Mini-bus to Vientiane
We were told that it would be only us in the mini bus because the owner’s brother had to do a visa run (extension of someone’s visitor visa) to Vientiane, the capital of Lao. Well, the van picked us up but was loaded to the rim with falangs like us. No biggies, these kinds of surprises are almost expected. It took us 3 ½ hours to get to our destination and we covered some of the time playing the beerlao game: inspired by the perro (dog) game from South America, you simply point out all signs, logos etc of the Beerlao brand you see and get a point. It is quite easy, since the cases and logo are bright yellow and are usually abundantly obvious. We were sitting next to the driver who after a short while realized what we were doing and smiled, entertained and amused and maybe even confused by these two weird foreigners next to him.
Checking into our hotel was not a problem as we had made reservations because of a recommendation from Amy and Paul. Later, we went to this temple compound where one supposedly could go into a steam sauna and get a traditional Lao massage thereafter. We had rented a moto and scootered to the Wat, found it easy enough but couldn’t find the sauna area, just monks in orange running around. We almost gave up when we saw the sign for it and followed it to the correct place. Calling the sauna rustic is giving it a compliment. It was an upgraded shed of wood, but had its charm in its own way. The steam was hot and scented with herbs (though the scent was let us say “interesting”) and all in all very enjoyable. The most interesting feature of this establishment was the manager there. She was a Lao woman, her name was “Ma” and she liked to talk. In fact she actually had an unusual sense of humor – more sophisticated than most locals we had met. She had these young four (very thin looking) Japanese students sitting around (enjoying the tea after a steam-bath session) and told them that she had read in the newspaper this morning that authorities were looking for four young Japanese criminals and wondered if it is them. It took them a little while to understand what she asked but you could see the shock on their faces for a little while before they got that it was a joke.
Later while we were getting our massages I overheard a conversation she had with a French tourist who had just finished his massage. She asked him what he does and he said with a strong sense of pride that he deals with antiquities back home and had to point out that he buys and sells very old furniture “…over two hundred to three hundred years old” and she just replied curiously “ohhhh,….very interesting that must be a very nice job….can you sell an old woman for me?” Turns out her sister is over 30 and still unmarried. The French man stumbled a little before he pulled himself together and confirmed that he only deals with furniture, though he did make a date to meet with her and her sister later than night. Maybe she had some antiques to look at..
Luckily we didn’t give her anything for fuel and after paying just 40,000 Kip ($4US) we were soon of back to the hotel. In the evening, we went to a wine shop (again a recommendation from Amy & Paul) and had a lovely bottle of French red wine and some cheese and salami samples for appetizers which were followed by a pizza at a French restaurant a little later. We truly were enjoying some European cuisine for a change after months of Asian tastes, spices and specialties.
The One for Dad: Sitting in Vientiane at the Mekong river having a beer!
“…even less impressive up close”
Today was just one of those days, when nothing really works out as planned. It is really funny, for they come and go, but every once in a while they appear and all you can do is just sit back, relax and expect that nothing goes as expected. We wanted to learn how to get to our next destination by bus, but after asking five different sources (3 travel agencies, our hotel front desk staff and a tuk-tuk driver) we gave up. We wanted to change our scooter because of the bad breaks but the one’s breaks were just as bad and the fuel tank was empty, whereas our other one had been on full. We wanted to swim and according to our book the pool at the Australian embassy is open to the public, but once we arrived we were told it would be impossible since it is only for members. We drove to a recommended massage place, but learned that it was too expensive compared to other places in town. In the end we decided to just go back to our room and enjoy our nice king-size bed with crisp clean white sheets, as we knew the immediate future would not have such luxuries.
On the positive side, we were able to book our tickets from Pakse, in the south of Lao to Siam Riep in Cambodia (where the Angkorian temples are) in the morning and visited the market where we bought simple English lesson books for kids we might meet. We saw the Lao version of the Arc de Triumph known as the Patuxai. It was built from concrete that was donated by the US or China (we’re not exactly sure which) to build an airport runway. Some locals call it the “vertical runway”. It was interesting from far away but grew uglier the closer you got. Even the local authorities recognized this fact by hanging up a sign that stated “it is even less impressive up close”. Later we had a great evening, drinking Beerlao (really there is no other choice) at the banks of the Mekong enjoying a the sunset across the majestic river, which was a suggestion we followed from my very own father who visited this city over 10 years ago. This was followed with a very special dinner at a French restaurant where we ordered cheese fondue for a luxurious $34. It was a very romantic dinner that came along with very nice white wine. After this we went to the Scandinavian bakery for decadent dessert. Having this splurge and taste crazing satiated, we ready yet again ready for the excellent, lean and cheap Lao-asian dishes.