03 April 06 - To Vientiane (second time)
Got to the bus station by tuk tuk arriving at 0630 and there was a bus leaving at 0645 for Vientiane, so got that. It was reassuring to find that part of the cost of my bus ticket covered me for insurance. Should I die on the journey compensation of up to 35,000,000 kip would be paid, the same amount for permanent disability, 1,100,000 for medical expenses and 80,000 on being discharged from hospital! This was the first time I had been presented with such a certificate, so whether it's a new thing of they just forgot to give it to me before I don't know.
The bus left promptly and didn't fiddle about too much trying to find passengers along the way. Journey ok as again had a congenial bus driver who drove carefully. The bus eventually filled up and, after about 5 hours one of the assistants suggested I move seats and sit with another woman further down the bus. I couldn't understand why, except that I think a Laos man didn't want to sit next to me! Was he being racist I wondered? There was another occasion, the last time I was in Laos, when I and two other westerners were on a songthaew. A girl went to get on, put her baggage in, noticed us and then decided to get off. When we questioned why, we were told it was because we were on the songthaew! Anyway, I refused to move seats and I think the man got off! Another person sat next to me, a girl, and a male friend of hers sat in front. Then after about an hour, they changed places and the man sat next to me! Quite why I don't know.
I spent most of the journey thinking that I wanted to go back home for the summer. Feeling a bit weary at the moment, and quite lonely. However, I change like the wind so will probably be feeling up for travelling for another year by next week. Not so sure though at the moment.
Arrived at Vientiane at 1530, and the bus station is 10km from the centre. I didn't realise that as the first time I came was by boat. I got on a bus to the centre with a French couple, then we shared a tuk tuk. I decided to go back to Joe Guesthouse, where I had stayed before, but didn't get the same room and given a really small, claustrophobic room. The key to the lights/fan didn't work properly, unless you balanced the heavy fob it was attached to carefully on the light switch, so I told the manager about it. He couldn't really be that bothered, but his wife told me noone could mend it today. Didn't find them as friendly as last time. Also the room fronted the main road so was really noisy at night.
Nothing much of interest to report today.
04 April 06
Got up early, having not slept very well due to the noise of the traffic and the fan (although I should be used to the buzzing of the fan by now). Decided to check out a few more guesthouses. Eventually opted to go to MIC (cheap guesthouse, government owned MIC = Ministry of Information and Culture) which is a bit grotty but has enormous rooms with 3 beds and own bathroom, although with squat toilet and cold shower. I had stayed there for one night before and then moved to Joe guesthouse. Funny, the other way around this time! The manager is extremely friendly and has enormously long fingernails which are pretty horrid. I commented on them, as I would, and he said it is because he is single and when he has a girlfriend he will cut them off. "Would you like to be my girlfriend?" he asked. "No, I'm 20 years older than you" I replied. "But" he continued "you're still beautiful. Age is just a number" How right he is (about the number I mean!).
Anyway, did some more internetting, taking forever to put photos on this website but now up to date. Took a walk to the Vietnam Embassy to check out how much a visa is and how long etc. The manager (fingernails) at the MIC can do it on my behalf and cheaper. I questioned him why it would be cheaper, and he said because they are a company. Anyway, decided to let them get it for me and promised me faithfully that it would be ready on Friday, as they had told me at the Embassy. This was after I had suddenly decided not to go to Luang Prabang for the New Year celebrations after all (what an idiot!). Thought that I'd been there twice already and really liked the place, that three times could spoil it for me, that I'd be on my own and probably feel sorry for myself, that at the end of the day I've already been to two festivals, and that the journey there is a nightmare, although beautiful I've done it already and would have to do it again twice more. So feel happy with that decision. Checked out flights from Vientiane to Hanoi for this Saturday and holding one until tomorrow.
Again, not a very exciting day! Just feel I've been doing so much for so long that my body is weary.
05 April 06
Again, hardly slept a wink. Not through the noise of the traffic, as I was three floors up and pretty quiet up there, but initially boiling hot - the fan just seemed to be fanning the hot air around, so sweating uncontrollably, and I guess the noise of the fan wasn't helping either. Blow me if I didn't have yet another change of heart! I've now decided not to go to Hanoi, but to go to Bangkok and fly home!!
So I got quickly showered and dressed, it was about 0600, and went down to find 'fingernails' (whose real name is Spy, he told me) to stop him putting my passport in to the embassy. He was asleep, but his friend woke him. Still, he brightened when he saw me!! I was quite embarassed when I told him I didn't now want a visa. He rang another colleague, who lives near the embassy, who was going to take it to the embassy to make sure he hadn't dropped it through their letterbox last night. He hadn't, so all was well. I then went to book a flight to Bangkok for tomorrow afternoon, flying Lao Airlines so hope to arrive there! I shall see if I still feel that it is the right decision when I get to Bangkok before rebooking my return flight home.
