Ten days ago we left Thailand, in the rain.
On October 10th, a tuk-tuk takes us five minutes up the road from our guest house, to the First Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge. It used to just be called the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge, but then they built the Second Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge further down the river, so they renamed this one to add “First” to its official title. We get dropped off and get stamped out of Thailand at immigration. We pay for the bus that takes us across the bridge to the Laos side of the Mekong. At Laos immigration we fill out visa-on-arrival and immigration forms in quadruplicate, guessing or just leaving blank the questions we are unsure of. It doesn’t seem to matter.
There are three small windows set in opaque glass, behind which sit officials in military uniforms. We go to Window 1 and hand in our forms and passports. He takes them, then shuts his window, telling us to go pay at Window 2. We sidestep two feet to our right and stand in front of Window 2. The window opens and a calculator is thrust at us showing us our visa fees of $140. We pay the man and are then directed to Window 3. Window 2 shuts down. We sidestep a few more feet to our right again, this time around a corner and wait in front of Window 3. Several minutes later Window 3 opens. We are each directed to stand in front of a webcam to have our pictures taken. The window shuts again. A minute or two later it opens and our passports, all visas stuck in and stamp ink dry, are returned to us. Welcome to Laos.
We exit immigration into a horde of taxi, minivan and songthaew drivers all jostling to take us to Vientiane. We choose a songthaew for £4.50 and settle into the hard benches for a somewhat wet and windy 45 minutes. As we arrive into Vientiane’s town centre the rain redoubles its efforts and we are a wet, bedraggled foursome who trail into JoMa Cafe along the main drag. Alex and I have already decided that we will head south rather than north, so we plan to book a sleeper bus down to Pakse leaving later that night. I leave Alex and the kids in the comfort of JoMa while I hunt down some bus tickets. I return triumphant but even wetter than before.
Vientiane is oft touted as a sleepy capital, and it certainly was ten years ago when we first set foot here. Back then the main street was a long trough of mud and dirt that was in the process of being re-paved. The city felt pretty empty and traffic was minimal. Now it bustles with upmarket eating establishments lining the main thoroughfare and people and cars filling up the sidewalks and streets. It almost makes me want to spend some time here, but our plans are set.
We spend all day on some comfy chairs in JoMa drinking coffee, eating cake and delicious egg, ham & cheese bagels while the rain pours down outside. We spend waaaay too much money and are slightly horrified by the prices all around us, so for dinner we hunt down a local noodle soup joint a few blocks away. They’re just opening as we turn up, and it turns out the soup is super, so we hang out there until it’s time to head over to the travel agent for our evening bus pick up. But that’s a story for another post.