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Vientiane, Laos
Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day 1

With our trip in Thailand coming to an abrupt end we had very little time to decide where to go for Songkran (New Year). We were both a little annoyed about this because being in the North East our transport options were extremely limited and we only had a couple of places that we could easily get to. One choice would have been to go back to Bangkok which would have been a long train journey and would also mean going back on ourselves. Our second option was to go to Chiang Mai which would be a gruelling twelve hour bus trip! In the end we decided to stick to the plan and go to Laos a few days early and just hope that the Pi Mai Lao was as good as we remembered Songkran being in Thailand a few years ago.

After being dropped off at the bus station (by the bailiffs no less) we said our goodbyes to Som and jumped on a bus that took us to the border town of Nong Khai, we then jumped into a tuk-tuk that took us to immigration. This was followed by another bus journey over the friendship bridge where we finally arrived in Laos. After filling out our visa forms we handed over the money at one window and moved along to another window and a few minutes later, bingo we had our visas! If only it was that easy at every border crossing.

As soon as we walked through the exit we were literally bombarded with tuk-tuk drivers all eager to take us to our hotel (for a price) Ross did the haggling because Sonya hates being crowded and was ready to slap the next person who got in her face! We finally settled on a reasonable price and we were on our way to the hotel..... or so we thought....we soon realised that the driver had absolutely no idea where our hotel was. After trying to drop us off outside a hotel saying 'Novotel, Novotel' we knew something was up. Firstly we weren't outside the Novotel hotel and secondly we weren't staying at the Novotel! Ross decided enough was enough and got out to see what was going on. Whilst he was talking to the driver he was approached by another tuk-tuk driver who after a few explanations claimed to know where our hotel was. In the end and after Ross walked away a few times we agreed to split the money between the drivers and true to his word our new tuk-tuk driver did know where to take us and we eventually arrived at our hotel. After arriving at our hotel we found out that the first tuk-tuk was a 'jumbo' which only operate on fixed routes and they do not offer a door to door service. He obviously thought he would take our money and kick us out at the first opportunity in Vientiane.

Day 2 - Thai Visa's!

Our first objective of the day was to head over to the Thai Consulate to organise our 60 day tourist visas for Thailand. We set off bright and early because we didn't know how long it would take and we knew that we only had until midday to submit our forms. We arrived with our passports and photos and filled out our visa forms. Ross went and got a number and we sat down and waited to be called. We waited, waited and waited some more before we realised the numbers on the queuing system were not going up. Sonya not being the most patient of people decided to take our forms over to the counter to see what was going on. We were told that we needed to go and get photocopies of our passports before we could submit our forms and we had to go upstairs to do this. We came back down to the longest queue ever, proof that we're all like sheep because as soon as one person went up everyone else did as well!

Luckily we didn't have to wait long as our names were called and we were summoned to the front of the queue, much to the annoyance of the people already waiting. We duly handed over our photocopies and were sent to the payment building to wait some more. After chatting with a couple from the UK our number was called, we paid for our visas and were told to come back the next day to collect them. What a palaver!

We spent the rest of the day planning our accommodation for the next couple of places and trying our best to get onto the shoddy internet! We never appreciated just how lucky we are in the UK to have broadband and a fast connection.

Day 3 - Bicycle Tour

We decided to go on the Lonely Planet's bicycle tour that takes in all of the main sights of Vientiane. We hired a couple of bikes (not mountain bikes) but the old fashioned ones with no gears and little baskets on the front for under £1 for the day. Sonya tried to convince Ross to take the bright pink one but he was having none of it!!

It was a hot day but luckily the humidity wasn't too bad so with water and sun cream crammed into our day pack we set off on our tour. We soon realised that riding a bike on the main roads of Laos wasn't the safest thing to be doing and walking might have been the better choice. First stop was Wat Si Saket that had thousands of Buddhas figures of all shapes and sizes. An amazing site to see and the Temple itself was beautiful too. Our second stop was also Haw Pha Kaeo a museum for religious objects which was equally impressive. It was nice to see the locals coming and going in the run up to their New Year.

After this we headed over to a large market and strolled around to see what bargains we could find. After purchasing a travel kettle for under £3 we made our way to Patuxai where we climbed to the top and took in the views of Vientiane stretching out as far as we could see.

After this we made our way to the Thai consulate to pick up our passports and to our delight we had been granted our 60 day tourist visas and we were back on the bikes in no time at all.

The last stop on the tour was the natural history museum. A small museum that had snippets of information about modern history, but particularly focusing on the war. Yet again portrayed with a very one sided viewpoint that bordered on propaganda. It's a shame that they didn't have a larger collection of articles and relics as it failed to articulate large parts of history and mostly focused on the war.

We only spent a short time in Vientiane but as capital cities go it is tiny with a population of just 260,000 and has a little amount of tourist things to see and do.

So next stop Veng Vieng for Pi Mai!

Hotel Review

On our first night we stayed at Phoungchampa hotel. Although we are now throughly into the travelling way of life we still don't like to turn up somewhere without any digs. We know you can (sometimes) get a better walk up rate than pre-booking but for peace of mind we would rather spend a couple of quid to know we have a bed for the night. But Laos was proving to be difficult to pre-book. We could only find a few places online and couldn't find any way to pre-book any of Lonely Planets recommended accommodation, so we hedged our bets with just a one night stay. In fairness the hotel wasn't bad for a one night stop over but the electrics were dam right scary. The air con had a mind of its own and went off when we turned the shower on and came on when we unplugged a socket from the wall! The burn mark next to the ceiling light looked like the electrics were a disaster waiting to happen. Not the cleanest room we have ever stayed in, but again okay for 1 night. There is better accommodation available and we were happy to move on.

4.5/10 Revised 2013.05.18

After a quick scout round we found the Mixay Paradise Guesthouse. Only a 5 minute walk from Phoungchampa but a world of difference. Although still only budget accommodation the room had everything we needed including a TV with some English channels for the first time in weeks. With a good location, good service and only 2/3rds of the price of the Phoungchampa it was a great place to stay. We would recommend the Mixay to other travellers.


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