The next stop after Vang Vieng was the capital of Laos Vientiane, it became the capital under the French colonial period and is the oddest capital city we’ve ever been to. There is nothing there!
We were basically there to get our visas for Thailand- it was cheaper for me to get a month visa (I only get 2 weeks at a land crossing with an Irish passport- Gav gets a month) rather than us both flying in. We then decided why not both get a 2 month visa- its 1000 baht ($28/£17.90) each that would allow us more time. So we arrived in Vientiane- went looking for a hotel, eventually found one, the Mixay Paradise Guesthouse. Cheapish room (shared bathroom), with breakfast and very clean but the signs! There were signs everywhere, it was like some had just discovered the blissful joy of laminating and went mental. This is a selection of some of the ones on our floor- not all, the cleaner was around when I was taking them so couldn’t get them all. You should have seen how many were downstairs! They were mostly about not bringing in prostitutes. That said we did get free bread and tea and coffee between 10am and 5pm.
Anyway, the following day we went to the Thai Consulate to put in our visa applications. It was about a 2 km walk and when we arrived the gates were closed as it was a Thai holiday. Arrggh! It had been closed on Thursday also, so just as well we stayed in Vang Vieng that extra day. We hadn’t seen any mention of it on the Vientiane Thai Consulate website and it was only when we got back to the hotel that we discovered it was actually listed on the neighbouring Savannakhet’s Thai Consulate website-which was very annoying. It also meant that rather than leaving on Monday we were now having to stay an extra day in Vientiane. Fine in any other city but here there is not much to see, especially since the Brewery is currently closed for renovation and that was going to be one of the days out there (along with a trip to Buddha Park).
Anyway other than seeing the two main landmarks, visit COPE (a centre for amputees and physical disabilities), some delicious Vietnamese food- we found one that did bun thit nuong (see our HCMC post). Yum! We miss Vietnamese food.
We did eventually get our visas though- it did take up two half days between submitting and collecting.
So after a few days of not very much happening we got the overnight bus to as far south as we could go, a place called 4000 islands located in the Mekong next to the Cambodian and Thai borders. The buses here were proper flat sleepers so we would be together (no random men appearing beside me like in Vietnam). I’d asked for a bunk in the middle and the woman assured me that we would get one. She didn’t write it on our ticket though and when I queried it she assured me she was going to sort it. Ok. Hmm.
As we waited for our pick up in the hotel reception after we got our visas, we got talking to an Australian lady- long story short, the woman could talk continuously without even breathing- I have never been out talked by anyone but she was insane. Gav thought it was hilarious! Anyway, when it was time to leave (our pick up was at 6 pm, bus was due to leave at 8.30 pm), we managed to slip away and into our tuk tuk, what followed was 40 mins driving around Vientiane picking folk up followed by 15 mins waiting outside a shop – the driver grabbed an ice-cream and sat eating it while we all sat in the back wondering what was happening. Turns out he was waiting for a guy to give him something and we had to sit there with the engine running while he waited for this guy.
Then we were off to the bus station! On arrival our driver disappeared to get our tickets and on arriving back indiscriminately handed them out (I started to worry at this point, we got numbers 43 and 44) and we were on our way to the bus. There were about 20 buses, or more, there all going to Pakse. Ours was at the very back, past the main rack of nice modern buses, ok looking buses and then ours. It was ok, not great. Gav went to sort out the bags and I went to find our bunk for the night.
I ended up taking a nytol about 11.30 pm and slept like a log until we arrived in Pakse- poor Gav didn’t sleep much as he was afraid if the bus braked too hard he was going to fly out of the access hole at the bottom of the bunk. On arrival into Pakse at 7.30 am, we were picked up by tuk tuk and brought to the office where we had to wait for 30 minutes before our bus transfer to the dock for 4000 islands. One of the guys on our tuk tuk had forgotten his phone on the bus- by some miracle he did manage to get it back (though it did involve a tuk tuk to the drivers house and no guarantee he would get it). I was still half asleep- the lingering effects of the Nytol which only really start to dissipate once I managed to get a hideously sugary fruit smoothie (I asked for no sugar, oh well did the trick), A short while later were were on the bus- Gav had been entrusted with out and speeding out of Pakse, a short time later, well 2 hours or so, we arrived in Nakasong and had a short walk to the pier to get the boat to the island of Don Det. There are three islands to stay in 4000 islands: Don Det, Don Khon and the big island Don Khong- not sure why we picked Don Det as it’s allegedly the party island-evidence in the drug shakes and happy pizzas, but not in the people as there was no one there and those that were were in the quiet end near us! Most people go there to chill out. We had two days so it was more of a flying visit.
Our first day on the island we decided to walk the entire circumference of the island. It was a tiny place so it was about a 5 km walk it took around an hour and a half or so, the roads were narrow dirt tracks, barely wide enough for a moped to pass.
