Pakse and Vientiane (24th to 29th January)

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

We left Don Khong and headed up to Pakse, a town on the Mekong and something of a gateway to other destinations.  It took about 2/3 hours through the Laos countryside and some dusty roads in a minibus.  Staying in Pakse for a couple of days was enough time to explore, before heading off by air to Vientiane for a four days. 

Vientiane seemed quite busy after the last few weeks somewhat "off-the beaten track" and this was borne out by the number of fully booked guest houses we tried before finding the one for us.   Another country colonized by the French, the legacies left included good Coffee, Baguettes, Cakes and the Arc De Triomph.   

Our guest house was near "the black stupa", as old as the hills, and now perched on a roundabout  -  around which was some lovely (but dilapidated) colonial architecture and a very modern wine merchants.  This country is definitely a place of contradictions.   

Seeing Vientiane, again after 8 years it was quite a shock to see how much busier the place had got. It is now much more geared towards the tourist trade but still a reasonable place to stay, if much more expensive than we had become accustomed to!  Some very good restaurants to be found in the centre of town, especially if you are in need of a change from noodles!  The area along the riverside however is IMO best avoided as it is overpriced and under-spiced! We did ponder for a while about heading on up to the far north via Luang Prabang but as we had already been there a few times previously we decided to head back to Thailand, after spending a few days in Vientiane.
Walking around, we discovered the big market and several Wats, the nicest of which was Wat Sisaket.  We enjoyed some great freshly squeezed fruit juices  (personal favourite is the Passion Fruit juice).     On a Sunday, the whole town had a real old-fashioned Sunday atmosphere.

Again we decided to travel overland this time by train (1600 baht) from the Thai border town of Nong Khai which is about 30 mins by Sorngthaew (or should be if the driver hadn't got a call when we were halfway there to go back and pick up some more passengers!). The border crossing, by the Friendship Bridge, was easily the most chaotic yet! After standing in line at Lao immigration for about 3 minutes we were through to the Thai side where we waited for about 15 mins with no movement in the queues whatsoever, then, all of a sudden the Thai immigration gut began walking along the queue grabbing our passports and disappeared into an office.  We waited and waited and eventually after about 45 mins passports began reappearing but slowly. At last we got ours back and were back on the bus to the train station to catch the 18.30 train to Bangkok.

Our 1st Class soft sleeper was not as palatial as it sound but was comfortable enough with 2 berths and air-con. Food was deliver to the compartment but was over priced and very expensive - in hindsight we should have gone to the restaurant car.
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