The long way to Laos

Trip Start Dec 25, 2011
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Trip End May 10, 2013


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Vientiane,
Thursday, February 14, 2013

The night train was supposed to leave Ayutthaya at 9.30pm. By 10.30pm it still hadn't arrived!! It was coming from Bangkok, so 90 minutes into its journey and already over an hour late. Good start!! (And an uncomfortably long 4 hour wait on a wooden bench!)

Knowing which train to get and on which platform was slightly confusing. To get to the other platforms, none of this bridge nonsense - you just walked across the rails!! No announcements and no signs were in English. However there seemed to be a guy whose job it was to round up all the white people onto whichever train they were getting and where the numbered carriage would stop. That was very helpful!

Thai trains have a total inability to run on time. So obviously we arrived into Nong Khai 3 hours late at 11.30am. This meant I had already long missed the connecting train to Laos.

Instead, I caught a shared tuk tuk to the border (only 5 minutes away), 5 people plus luggage in a tiny tuk tuk, I thought 2 people was going to be a struggle!! After being stamped out of Thailand, a short 10 minute bus ride over the Friendship Bridge crossing over the Mekong river - the flags turned from Thai into Laotian half way over! Then to get a Laos visa. Just a one page form, $35 and was give a huge 1 page sticker in my passport - eeek, running out of space fast!

I didn't originally plan on visiting Laos, reasoning that I just don't have time to do it properly. However, after a friend posted some beautiful photos back in December, my arm was quickly twisted, I cut a few days from some other countries (mostly Vietnam, which I'm now only visiting half of!) and made some time. So here I am!

Country number 17: Laos

After the border formalities were over, I caught another tuktuk towards the capital, Vientiane.

Towards the end of the 19th century the French settled in Vientiane and made the city a hub of Indochina. Today, Vientiane is the capital of Laos, but the evidence of French rule still exists in the form of fresh bakeries, road names and some of the architecture. I didn't want to spend particularly long here as there's not too much to do. But I've already been travelling too much in the past day to think about going anywhere further today.

Well, while I'm here, I may as well visit a few temples! Not too far away down the road was Wat Si Saket. The large courtyard was lined with hundreds of robed Buddha statues - I love them! But what I noticed after a while, were the thousands of mini Buddha statues sitting in small cubby-holes built into the walls! Amazing. The temple was so quiet - total contrast to those in Thailand. And it was really pretty. One of my favourites so far.

Just across the road was Wat Pha Kaew. This large building housed a museum of Buddha statues. But more impressive was the stonework on the outer edges of the temple - intricately carved with flowers, people and dragons. There were some monks wandering around too. Very photogenic. And again, very quiet.

For lunch, I had a French (or Lao I guess!) baguette. It was huge!! Breakfast, lunch and dinner in one meal. Was so tasty though, I hope that's a sign of things to come here!

I wandered along to the river front. Vientiane is built on the banks of the Mekong river, which was looking a bit sad today - bearly more than a trickle in the distance!

It's a really small city, the small roads are lined with little shophouses, temples and monasteries are interdispursed throughout - its really nice.

In the evening I went back down to the waterfront, to the night market. Red tents lined the street like lit-up gems. A range of different things were for sale - food, clothes and paintings. Some stalls were geared towards tourists, but the vast majority of people there were locals! I only saw 4 other white people! Some of the food for sale was interesting - battered chicken feet and skewered sticks of (I guess some kind of meat) shaped and coloured like angry birds characters! I tried some dessert balls - one solid pastry style covered in sesame seeds with a yellow bean filling. The other was green goo with a coconut filling. Both really tasty!


Friday 15 February 2013

Pha That Luang is the most important national monument in Laos, with its image appearing on many different things, including the entry visa. It's located a fair way out of town - about 4km north of the riverfront. I caught a tuk tuk to get there, weaving our way through the many cars and motorbikes.

The stupa is 45m high, but really the whole thing is quite small. The monument is totally gold and looks a bit like a lotus flower. It was fairly quiet there - doesn't seem to be the huge hoards like in Thailand here. I liked it, was really pretty. The area surrounding the monument was a large open space, smaller temples were dotted around the edge with golden Buddhas hidden under trees.

The only other real sight in the city is the Patuxai. Officially called the Victory Monument, this structure sits in the middle of a large roundabout, almost like an Asian Arc de Triomphe! It's quite ornate but really doesn't take up any more than about 5 minutes of time to see!

There's really not a lot to do here, so I spent the rest of the day moving between various different cafes.

You would have thought I had enough of overnight travel by now, but here I find myself again boarding yet another night bus!
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