Laos: a journey to be forgotten to Lao capital Vientiane!

As soon as I arrived back from my Halong Bay trip I was whisked away to my 24 hour sleeper bus that would take me out of Vietnam and into Laos.  What ensued was a stinker of a  journey which started with the staff at the bus terminal. After refusing to give any information to anybody about when the bus would leave they then only let the Vietnamese passengers on the bus so they could pick the best seats.  When an English bloke who had been at the front of the line waiting for ages decided enough was enough and pushed his way onto the bus,  the staff started ushering the westerners to the back of the bus where instead of the usual 3 seats across there were 5 squashed together.   Luckily I managed to give the cheeky bugger the slip and got myself a pretty good bed, but when he noticed he tried to move me.  Although there was a clear language barrier I think he got the gist of what I was saying from my body language and hand movements: “No chance buddy, jog on, I ain’t moving!”

So after that the bus rolled away and every now and then would stop and they would cram a few more passengers into the aisles.   This meant it was effectively 5 across for everybody on the bottom layer (unfortunately including me) anyway.   The next morning and still in Vietnam for some reason the air-con seemed to be turned off which meant the next 10 or so hours we had to stew in the sweltering heat with outside temperatures in the mid-30s.

Entering Laos.  Temporary respite from the boiling bus:

Finally arriving in Laos capital Vientiane they unloaded the luggage and I found my bag (with a bunch of others) were soaked through including all my clothes inside!  By that stage I knew better than to waste my breath by saying anything to the guys working on the bus so I just hopped on the back of a tuk-tuk and got into Vientiane centre where I found a hotel room (a dorm bed was certainly not on my agenda) where I could dry my clothes;  except ‘ole mother nature had different plans, and  just as I had hung my stuff out on the line a huge thunder-storm rolled in!  What a day!

Anyway, despite all this I was happy as I was in a new country and the biggest party of the year was starting in a couple of days: the Lunar new year.  This is celebrated across Laos, Thailand and Cambodia with a three-day street party where it becomes ok, and in fact obligatory to soak anybody you see with water by any means possible.

I had planned on staying in the capital Vientiane for this as I expected it to be a good place for an authentic Lao experience but after speaking to another traveller I was convinced (I must have been out of my mind) to get another night bus the next day 12 hours north to Luang Prabang, which is described by some as Lao’s most romantic town.

So as I still had until the evening I decided to do some sightseeing in Vientiane, and braving the heat and beating sunshine took in several landmarks.

Patuxai (Victory Gate).  This Arc de Triomphe copy was built to commemorate the war for independence with France.  The concrete was donated by the US to build a new airport but the Lao government had different ideas:

The guide-book described ‘spectacular views of Vientiane’ from the top.  I’d be inclined to disagree, you can’t really see much at all!

Nice fountain on the other side though:

City Hall:

Pha That Luang.  This impressive  gold coloured temple is the national symbol of Laos (appears on the money) and the most important religious monument.  It looks really good in the setting sun:

From the front:

At 6pm I headed to a hotel where I was told to wait for the bus.   By coincidence it was also where exiled Thai ex-president and ex-Man City owner Thaksin Shinawatra was staying.  As I was waiting a tour bus full of his Thai supporters showed up and just as my bus came there was a frenzy as he came out of his hotel to great his fans.

Thaksin’s fans await him across from a banana stand:

He eventually came out and is somewhere in that hub-bub

When the bus showed up I was fairly relieved as it was really modern and comfortable, and the experience was generally way better than the one from Vietnam:  assigned seats;  a bottle of water and snack; a voucher for a delicious bowl of noodle soup halfway and working air-con.  My bag also came out at the other end bone dry.  The only downside was the driver felt compelled to blast out some traditional Lao music for the entire journey which he only turned down slightly between 12am and 5am. Thankyou earplugs:

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