January 20, 2013, Sunday
Day 11 of G
Up early for a nice shower. The mountains outside of our windows look gorgeous in the early morning sunlight. I'm still not right and the thought of food makes me nauseous but it is what it is. I'll go to the breakfast and try to eat some bread and drink some tea. It is too bad I'm still feeling under because it looks like a good breakfast at the hotel.
We are on the road by a little after 8. Clive, of Clive and Jane, is going river kayaking again and will be taking a separate transport to meet us in Vientiane. I returned the safety box key and the hotel staff couldn't find where I signed it out. Then they accused us of not returning the hotel key and we couldn't leave until they found it under some papers on their desk minutes later.
I asked the girls how the river kayaking was yesterday and they all had a good time. Claudia has a sore on each thumb from a ruptured blister. I told her she had hands like an aristocrat, soft from not working and she got a little indignant (in jest) because she is the shoemaker and does work hard with her hands.
Phil looks like she feels worse than I do. I took a diphenhydramine this morning for all of my nasal congestion which wasn't helping my nausea and then Sharon kindly offered me some Dramamine of which I took two. They call it gravol. When Chris went to the doctor in Luang Prabang it cost her $12 for the visit and for 4 different meds. She is feeling much better now.
At our first reststop I felt a little weird but was still able to use the squat toilet ok and to remember to bring toilet paper with me! The cost to use the toilets is $1000 kip.
They were making sugarcane drinks at the stop. A woman was peeling the hard outer bark from the cane and then putting it through a special juicer. They looked delicious and I would have loved to have tried it but there was no way. They are served in plastic cups in what looks like a small plastic bag with a handle that has had the bottom of the bag cut off.
Jeff and I toyed with the idea of flying from Siem Riep to Bangkok the last day of the tour to avoid the 10 hour bus ride but it is $192@ and wouldn't get us to Bangkok in time for any of the things we wanted to do there.
All of the government buildings here fly two flags, the Laotian flag and the communist sickle flag. The road markers for the distance to the next village or city all look like gravestones. The road form Vang Vieng to Vientiane is very poorly maintained with a fair amount of washout. There do seem to be way more villages on this road and a number of them seem better kept up. Lots of houses, shops, cows, local people but no tourists.
I think that the driver of the bus should have a cooler filled with ice and water and beer and sell it to us to make a bit more money instead of us buying from the rest stops.
We arrived at our hotel, the Avalon, in Vientiane around noon. Jeff and I are in the tulip room. This hotel does not have anything larger than a twin bed. We do have wi-fi so I used our 1/2 hour break to check emails.
Vientiane has a population of about 200,000. It became the capital of Laos in 1563. It continued to grow until it was destroyed by the Siamese in 1827. Fifty years later the French found it and because of it's location on a bend of the Mekong River "amidst fertile alluvial plains" they rebuilt it.
In the 70s Vientiane was known for it's illicit entertainment. Now brothels are prohibited and the marijuana stands and opium are gone and beer is the nightly drug of choice.
We met in the lobby to walk to a lunch place, Jomi. It is similar to a Panera if you use your imagination. There was one in Luang Prabang as well. They could have used one in Vang Vieng. Phil was not feeling well enough to join us this afternoon.
Then Andy rounded up two Songthews and we crowded 15 of us into them and went to Phatuxai, the Vientiane version of the Arc de Triumph. The Laotians made it a meter taller than the original to have one up on the French. It is built of concrete that the U.S. donated to Laos to build an airport. It is pretty ugly and looks much better from a distance.
Then we went on to That Luang. It is a Wat that is the national symbol of Laos. It too looks much better from a distance. What made it worthwhile however was the classic car show nearby and the couples getting their wedding photos taken.
From there we went to Cope, a museum and factory and support for people that are amputees. There is so much unexploded ordinance still in this country from the Vietnam war that it is still an ongoing tragedy. Bombs are still going off in farm fields, from children playing with them or underneath cooking fires. The Laotians can sell them and do not always realize how dangerous it is to dig them up or play with them.
Back to the hotel for a short rest. In the evening the group met in the lobbying the hotel to pick a dinner spot. That is all but Sonya who is the latest casualty of whatever is going around. We had a nice 1-2 km walk to the river and ate a buffet BBQ dinner. All you could eat, cook your own food. It was in a wonderful outdoor setting and the food was good. 40,000 kip@. Of course there were the always present multitude of dogs and cats wandering around.
The city was incredibly lively for a Sunday night. People and motorbikes everywhere. Everything seemed to be open. This is not such a sleepy town after all. Maybe it just seemed that way in the heat of the day. The people here were smarter than us and weren't walking around in all of that heat. What is it they say about mad dogs and Englishmen out in the mid day sun?