Day 258: Vientiane, Laos 13/06/2012
Well, we arrive at Nong Khai station at around ten thirty and despite the few young, impressionable, loud and murderable Canadian kids that decide to shout their mouths off (so glad we weren’t in their carriage – the laser eye/clenched fist to the face treatment doesn’t always go down well) we realise that Laos could be a real decent place to spend some time (despite the frantic search for two passport photos). Amazingly, the authorities still allow us through after a frantic attack on a more than irritating nineteen year old drunk Canuck and we catch a cab to Laos proper with a Kiwi and a man/daughter combo from Hong Kong.
The search for a hotel/room is a short one and after a quick check in a decent shower, we are off out, on the piss as it emerges. A couple of beers turns into plenty and we even end up watching Aussie patter-cake. Unfortunately, not able to describe/discuss the rest of the evening…
Day 259: Vientiane, Laos 14/06/2012
Wow, would love to have spent the first morning in Laos appreciating that life isn’t always spent feeling rough as a badger’s arse…where has this ivory tusk/dragon’s head come from????? Given the way I feel, I’m glad I don’t know the answer…
We drag ourselves out for lunch. A pate, pork and salad baguette is almost as good as a fry up for the physiological problems. However, a trip back to the room and a lie down reveals death to be the single easiest solution to the way we (I) feel. Death becomes particularly attractive when the runs kick in.
Ride the storm and I drag Gem out for an impromptu dinner and she is more than appreciative (maybe) after an afternoon dying watching HBO. Despite being well out of (lip) synch, HBO helps ease the afternoon headache, despite reminding one of his oral deficiencies after one or two normal drinks. Beer Lao is mental it seems…
We head out for dinner and have a nice evening, which makes us both feel a bit better. Some amazing food and another Beer Lao help us pass the time and we are soon back at the room. Reception take the piss (‘more beer sir?) and we are back in bed.
Day 260: Vientiane, Laos 15/06/2012
Well then, wake feeling a million times better than we did yesterday that's for sure. After another quick baguette breakfast (and very good they are too) we head out for a walk around the city. There are some absolutely beautiful sights to be seen, some incredible architecture and a very pleasant, relaxed and friendly atmosphere found throughout the city. We finally visit the ornate, peaceful Buddhist temple situated literally next door to our hotel. It has only taken three days but still...
After a spot of lunch we make a detour to the Vietnamese consulate to get our visas sorted, stopping en route for passport photos (not needed) and US Dollars (most certainly needed). After a slight wait for the consul to come back from lunch it takes precisely three minutes and $110 for our 30 day tourist visas to make their way into our passports. A pleasingly easy process, the ease of which makes us hope that they are actually real.
A quick jaunt back into the town centre sees me left on my own as Gemma has some 'secret birthday stuff' to sort out. Strolling along the banks of the Mekong on the new promenade and through the park on its banks allows me some personal reflection time, which is always a scary experience. After a nice tea we stroll back through the park and potter round the weekend market, where the world's greatest saleswoman somehow sells me a lampshade I wasn't even looking at...
Day 261: Vientiane, Laos 16/06/2012
A bit of a lie in after staying up to watch England 'perform' against Sweden in the wee hours here. We pack and move hotels as the one we are in asks us to move rooms, whilst generously agreeing to offer us a shared toilet room for the same price as the en-suite we have been staying in...works out well as we end up in a plush hotel just down the road.
Some more baguettes for lunch (a nice reminder of home yet the Asian fillings allow us to feel like we aren't cheating Laos) before a long, leisurely stroll around the less touristy parts of town, visiting the local produce market and getting completely lost in a residential part of the city. With the hangover still recent enough for me to appreciate normality this is an interesting way to see how the locals really live and to see that the peaceful, chilled out vibe of the centre spans the whole of the city. We end up stumbling across the 'Lao Arc de Triumphe' and return to the room with sore legs and very dirty feet.
After a bit of skype and a spot of dinner, we return to the room to take advantage of our new room's mod cons - a/c and LCD tv never felt so good.
Day 262: Vientiane, Laos 17/06/2012
A very quiet Sunday enjoyed by all, which should be a real interesting read for you all. Take advantage of the cafe culture and the weather and enjoy a leisurely stroll back down to the river. The Mekong reminds me of Southport, with the water hundreds of metres from the bank. There is even room for herds of cows to graze and kids to run around, without even the slightest chance of falling in. A skype session and a curry complete a very unadventurous day.
Day 263: Vientiane, Laos 18/06/2012
A bit more to report on today you will be pleased to hear, starting with me heading out for a haircut first thing. After strolling past numerous barbers on our previous strolls, I really struggle to find someone to give me a trim. Eventually find a unisex salon, where the woman cutting my hair looks petrified to tackle my sun bleached mop. She needn't have worried as she does an infinitely better job than the last woman in Kuala Lumpur, though she does not want a photo of me for her portfolio, which is a shame.
Out for lunch and then we go out to find the COPE centre, a rehabilitation centre for victims of unexploded ordnance (UXO), which is found across the country in worryingly high quantities. Our Lonely Planet map is very wrong about its location so we arrive after a bit of a hike but find that it was worth persevering with. A really moving yet inspiring exhibition highlights the great work that the organisation does to provide medical care and support for victims of UXO, as well as people requiring medical attention for other reasons that normally would not have access to such provision.
We meet Peter Kym, a twenty year old success story of the COPE centre, who after losing both hands and being blinded by an unexploded bomb five years ago, has been educated and supported by the centre. His charm and wit, as well as his gratitude to the centre and the life they have allowed him to live, make him a real inspirational figure, and after speaking with him for an hour or so, not somebody we will forget in a hurry.
Back in town, I tackle some of the gaps in the blog and we head out for dinner. Ready to move on tomorrow.