Vientiane: Bonjour!

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July 5th 2012
Published: July 9th 2012
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We finally reached the capital at 8pm about 3 hours later than we anticipated. In our haste of feeling hard done by in the last place and Lauren's lack of sleep we decided to book, while we had the breakfast the day before, a hotel. Lauren's sister wondered what was special about this- the reply was note the missing "s" in that word! It would mean we were tight on budget at $30 a night but we needed it.

As we were dropped off at another out of town bus station and forced to take the 40,000 kip tuk tuk($4), we thought there was a conspiracy somewhere. The lonely planet guide at this point was about to be tortured and burned for the incorrect information it was providing us! Lauren was fuming thinking we could walk but after such a weary day of standing around which believe us is actually tiring we succumbed and to be honest it was a good job. It was pretty out of town! It then dropped us off in the middle where our hotel was not, for that extra cost it still didn't take us to where we wanted to be! We were then accosted as we had become accustomed to, by several tuk tuk drivers taking us where we wanted to go and thrusting hostel flyers upon us, Lauren was firm almost shouting no they were that resilient, and we stalked off, luckily in the right direction.

The rain held off thank god and we arrived at the hotel that was just off a main road and easy to find although nowhere where Ben had his bearings from his previous visit some five years ago. When we arrived we were informed the standard room we had booked was not available. Lauren had smoke coming out of her ears! But...the executive suite is and you are being upgraded complimentary. Say what?! Result! All of a sudden we had dressing gowns and slippers, soft pillows, 2 a/c units and a separate shower cubicle! Believe us that sounds nothing but you get sick pretty quickly of wet rooms and always having soaking feet and bottoms of pyjamas! Lauren nearly hugged the guy who kindly showed us to our room and complimentary water and Ben practically hugged the Samsung tv!

We left the room after refreshing in search of food. We begrudgingly relied upon Lonely Planet and happened upon a French restaurant on one of the three main roads, which oddly enough predominantly served pizza. Yes Laos another novel idea- French serving Italian! but we shared a pizza and fries and had our fill feeling satisfied. It was Tuesday when Lauren's sister works for her dad and we had a chat planned for an hour later so we decided to stay out and explore the night market overlooking the river Mekong.

What struck Lauren probably due to her poor geography was this river ran a bloody long way! Up from Luang Prabang and to here and then studying the map closely realising it goes down into Vietnam! The market provided some good buys, but we didn't purchase just observed locals interacting and looking what we would see in daylight tomorrow. We also happened upon a travel agent opened quite late but had 1 day visas for Vietnam for $55 each, the cheapest we had seen. Knowing we were leaving Thursday we dropped in our passports to collect the next day. This is the issue with south east Asia, most countries require a visa that costs and it means leaving your passport for a day and wondering how many replicas can be made in this time! You can go the embassy but you can queue there all day so although you pay the extra commission it's worth that but so intriguing to see how many weird and wonderful places offer these visa services, from boutique clothes shops to shacks on the side of the road, a guaranteed quick dollar!

We returned having been propositioned by lady boys and had a great although brief chat with Lauren's mum, dad and sister which made Lauren more relaxed. We both slept well although annoyed when the morning alarm went off, but it did signal complimentary breakfast! The day went well we had a clear route planned and set out to see the sights. We walked about 15km throughout the day but did have a lot of fun and caught a few rays. We went to sights that Ben oddly hadn't seen despite being in the capital for several days on his previous trip, we saw Laos's answer to the Arc d'Triomphe (Patuxai) to commemorate the Lao that died in pre-Revolutionary wars, built although never finished due to the country's continuing problems and went to see the most important monument in Laos the Pha That Luang which has the stuppa, the main symbol of Laos plus two Wats where a giant lying down Buddha is housed which was pretty awesome.

