Leaving Laos is a little bittersweet. The people here have been beyond kind and regrettably we aren’t going to be able to check out any of the Southern parts of the country, at least not this time around. We are feeling the crunch of time. With a flight to Myanmar a mere 2 months away we have much ground to cover; considering that it will be all overland, we make to move. Awaiting us is almost the entire length of the coast of Vietnam, the great temples of Cambodia, and back to Thailand to hop our first plane in some time.
We head to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos and also the countries largest hub at about 200,000 people. Many had warned us that this town had little to offer but we didn’t devote enough time to the city to really get a feel for it. What we did see however, didn’t seem that bad at all, but hard to say for sure.
Promptly after arriving we shopped around hard looking for a cheap room but were disappointed as the prices were, comparably, rather high. Settling on the cheapest of the bunch, we cut in front of a group of people waiting to ask about vacancy, and got the last room in the place. I felt bad about our breach in etiquette for a moment before deciding I had dedicated enough time to that; Scotty doesn’t suffer these feelings one bit and smiles as we settle in.
We walk around, procure some much needed new reading material, and eat some tasty soup near our hotel before calling it a night.The hotel attendant is none to happy at our return as he has already locked the front door and gone to sleep. We have to knock rather hard for him to hear us and he grumpily lets us in.
In the early morning hours we head down the stairs and encounter a scene much like the night before. The attendant is fast asleep and once again we need to be let through the locked door. We also need to pay for our accommodations. Scotty thinks we should just leave the currency on the table, unlock the door ourselves and be on our way. I don’t really like the idea of waking the attendant, again, but I like the idea of leaving a bundle of cash out in front of the slumbering man even less. Sorry buddy, but we wake the poor guy again. I doubt he was sad to see us go.
Out on the road we try to catch a ride but the taxi mafia is in full effect. Checking with several different drivers, they all want way too much, so we just start walking. Knowing full-well we cannot feasibly walk to the bus station, we trudge on hoping we haven’t shot ourselves in the foot and will make our bus in time. Eventually a man, also asking for way too much money, settles for the FAIR fare after Scotty negotiates. Zooming along, we pull into the bus station as our bus is pulling out. Our driver yells out and the bus attendant gets the driver to slow down just enough for us to hop on, Lak Xao bound (a small town before the border crossing check point into Vietnam).
The bus to the border had a posted price but our price negotiations continue when we reach Lak Xao. The station is set in a dirt parking lot with a small, rickety wooden building acting as the ticket station. We let the attendant know we are headed to Vinh, Vietnam, a transportation hub about 80 kilometers in from the border. He writes up a little slip and says $20 US a piece. We just laughed. Eventually, after some discussion, we decide to ride just to the border (for $2 a piece) and figure it out from there, hitchhiking if necessary.
Loading into the cramped minivan, Scotty is an instant celebrity once aboard. Somehow his $5 sun glasses from Thailand are the coolest thing anyone has ever seen and his body hair is the subject of much petting and staring.
Once at the border, it is quiet and we finish up paper work pretty quickly. As we emerge on the other side we see that our minivan driver is waiting for us, urging us to get in. Again he wants $20 a piece, again we laugh, but a negotiation ensues and he eventually settles on $10– for BOTH of us! Yeah, now that is what I am talking about. Travelers warn that this border crossing is particularly notorious for sticking the screws to people (i.e. overcharging, stopping the vehicle and demanding more money before continuing, etc.), so we feel pretty satisfied with our rate and exchange.
We bump along, stopping for our first bowl of Phở soup (delicious!), until we reach a busy intersection and our driver ushers us out of the minivan and into a crowded city bus, presumably Vinh bound. We ask a few other passengers and they seem to confirm that Vinh does indeed lay ahead. It is isn’t long before the attendant is ushering us out of the bus and onto a crowded city street.
Directionless, we start walking. A nice man on his way to work helps us find an ATM (essential when entering a new country) and points us to the low-budget hotel options. We find a place to drop our bags and explore a bit. Looking for food, we find numerous karaoke joints, bakeries, and eventually some grub (where the lady cook takes us into the open kitchen, pointing to various pots of unidentifiable food stuffs from which we pick to ingest). My brown globulus stuff turns out to be quite good.
Somehow exhausted from sitting in transport all day, we hit the hay with more travel ahead of us tomorrow. On to Hanoi.