Set your watch to Laos time...
08.12.2010 - 18.12.2010 26 °C
So it was off to Laos from Hanoi, a bus journey that I haven’t heard the best reports about. I paid the extra for a sleeper bus as it’s a pretty infamous journey and wanted some kind of luxury. I almost forgot to mention about Bonita my beloved motorbike that served me so well in Vietnam. I was going to give her to charity or sell her in Hanoi but in the end I gave it to a local Vietnamese guy that worked outside our hostel – his job was to park bikes outside and to keep an eye on them. We had been chatting to him over the past few days whilst hanging outside. He didn’t have a bike of his own and he did such a good job of looking after Bonita that I decided to give her to him. I knew I made the right decision – he was over the moon and was really thankful. I am glad someone will get use out of her and now he has his own transport to get to work. I d much rather give her tom someone that needed her.
That evening I went to get the bus to Vientiane and what an ordeal it was. We were dropped off by a mini bus that crammed about 22 people inside at the side of a road just off an industrial estate and told to wait there. After about an hour we were told to follow this guy where we eventually ended up at an old bus station to board our not so luxury bus. I have got used to having no leg room now but this was crazy. We drove about 6 hours to the border and had to wait on the bus for about 4 hours for the border to open – it was crazy, why they couldn’t just leave later and save us hours of waiting on the bus who knows. There were people crammed on the bus sleeping on the floor of the corridor which meant you couldn’t even get up to stretch your legs.
There was a group of us on the bus – about 10 in all which made the time pass a bit quicker. Although an English couple did start to grate on me somewhat. At immigration they started complaining about the cost of the visa to enter Laos and were refusing to pay – this held up our bus a good hour or so. There argument was that they were only in Laos for 3 days so should get a discount, ok I agree that $35 is a lot for a visa but where did they think it was going? So after having there passports taken off them they eventually agreed to pay the full amount and we could get going.
We arrived in Vientiane and checked in to a hostel – to my surprise it is expensive in Laos – a lot more then Vietnam, I was under the impression it would be the cheapest of the countries. I put it down to being a capital city and that it would get cheaper as soon as I get out of there. We arranged to meet for diner and booked on to a bus to go to Vang Vieng the next morning to go tubing. Dinner was not a good experience for two reasons – one I got food poisoning that night and had to delay going up north and spend 2 days in bed in Vientiane being violently sick. The next was the English couple yet again, the restaurant was late in bringing out some of the food – now we were all hungry after the bus ride but this is Laos after all. They kicked up a fuss and were refusing to pay – have they never heard to Laos time??
It was an embarrassment the owner was threatening to call the police and they were still refusing – having had enough of all the arguing a couple of us paid our bill and headed out for a few drinks. Vientiane is a strange city – not what I expected from a capital city, it is surprisingly laid back and tranquil. That said there is not much going on at all.
So after spending probably the worst 2 days of my trip in bed with severe food poisoning it was right to say I wasn’t feeling the love for Laos – I had lost a stone in weight and still couldn’t keep any food down. I dragged myself out of bed and got on a bus to Veng Vieng – I thought a change of scenery would do me good. Everyone raves about Vang Vieng being a party place and a real good laugh – I have to disagree. Ok I wasn’t feeling great so I wasn’t on form but I have to say it was on of the worst places I have visited on my trip so far (I can hear the gasps from people that love it). It has nothing going for it – it is identical to an 18 – 30’s holiday in Corfu. All the bars show Friends on repeat all day long and its just full of people getting drunk. God I sound old I know but I wanted something more from Laos so I headed up to Luang Prabang the following day and my opinion of Laos changed instantly – I fell in love with the place. The bus ride was an experience in itself, it wasn’t even that far but it was a good 7 hour journey as the road winds up and down the mountains – Laos is a beautiful country.
I met a Brazilian called Sasar on the bus so we went off to find a guest house and stumbled across probably the friendliest place I have ever stayed – it was a cute little guest house down an ally way and the owner was so nice, kind of like a surrogate mum. There is an amazing night market that sells all the local tribes items. It is a picturesque little town and I happily spent a few days there. I spent the first day looking around the town, visiting the temples, speaking to the local monks and having a few Beer Laos in between. The food was awesome – we went to the markets and bought fresh BBQ fish and chicken and took them back to the guest house.
The following day I did something that I had wanted to do all my trip – I rode and elephant – it was an awesome day, I did a one and a half hour elephant ride, followed by a visit to a waterfall and a two hour Kayak down the Mekong River. The elephant ride was awesome, the guide let me jump on the neck of the elephant and steer for the first hour of the ride. Wasn’t the most comfortable on my poor ass but what an experience. The Kayak was also great, now when I booked it I thought 2 hours wouldn’t be enough – was I wrong! 2 hours Kayaking almost killed me – I think I need to get back in to shape. It was great kayaking past all the locals though, you got to really see how they live.
I would have liked to have got the river boat up the Mekong to Chang Mai in Thailand but I have to be in Thailand on the 23rd to meet my mum and sister so it would have been a bit tight getting there, it’s a shame but maybe I will go back through Laos getting to China.
So it was a bus journey back to Vientaine then to Bangkok – simple, ohh no, lol. They said the bus would take 9 hours… 16 hours later we finally made it. The bus broke down after 2 hours and we were stuck waiting for 3 hours for a replacement. Luckily it broke down at a village full of the coolest kids. They all came to look and stare – I had bought one of the springy shuttle cocks – kind of like a hacky sac – that they are crazy about in Vietnam so me and Li this German girl started to play, we had quite the crowd watching us. The kids were actually really good at it so they joined in – I could not think of a better way to pass the time. I gave the shuttle cock/hacky sac to one of the kids as a gift as I left.
The bus ended up arriving after 17 hours – it was a mammoth journey and I am well an truly acquainted with the phrase ‘Lao time’ – I even bought a pretty cool watch that sums it up. So it was an overnight bus to Bangkok – I’m a little bit cautious of what to expect with Thailand – I’m thinking it will be really touristy – not that there is anything wrong with that but it will be an interesting experience I’m sure.