Vicious Vientiane (Weather-Wise)

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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Where I stayed
Lao Heritage Hotel

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bright sunshine and warm weather greeted us on arrival in Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR.  We obtained our visas at the airport and verified our research by paying US$42 each, the highest price for any nation's citizens who enter this country.  Apparently it has something to do with how much aid is provided to Lao.

We shared a taxi into town with a French woman and settled into our hotel.  It felt cottage-like with tasteful dark wood and white decor, including some lovely framed photographs and a few secluded sitting areas.

We found a decent lunch spot and Jason ordered a taste of home; spicy chicken with basil and rice, a recipe he usually makes with ground pork and learned from friends during a snowboarding trip to Fernie, B.C.  We wandered over to the morning market in the late afternoon for t-shirt shopping.  Beerlao is now the beverage of choice.

Our next task was to figure out how to get to our next destination, Kong Lo Cave, a 7.5 km river cave accessible only by boat.  It is interesting to note that in Vietnam the anglicized versions of places are combinations of shorter words to make single longer words (e.g. Ha Long Bay becomes Halong Bay and Ha Noi becomes Hanoi) while in Lao the opposite seems to be true (Konglor becomes Kong Lo).  Perhaps it's because the pace of life in Vietnam is so much quicker than that in Lao.  A visit to the tourist information office proved useful, at least for how to get out of Vientiane and into other areas of the country.  The heat was intense, making it hard for Jason to concentrate while Sylvia kept on with the research.  The buses and roads in Lao are legendary for rough rides so we sought a balance between comfort and price.  The local city buses looked ready for recycling and the tour companies wanted our shirts so we made plans to take a tuk-tuk ride to the larger bus station, hoping their transport would be more appealing. 

With the sun setting faster than expected we made a run for it and caught a brief glimpse of the red sphere falling over the dry Mekong riverbed and Thailand only a stone's throw (or short swim) away.  The rest of the evening was passed strolling through the riverside market that was supposed to be food stalls but ended up being all shirts and crafts, then dining in an open restaurant with the usual plastic seating and dirt under our feet.

That night the sky came alive with lightning, thunder and relentless rain signalling the start of Jason's birthday.  The ceiling leaked, leaving puddles on the floor of our room so we switched before venturing out.  The downpour continued all day, audible even from the massage table where Jason enjoyed a treat compliments of Sylvia.  Back at the hotel we met an Englishman who decided to join us on the trip to Kong Lo Cave and a Dutch woman who shared lots of helpful information with us about the rest of our planned routes.  For dinner Sylvia found a proper French restaurant that made it feel like we were dining out back home.  The decor was delightful and the food did not disappoint.  We retreated to our hotel anticipating a long and bumpy bus ride the next morning.

See separate entry for Konglor.

We arrived in Vientiane again and roamed the streets in search of a place to crash for the night.  It was really hot, we had all our packs on and the first few places were either full or not up to our standards.  We settled for a nice new hotel we'd seen during our previous visit, then hit the streets.

We were keen to visit the COPE Centre, a rehabilitation facility mainly for victims of unexploded ordnance from the Secret War.  During the Vietnam War, the mighty USA carpet-bombed Lao because it was a valuable transit route.  Millions of bombs were secretly dropped on anything that moved and if that wasn't bad enough, many of them failed to explode, leaving the land very dangerous to explore or cultivate.  Children playing and farmers planting were (and still are) exposed to unjust risks of happening upon bombs during their daily lives.  Many have either died or been seriously injured.  While many nations assist the Lao people with the country-wide bomb cleanup, the COPE Centre aims to assist the victims with living normal lives by providing prostheses and the necessary rehab.  It was a moving visit.

Our next stop was Lao's interesting version of the Arc de Triomphe, called Patuxai.  The USA donated cement to Lao to help build airport runways.  It was used instead to build this still unfinished monument, called a monster of cement right on the sign.  Unfortunately we missed the opportunity to climb to the top for views of the city.  With the sun setting quickly again we speed-walked down to the river.  We were luckier this time and Jason walked all the way across the sandy Mekong riverbed to the water's edge as the red sun dropped below the horizon.  We dined at our favourite Nam Phu Restaurant again before retiring for the night, bus tickets in hand for the next morning.
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