Vientiane, Laos (Revisited)

Wow, there’s nothing like visiting the monstro-cities (ha ha see what I did there) that are Montevideo, Yangon and Rotorua, to make me appreciate Vientiane in a new light.

I once called Vientiane the ugliest capital city 

Upon second visit, I take it all back! It’s actually quite lovely. I’m writing this at the crack of dawn from the Scandinavian Bakery, in the Num Phu square, and the streets surrounding might as well be France, all lined with wine bars and Parisian looking cafes. This was all here last time, so I’m not sure what my problem was! I even gazed affectionately at Patuxai  in the freezing cold 6am dawn (the Arc de Triomphe replica) as I tuk tuked past it from the sleeper bus station into the city.

A word on the sleeper bus. Never before have I seen anything like it. It was like being inside of one of those extra tacky limos you can hire for chavy hen nights/6th form proms.  Completely horizontal beds. Wait, it gets more pimp-tastic; Double beds. Love thy neighbour indeed. Personal space knows no bounds here! We figured it’s a money making ploy to encourage you to buy the other half out of protest. Crafty.

A couple of us meandered to the night market which was full of Thailand fashion imports at (higher) Lao prices. And i’d like to say I ‘ran’, but my running is also like meandering, along the Mekong bank Boulevard at sunset. It felt nice too that certain restaurants/places looked familiar from a year ago. But let’s face it, warmed to it as I am, there is still absolutely nothing to do here for longer than 24h.

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Pakse, Laos

A one street transport hub back on the mainland, with not much distinguishing about it other than breaking up my overnighter up North to Vientiane.  We visited a couple of Wats (colourful shrines). That killed half an hour. Then the highlight of the other 23 and a half was undoubtedly a lady called Poh.

Us girls went for a Lao massage (course we did) which threw in a free ‘health check.’ We’ve spent the last week on Don Det obsessed with a fortune-teller called Solith, who never seemed to be in when we called. You would have thought as a psychic he would know we were coming. Anyway, we have been preoccupied with fortunes and such, so jumped at anything palm related. She pulled out a device that looked exactly like a thermometer, and held it at approx 30 different pressure points on our hands. Obviously I won’t dish mine and Claire’s full medical history, but let’s just say it was spookily accurate! We lived to tell the tale so it’s all good, but thought it’s interesting what you can learn when you are least expecting it.

Don Det, 4000 Islands, Laos

4000 islands in Laos? Surely it’s land-locked right?

It is, but just over the Cambodian border in the far south sits Don Kong, Don Det and adjoining Don Kon, and 3997 other islands in the widest part of the Mekong. So technically there’s no sea, just river, but it’s all the same same.

Approx 2 hours walk in size, someone might just have invented the perfect island. No post office, no roads, no ATMs. Just hammocks, sunsets, bicycles & bungalow shacks. And wifi. I have two new playmates at the start of the week Albertine (French) and Vera (Germany) and then the originals arrive just before my birthday, Claire and Lindsay (off of Cambodia).

I’d blog about all 14 nights I’ve spent here, including a birthday and xmas, but I only really need to blog about one really for you to get the idea. All are a variation on this theme.

Dawn) Wake up early to the screeching cockerel calls, dogs barking and/or chickens clucking. It’s a regular animal farm around here. There are water buffalo everywhere too, but to be fair to them I’m not even sure what noise they make. Moo? You can’t get mad at the circus of noise as early morning is THE best time of day. I’d say it’s for the light, the serenity, but no, I mean for the wifi – early bird catches the decent Skype connection.

Morning) Hire pink bicycles for 10,000 kip, from the shop that sells everything next door, pick up some of their veggie samosas too for the ride.  Head to neighboring Don Kon island which is adjoined with old French bridge, with a man who sits like a friendly troll underneath collecting 20,000 Kip for your passage across. The two islands have miles of cycle tracks. It’s like a tropical centre parks treasure trail, with surprisingly stunning waterfalls, beaches, and dolphin look-out-points as prizes.

