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Published: August 6th 2007
Vientiane feels tiny (maybe because it is, at only 200K inhabitants). I've seen it described as a collection of villages, and I think that description is quite fitting. The traffic is light. The skies are blue. People smile when you say "sabaidee". The tuk-tuk drivers recline on hammocks in their vehicles. And finally, you can walk everywhere! This is my kind of capital city.
I ended up catching the bus to Vientiane with Martina, who was also staying at the farm. Our plan was to meet up with some of the gang who had already arrived in Vientiane, and so we headed to the guest house they had planned to stay at. Unfortunately, they had already checked out, so we went in search of a dorm. We managed to find one along the riverfront for $3 a night and so we checked in. After dropping off our stuff we went next door to Nazim's Indian restaurant and sat down for dinner. It wasn't long before Rochelle and Annie walked by and we found out they were staying just a couple buildings down the road. We continued eating, and then Jen came to join us. After dinner we all headed up
to the fourth floor balcony in the other guest house where we spent a great evening drinking wine and eating cheese. Nick and I got sent by the girls to procure more wine, which we did, however we decided to play a bit of a trick on them. They sent us to get wine and salty crackers. We picked up two bottles and some Ritz crackers, which fit the bill quite well. However, we also grabbed some Lao Lao whiskey ($0.90 a bottle) and some oreos. When we got back to the balcony we produced the whiskey and the oreos and told the girls we had done our best! The looks on their faces were priceless. Annie said, rather depressed, that she'd just have some olives. The others looked like they were ready to cry especially when they looked at the price tags (which we had switched) and thought we paid 7 bucks for the lao lao and another four bucks for the oreos. Well, we couldn't keep it secret forever and Rochelle started suspecting that something was up so we finally brought out the wine and crackers much to everyone's delight. We had a great laugh, though as the
whole group bought the trick hook, line, and sinker.
The next day Jen and I went to see some of the major sights in Vientiane. We saw the concrete "Arc De Triomphe" (Patuxai) as well as Pha Tat Luang (golden stupa). The stupa was gorgeous and well worth the long hike over from the center. As for the "vertical runway" as Patuxai is called, it was a nice vantage point to look out over the city. Apparently, the Lao government used a bunch of concrete donated by the Americans for the construction of a new runway to build the monument. Haha, stupid Americans. We sure showed them! Or at least that's probably what the government said. Of course, I'm sure all that managed to do was cause America to reconsider any other aid donations. We got back around sunset and that evening was spent playing cards and drinking some lao lao, but not too much since we had to save some for New Year's.
The next day the whole gang packed into a tuk-tuk and we made the forty minute ride out to the Buddha park. The park is filled with concrete sculptures of, you guessed it, Buddha.
Now, some of them sure don't look like a traditional Buddha, but that's ok since it's the thought that counts. It was fun nonetheless, and we had a great time climbing on top of various Buddhas. On our way back we managed to get doused with water a couple times as we were rapidly approaching the start of the new year and the subsequent water festival (more on that in a bit). We brought a couple water guns with us, so we fought back as best we could from the moving tuk-tuk. Unfortunately, an unplanned detour to the Beer Lao plant was a bust since they were closed for a lunch break. Doh!
We ate dinner on a grounded boat. It looked pretty dodgy, and the toilet emptied straight onto the bare ground, but the food turned out ok. Nick and I got challenged to eat some thai peppers and we were both miserable for about 10 minutes. For the first minute I thought "this isn't a big deal." Then my right ear started to hurt. Then my tongue went numb. Then my stomach started cramping up. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea. Oh well, we lived. We
all had some more lao lao, not to mention beer lao as well, on the balcony before calling it a night.
The next day, Saturday, was the first day of the water festival and celebrations for the New Year. The morning was normal enough, although I did see a couple little rascals running around with water guns. Around 12, things started to get crazy. Several stores had hoses running and the music blaring while they busied themselves with soaking everyone on the sidewalk and anyone they could reach on the street. It didn't take us long to join in, and soon we were in the melee with water guns in hand. Some people were using buckets to drench the poor motorists, but I preferred the precision of my water gun. I couldn't soak anyone, but I sure surprised quite a few moto drivers with a quick splash! The fun lasted until sunset, when we all headed back to our respective guest houses to shower and get dry. Unfortunately some of the people were throwing dyed water, which stained several people's clothes. Oh well, I guess that's the price you pay.
Upon returning to our dorm, Martina and I
discovered that one of the other people staying in the room had finally decided to show his face. I hate to judge people at first sight, but this guy was giving off a seriously bad vibe. He looked about 50, but he was heavily muscled and was wearing next to nothing. He smelled of BO, and his threadbare clothes looked like they hadn't been washed in months. Plus, all of his stuff was spread out on the floor, almost completely blocking the door. He said a couple of unintelligible things before leaving the room. Martina and I exchanged looks that said "this guy is bad news" before carefully locking up our stuff and heading back to the other guest house. Over the next two days, the guy got scarier and scarier. One morning I woke up and found him pealing a fruit with a hunting knife. Overkill, I think. Plus, he kept leaving his soda-bottle bong on the bed, which for any other person I would have found amusing, but for him it just added another dimension to his scary character. Finally, he asked to "borrow" a pair of my shorts. Saying I didn't have any extra he pointed at
my sleeping shorts, which were lying on the bed, and asked for them. I thought about refusing, but I decided it wasn't worth messing around with the guy and so I just handed them over. Two days later I found them lying on the floor and they absolutely reeked, so they went straight into the trash. I ended up moving out the same day Martina left. He had a conversation with me about Judgement Day and how we had no need for material possessions. Let's just say I spent a lot of time nodding and saying uh huh. As soon as he left I checked out and moved to the other guest house.
The New Years celebrations lasted for three days, and we all had an amazing time running around with water guns and soaking people. The best were the pickup trucks that would cruise down the street with 8-10 people in the bed. They would try to douse the people on the sidewalk and vice-versa. It was great fun and an awesome way to cool off in the 95+ degree heat. Plus, everyone was so friendly. Everywhere we went people welcomed us with Sabaidee (Hello) and Pi Mai Lao (Happy Lao New Year). This marked my third New Year in 2007. Weird, I know, and although they were all fun in their own way -- in Cologne fireworks were falling on me, Hue had it's wonderful fireworks display and then an evening of non-stop rice wine debauchery, and finally, Laos had the playful water festival -- I think Laos tops the list for the best New Year.
That's about it for Vientiane. I made the decision to go overland back to China instead of flying, so I'm headed back to the farm. Stay tuned for round 2 of Vang Vieng.
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