February 23-26, 2016: Unwinding in Vientiane

After a busy, intensive, exhausting, yet absolutely thrilling few weeks in Laos, the four of us arrived in Vientiane pooped out of our minds. Spent our few days there doing very minimal sight-seeing (after all, there really isn’t that much to see) and recovering, which was extra-necessary after the absurd night-bus we took from ThakhekDetails below!

Miles walked:                10
Miles transported:      ~600

Night Bus from Thakhek to Vientiane

We booked the slightly more expensive “tourist” night-bus (and when I say more expensive, I mean like, $5 more expensive…) because we wanted to spoil ourselves after three days of sitting on a scooter. A few hours before our bus was supposed to leave, our hotel told us that our bus would be leaving in 20 minutes and that we needed to rush to the bus station. We thought this was weird, but after all, this is Asia, so we made our way over and got on the bus nonetheless. We knew something was off as soon as we boarded. Normally, when you book a “tourist” bus in a fairly heavily toured developing Southeast Asian country, the bus is pretty nice and the clientele is a mix of locals and tourists. Not only was there nothing nice about this bus, it was packed full of locals only (which we don’t have a problem with at all, it just in all likelihood means that this isn’t a “tourist” bus) and there weren’t even any open beds. The bus driver went to the back of the bus, woke two people up, who were each sleeping on a single bed, and told them to go join two other people, leaving us to cuddle on these 2 bunks that barely even fit one of us. Now, it’s not that either of us have problems rocking it like the locals – on the contrary, this is what we usually opt for and love! – but we paid those $5 extra buckaroos and were CLEARLY ripped off, which is what we weren’t so stoked about. Nonetheless, we made the best of it and settled in for the night:

Vientiane, night-bus - 1

Vientiane, night-bus - 2

Yup, we fit two full-grown westerners on this bunk – Our Disney blankets of unknown cleanliness weren’t even big enough to cover our bodies! Good times.

Vientiane, night-bus - 3

Vientiane, night-bus - 4

Vientiane, night-bus - 5

Chilling in Vientiane

Arrived in Vientiane super early and sought out a place to stay. We found a decently priced hotel, but our rooms wouldn’t be ready for a few hours, so we chilled in the lobby. About 10 minutes in to sitting down, this happened:

Vientiane, city - 1

As I said, most of our time in Vientiane consisted of eating, sleeping, going on strolls, hanging out at coffee shops, and chillaxing. We DID manage to squeeze in one “productive” activity – we visited the COPE Visitor Center, a rehabilitation center dedicated to helping wounded survivors of UXO (unexploded ordnance) explosions. What many people don’t know (and frankly, neither did we) is that during the Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos, contributing to it claiming, regrettably of course, the title of “world’s most heavily bombed nation”. As about 30% of these bombs did not explode, Laos is riddled with UXOs, making much of its land highly contaminated and extremely dangerous to its people, especially children. Thousands of Lao citizens are injured or killed each year as a result (20,000 since the bombings stopped in 1973), and this rehabilitation center was established to not only help rehabilitate victims with prosthetics and treatment, but to establish awareness as well. The visitors center screens various documentaries discussing the UXO problem, as well as efforts by the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Program (UXO LAO) to clear the contaminated areas. The center also displays various artifacts that were created from shells of UXOs, collected from Lao villages:

Vientiane, city - 2

Vientiane, city - 3

Vientiane, city - 4

Vientiane, city - 5

Vientiane, city - 6

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Vientiane, city - 8

Vientiane, city - 9

After an educational and morose few hours, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city, checking out the random sites:

Vientiane, city - 10

Night Train from Vientiane to Bangkok

As our next destination was Myanmar, we looked in to flights there direct from Laos. Though that would have been the far more convenient and far less time-consuming option, it would also have been about 4 times more expensive than taking the train down to Bangkok and flying from there. You see, I may have mentioned this before, but Bangkok is the hub of Southeast Asia and if you look through ANY backpacker’s passport, you’re likely to see multiple in and out Thailand stamps as a result. In our case, we’ve got a whopping SIX! As we had a fabulous time taking the night-train up to Chiang Mai the month prior, we opted for the night-train again. There she is!

Night Train, Vientiane-DMK - 1

Samsonite is thrilled to be back on the night train!

Night Train, Vientiane-DMK - 2

This worked out better than expected as the train actually stopped right at DMK (Don Muang Airport), so we didn’t even need to waste time and money getting to the airport from the Bangkok train station. As a result, however, we had A LOT of time to kill at the airport… yup, we were those people:

Night Train, Vientiane-DMK - 3

Night Train, Vientiane-DMK - 4

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