Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…half done with Vientiane

Vientiane, the small capital of Laos, is a funny place. Most people I met prior to going said there’s no real point seeing it and, if I insisted, then one or two days would be enough. While I think they were all wrong, and would encourage people to spend more time there, the 13 days I ended up there were far too many.


Originally I wasn’t going to spend almost a fortnight in one city — that’s something I hadn’t done for close to a year a now — but plans don’t always work out. The first issue was that I had to apply for a Thai education visa for a cunning plan I had later in the year. The second is that my traveling partner was feeling a bit flitzy and homesick so she decided to fly back to Australia for a few weeks, missing out on the next country I’d go to entirely. Part of her frustration (a small part, admittedly) came with long bus journeys which ruled out Pakse and all the islands down south and, after I booked a flight to Phnom Penh — which couldn’t be too early because I already had my flight out of Cambodia booked and wouldn’t be allowed to stay more than 30 days there, see the trickiness? — and leaving the city just to come back seemed more hassle than it was worth.


My time in Vientiane is definitely split into two: one with a companion and the other alone.

The trip started quite badly. After arriving at our hotel on by a circuitous route we found that our air con wasn’t working — a must in SE Asia. We complained and were offered two choices: a fan or a single room with working air con. After a bit more complaining we were upgraded to a nicer double room with air con but, because it was full of mosquitoes, the host sprayed it with some kind of insect killer and as my partner walked into the room she inhaled a lungful and had a huge, painful coughing fit. She wanted to move because of this — despite the host’s assurances that she would be okay because it happened to another guest recently — and we failed in vain to get our money back for their incompetence. We ended up round the corner in a small room with no windows; par for the course, really.

We made a couple of trips out to the Thai embassy or consulate or whatever it was, turned down the ‘kind’ offer of the stranger outside to sit in the queue for us with our passports (we were the first ones there after reading online that there can be a big queue) and, at opening time, there were about half a dozen of us. We found out we didn’t have all the right papers, despite what the internet told us but contrary to the random guys walking round looking for business, but managed to photocopy what we needed for free/very cheap inside. Our return trip to pick up our documents was just easy.

Other than that we spent a lot of time by the water. The night market (where I bought a knock-off cheap Casio watch like everyone had when they were a kid but I didn’t) is by the river, just before all the restaurants and, in town, there’s a fountain where there’s a few fancier restaurants and one cheap but good Indian place. We also found a hotel, where for about $2, you could spend the day using their pool which, in that heat, and for that price, is a great deal. When we went it was just us and one other couple for about an hour and just us the rest of the time. Later on in my trip I’d return a few times, normally having the place to myself and one time being invited to join the staff in eating the leftovers from some conference buffet while I went on and on about verbs and tenses in English, at their request.


The riverside is also the spot for the mass Zumba classes, which are always fun to watch.


Then suddenly, after spending around a year in the company of one person, for practically 24 hours of every day, for seven days of every week, for every week (bar one) in each other’s company, often in a tiny hotel room, I was alone. It was weird, but I’ll tell you more about that soon*.

*Not necessarily.


Filed under: asia, ,

One Response

  1. Dave says:

    I haven’t yet been so desperate that I’d consider using one of those ‘fixers’ to line up for me in a government office and support the country-destroying corruption. But hearing about all the obscene waiting and running around my native has to do when procuring the millions of documents she’s told she needs to survive (and the documents needed for those documents), I might not have the strength if my time comes.

    But I have daydreamed about loudly exposing a fixer in front of the public and his peers if he tries to get a bribe out of me, then failing to get any support even as I point to the signs advising me to report these exact instances. Or I do get him fired, and later in the day he’s waiting for me around a corner with a knife. The daydreams don’t end well either way.

    At least in Hong Kong we had an actual lawyer, so could swan past the queues in the consulate easily like the regal Aryan I am. I did feel a bit guilty.

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