All places V…

The pick-up from our guest house to the bus station arrived on time at 08:30 but things went downhill from there. There were two partially full minivans for Vang Vieng and the dispatcher was adamant they weren’t going anywhere until they were full. Our bus had three out of eleven empty seats, the other needed just one more person. There were no solo travellers on our bus, and not three who wanted to switch together on the other. So we sat and waited. Entertainment was provided by a pot-bellied 55+ year old guy exercising and stretching shirtless in front of the buses. There was much sniggering from the girls on our bus. We could only guess what the other occupants of the second bus, or the watching Laotions thought of the show. A tuk-tuk delivered nine more recruits but they were a group who wanted to travel together and partially filled a third bus. Almost two hours after arriving at the bus station we were still waiting to depart. Eventually another tuk-tuk arrived with three people on board – Joe, Phoebe and Renee. We got Crazy Dutch and the third bus Joe and Phoebe. Shirtless stretching guy bought the empty seat in his bus and we all set off.

The road to Vang Vieng wound uphill and we swerved around potholes and slower moving traffic, or bounced through the potholes when the driver misread the road. Hannah was feeling unwell to start with and felt much worse by our lunch stop. Shortly afterwards she hung her head out the window and decorated the side of the bus with vomit. Classy! I kept an eye on the road ahead to make sure no oncoming traffic took her head off, and the driver carried on oblivious.

We travelled past lots of villages, all looking the same. A mixture of stilted and non-stilted, timber, block-built or woven bamboo walls, thatched or tin roof dwellings on both sides of the road. About 30-50% had 1.8m satellite dishes out front. Kids played at the roadside, tiny stick-thin creatures with smiling, happy faces. Mothers bathed babies and toddlers in metal bowls and hung washing from lines in front of the houses. The driver was impatient to pass anything and everything in his path, frequently overtaking on blind bends. Only luck prevented us joining the accident statistics we passed off the sides of the road. I couldn’t work out whether Laotian drivers don’t use their mirrors and don’t realise people are trying to pass them, or if they are aware and deliberately pull out to the middle of the road to make passing difficult.

At some point we reached our highest point and began descending. The villages got bigger and more prosperous looking. About 20km before Vang Vieng the potholes won the battle with the tyres and one of the rear tyres blew out. We bumped to a stop, all piled out and the driver replaced the wheel.

Vang Vieng, when we arrived really had nothing to recommend it. A town full of bars showing endless repeats of Friends, and hotels full of 19-year olds busy getting drunk and going tubing on the river. Two nights there was quite sufficient.

The bus to Vientiane picked us up on time and arrived when it was supposed to – amazing! Vientiane has slightly more to recommend it than Vang Viene. The National Museum has several galleries but only the first two had information in squiggly wiggly and English. Those two were very interesting. The remaining eighteen or so had exhibits labelled only in squiggly wiggly with a few photos having French descriptions too and and even smaller number labelled in English as well. On the wall above the comments book at the exit was a sign saying they’re working on providing multilingual exhibit labelling. The sooner the better! There are wats aplenty and a Victory Arch modelled after the Arc de Triomphe. Other than that it’s ugly concrete buildings, a multitude of bars and restaurants, and lots of construction. There are a few photos over at Flickr.

Vientiane was also a place of farewells. Yesterday was Phoebe’s birthday. A group of us went out for celebratory drinks and dinner. Today the group has dispersed to destinations across south-east Asia – Renee to Chiang Mai, Joe and Phoebe to Hanoi, Marcel and Claire will go to Vietnam tomorrow, Matt and Susie are going to Thailand in a couple of days and in a couple of hours we’ll be on an overnight bus to Pakse in Laos. We might be in Phnom Penh at the same time as Joe and Phoebe in about ten days time to trade stories about where we’ve been, where to go and where to avoid.

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2 Responses to “All places V…”

  1. lynda says:

    The structure in Vientiane is also called the vertical runway. It hasn’t changed at all since I was last there 10+ years ago! I recall having my best french food during my entire time in SE Asia there. Too bad you didn’t arrive by boat. I had to come ashore via submerged stairs. Did you get to see the US MIA office? Wonder if the volley ball court is still in the front yard…

    Great fun following you! Thanks!

    • Mark says:

      No, we missed the US MIA office and probably loads of other things as well. We’re about to bail on Pakse after just a day and probably missing things here too. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting too :-)

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