The heat had picked up and we treated ourselves to home made ice cream sundaes which was delicious and continued back to see the sights back in the centre. Leading from Patuxai is the answer to the Champs Élysées and ends with the Presidential Palace and then along to the waterfront where you saw the border with Thailand. It was all very pretty, we took in the sights of a few more Wats, had a beer for Ben and a sprite for Lauren (both the same price) and headed back to collect our passports and some washing we had dropped off. We had dinner at a nice restaurant, we really were splurging in the capital! We then called it a day retiring to the hotel for some much needed rest of our poor weary feet.

We were leaving on a free airport shuttle at 1pm the following day so decided to have a leisurely breakfast and just walk to the Cope centre about 2km away. Cooperative orthotic and prosthetic enterprise. It was a free museum in essence showing the extremely harsh but very real consequences on the secret war in Laos during the Vietnam war in 60s and early 70s. It was a very moving experience as we were introduced to the centre by a kind man who spoke very good English. He did ask us to check some English writing that all spelt correctly etc which was a lovely way to help! He explained how to move around the large room to exam the information and that we could watch movies in the created bunker. We planned to watch one or two but we were so moved by what we saw we actually couldn't handle it. Ben, as said had been here to Vientiane but not here as it was being established at that time, but he knew some of the facts having been here, but it was all new to Lauren.

I hadn't really been aware of Laos other than that Ben had been here in his travels, but it really was on the map for me now, but surprised by the facts that this centre presented. The most frightening that Laos is the most bombed country in history but horrifying beyond that if possible, is that over 30% of the cluster bombs that we dropped in millions, did not explode. The Lao people still feel the effect of that today, in many ways, they have been clever using the unexplored ordnance to create everyday objects like canoe boats and pots and pans but as the metal in these bombs are worth about ten days' salary people go out looking for pieces in particular children who also encounter them innocently. The centre showed why it is so important as it helps to rehabilitate those that lose limbs due to the matter exploding. One of the main causes beyond searching is that innocent women will have fires to heat their dinner which cause the bombs hidden deep down to explode. The centre has a lot of worthy causes and has definitely left us with food for thought. Leaving in a much more somber note we treated ourselves to the homemade karma ice cream as all profits go to the centre, mine was delicious called happy rainbow with fluffy clouds! Which was strawberry ice cream with marshmallows, m&m's and strawberry sauce! Ben had snickers which was vanilla ice cream with peanuts and caramel sauce and chocolate chips.

We reflected on our journey so far and made our way back to the hotel. We had an interesting time in Laos, Ben saw more than last time which I wanted but we both saw things we didn't want to see, namely Vang Vieng. We also realised the hardship the Lao people face daily and yet always have a smile on their face. Yes they may try and get you to take a tuk tuk at every opportunity but they at least back off when you say no politely, other places we haven't been quite so lucky. But it makes you want to take the ride as you know this is their livelihood but we are on a budget and you can't help everyone. It has been a mixed emotion of a country some great times some not but we are happy knowing we came and that we are leaving and excited for the promises of Vietnam, visa in Passport and hopefully no copies! The country can not be described as anything but beautiful with the sweeping views and powerful Mekong River. We would recommend it to many people who want to have their eyes opened to another type of life and we realise that is why we came travelling, to have our eyes opened realise how lucky we are and perhaps enable us to appreciate smaller things in life.

Things of note:

The French influence is even more prominent here from the greater number of bakeries plus the monument and road replicas

Signs in hostels say beware of lady boys and do not bring them back or they will be asked to leave!

While we visited the country the Prince of Japan was also there, we wondered why the security seemed pretty tight!

Travelling by bus is not fun especially when the suspected break down happens!

Everything in bars restaurants and hotels is covered with Beer Lao logos! From napkin holders, to signs for each bar/hotels as well as every glass used, irrelevant to what you drink out of it!

The beer Lao is really the cheapest option, cheaper than most soda cans and even water!

Stick to vegetarian and you can't go wrong there are some interesting dishes that can be very creative and yummy!

There are no chains here, as in no seven elevens, McDonald, Starbucks- it is very refreshing!

What would be do differently:

Set more time aside for Cope and watch some of the videos and help volunteer with them for the day


Near misses:0 although the same cant be said for the tuk tuk drivers Lauren raged at!


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