A few days later, everyone cool left Vang Vieng. Like I said, there are always people coming in, but you sort of get attached to a certain crew, and once they’re gone, it’s time to move on. We (Tal and I) booked a bus through one of the multiple agencies in the city, at 35,000 kip it was the best deal in time. It was supposed to be a 4 hour ride, and our minivan was set to leave at 9AM, and to pick us up in front of Easygo.
Well, the bus wasn’t there by 9:04, so I called to the place we bought the tickets from. “Bus coming now,” said the harried sounding clerk. As long as we weren’t left behind, it didn’t really matter, but I’ve heard too many stories about buses leaving without passengers. As you may have read, I’m always worrying about this happening to me. Anyhow, the van came, and strapped all our stuff to the roof under a tarp (sigh). My iPod died, so we listened to Balkan Beat Box on Tal’s iPhone for a couple hours.
We rolled into Vientiane about 1:30PM, and rolled out to look for a hostel. Oddly, but conveniently, the minivan just left us in the middle of a parking lot in the center of town, not at the bus station. We tried to find a likely hostel on the pilfered cafe internet, but it was a no-go, so started walking down the road and figured we’d find something likely.
In this way, we stumbled onto the Vientiane Backpacker’s Hostel, a grody little dive with mostly rude attendants, free breakfast, passable WIFI and cavernous air-conditioned rooms. The place looked like a run-down asylum, or a Cambodian orphanage with air-conditioning. Later that afternoon, we stumbled upon the Crazy Monkey Hostel, or something similar to that, which looked like where better informed backpackers go.
As usual, the first thing we decided to do was to look for the local market. We got a map from the front desk, and a friendly man had just clocked in and helpfully circled where the market was, stating that it would take about 30 minutes. We started out and seemed to be making good time. Then we got to no man’s land–far enough out of the center for the signs to no longer be in both English and Lao–and couldn’t figure out what to do. Where the market should be, there was nothing. The map was written in English, so no one could read it and help us, and when I asked for the “dalat Lao” people pointed us in all kinds of different directions.
As we traipsed along, people unashamedly laughed at us from what felt like all sides. I’m not sure if it was because we were hot and bothered, or if they really thought we were funny-looking for some reason (maybe an odd pair? a petite, curly-headed Israeli and a giant fluffy-headed chick with cheek piercings?) but we were less than psyched. Finally, a group of old people called us over and directed us to the market. Thank God.
Outside the market, there were hoards of fruit sellers, so I stocked up on mangosteens and dragonfruit. Not bad prices, but then I had to lug kilos of fruit around the inside market. It was filled with produce and meat sellers, but also with a section entirely devoted to clothes. Poor Tal never haggles, and accepts first prices regularly. Apparently things are much more expensive in Israel, so everything in Laos sounds like a deal. Then we had to trudge home under our purchases.
Upon reaching our hostel, we were ready for a shower. Vientiane is just like a small Vietnamese city, but without motorbikes. There are so many cars, it’s really surprising. How can poor Laos afford cars more readily than comparatively well-off Vietnam? We went out to look for dinner, and to see the night market afterwards.
The Night Market is enormous, and it’s all clothes, with scattered stalls for makeup and electronics. It’s a ton of fun, and pretty much the only thing to do at night. You can haggle slight price decreases, but not much. Laos are not into bargaining. Someone explained to me that Laos thought they were setting fair prices, and didn’t like having to accept less. Laos is poorer than Thailand, yet the prices are higher. That’s what I don’t understand.
The food is also very expensive. We covered a 6 block area and couldn’t find decent prices. We ended up having 15,000 kip noodle soup on the street, which was good, and came with cubes of congealed blood. Have I talked about that? Congealed blood is a thing in Asia. It’s not bad, much better than liver, and doesn’t taste like blood. I’m not sure how it’s made, but it looks horrifying in the market. I try not to think about it, ‘cuz I need the iron.
In the hostel, there weren’t many friendly faces. Everyone was caught up in their own business. I’d been using the greatly improved WIFI to torrent like crazy. We decided to stay one more day, to see what we could see, and then leave the next.
We ended up seeing nothing. The river is far off across a sweltering marsh, it’s hot and cloudy, and full of crumbling and decrepit buildings. Everyone wants money, no one has sticky rice. There are plenty of temples, if temples are your thing, but they’re all just local wats, and the monks don’t want you to take pictures of them. Tal left for Chiang Mai, and I set out for Pakse the following day.
Maybe I did Vientiane wrong, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and would warn people it’s a waste of time. I also picked up a tagalong in this way, by encouraging her to keep going, and telling her where I was going. Not my best move.