After recovering from my hangover after our night out in Nong Khai, Thailand, I woke up in Laos refreshed and with a spring in my step. I was excited to be in a new country which I had never visited before – a country which had always been on my bucket list. I even made the hotel breakfast for the first time in the past two weeks.
If there is one phrase I always like to learn in a foreign country and express in their language it is “Thank You”. The waiter who served me breakfast and other locals who I did business with for the first couple of days did regard me strangely when I said “Gob Shai” which I thought meant thank you. The proper phrase and pronunciation is “Khawp Jai” but I just couldn’t get my tongue around it. Throughout the day, I think I said Gob Shai, Shai Gob, Kip Kop, Bok Jai, Jai Bok, Bok Shey…..For some reason, it took me at least two days to get the hang of the phrase.
I had spent most of the previous day after arriving in Laos recovering from the afore-mentioned hangover so it was time to take my first walk through the city. My first impression was that it was hard to believe this was the capital city of Laos. It was so laid back, it was just like a riverside village really. I took a stroll down to the riverside area and was not hassled by a singe person. Nobody came up to me and asked me to buy any product or service – a welcome change from the high hassle factors of Vietnam, Cambodia and (less so) in Thailand. I mean this place was seriously chilled out. Only a few cars were on the road this morning and for the first time in 8 weeks it was actually easy to cross the road without risking serious injury or even death……well maybe without risking a feeling of panic at least.
After walking around the city for a couple of hours I returned to the hotel for a while before meeting the others and enjoying my first taste of BeerLao, which is one of the nicest beers I have tasted so far in South East Asia. I had heard that the Lao people are proud of their beer and I could understand why after my first few refreshing sips.
Based on a recommendation, we decided to go bowling that evening at the Lao Bowling Centre which was definitely a bit of an experience. We arrived (trying to avoid a disturbing women who was screaming hysterically in the street on the way there) at this very dark, dilapidated looking building with an unlit model of a bowling pin on the roof and entered an almost deserted bowling alley that probably hadn’t been renovated since the 1980’s or earlier, however, this place did have a proper old-school character. We paid our fee for the game and then proceeded to play. No shoes were provided which resulted in some pretty hilarious falls and our 80’s style computer / lane broke down about 4 times. I started my game with a strike which prompted me to proudly exclaim to everyone that I was “a shark at bowling” which dramatically backfired on me as my game went seriously downhill from there and I came second from last out of the group of 6, only beating the girl who was there who was having trouble throwing the balls with her longer nails. In my defence, it was the first time I had been bowling in at least 5 years as it costs an arm and a leg for a game back home. The place also had no air conditioning so I was sweating profusely by the time the game ended but all in all it was a fun(ny) experience. There was also a funny dispute about who won the game due to the dated computer scoring system.
Later on, we had a great night out – the last night out with this group. As I mentioned, we had recently met a new couple and they were both sound and a good laugh. The guy had recently been in a Tuk Tuk accident and hurt his back, another example of how nuts the road is over here. I recognised the girl but couldn’t put my finger on it and later realised that she used to work in my local pub back home. Here are the photos from yet another big night out. It is not lost on me that my last couple of posts are portraying me as having some form of drinking problem, however……well……ummm…….but…..What were we talking about again?……….No but my calming down period after the festive season is coming. I am starting to see the sober light at the end of the booze filled tunnel.
Next morning, I said my goodbyes to the group I had been with and made my way to a new hotel – back to being a solo traveller. I must admit it was initially quite a lonely feeling leaving them and waking to my new hotel alone after travelling with a group for just over 2 weeks but the pity party didn’t last too long as I was really enjoying solo travel before I met them so I am sure I will quickly adjust back into it. The other couple we had recently met were also on their way up to Vang Vieng where I was headed so I was hoping to meet them for a beer or two up there but I was staying in Vientiane a little longer though as I had already booked some accommodation.
There isn’t much else to do in Vientiane apart from a) sightseeing and visit some temples or b) relaxing. After recently embarking on a 1.5 day tour of the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia, possibly one of the greatest temple complexes in the world, and also as I was feeling somewhat worn out from the excesses of the past two weeks, I chose option b) and just relaxed without a single alcoholic drink trying to recover physically and mentally which included a lot of sleeping. To assist with this process of recovery, I felt like a nice relaxing massage so I went to a well reviewed massage parlour and opted for the “Laos Traditional Massage” where I was essentially given a proper beating for an hour but I did feel great afterwards.
That evening, I enjoyed a night walk around the city and it was such a relaxed, pleasant vibe in the evening compared to some other chaotic cities I had explored in South East Asia. I visited a night market, ate some nice cheap local food, and saw a large group of people dancing away on the riverside promenade which must be how they exercise Lao style.
Next morning, it was time to head north on a 4 hour bus journey for Vang Vieng – I had heard some pretty incredible and alarming stories about the history of this place. As far as I understood, it had previously developed into a major hedonistic party destination for backpackers who would come here to indulge in river tubing pub crawls, rope swings and death slides on the Nam River – many while seriously boozed or drugged up, which had tragically resulted in the deaths of many young backpackers in the 90’s and early 00’s from either drowning or hitting rocks in the rivers (average of 25 deaths a year at it’s worst point I read).
From what I had researched now, it was far more subdued and safer then it was back then due to a major clamp down by local authorities – closure of several bars and introduction of stringent safety regulations regarding the tubing, and banning the swings and slides. I was looking forward to going there as now instead of a party town, it is supposed to be a very scenic base for outdoor adventures and activities so my aim is to enjoy some rock climbing, kayaking or the (“now safe”) tubing, see a cave or two, zip lining, trekking amongst the karsts etc. I have, however, heard that a lurking ghost of its former party scene does still exist there so I will have to see if I get sucked into that again. I am not sure if my body can take much more indulgence after the festive season……….my next blog post will reveal the outcome. Also, I am staying in a place called the “Army Barracks” so that could be interesting.
The bus journey itself was the most terrifying so far in my South East Asia trip and that is saying something. As we departed Vientiane, the driver basically put his pedal flat to the floor and nothing would incline him to remove it or press the brakes until we arrived at our destination including cars or lorries on blind corners, humps in the road, sharp bends which pushed the van to the limits of it’s centre of gravity, speeding round corners with sheers drops on both sides, cows in the road which he felt required swerving around instead of slowing down and letting them pass etc. I mean I know this is South East Asia and that is just the way things are here so I am supposed to just accept this reckless insanity but I was really beginning to wonder if I really was risking my life on these bus journeys.
Anyway, we got there in one piece and I took my bag and made my way to the Army Barracks Guest House…….
Next post: Time in Vang Vieng.