An over priced and overhyped destination
14.02.2009 - 16.02.2009
The border at Lao Bao upheld its reputation of being incredibly easy and we sailed through with relatively little fuss. The landscape remained pretty much the same on our route to Savannakhet, although it was obvious that there was less wealth around. We also noticed that the flags which lined the road were now Laos rather than Vietnamese, although the hammer and sickle and star motifs were still in abundance. The bus was more Laos style also, with the driver stopping every hour or so for some food and a cigarette. The bus was already overcrowded, with some people sitting on children’s plastic stools in the aisle, but we still picked up more passengers, and at one stage a big stack of wood from a building site - we felt that this acquisition may not have been fully legitimate! Savannakhet itself was a lot nicer than we'd expected, the people were friendly and it was noticeably much calmer than Vietnam.
Welcome to Laos
We were keen to press on and planned to take an evening bus to Vientiane, the capital, which was still a few hundred KMs away. The last bus left much later, so we joined a couple from Alaska for a very chilled meal. Perhaps the meal was a bit too chilled, we ended up taking a very long route back to the hotel, where we had stored our bags. With very little time to get to the bus station, we prayed for a tuktuk driver. Having gotten used to being offered transport at all times of day and night, it was quite a shock to walk down the street for a good twenty minutes and still not be offered a ride. We gave up and headed back to the hotel, ready to try again in the morning. We set off early and found a tuktuk waiting at the entrance of the hotel, and we were soon on the bus heading for Vientiane.
After bargaining a fairly reasonable price for a tuktuk into town, we finally arrived after dark, having left Vietnam at 6am the previous morning. We soon discovered that compared to our guidebook, prices in the capital had gone up by ridiculous amounts, the cheap rooms were few and far between, and they were very grotty. For not a great deal more we got a clean en-suite room with a TV, but still resented paying so much. Realising it was Valentines Day, we had an attempted romantic meal out, but as we now eat out pretty much every night, it was hard to make it feel different and special. We reminded ourselves how lucky we were to be having such an amazing time. Vientiane is another city that feels almost French. The houses line narrow roads, with patisseries and French restaurants selling French wine. The river front was a bit disappointing as we couldn't see any sign of the Mekong. We knew it receded in dry season, but still thought we'd get a glimmer of it. The river side restaurants seemed very unappealing in light of the large expanse of mud stretched out before them. We had a stroll to the palace, but weren't overly impressed. We walked to the fountain and it was pretty, in a sort of small French town sort of way. We decided against going to any of the sites on the outskirts of the city, as the tuktuk drivers wanted extortionate amounts to take us there and wouldn't budge when we challenged them. Although admittedly quite pretty, after Phnom Penh and Saigon, Vientiane was an expensive, boring let down. Time to move on, we booked a bus for Vang Vieng