Just as we were on our way back, the clouds started to darken and not long after it started to rain very heavily with thunder and lightening. We had our coats and a brolly with us- probably not the best idea given the conditions and at one point our bones were shook by a mighty clap right above us! Scary stuff. Anyway 10 minutes later we were back at the hotel.
The following day we decided to rent some bikes to see the adjoining island of Koh Khon- we managed to get the two most clapped out looking bikes on the island and what followed was many hours on muddy bumpy roads with Gav’s chain coming off every 10 mins for the last 90 mins. Scenery was great though and seeing the force of nature that is the Mekong was well worth the trip.
After that we headed to the right side of the island- from our maps.me map there looked to be a road…
After a quick drink we were back on the road across the island to the largest waterfall, Li Phi waterfalls (Tat Somphamit). Its also rather aptly known as Devil’s corridor.
The following morning we were off to Pakse! A flying visit to 4000 islands.
So a slightly longer drive back via Champasak- dropping off some miserable girls, picking up some jolly (if a tad overexcited) Frenchmen. On arrival in Pakse we rocked up and went looking for a place to stay, there was a place recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides and was on Maps.me but not on Trip Advisor strangely called Kaesme Guest House. Anyway we got the cheapest room there, a twin en-suite at 50,000 kip ($6/£3.90)! What a bargain! It was totally basic with one super soft bed and one super hard bed. The following morning we moved to another room.
The main thing to do from Pakse is a 3 day (or more) tour of the Bolaven Plateau, Unfortunately we didn’t really have the time left, we had 3 days left in Laos before our visa ran out and we wanted to see Champasak and had booked a course so only had one free day. Maybe next time!
We rented a moped from Miss Noy (55,000 kip a day, $6.80/£4.30, it was a small discount from 60,000 kip day hire as we had it for 3 days). Our first full day there we went on a quick half day trip to Champasak and the Khmer style hindu temple Vat Phu. Vat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and hyped as the Laos Angkor Wat. I was itching to see more Angkor temples since we were not going to be able to see Preah Vihear from the Thai side due to the border being closed this was going to be our last one for a while. The road there was pretty boring but in good condition-basically new which is unusual for Laos. The plateau next to it had a few waterfalls flowing off it, which was pretty cool but not much else going on.
Vat Phu is all that remains of an ancient city that once dominated the area before it was superseded as a political centre when the capital was moved south to Angkor. Vat Phu remained as an important religious centre as the mountain behind it, Phu Kao, was identified as a natural linga associated with Shiva and the natural spring there flowing from the mountain through the rock was thought to be sacred.
Despite the pictures above and the rather impressive views, I found this place very saddening. It looked like it was once an amazing place and you could feel that there but it has been let go to rot and ruin and in places was badly vandalised. Also the site had a group of ladies cackling loudly and selling overpriced drinks (4 times the price for a bottle of water). There seemed to be no respect for it whatsoever. It was quite sad. Since it is the only example of it’s kind in the world it’s a shame to see it in such a state.
On our way back we got a puncture….literally 3 minutes from a puncture repair place. I got off and Gav drove on to it while I followed on foot. While I was walking a Laotian guy drove past slowly and was about to offer help but then spotted Gav and smiled and drove off. Once we were patched up we went off to grab a rather expensive coffee but got this view in return:
Then it was back to Pakse. The following day we had planned to go see some of the many waterfalls close to Pakse on the Bolaven Plateau. So we headed off on the bike and were about 20 minutes from town when the rain started and the visability reduced dramatically. We decided the safest option was to head back to Pakse as it got steadily worse. So unfortunately that day was a washout.
Our last full day in Laos we had booked a coffee workshop with Mr Koffie in the Tad Fane resort near Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau. It was a 40 minute drive out and once again it started to rain (the joys of August and rainy season). We found the turn off and drove up the bumpy road to the resort, arriving into a semi-circle of shops and a ticket booth. It seemed a bit odd that we had to pay for entry even though we were doing a workshop but it was only a small amount of 13,000 kip ($1.60/£1.00)(5,000 each and 3,000 for the bike). So we found Mr Koffie, a dutch guy who was an interesting character. We started with a coffee, then another coffee- as it was still raining.
Once the rain stopped he took us for a tour…
Then back to the bar for more coffee..
At this stage we had a small lunch (we don’t normally have lunch and the prices were a bit steep) and had had far too much coffee and so it was time for a little bit of work, first we had a demo and then we were let loose with a hot wok and some beans.
For some reason it hadn’t occurred to us that when you do a coffee workshop you might end up with this:
So we had our beans and it was then time to leave and head back to Pakse. It rained the whole way back.
The following day we would leave for Thailand, Laos was amazing and we will be back…..