Vientiane (part one)- 27th to 30th October

After crossing the border on foot, we arrived in our third Communist country, Laos! A quick bus over the Friendship Bridge, and a tuktuk into town and we were in the Lao capital, Vientiane. The word capital almost feels inappropriate here- even city feels strong, as it’s so laid back here, it is more like a small town, save for the inevitable Asian lunatic traffic!

Our first hotel was seconds away from the Nam Phou Fountain square, where live musicians performed evening.

Nam Phou fountain
The center of town is set at the edge of the Mekong river, so you are looking back over into Thailand as you walk along the front. All along the front there is an enormous market, selling pretty much everything you can think of. Every single stand is red, and it paints the whole front that colour. On the day we arrived, there were also enormous public exersise classes going on, with hundreds of people taking part, which was very entertaining to watch. Especially when you’re still sleep deprived and bewildered from the journey the night before!
The night market

The large part of the first two days was spent in the Kafkaesque nightmare of ferrying back and forth to the Thai Consulate to obtain our visas to return and explore the South of Thailand. However, the journey there gives you a view of the impressive Patuxai, a Lao copy of the Arc de Triumph, made slightly larger. This was built using concrete the Americans had donated for a airstrip (possibly out of guilt, the country was badly hurt by the Vietnam war, despite not officially being involved), and as a result, has the amusing nickname of ‘The Worlds Tallest Runway’. It’s still impressive the fifth time you go past!

Patuxai

Lao cuisine is also amazing! Their national dish is Laap, a mix of minced meat (traditionally eaten raw), sweet basil and mint that is delicious. Beerlao is great (‘Beer of the Wholehearted People‘ is a great slogan too). Laolao, a blindingly strong rice whisky is very popular, and does this;

Before
After. It tastes like burning.

The best restaurants in Vientiane appear to be the worst looking- on one street there are five consecutive cafes all cooking amazing food for around 10,000 kip (just shy of a quid), under a crudely fashioned covering made out of old canvas and beer adverts, with kitchens made from a gas bottle and some knocked together metal, serving barbecued meats, spring rolls, fresh coconut and fish caught 30 metres away in the Mekong. Not a bad meal between them.

Great restaurants- they look terrible!

And despite very strict laws prohibiting such recreations, we were offered opium, and the services of a transvestite. Which was kind of them.

Ayutthaya- 23rd-26th October… and the train of doom!

Firstly, sorry for the lack of updates.¬† To spoil the surprise, we’re now in Melbourne, and have been busy looking for gainful employment! Should speed up now we’re settling!

Ayutthaya was our next stop, a mere 7 hours on the bus down the road! We got there, and our hotel was… limited. We decided that sleep there would be impossible, so elected to move down the road to a nicer (and cheaper) establishment. This took us till midnight, and Ben got chased by a pack of feral dogs. Ben insists these were¬† tiger sized Rottweilers. Jenny is certain it was a pack of fluffy Shihtzus. The truth may never come out!

Regrettably, Ayutthaya was probably the first disappointment of the journey. Mainly concrete and traffic, with none of the charm of the prior few towns. I think that we both had a spot of temple fatigue after the charm of Chiang Mai, and the Indiana Jones scope and size of Sukhothai. As a result, we were much less snap happy- hence the lack of photos herein!

Due to the length of Thai visas, and that we wanted a change of scenery, we decided that our next stop would be a visa run to Laos. We booked onto the night train to the capital Vientiane, and readied ourselves for the 15 hour journey! As we had checked out of the hotel at midday, we had an 11 hour wait to even go to the station, so spent the day idling and eating- our favourite pastimes!

Waiting for the train at Ayutthaya. Chang beer model’s own.

Our sleeper cabin seemed okay on arrival, and we went to the restaurant car for a snack and a few beers, and met the real life Borat! He was from a small disputed territory of Georgia and Russia called Abkazia (which actually has quite an interesting history if you like that kind of thing). He showed us a picture of his alarmingly young wife, and offered to introduce us to a Triad arms dealer in Bangkok on our return to Thailand. Suitably intrigued, inebriated and terrified, we returned to our room, sadly to find that cockroaches had settled in. We slept as best we could (Ben, being quite tipsy slept very well…) and woke up to find ourselves by the Mekong river, the border of Thailand and Laos.

Our luxury room. And appropriate Hitchcock film…