Day 21 (5 Jan 2010): KM 2552 [Luang Prabang – Vientiane]

For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.

Weather: Fine

Distance covered today: 389km
Distance traveled from Guangzhou: 2,612km
Distance remaining to Singapore: 2,492km

Fact of the day: Vientiane is the French transliteration of “Wiang Chan” which means City of Sandalwood.

Back on the road after one rest day in Luang Prabang (KM 2223). The guy at my guesthouse offered me a ride to the Southern bus station on his motorcycle which ran out of gas before setting off. No problem, he promised. He said that he would take his friend’s motorcycle first to buy some gas at the gas station.

No gas stations were open at 7.00am in the morning and I got on his friend’s motorcycle instead. The winds were rather cold as he pillion-ed me to the bus station. He tried to get me to pay more since he had to borrow his friend’s motorcycle; I reminded him that it wasn’t my mistake and gave him the agreed 10,000 LAK.

I queued up at the counter and exchanged my receipt for the bus ticket. I had bought the bus ticket the previous day at a travel agency in town. There were two types of buses available; I got the slightly more expensive ticket (VIP) at 125,000 LAK. The cheaper bus was an hour slower and cost around 10,000 LAK less.

My VIP bus

There were two departures for the VIP buses to Vientiane; one at 8am and the next one at 9am. I took the earlier one and the whole journey would take around 8 hours.

Mounting a bicycle on the roof

Each passenger was given a snack and a bottled water soon after the bus moved out of the terminal. Not the Turkish bus’ kind of service but I still appreciated the freebies. The passengers were mainly tourists (>70%) and I didn’t expect the drama experienced on the road between Sapa and Luang Prabang.

Excellent scenery - taken during pee break

We stopped at Kasi village for lunch at around 1pm. Lunch was included in the ticket; it wasn’t really fantastic but I ain’t complaining. It was rice with some vegetables. I noticed that most of the Caucasians tourists gave lunch a miss.

Opposite where we ate was a Chinese restaurant. There was a car with Chinese car-plate parked at the house behind our rest-stop.

Chinese restaurant

All the way from Sichuan

All the way from Sichuan

With so many Chinese flooding in to Laos, I couldn’t help but feel that China is colonizing Laos economically.

The journey was uneventful; some tourists alighted at Vang Vieng (KM 2456), an important stop on the pancake trail. Apparently most tourists came here to do tubing and watch Friends at the cafes every night. Not really my type of place.

Somewhere between Vang Vieng and Vientiane, I reached point KM 2552, the exact halfway mark of my overland journey. No special thoughts though. I knew that traveling on the second half would be much easier compared to the first.

The bus arrived at Vientiane’s (KM 2612) Northern bus station at 6pm. My bag was in the cargo compartment and I had to wait for a long time before mine was pulled out. I was dying to get to the toilet by then and by the time I came out from the washroom, the songthaew for the city center had left. I had to ask around but the other drivers wanted 50,000 LAK for chartering the entire vehicle. In the end, I waited and got onto the shared one for 10,000 LAK.

Vientiane definitely felt busier than Luang Prabang. The songthaew dropped me in the area where most of the guesthouses were located. As I had no prior booking I went around the area looking for a bed/room.

To my surprise, ALL the rooms in ALL budget guesthouses were taken. Most of them had put up the ‘FULL’ sign at their gates. I was seriously considering the possibility of spending S$50 a night for accommodation before I was approached by a tuk tuk driver.

He asked me where I was heading and I told him that I wanted to find a room. He could find me one in the area but the ride there would be 20,000 LAK. I bargained down to 10,000 LAK which he accepted. A five minute ride later brought me to Chindamay Guesthouse. I was shown a room; 65,000 LAK per night with attached bathroom.

I decided to take it for the night before deciding whether to move the next day. It turned out that I got the last room for the night. The guy at the reception asked me whether I am Chinese when he was taking down particulars in my passport. I said yeah and he started to speak Mandarin with me!

Once again his name escaped me but I could recall his Chinese surname is Song. He is half-Chinese with his mother’s ancestors being from Guangdong. He was glad to find someone to practice Mandarin with him and gave me some helpful suggestions on where to have dinner.

Dinner was noodles at a eating place round the corner from the guesthouse. After filling my stomach, I went to an internet cafe as my iPod couldn’t detect any unsecured WiFi signal. I would found out that my time in Bangkok would coincide with my friends’ holiday there. It was great news as I won’t be alone and I could crash their accommodation there.

I was charged 1,500 LAK (25 Singapore cents) for almost two hours of usage; it was clearly a mistake but no complaints for me. A trip to the supermarket to grab some food and snacks ensued before yet another early night. The following day would be my last full day in Laos. Stay tuned.

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