Friday, 17 June 2011

Laos: Vientiane

Monday 13 June: I arrive at Nong Khai, Thailand's border town with Laos, refreshed from a good nights sleep and a relaxing breakfast on the sleeper from Bangkok. Border formalities are, well, informal and we transfer on to a Lao National Railway's international train running along their new track, all two-miles of it, across the mighty Mekong river to Thangalang, Lao's only station. It's the only railway line in Laos (the French didn't build one).
From Thangalang it's a jumbo (large tuk-tuk) ride into the capital, Vientiane (pronounced 'Van-Chang'). It's too late to get to the Russian embassy so I have a set lunch in Le Vendome, a small French restaurant near Mixay Guesthouse, a good B&B option. Lunch is 22,000 Kip which I pay and later work out to be £1.70. Great deal, great food - I could stay here a while.
Unlike the French version, Vientiane's Patuaai or Arch of Triumph has four arches. It's just as ugly as the original but has better views, is in a nicer setting and has less traffic.
Tuesday 14: By the time I find the Russian embassy, with a poor scale-distorted map, it's closed and it's a long walk back home along the river.
Wednesday 15: I peddle my way on a Chinese cycle back to the big ugly concrete Russian monolith where t
he man at the embassy says "Nyet". Under Russian law I can only be issued with a tourist visa in my country of residence. If I had a 3-month Lao visa he would gladly provide me with a Russian tourist visa. Helpfully, he suggests I post my passport back to London and do it that way.
If I DHL my passport to an agency in London it will cost me more than £300, nearly as much as the flight home from Bangkok. So, sadly I decide to take the sleeper back to Bangkok and fly home from there. After all, I do want to do some hiking in Britain while it's still sunny.
Following another good lunch at Le Vendome I cycle north to
Vientiane's most spectacular temple of gold, the one that looks like a missile site from the distance, That Luang.
Thursday 16: Just enough time to see Wat Si Saket and select a nice French Bordeaux to accompany dinner on the night train to Bangkok.
Photos of Vientiane.

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