4/7 – Time to brush the Vang Vieng dust off our sandals and get back on the bus. We had a nice conversation with our hotel host this morning, a businessman from Singapore who saw potential in this town and decided to build a hotel and spa for his own retirement here. He was glad when the partying was shut down, as the kids trashed up the town and didn’t spend money except for drinks. He said that a lot of the hotel/hostels that went out of business were very low end, and now real hotels are being built. The China to Thailand train line (no more Bus From Hell) has been promised to be completed within the next five years, and will bring a huge influx of affluent Chinese tourists here. He is sitting on an acorn and biding his time…
This morning we tuk-tukked (can I use that as a verb?) back to the bus station. We had to wait for a group of six very-hungover young adults (?) to make their way onto the cab. They looked extremely green around the gills – evidently doing their part to keep the party spirit alive. We boarded the VIP bus to Vientiane. The bus has air conditioning! We can sit anywhere we want! It’s going to be a good day.
The scenery was lush green, with little towns and real houses with yards and little fences. We’ve left the very poor country shacks behind, at least what we can see from the main road. After two hours we stopped for a break – ice cream and sinks with soap!
At 2pm we arrived in the capital city of Vientiane, and 10 minutes later were at our hotel. It’s 100 degrees again. The AC in our room didn’t work, and we asked for a different room. We moved from a room with no AC to a room with poor Wifi. In this climate, AC wins every time!
We ate a noodle soup supper at the hotel restaurant, and watched an old Eddie Murphy movie – in English with Lao subtitles – on TV. They have CNN, MSNBC and BBC here!
4/8 – We set off while it was still relatively cool in the morning to see the That Dam, or Black Stupa, which is just down the road. I asked Jim if the Dam was a Wat? No, it’s a Dam! Sounded like a weird Asian version of Who’s on First. Legend says that this stupa was once covered in gold, which was stripped off by the Siamese when they invaded in the 1800s, and that a seven-headed naga dragon used to guard the stupa. Although it is weedy and looks neglected, it is the symbol of the city. Here is the front view:
Here is the back view:
We saw signs for the Patuxai, Vientiane’s version of Paris’ Arc du Triomphe, built to commemorate the ousting of the French in 1949, so we kept walking several kilometers down a wide boulevard until we spotted it.
The Americans gave Laos money to build an airport in 1960 (preparing for the Vietnam War, no doubt) and they built this monument instead, so it is also called “the Vertical Runway” (probably only by Americans).
Now it’s past one, and very hot as we walked back toward our end of town. Even though we stopped to buy cold water, I felt a little woozy, and Jim started looking for a place to sit me down in the shade. We turned a corner, and, like a mirage, what did I see? An air conditioned Swenson’s Ice Cream shop, like the answer to a prayer! Half an hour and one scoop of green tea ice cream later, I was restored.
Despite how the climate feels to us Westerners, Laotians maintain conservative dress standards with knees and shoulders always covered. In Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng there were signs reminding tourists to cover up, but we haven’t seen the signs here. I wear my long pants anyway.
For dinner we went to a Vietnamese pho restaurant and I had cool summer rolls. Perfect!