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Published: January 13th 2009
Now we’ve been saying all along that Lao people were awesome, so friendly and accommodating that the local people become a real highlight of Laos as a country. But nothing is quite as good an example as this is….. on arriving at Vientiane we hoped out of the minivan, grabbing our bags then trying to read a map to see exactly where we were in relation to our booked hotel. The minivan drove off, we figured out where we were (by asking a nearby tuk tuk driver how far and then dividing that distance by 3) and it was then that Martin realised he’d left his new hoody in the minivan. Not any hoody, but the hoody that Kristi had designed and printed especially with our trip itinerary from 2007. Martin was gutted and the feeling was compounded when we realised we had no contact details for the guy and the company we’d booked it through - their details were on the ticket we’d handed over to the driver. We didn’t even know the address or exact name of the place we’d booked the minivan at. On reaching our hotel Martin explained what had happened to the hotel receptionist and said
the place might have been called “Riverside Tours”… wincing as he said it as there seemed to be a lot of tour operators in Vang Vieng with the same name! Well, the hotel receptionist got straight onto the phone to Vang Vieng, first calling our hotel there then calling the Riverside Tours head office. The GENERAL MANAGER from Riverside in turn called us back and tried to get more details on the place we’d booked our minivan tickets so they could try to narrow down the van. Another 10 minutes later and they had not only located the right van now in Vientiane, and established the driver had the hoody but someone from our hotel was going to his house to collect it. Within half an hour of losing his hoody, the hotel here and tour operator in Vang Vieng had made a dozen phone calls and got Martin’s hoody delivered by hand straight back to him. No one wanted any money from us for the trouble they’d gone to, the time to go get it or all the phone calls made. We were so impressed! Martin was ecstatic! We honestly hadn’t held much hope for ever seeing it again!
Had this happened pretty much anywhere else in South East Asia we’re sure we’d never have seen that jumper again! Someone would have either taken it, sold it, kept it, stripped it for parts and then denied all knowledge of it. Lao people really are so genuine! We were both stunned. Fantastic!
So, that over with, we found out we had free wifi at our hotel and could finally get on top of important things like email, facebook and of course this blog! ;-) Then we headed off to town to have a look around. Vientiane is a great capital city! Unlike any other capital city we’ve ever been to in Asia, Vientiane is more like an overgrown village than a city ;-) We believe the population of Vientiane is about 450,000. Compare that to places like Bangkok with 8 million+, Seoul with 10 million+, Kuala Lumpur with 7 million+ etc etc! Here the French influence is the most obvious of anywhere we’ve been in Laos. There are a lot of French restaurants and French architecture evident in the buildings. The people are lovely, the streets have a certain charm and it is very relaxing for a city! Dinner
may have cost about double what we were used to in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, but was fantastic quality and service. Our hotel is a really arty hotel, with a fantastic room that’s verging on eclectic but very chic and overlooks the Mekong River. We had a nosey around town and had a great meal at a restaurant (Full Moon Café)that came highly recommended - from other travellers and of course the ever faithful Lonely Planet… or so we heard. ;-)
The next day was our last in Laos. Booo! We were torn by the desire to relax and soak up the last sun we would no doubt see for months or get out and see the city and surrounding areas a bit more - common sense won out and we hired a motor bike in the morning and headed off to the famous Buddha park - 30km north of Vientiane. As always doing something, rather than being a blobby turned out to be the best option. The drive out to the park was lovely, we were in no hurry so we had a leisurely drive, marvelling at the fact that Thailand was just across the river! The
Buddha park was terrific, built in the 1950s (it looks centuries old!) and is chocablock with a variety of Buddhas, ranging from immense to tiny. There were so many whacky and weird statues we couldn't help but wonder at the deeper cultural significance... plus they were cool to mess with 😉 We had a ball roaming around the statues, especially the monolithic pumpkin, topped with an emmense concrete tree. Yep. Giant pumkin with tree on top. Surreal. After many laughs we cruised back to Vientiane on our mighty Honda and explored the city a bit further.
Vientiane is deceptively large and small at thne same time. The suburbs start miles and miles away from the centre, buit are mostly rural villages that have latched on to the city. The centre itself is quite compact and easily explorable in an afternoon - basically dozens of Wats dotted all over the city, amongst several more modern landmarks, such as the Laos 'Arc de Triomphe' - built in honour of an aid agreement between China and Laos. The city is full of chic french restaurants and beautiful fountains, a great place to explore on a bike, as it is relatively small. The
'Morning Markets' (which run all day?!) are as dense and as intense as any we have seen in Asia and well worth a peruse - but you REALLY need something in mind when you enter - they are waaaay too compact to just meander through aimlessly!
Considering Laos has a tiny population (6 milllion - tiny for South East Asia anyway!) and have the dubious distinction as being the most bombed country on the planet (courtesy of Thailand, Burma(Myanmar) China etc) they seem to be on excellent terms with all of their neighbours now and have a real 'little brother' stance in the wider community. There are literally dozens of embassies lining the waterfront of Vientiane and the city has a really cosmopolitan feel.
Laos has actually really surprised us, it is still fairly off the beaten track in terms of Western travellers though it's popularity seems to be gathering speed quite quickly. The local people are a real highlight of a visit to Laos, we had expected Laos to be kind of like a 'mini Thailand' but the culture and people really set it apart from other South East Asian countries. We're sure its already begun to
rapidly change over the last decade and will continue to do so but we definitely recommend a visit! The scenery is spectacular, there is still loads of virgin landscape untouched by industry or globalisation. The mountainous northern regions constitute nice warm days but cool evenings and mornings, with weather getting warmer the further south you head. Though not perhaps as cheap as we expected, it is still very reasonably priced in general in terms of accommodation, meals etc though Vientiane seems to be quite a bit more expensive than other places we visited. One day we'd like to explore Southern Laos, but to be honest, it's got us hooked and we will be back!
Needless to say, we were both gutted to be leaving Laos, (especially at 5am!!) it really has gained a special place with the both of us, but on the flipside we are off to the UK now for another big adventure and with Europe literally 'over the ditch' we are sure to add a fair few blogs in the not-so-distant future!
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