and a favourite of a very good friend of mine, the quote not the bar, he had other favourites there on that life changing maiden trip. The hot pot is delicious, the secret obviously in the soup, proved as we even devour the rabbit food along with chicken.
Then it’s time to head to the music bar again but it’s Monday and the band are not so good. Feeling unfulfilled we accept the Tuk-Tuk drivers suggestion of a club. It’s dark with music banging and mostly locals of whom most are male, not the most relaxing environment. Following a few cocktails we head back to the digs, both not feeling the best to be honest, maybe we’ve been spiked with something. We slam beers down us back at the room, drinking until maybe 5 in the morning, when we finally crash out.
The following morning we are right royally fucked and can hardly get out of bed. If we were spiked fuck knows with what?! One of us needs to get out tho’ and that’ll be me. I manage the journey to the shop for booze and then the travel shop across the street, it’s a challenge but one I accomplish with refund received 🙂 Upon returning to the room I’m pondering the five hour wait in Bangkok, what to do with 5 hours to kill in Bangkok. Usually not so long ago in a single state of mind a soapy massage would be right at the top of the list, but now I’m thinking I might have time to get into the city and pick up the lens I need and also maybe a new camera body if the cost can be justified. A quick bit of tinternet research confirms that Pentax have just released a new body the K3, pricey it is though. I mail my mate in Manilla, he’ll know if the lens I’ve been checking is any good and maybe about the body. Our friendship was born just by both having Pentax camera’s. It was he who christened us the Pentaxian’s. He’s funny see and well likeable, I had a scream with him in Manilla by the way.
Hopefully he’ll get back to me soon so I can make the call, or I should say convince the KP of the outlay, well that’s if the mad dash into the city and back is possible.
We need to get out of the room and clear our heads, so a wander along the front is in order, the opposite direction to usual, many nice open air restaurant type bars align the front, many with interesting lights as you can see. It must be new as it ain’t on the groovy map or the guide-less book.
We discuss our eventful time in this fascinating country whilst watching the sunset enjoying a few more Beer Laos, some of our last 😦 unfortunately. Pledging that we must returns someday soon, it’s been fantastic apart from the ankle but that was all part of the fun, it helped apply the brakes, when perhaps they were needed! Well due to that and the bastard cold, we must come back. There was so much we missed in the North, plus central Laos is meant to be fascinating.
We’re up in good time for our departure and the airport is only 15mins away. As blogged we both loved it and just as we are leaving going through airport security which is not normally a pleasant experience. The whole attitude of Laos and the last 30 days is exemplified by the security at the airport. My rucksack gets pulled to one side. The security guy opens it a takes out a solitary can of Beer Laos Gold. I apologise that I forgot, “You want to drink it now?” he asks. “Yes please” I reply. He cracks it open, it starts to froth, he passes it quickly to my lips so none is spilt ☺. “Is it good?” that’s all he’s interested in “Best beer in Asia” is my reply with a big beaming smile. He’s very happy with my judgement and wishes us a happy and safe journey.
“Well that wouldn’t have bloody happened in Russia” says the KP. “No love, not in the UK either” best we keep this holiday going a little longer then.