Day 26: Today we packed up again, had breakfast then waited for a tuk tuk to take us to the bus station to catch a bus to Vientiane. Though it turns out the bus station wasn’t actually a bus station – it was just a tour agent outlet with some seats randomly plonked on the pavement outside, in full direct sunlight. The bus pulled in and we tried to clamber on to get out of the sun, but were ordered to sit back down and wait. Alrighty.
We’d booked another VIP bus for the trip to Vientiane. This one looked pretty much like the last one – quite small, and with seats. However the big difference this time was this one didn’t have a roof rack, so all of the luggage – and there was lots and lots of it – had to be piled into the bus with the passengers. Lil has now decided that VIP must stand for Variable Important Parts. And in a spot of seriously bad planning, the bus driver crammed heaps of luggage into the bus before all the passengers had got on, which turned out to be just a tad problematic.
A Buddhist monk was allocated the front passenger seat next to the driver – and even he had to scramble over piles of bags and backpacks to get to his seat.
The 4 hour bus journey went past fairly quickly, until we got to the outskirts of Vientiane and then the traffic slowed to a crawl. The last 8 kilometres took about an hour, and we were glad to finally get off the bus in the city.
We walked a few blocks to our guesthouse, checked in and then set off to have a look at the night market and walk along the bank of the Mekong River.
Vientiane is the capital and largest city in Laos, situated on the banks of the Mekong River near the border with Thailand. Vientiane became the capital in 1563, but was later destroyed by the Siamese in 1827. It was the administrative capital during French rule, and is now the economic centre of Laos with a population of around 780,000, around 15% of the entire country’s population.
The evening air here was noticeably cooler than other towns we’ve stayed in. We were amazed to see lots of people out jogging and bike riding and doing sit ups and push ups along the promenade. We heard some loud upbeat music and followed it to see what was going on – there were two outdoors aerobics classes, one for older people and one for the younger crowd. Lil tried to convince Jim to join in with the younger bunch, but he wasn’t having any of it.
We wandered around for a while, watched an amazing sunset, then headed back into the main streets in search of dinner. Lil had read about a restaurant that serves great Nem Nuong – delicious and filling hands-on food, comprising grilled pork meat balls and sausages that come with platters of fresh lettuce, bitter starfruit, garlic, cucumber, rice vermicelli, piles of mint and other greens. You simply stuff pieces of everything into a lettuce leaf, roll it up and dip it in sweet chilli peanut sauce. It was divine and we’re so glad we took the time to find the place, a really great experience. It was also fun watching a whole restaurant full of people rolling up lettuce leaves.
Then a quick trip to the supermarket for water and to pick up some more Laos coffee, which we have become a little addicted to. Coffee is Laos’ fifth largest export – the first few coffee plants were introduced to Laos by French colonists in the early 1900s, and 20,000 tons are now produced annually.
Tomorrow we’re planning a long walk around the town and surrounds. And who knows, perhaps we’ll join an outdoor aerobics class.