We woke and our bamboo bed had not disintegrated, despite being held together by a piece of string. We were in the French capital of South East Asia, Vientiane, but it was none-too-French-romantic! The contact paper floor covering was peeling back in strips big enough to trip you up, the grubby paint was peeling off the concrete walls, the toilet was blocked and the handbasin….well, there wasn’t one. Neither was there a window, so if any roosters were crowing, we didn’t notice, not even at 7:30. Hang on, what’s that behind the blue ruffled satin curtain? It’s almost a window – it’s a hole in the wall covered with mosquito netting. But it doesn’t face outside, it’s just over an indoor stairwell, so it doesn’t really qualify as a window! Even at midday the room was dark and depressing, hiding from its occupants the fact that outside the sun was shining warmly.
We had arrived the night before about five. Some hard bargaining (from 100,000 down to a still-excessive-but-worthwhile-for-both-us-and-tuktuk-driver 40,000 kip)saw us being dropped in town near the one cheap guesthouse we had heard of. Leaving bags, children and ailing husband on the pavement, I began the search for beds, preferably cheap and hopefully with wi-fi facilities. We were dreaming!
“ALL FULL” signs were posted on the doors of three places, a fourth had only one double room. Time was marching on as I continued my own march up and down streets, asking, hoping, starting to get nervous.
“You have to understand two things,” I told the becoming-impatient crowd on my return. “firstly, it’s the only cheap place with enough rooms that I could find, and number two, it’s not as bad as the rat-house.”
“Is it *that* bad?” They looked dubious.
“Come and see for yourselves.” And so we donned backpacks and walked the two blocks to the shabby-looking place opposite Vientiane’s Big Brother Mouse store.
Rob inspected and we offered 300,000 kip for two nights instead of 170,000 for one. Somehow I find it easier to bargain in another language!
and the view at each end of the street:
Rob’s “feeling funny from the winding roads” exploded into something more dramatic, and so this morning the rest of us left him suffering in our dark hole, while we went exploring this city rebuilt by the French almost 200 years ago after it had been razed to the ground. We happened upon ancient wats, the presidential palace, massive flags, numerous cultural centres and traffic lights that gave a pedestrian cross signal at the same time as giving cars the green light, in our quest for the Talaat Sao with its bus station, and then the replica Arc de Triumphe.
In the afternoon we would repeat the same walk with a feeling-much-better Rob, and would climb the arch to watch the sun set over this quiet city. A magnificent orange ball it was, dipping into a hazy shadow just above the wide tree-lined avenue with its fancy streetlights running down the centre. Gorgeous.
For some French experience, we ate baguettes for breakfast and I was treated to a ham-filled croissant so that we could use the wi-fi facilities at a cafe (oo-la-la, the internet is so S….L…..O…..W here in Laos – roll on Bangkok!)
(And while we’re on the topic of food, tomorrow I’ll be writing this in my journal:
We could not leave Laos without mentioning our last meal. Apart from the odd ice-cream and bottle of fizz, it was the first non-local food we have eaten in over ten weeks. It was a tonic for our tastebuds that have been hanging out for cheese. It was tomato-y and salami-ish and ham-and-pineapple-y and altogether familiar, even if it was from a Swedish bakery! It was pizza. And it was delicious. Each pizza (and we polished off four of them) cost more than the five bowls of rice porridge and noodle soup we had shared for breakfast, but they were worth every kip!)
And we didn’t even get a photo! Not of pizza, nor croissant nor baguette.
Tags: housing, money, postcard: Laos, price, recreation, transport