Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Farewell to Laos

Overnight buses, as you may have noticed, are not my favourite way to travel. However, they have two main advantages: firstly, they prevent any loss of previous time in a new place, and secondly, they save on the cost of a hostel room. As a result of these rather convincing arguments in their favour, as much as I want to reject them completely, instead spending a day admiring the views out of a bus window (or, when I'm really grumpy, checking out plane tickets...), they always win out.

The overnight bus from Phonsavan to Vientienne, the capital of Laos, was a prime example of why I dislike them. Cramped, with temperamental seats (Oh, you won't recline. Okay. I've decided to read instead? Oh right, you're going to suddenly collapse backwards. No worries...) and my own inability to sleep any way but fully horizontally, there was then our fellow passengers.

Case number 1 - local teenagers in front of me, drinking, throwing food at each other and trying out their mobile phone ring tones. Actually, that's not too different from buses back home, so let's move onto...

Case number 2 - local man wielding a huge gun over his shoulder. And playing with/stroking it constantly. Nice.

Case number 3 - the curse of the smelly food. People bringing hot meals for the trip, sending a waft of whatever was on sale at the station through the bus with no escape.

Anyway, after a long and odd journey, including the bus stopping at 3am so everyone could have some 'dinner', we made it to Vientienne and gratefully found our hostel, who (probably feeling sorry for us!) managed to whip up our room quickly ready to catch up on some much needed sleep (hummm, maybe I need to re-think the advantages of the overnight bus...). Amazingly, and without intention, our hostel was situated right next to some delicious French cafes, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing and soaking up some of the atmosphere of the Laos capital.

Lovely Pha That Luang, the most important national monument in Laos, and present on every postcard/magnet/keyring, was at the top of our list of sights, and arriving in early afternoon gave us the complex to ourselves. Although hot and sticky, the peace allowed us to explore the different details surrounding the impressive central stupa, including colourful and richly decorated smaller temples and stopping for a drink at a nearby food stall.

After refreshing ourselves with the 'Chlorophyll' flavoured beverage sold, and expecting to turn green at any moment, we pushed on, visiting the Laos 'Arc de Triomphe' (a rather unfair comparison) the Patuxai and other various small monuments lining the streets and parks. After a few heavy days of travel, it was nice to wind down and sit in cafes, people-watching and letting the world go by.

However, after a few days it was time to get going, back into Bangkok and towards the final part of our trip. We used the very simple but remarkably complex sounding train linking the two countries, which involved a tuk tuk ride, then onto a tiny train over the border via the 'Friendship Bridge', then a wait for the larger sleeper train which would carry us to the Thai capital once more. In reality, the whole thing was very smooth, and we were soon snuggled under blankets on our final overnight train ride.

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