After recently finishing up my year as a teacher in Hong Kong, I was excited (yet trepidatious) to dive in to my next adventure. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I arrived in Laos. I've never travelled by myself, until now.
Some of my friends recommended that I get jabs before I left - I didn't listen. I imagined the worst possible scenarios in my head - food poisoning, malaria, infected insect bites (again). In all honesty, I was scared. Most people who know me know that my sense of direction is pretty much zero, so I was about 99.7 percent certain that I'd get lost at some point too.
I arrived 2 days a go. Sleep deprived, hungover, dazed and confused. I managed to haggle a taxi to the hostel for 60000 Kip (around 6 quid), which was good, as I was expecting it to be a lot worse. I was a bit paranoid during the journey, as I was convinced that I'd end up stuck in the middle of nowhere - something that I really
wasn't in the mood for after the ordeals I'd already had that day.
Luckily, I arrived at the right place (phew). However, when trying to check in I was told by (presumably) the manager that they were actually overbooked and that there were no rooms left! And so, I was shoved in a room with 19 other people, crammed into a room like sardines that housed 10 bunk beds. Best of all, there seemed to be nowhere safe to store my stuff (there were under-bed 'lockers' with no locks... I later rented a lock for 20000 Kip, which was a huge weight off my mind - until that point, I was convinced that I'd have to sleep with all my valuables in my bed or something)... my idea of a worst nightmare come true.
It seemed to be all locals in this room... except for one Belgian guy, who seemed to be around my age... 'thank god, a friendly-looking face!' my brain chimed in. I couldn't muster the energy to do anything except to flop onto my bed like a sluggish starfish, however soon enough hunger ensued and so I went to get dinner and go for a late-night stroll with my new-found friend. Not a bad way to end the evening.
So, now that my Laos journey is about to draw to a close, what can I say about its capital?
When you arrive at the airport, don't necessarily go for the first taxi you see; they may try and rip you off. I'd read before I came here that taxis don't charge by meter; instead, you have to put on your haggling hat and bargain with them. Try and find out the average price of your journey before you commit to a cab.
Vientiane is hot, but not humid. I went in July, which is during Laos' rainy season. The days were hot, but not unbearably so. Saying this, I came straight here from Hong Kong, where the temperature regularly reached mid-30s and the humidity was, on average, around 90%, so maybe I wasn't as affected by the heat. If you're coming from a generally colder/less humid country, you might find the heat a bit of a shock to the system.
The people are very friendly. And polite. The customer service is still lacklustre compared to, say, the UK, however it's heaps better than the tenacity of Hong Kong's service. In Hong Kong it's quick dash in, eat, quick dash out; there's no time to hang about. Any time I would go out to eat or drink, the servers were always attentive and efficient, but not brashly so.
Don't come here if you're expecting to enjoy a taste of the crazy Asian nightlife. Vientiane is a very quiet, relaxed place, with most places closing around 11pm due to its city-wide curfew. There are a couple of late-night places if you're really that desperate to relive your uni days; Moonlight Lounge in Nam Phou Square is a relatively popular scene amongst the young crowd in Vientiane. It's the kind of place you're sure to find an like-minded expat or two to strike up a conversation with. To picture Vientiane's nightlife, it's pretty much the polar opposite of Vientam's Bui Vien Street.
There's plenty to do and see. Unfortunately, as I was only here for 2 days, I had to cram in all my sight seeing quite tightly, and didn't really have the time to venture too far out. It was disappointing; I was eager to check out Buddha Park and maybe Tad Moun Waterfalls, however I still managed to rack up an impressive number of landmark visits. I booked a hostel slap-bang in the middle of the City Centre (Vientiane Backpackers' Hostel, around 14 GBP a night for a double room, breakfast included), so there was plenty for me to explore within a 25 minute walk from the hostel.
It's cheap as chips. A lot of people assume (myself included) that going travelling means breaking the bank. However, flights aside (I paid around 370GBP for 6 flights, which to be honest is a pretty good deal anyway), you can eat in Vientiane for as little as 4GBP a day. Sightseeing is pretty much free, however some of the museums may charge a quid to get in (that, as I found out, was the foreigners' fee - the locals were able to get in for 30p!).
All in all, my time in Laos has been a really positive experience. As someone in their mid-twenties (I'm 27, however I'm not quite ready to call myself late-20s yet!) who has never done this before, I would highly recommend doing some travelling by yourself. I've only done it for 3 days so far, so I'm pretty new at this! Nonetheless, I have met some pretty interesting people so far, and seen some amazing sights! Travelling on your own encourages your independence, your assertiveness, and your willingness to try new things.
What I saw: Patuxai Monument, That Dam, Sisaket Museum, Wat Ong Teu Temple, Haw Phra Kew Museum, Vientiane Night Market, COPE Visitor Centre
Where I ate: Benoni's Cafe, Sweet Moo, Khop Chai Deu, Papao Restaurant
Where I drank: Khop Chai Deu, Moonlight Lounge, Tully's
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