Trip Start Sep 24, 2006
107Trip End Sep 01, 2007
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I arrived here yesterday morning (seems like days ago already) via the night train from Bangkok, on which I had to spend upright as all sleepers were booked. The train car I was in had 2 other non Thai/Laotians, aside from me. But it was ok, dirty but ok. I didn't sleep much but somehow didn't feel really drained when I arrived at the Thai Border, about 10 a.m. (left Bangkok at 8:45 p.m Feb. 9) Then I had to queue up for Thai border inspection, and then was directed to the office to pay fines for overstay of visa and I was over by 3 days! They counted the day I was actually going to arrive in Laos, about a 10 minute tuk tuk drive away from Thai border. Oh well, 1500 baht later (50$) I had paid my fine and took a minibus to the Lao border, lined up for my Lao visa, paid 1600 baht (although the currency is in Kip they take US $, Thai baht as well) as I didnt get my act together enough to get US currency as it turns out the currency exchange in Bangkok train station closed at 8 p.m. and I arrived shortly after). Anyway then I had to go through Lao customs with my new visa and then took a tuk tuk with a Belgian guy to downtown dusty, hot, dirty, rustic Vientiane the capital city but looks like a string of poor communities. So little investment and so much neglect during communist era, which is certainly par for all the ex communist countries I have visited. But here is the added complication that it is so darn hot, it must be hard for anyone to be motivated, much lkess do physical labour (but I seem them out there on the streets, construction and building sidewalks but people do not move very fast, understandably). I head for inside things in the afternoon.
In spite of no sleep, I managed to walk around town yesterday after I found a guesthouse, $15 for a room with aircon and bathroom, but squashed mosquitoes on the wall, and I had to ask them to clean the garbage can... I read in my Rough Guide to Laos about a meditation walk at a temple just outside of town so I took at tuk tuk there at 4 p.m., the driver said he'd wait for me - they have nothing better to do - and along with about 15 other people, did a sitting and walking meditation (see pics of the meditation retreat I did in Chiang Mai at http://www.monkchat.net/images/picture/Meditation%2006-07%20 February%202007/pages/DSC08509.htm
from Feb. 6/7 - glimpse of back of me on pic 8509, 2nd from left, pic 8554 second from right, front row, and 8556 extreme right. Their photographer documents each retreat for posterity and puts it on their website, which contains explanation of agenda of retreat and pics of the Meditation centre, 30 minutes from Chiang Mai.
Anyway I digress - I met a young woman, Marie Claude from QUebec City at the meditation walk yesterday and she and her boyfriend Jean Francois and I met for dinner at an East Indian restaurant next to my Guesthouse and we were joined by Frank, the guy I met from Belgium. Lao beer is very good, especially with Indian food! A huge bottle is about 60 cents. We each had about a bottle, plus water (you buy) and shared several dishes of Indian food and the bill was less than $4 each.
Then today I got up early as it is cooler then, and went to the morning market (there are several types of markets here) and looked at yoga cushions for $1.50 which would sell for $35 in Canada. Am contemplating sending them home, realizing it will cost lots more than what I pay for the cushions.
Am getting my Cambodian visa tomorrow through a travel agent, and will leave here on TUesday for Vang Viang, and hope to meet up with Marie Claude and JF there or in Luann Phrabang, further north as they left today. Apparently VV and LP are both much nicer than here. Then I met a lady today from Normandy who recommended Muang Ngoi, very remote, only accessible by boat, where the electricity is ONLY ON from 6-10 p.m. at night. Looks beautiful on the website, rustic bungalows with hammocks, for 5$ per night. PEople do hiking and kayaking I think there. We'll see.