We had an amazing time in Laos – what a beautiful country! From our journey down the Mekong, to the beautiful Unesco town of Luang Prabang and the breathtaking scenery of Vang Vieng … It took me by surprise, as Laos was perhaps the country on our itinerary that I knew the least about. And it is definitely a country that I would visit again in a heartbeat.
Vietnam however promised a big cultural change for the first time in 5 weeks. We had our visas, we had our flights, we were ready to go.
We made our way to Vientiane from Vang Vieng – it takes 4 hours on a bus to get to the capital. We pre-booked a VIP bus for 100000 kips each (£8.33). Tickets for the VIP bus cost slightly more than for a normal bus, so we were hopeful that we ruled out any of the factors that could cause us to end up on one of the notorious ‘hellbuses’ that are so common round here.
We turned up at the bus station and found no VIP bus (ie. a coach) but a minibus that was already full of disgruntled passengers as said minibus was supposed to have left an hour earlier. We were pointed to the minibus. We thought something wasn’t right – that vehicle is full, and anyway where is the VIP bus we had paid for? Well. We had to get on the minibus anyway if we wanted to get to Vientiane. So we did with trepidation, apologising to the passengers already on board. Turns out there were foldable seats screwed in-between the normal installed chairs. So we had to take our seat on these, squeeze ourselves between two rows of passengers into a space that was nowhere near big enough for a human-being. Not only that, but these seats had no backrests, so Adam and I spent the next 4 hours upright. Here we go: finally we could experience one of those hellish journeys we have heard so much about and were so desperate to avoid…
The driver, in typical Laotian style drove like a madman, so we had to try and stay upright in our seats without falling out or falling on our neighbouring passengers. We might as well have sat on the floor to be honest. There was no one in front of me and I had a clear view of the road ahead. I tried not to look. All I could think about was what if we crash, there is nothing to hold me to this so-called seat, I would fly straight through the windscreen… After about 2 hours I eased up a little bit. Eventually we arrived in Vientiane, slightly shaken up, but in one piece.
We had a few hours to kill in the city before our flight, but we didn’t bother with sightseeing, just went and sat in an Internet cafe for a couple of hours. Here I found out to my greatest delight, that I cannot download or upload my photographs anywhere and I had to make-do with my SD cards and just keep on buying them for the rest of the trip. This was going to be expensive if I carried on shooting in RAW at the same pace…
A major storm was brewing as we set off to make our way to the airport. We quickly hailed a tuktuk in the evening rush our traffic. It looked like it already had passengers, a lady and her two young sons in school uniform, obviously at the end of the day, trying to get home. We felt bad, because as we told the tuktuk driver that we wanted to go to the airport, he took a 180 degree turn and drove us all down the opposite direction. We were wondering if he did that because tourist money was worth more than local money and felt bad for inconveniencing the young family. We got to talking with the lady and she spoke amazing English, which so far in Laos was a rare occurrence. She had such good English that we were soon talking politics and tourism with her. She told us that tourists still don’t really know too much about Laos. And she told us that it is very rare that Lao people can get any kind of financing to buy vehicles, which is why there are so many mopeds on the road – they are the most affordable to buy outright. I bet the same is true for most South-East Asian countries. Turns out she must have been the wife of the tuktuk driver as when it came to paying our fare, she handled all the finances 🙂 This was definitely one of our most memorable journeys, what a lovely family!
We checked in at Vientiene International Airport and had the best airport dinner I think I have ever had, a huge portion of noodle soup with the freshest ingredients:
We got on our Vietnam Airlines flight and had a really smooth one hour flight to Hanoi, the storm didn’t cause any problems. At the airport we went through immigration with our prearranged visas already glued in, no problem at all. It looked like most people had to queue for a visa on arrival. You can get a visa to Vietnam by requesting it in an email, whereby the consulate sends you a confirmation email by return and you have to take this letter to the Visa on Arrival window at the immigration desk once you arrive at the airport. It looked like it was worth getting the visa in advance, just to avoid the long queue! And for the peace of mind.
Next we had to get from the airport, which is about 45 minutes outside the city, into our pre-booked guesthouse. But stay tuned for this fun story, I am going to leave it for an another day -it deserves its own blog post…
In the mean-time here are some more photos of Vang Vieng. Stay tuned for photos from Hanoi in the next post.