Monday April 13 continued:
Amid goodbye waves from the
school kids we boarded the bus and continued our trip to Vientiane with
one "happy room" stop. We had a special treat at the stop: a dish of ice
cream topped with coconut, mango, and peanuts with sticky rice cooked with
pandan and sugar at the bottom. Along the way we ran into road construction
and had an interesting look at local roadmaking.
Vientiane is the capital and
largest city of Laos, on the banks of the Mekong River. We were here mainly
to catch a flight to Hanoi the next day so we had limited opportunity to
take in many sights. We were hampered even further due to most of the buildings
of interest were closed for New Year celebrations. We decided to pass on
the temples as we were sort of "templed out." In fact, our days had been
so crammed with activities that it felt good to relax a bit and not stray
too far from the hotel.
Our room was at the Avalon Hotel
-- a small boutique style hotel. The rooms had no numbers. Instead, they
had flower names. We were in 4th floor Jasmin :-) A very simple room:
queen bed, a/c, Wi/Fi, ensuite bathroom, small fridge, and TV. There was
no security deposit box, but they had lockers in the back of the office
where we stored our computers when we were away from the room. This security
arrangement was the same as that in Vang Vieng, the last guest house.
We arrived around 1 pm and found
it much hotter here because we had come down off the cooler mountain.
Mr. Thong, our Laos guide left us at this point. It's forbidden to have
Thai guides in Laos, so we had both Mr. Thong and Beam. He wasn't as good
as Beam, but he was interesting. He had spent six years as a monk at a
temple in Vientiane to further his education after secondary school. That
was the only way he could continue to study as his parents were farmers
and couldn't afford to send him to school. He said he learned English grammar
at school but the spoken language was picked up from tourists. We said
Good Bye to Mr. Thong as we were to fly out of Laos the next morning.
Beam led our gang on a walk around
the main streets. On our way back we stopped for lunch across from city
hall where we dined with Roy and Ronnie. An attraction offered by the restaurant
was a giant burger for which there would be no charge for anyone who could
eat it all. Our photo of city hall included a passing government motorcade.
A lady using a long pole to snip Golden Shower flowers from a tall tree
caught our attention. She gathered them in a basket to sell to passerbys
on the street. There seems to be no end of wares that street vendors sell
from their carts.
We hadn't seen many music stores
during our tour, so far. Bill was excited to finally find one but we were
disapponted to find that it was closed for the holiday. His disappointment
was assuaged, however when the adjacent Black Canyon Coffee shop tempted
us with mango gelato. We were so impressed that we returned a few hours
later with Beam and the group for our evening meal: grilled chicken, sticky
rice, and Sue-On finally got a plate of gai lan.
Tuesday's breakfast was served
in the hotel lobby. Orders were placed through a window with a man sitting
in an alley space between the hotel and the kitchen housed behind him in
a separate building. Sue-On was checking this out when Beam called everyone
to board the bus which took us to catch our plane to Hanoi.
We passed many of the city's
attractions but the movement of the bus resulted in numerous blurred unuseable
While planning this SE Asian
adventure we were a tad apprehensive about the quality and safety of the
airlines and airports. We needn't have worried. The airports were new,
clean and efficient. The aircraft were modern jetliners. Vientiane's Wattay
International Airport was large and comfortable with many services and
displays to appeal to the traveller: Dairy Queen, wildlife preservation
displays, Asian medicines, including huge bottles of Ginseng, restaurants,
money exchange, etc.
Vietnam, which was an hour away
by air, promised to be quite different from Laos in terms of population,
traffic, scenery, and purse safety. Beam had been warning us about keeping
our valuables in the safety deposit boxes in our rooms and to be beware
of pick pockets and purse snatchers. We were in good hands, however, as
Beam plus four Vietnamese guides who appeared at various locations made
sure that everything ran smoothly.