Had the mother of all muesli, fruit and yoghurt breakfasts (actually had one yesterday as well) - the best of the entire trip so that lifted my spirits. Checked the online flight schedules for Eva Air (my airline from Bangkok to London Heathrow) and they are full until 19 April (and probably longer but didn't check further) which I found quite unbelieveable so probably pressed the wrong buttons and thought I would check out the situation when I get to Bangkok Airport tomorrow. However, it set a train of thoughts in motion......
Having faffed about since I came to Vientiane for this second visit I decided I should at least take myself to see the most important national monument in Laos. This is Pha That Luong and is 4km North of the centre. I decided that the best way to get there was, not a sensible tuk tuk ride (as most people do) but walk and during the hottest part of the day as well! A glutton for punishment. It felt like 40 degrees C again but, hey, that's no problem now, well adjusted to the searing heat. I checked the temperature charts and Vientiane is on average a lot hotter in April than Bangkok.
I broke the journey by doing a good deed for a Swiss guy, who left this morning for Bangkok by bus and train, and posted his postcards. 'Fingernails' had said he would, but who knows when they would have been taken, I spotted them lurking in his drawer. I also stopped off at a bank to change the Vietnamese money I've been saving for the second trip that I'm not going to do now (or am I?...) to Vietnam, into kip as they couldn't change it into the more useful dollars. So now I've got loads of Laos kip to use up by tomorrow, unless it can be changed into Thai Baht or dollars at the airport.
The 'attraction' I was heading for could be seen a long way off, but it never seemed to get nearer. Eventually I did reach it and wished I'd gone with my first instinct which was to read my new book. This morning I exchanged 4 books for one and $3 (whoopee!) - I'm a hopeless businesswoman, and couldn't be bothered fighting for more. Anyway, Laos needs my money. I thought it would cut down on the weight I've been carrying but the book I chose ('The Other Boleyn Girl' by Philippa Gregory - brilliant so far) has turned out to be heavier than the other four combined.
So, back to the 'attraction' - allegedly a joint symbol of the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty (straight out of the LP, so hope I won't be sued for plagiarism - on the other hand, I am paying them for this website). So the 'attraction' is a massive golden painted stupa, on three levels (as featured on the front cover of the latest edition of LP's Laos guide book). Thge thing is though that the stupa isn't the original, which was destroyed by the Thais in the early 19th centurey. This one was built by the French in the early 1930's, and is close to the original which had been sketched before destruction. The original one was ordered to be constructed by King Setthathirat in the mid 16th centurey. It really was quite a disappointment, but at least it was exercise.
I stopped off on the return journey (thought I was going to faint at one point) for a coke in the Patuxai Gardens, which lead from Vientiane's own 'Arc de Triomphe' lookalike, as described on my first visit here. While sitting drinking and recovering from the heat, I read about S Thailand in my SE Asia Rough guide book and decided that I wouldn't go home without at least seeing a couple of the islands there, and got quite excited at the prospect (even though I'm not a beach bum). It means concentrating on the East coast (the gulf of Thailand) rather than the west as the weather is better that side at this time of year. There is also a place called 'The Sanctuary' on one of the islands which I might check out. Having looked at the website it sounds great (more about that later if I go there).
Back in the centre, I had an earl grey tea at 'Joma Bakery' and thought how bizarre it was that the walls were covered with Ansel Adams' photographs. Was I in Laos or had I magically been transported to California? Feeling much better, I decided a spot of retail therapy was in order and went into a shop whose silk skirts I'd been admiring yesterday from outside. Plucked up the courage to go inside and bought a beautiful one which was priced at $25 (would have cost a fortune back home) but managed to get a discount of $2 as I noticed a flaw. Now all that remains is to find an appropriate top to go with it, so hopefully Bangkok will come up trumps.
I am looking forward to Bangkok now as feel I probably need more of a western environment for a while, and Bangkok comes very close to that. Have decided to take myself off for a cut and colour (can't stand this grey hair any longer) and was told that BKK is the best place for a hair cut. Also thinking about paying a hygienist and chiropodist a visit. It might also be a good idea to see if I can get a brain transplant while I'm there. I have been told that there is an amazing hospital there which might be worth checking out! Then the show must go on, at least a little longer. Poor me, putting myself through it, struggling to do the second trip of a lifetime while everyone back home is working and has suffered a bitterly cold winter!!
I had a great dinner at the 'Full Moon Cafe' where I'd been once on my last trip here with Angelique and Lars (the motorbikers - gosh that seems so long ago now). Feeling good now, but tomorrow is another day and who knows what it will bring?