Day 61 / Day 20 of ATID / Hanoi to Vientiane
It was a late start this morning owing to fact we had been out until late the previous night. Dave and I got packed, had time for another Bún chả lunch down the road from our hotel, and then we were off via bus to Hanoi’s airport, Nội Bài International Airport, in order to catch a flight to Laos!
We landed in Wattay International Airport which is just outside of Laos and then took private transport into Laos. Not a huge amount to say about the whole procedure, flight was on time and smooth. Oh, at Hanoi airport, though, weirdly a member of our group got asked to throw away a bottle of sunscreen (!) from their checking-in bag after it was scanned. Just her, nobody else (obviously we all have bottles and sprays in our luggage), and they didn’t notice her huge pressurised can of hairspray. Just sayin’, the whole security thing seemed a wee bit dodge.
We didn’t do much in the evening apart from take a walk down to the riverfront after checking into our Vientiane hotel (many stairs, no lift – a running theme in Laos according to our tour facilitator) via a night market. Whilst some of the group stayed and shopped there for a while before catching us up later, Dave and I and a couple of others headed to an Indian restaurant this evening at a place called Nazeem – my first Indian meal in (what felt like) ages!! And it was good, too – went to bed feeling very happy!
Day 62 / Day 21 of ATID / Vientiane to Vang Vieng
In the morning, we had all arranged to go to a local bicycle rental place and get some bikes to do a cycle ride around the main sites of Vientiane. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll be aware that I had conveniently avoided the cycle ride in China (due to a hacking cough) and the one in Vietnam (shaken up from scary abseiling). I will not lie – a part of me was secretly relieved each time. Because I hadn’t ridden a bike in eight or nine years and was terrified.
The tour facilitator kindly said that I could walk with the rest of the group to the bicycle rental place and have a go on the bikes, and if I felt too wobbly or unsafe, I could simply walk back. So off we went.
Now, I’m not gonna pretend – I felt extremely unsafe on the bike to begin with. I was terrified and gripping the handlebars and kept start-stopping. Both Dave, the kindly tour facilitator and one of the lovely girls in the group all in their own way told me to try to relax, and after a few goes, though still a little wobbly, I realised that which for several minutes I had been convinced was a LIE was true – you really don’t forget how to ride a bike!
I was still apprehensive but was again reassured by the tour facilitator who pointed out all the first ‘sights’ were still easy to get back to the rental place and then the hotel by walking, so could decide if I wanted to continue past them or not after maybe giving the first part of the cycle ride a go. I suspect that she realised that presenting the whole exercise to me in ‘stages’ was the best way to get me through and she was right! I did manage the entire cycling tour in the end, albeit with a good amount of stress because obviously we were on roads the whole time (and on the opposite side to the UK) with other vehicles, but luckily lived to tell the tale with no major disasters! I think this may be because the number of vehicles on the road in Laos are far fewer than the ones in Vietnam…
(I snapped at him a lot out of fear and stress and for this I apologise because Dave was a MASSIVE help to me on the cycle ride, always riding close and keeping an eye on me!! I am also grateful to the above-mentioned girl on the trip who assured me the bikes we had rented were particularly awful and difficult to balance on and that ideally I ought not to be ‘relearning’ on those and it was no wonder I felt unsafe…so thanks to her for that!)
We spent between fifteen minutes and forty five at each attraction (save for the last – keep reading) which worked well, never really felt we needed more time at any of them. Anywhere that needed entry fees, they were nominal.
The first was the Si Saket Temple, very peaceful to walk around. It was particularly more peaceful than other temples we had visited until now as Vientiane is a quieter, calmer city than a lot of capitals, and not as tourist-y as other places we’d been.
We went on to Patuxai, Vientiane’s very own Arc de Triomphe. This was quite impressive, both from ground level and for the views it offers should you go to the top (which Dave and I did).
It was quite a funny experience getting to the top – it’s via stairs and so you hit a few ‘levels’ on the way and every single one is filled chock-a-block with souvenier shop merchandise! (No, we were not enticed!)
The penultimate major stop was the Great Sacred Stupa, which is the most important national monument in Laos. The complex consists of different areas to explore, including a very colourful temple and the famous sleeping Buddha statue.
There is also an expansive space in front of the complex which I think is supposed to be a car park (that’s not in high demand) which we had great fun going crazy with our bikes around.
The last stop of the day was at the COPE centre, which I am very glad we visited. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise and as the name suggests, is dedicated to the rehabilitation of the victims of undiscovered, unexploded ordinance from the Vietnam war unexpectedly exploding years later. The documentary we watched was harrowing and the visitor’s centre, which showcases everything from bombs to prosthetics was excellent. As ever, I’d recommend doing your own reading as well if you’re interested, in order to get a full understanding of what happened. You could start here.
Incidentally, the visitor centre also serves lush ice cream, all proceeds to COPE.
We headed back to the hotel after this and went our own ways to find some lunch, preferably that could be taken away packed, as we had only a little time before our private bus to Vang Vieng. In the end, largely because of a lack of what we perceived as ‘safe’ choice we could ‘take away’ we all ended up at a relatively expensive coffee shop, but the (Western) food items were pretty good and they packaged them up well for our journey.
On our arrival in Vang Vieng, we discovered it was a rather beautiful town, with limestone karsts forming much of the landscape, and lush greenery abounding everywhere. To my delight, we discovered we were to be staying in rather quaint (full facilities, though!) villas-on-stilts and surrounded by trees. Loved this! They were also only a short walk from the riverside, where we caught the sunset (well, Dave and I caught the period just after the sun had set, anyway) whilst having a drink at a pub overlooking the river.
We walked into the main town bit for dinner and ate at a vast sprawling restaurant where you sat on cushions on the floor (I love doing this) and where there were SO many options, including baked potato and beans?! I had red curry and rice, but still, has to be mentioned! Dave sampled the local delicacy of Laap and approved. Can’t remember the name of the place, but we went to another, nearly identical, the next night. I’ve put in a photo of the types of table in these sorts of restaurants so if ever in Vang Vieng, you’ll know the sort of place it was. Note – lots more tourists in Vang Vieng!
Oh and before we got to dinner, we all stopped off at a g adventures – associated tour company place and all opted into a full day the next day of swimming in the blue lagoon, cave tubing (not the standard tubing of Laos, it’s not recommended by g adventures, more on that in the next post) and kayaking!
After dinner, some of the group headed out. I think Vang Vieng used to be much more of a party town than it now is, especially with regards to tubing. Still exhausted from a few nights before, Dave and I went to bed!
Next post will include our full day in Vang Vieng enjoyed all river-associated activities 🙂
Thanks for stopping by!