Midday) Since it’s too hot to do anything we sit in a hammock & read our books. However we can only really manage an hour or two of the horrific ‘They Killed My Father (Cambodian account of the Khmer Rouge) and ‘The Girl in the Picture’ (Vietnam account of the Agent Orange bombings.) Regular  light reading then! We alternate book club with downloads of Gossip Girl/Spooks just so that it doesn’t all get too bleak.

Lunch) Walk 20 mins along the dirt track to the organic veggie farm. Play French bowls and gorge on homegrown salads, balsamic vinegar, apple crumble, custard and other yummy ingredients.

Late afternoon) Now this is more often than not replaced with ‘go for a sundown beer by the river bars on sunset side of the island.’ However when I was being good I took my ass on a run. There are miles of hay fields that remind me of riding Daisy May up Apy Lane in late summer when it stays light till 9pm. Apart from the pain/hyperventilating/trying to train myself to run through a stitch, the paths at sunset are just gorgeous.

Evening) Pop to Shy’s bar bully him into our choice in movies for his 8pm nightly screening, lay on the bean bags and chill watching them. Pop to Alex’s bar to hustle at pool (Lindsey and I saw off three sets of boys) and eat their to die for pizza/red bean curry. Happy bar for Manny’s nice cookies… the clue is in the name.

Add to this a lovely a Xmas Eve dinner with 30 friends, THE BEST birthday hour of my life with a Lao masseuse, and cycling the full length of Sunrise side of the island singing Away in a Manger/Little Donkey at the top of our voices with Santa hats in the blazing sun.

All this and you can hopefully see why it wins the award for the longest I’ve stayed anywhere in 9 months.

Been there Don Det.

Cambodia

I liked it the first time a year ago, even more so the second. This should be pretty easy:

Liked:

1) Cutest kids in the world. Just beautiful.
2) Kep fresh crabs
3) Sihanoukville sunsets and being inspired to run again
4) $2 bottles of whisky
5) (Liked is not right word) but greater appreciation for history of The Killing Fields and all that happened there.

Disliked:

1) Rats in ceilings, and some of the skankiest guesthouses in a while
2) The booze cruise brigade of Sihanoukville
3) The Cambodian obsession with light and dark, love the skin you are in!
4) Fake orphanages
5) Kep Beach, we just don’t get it

Where I stayed: Nomads Phnom Pehn, Utopia Sihanoukville, Monkey Republic Sihanoukville, Blissful Kampot, Star Guesthouse Kratie.

Kratie, Cambodia

Right, enough of serious stuff, let’s get back to the nonsense. Dolphins. I haven’t seen any in at least a few months. It used to be a near weekly occurrence. Kratie is home to the rare Irrawaddy dolphin (although they also moonlight up the road in Laos as Don Det claims the same thing.) I’ll have to see them there then, seen as they were all avoiding me today.

I woke at 5am from my prison like cell room (but it’s $4 & has wifi so we will gloss,) to what can only be described as a mash-up between a Marrakesh Muslim call to prayer vs an ice cream van. My room overlooks the market/main square, so I did wonder who the hell was getting married at this hour, but it turns out it was a funeral. Oh. The market itself was getting a concrete facelift, and the roads around it all tarmaced, to much local interest. It’s definitely a likeable place, even though I’ve caught it at a bad time.

I spent the morning doing my ‘Go to’ activity. I hired a bike, for the bargain price of $1, or at least it would have been had I not lost the bike lock key and had to pay another $1 to replace it. Still. 15km/3hour round trip North along the river and no sign of the dolphins. Although to be honest I was happily sidetracked with the ride itself though loads of tiny villages/shanty towns. It’s a bit Eat Pray Love where she cycles the fields of Bali I know, but it was picturesque. I had company for the most part; an ever-changing gaggle of school kids cycling with me for a minute of two, or as long as it took them to do their set piece. “Hello, where are you from, what is your name, goodbye.”

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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