Hanoi to Vientiane and Beyond

map_of_laos

 

We decided it was once again time to explore a bit more of South East Asia so it was off to Lai, our trusty travel agent, to get us on our way. We flew from Hanoi to Vientiane and booked 4 nights in Vientiane through Lai and decided to book from there on our own. We hadn’t decided how we were going to get from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and from there onwards.

 

IMG_5654Our first sight of Vientiane was of the mighty Mekong River and a magnificent sunset. I must admit the visa process is seamless and passport control officials were really friendly and this was a pleasant experience (a heads up the visa fee has to be paid in USD and when we were there, they did not have any change so perhaps try and have correct money – the fee varies per country).

We should have realised that things may not go as planned when our pre-ordered transfer from the airport wasn’t there. It was easy enough to get a cab and, it turned out, cheaper than the pre-ordered one and the fact that it was a flat fee was also a plus so we knew we were not going to get ripped off by being driven around needlessly to run up a meter.

We were a little shocked to be driven down a dirt road after reading up on the hotel – their own website claimed that it was the newest of the 4 star luxury hotels in town – I can only assume that this was written a fair number of years ago. The hotel was like a charming old lady in need of a facelift.

The staff were wonderful and helpful the room was interesting – there was an unexplained hole in the back of the wardrobe, and of course my cozzie top fell into it – the only way to get this out was using my selfie stick!!!! In the process we also retrieved a couple of pairs of undies – EEEEEEK!

We had a lovely little balcony overlooking the town and one of the pools – except the sliding doors didn’t quite open correctly but Ivan fixed these and sitting on the balcony was impossible as the outlet for the aircon was on the balcony so you had to sit in super hot air.

We wandered down the dark lane to find a bite to eat and a beer. Fortunately, town is quite small so walking is easy which is just as well as we discovered that the tuk tuk drivers are on a good wicket with a short drive (less than 2km – but it was raining) costing in the region of R50 which is very expensive compared to Hanoi.

We stumbled upon a fantastic Brazilian Barbeque opposite the Museum of Culture – don’t judge nothing else was open – our fault for travelling in the off season.  The host (apologies that I can’t remember his name) was wonderful and made us feel right at home. It was just as well that we found this place because after getting fleeced again at a local restaurant we ended up spending a fair amount of time there.

We also found a great little pub/restaurant with live music just up the road from our hotel – they served local draught in the quirkiest glasses and the music was really good as well.

We explored the town and visited a couple of Wats (temples) but by far the best part was sitting on the banks of the Mekong looking across and seeing Thailand across the way.

Temples and sites of Vientiane

Banks of the Mekong overlooking Thailand

We decided to book on the day VIP bus to Luang Prabang as we had read about the spectacular scenery on this route, besides night sleeper buses are not really designed for westerners. We had also read that the bus ride is not the most pleasant experience, putting it mildly, but opted to do it anyway. It seems that these buses work on a rotational basis so you get whichever bus happens to be going on that day – there is no particular bus company that you can select.

We got the short end of the stick and realised this when 5 minutes after leaving the bus terminus we stopped to buy windscreen wipers! The second unscheduled stop 30 minutes later to fix a puncture should have been enough – but this was followed by numerous stops through the mountains for the driver to hose down the brakes that were overheating! Out nerves were not calmed by the sight of the silver duct tape holding the windscreen together.

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The scenery was truly spectacular but peppered with fear because of the state of the roads and the sheer cliff either side of the road!

A 9 hour bus journey ended up taking 14 hours! The seats were bearable but could not recline so when we did eventually get off we were stiff as boards and very grumpy.

The bus stops 3km out of town and guide books tell you there are plenty of tuk tuks to transport you to your accommodation. What the guide books don’t tell you is they all seem to be run by the same person and they are making a killing as there is no other way to get to town, especially at 9.30 at night. When I asked for a price and told him our hotel he asked how many people and then told me 30 000 Kip per person (about R45) VERY STEEP! But as we were only 2 I suppose he was losing passengers so the cost per person was higher – but then 3 others asked if they could share with us – we had no problem except that he now charged all 5 of us the higher rate (and en route tried to squeeze in more people and wanted to charge them even more for way less distance – fortunately they declined the exorbitant price!). After driving around aimlessly we realised our driver did not have a clue where any of our hotels actually were, fortunately we had a Laos sim card and showed him on google maps – even then he still got lost a few times so we took to physically directing him! We had no alternative as we had paid up front to the boss for the trip and were certainly not going to cough up for another tuk tuk.

We eventually arrived at our hotel after 10pm (yes it took over 30 minutes to get 3km!) and luckily our hostess was waiting for us. After checking in we needed to find food as out hotel did not have a restaurant we went for a walk. Once again, being off season, everything was closed not even a convenience store or cafe, we found the only pub in town that was open and managed to at least have a couple of beers before heading back to the hotel, scoping out possible coffee shops on the way.

Our hotel was really comfy – only a few rooms and we were on the upper floor with a shared balcony with recliners overlooking the river Nam Khan, which was a welcoming spot to relax after the day we had! More about Luang Prabang in the next instalment.

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Innovative rubbish bins made from recycled tyres

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