Thank you Thailand, you’ve been ace, Welcome to Laos, a slower pace.
Laos, Please Don't Rush
I had arrived in Udon Thani on Christmas day with a bit of a sore achilles, and after 8 days rest, it was onto Nong Khai on the 2nd January. Another 2 days later and with 10 days rest in total, my achilles was feeling better, having taken Surly Temple out for a little spin the day before. I’d planned to head to Vientiane, Laos, on the 4th January, as I had to be out of Thailand soon due to my visa expiring on the 6th.
I set off at about 08.30am after a breakfast of tea, bread and jam and some immodium. My guts were still playing ‘race you to the toilet’, so I bunged myself up.
I was naturally nervous about this small 25km ride, due in part to my ankle, having the “2 bobs” still and because I didn’t really know what I was doing when crossing the border. There’s so much conflicting, outdated information online about the border crossings, it’s hard to know what is accurate.
After a short ride along the Mekong, I hit the main road where I soon stopped at what I thought was a bus stop, with about 15 people hanging around it, about 30 meters from the first entry point with guards. After 20 minutes and seeing a lot of buses drive past, I decided just to go for it. To my surprise, I walked Surly Temple straight through, past the guards without them even battering an eyelid. “Cool!”
The check-in desk was equally as easy after posing the question to a Dutch guy and his Thai partner who seemed to be struggling also.
Turns out for someone with a British passport the border crossing is very straightforward, you just need to ask the questions and you’ll be pointed the right way. One thing that had been reiterated a few times online was that cycling a bike across was a definite no-no. So, having filled out the forms and through passport control, I started queuing for the bus with everyone else. “Surely not!?” I thought out-loud as the bus arrived. At this rate I’ll have to take everything apart looking at this tiny thing. I spot the man ushering people about and ask him if I can cycle across and he points and says “ yes go”. With a big double thumbs up and smile, I waste no time and make my way.
Cycling across the Thai/Laos friendship bridge was a unique, exciting experience. It felt like a big deal riding across the Mekong, crossing into Laos.
The Laos side is equally as simple and is where the money crosses hands. Unlike the US, where even the smallest error sends you to the back of the queue, they take a brief look and stamp you through. It really is simple, just ask someone who looks like they know.
An hour after arriving at the Thai border and I was in Laos and on my way to the capital City, Vientiane, but this time on the right/wrong side of the road. “This’ll take a little getting used to” I thought. I’d grown pretty confident on the Thai roads on the bike, and now had to think twice about every maneuver.
The difference in countries is noticeable from the start. I’d ridden over 850km already and the roads had been very good, but already I was noticing the difference in quality and this is in the capital, let alone the rural areas! I feel by the end of my time in Laos, I might be a dust connoisseur
Riding along a relatively busy main road and I get my first “Saibaidee”, thumbs up and cheeky smiles from 2 boys. “ Saibabee,” I replied with a big grin.
It’s only a short day compared to what I’ve been used to, but still, my achilles starts to pinch, until 7 km from my destination and I’m really struggling.
‘Hmmm, Houston, we still have a problem’
With another 5km to go, I stop for a coffee. The thought of not being able to continue cycling this adventure isn’t worth thinking about, but it had crossed my mind. What would I do? “Sell your bike and get a motorbike” people had suggested. At this stage, I felt like I might have to start considering this question. Selling Surly Temple was out of the question though, we were definitely not done yet. While my achilles isn’t right at the moment, I’m sure it would be in the future and I would definitely be doing more bike touring, that’s for sure. As the story of the Zen farmer say’s, “we’ll see”.
I arrived at my hotel where I’d be staying for the next 4 nights and welcomed by some particularly welcoming and excited staff. One girl, in particular, was absolutely amazed at my proposed adventure and my bike. So much so, that she was insistent on taking it for a spin around the car park. “ It’s very heavy” I warned. I had half expected her to get on, start pedalling and fall sideways on to the deck, but to my surprise, she nailed it and was very happy about it.
An interesting Indian man called Vidic was in the reception as I arrived and started conversation. Turns out he’s in Southeast Asia trying to set up a new medical university which was cool. We chat for 15 minutes and I’m asked by more and more people about my route, my journey so far, my bike etc, until Vidic decides to start trying to set me up with the girl who took my bike for a spin, and is quite insistent at that. I nearly pulled out the “I’m married” card, but instead announced that I don’t need anymore baggage with a little look down at my stuff which was received with smiles and my statement understood.
Everything is different in Laos; the language, the roads, the food and the phone networks, so the first port of call was a new sim card, which is a challenge in itself and especially compared to the airports, where it’s all done for you, so a big suggestion to anyone travelling and requiring a SIM, is do it at the airport. For another £0.50p - £1.50, it’s worth it. They do it every day and it’s quick.
Fortunately, the GM Arhum agreed to be my translator and walked to the shop with me to buy it and then got one of his staff members to set it up for me which was very helpful and kind.
Now I had access to the internet and googlemaps in particular, I was ready to head out into Vientiane. The hotel was a good 20 minutes walk into the heart of the town and with my achilles feeling sore, I decided to keep it local. So local in fact, that I could throw a cricket ball at my hotel, but I do have a bionic arm. Arhum had pointed out ‘Hang Out’ restaurant when I arrived and said “ It’s good, but more expensive”. I was going to go for a beer and a snack initially, until I sat down and had a proper look at the menu.
That beer and snack turned into plural and multiples. The music is good, the beer tastes great and the food is delicious. Duck with mango salsa and fresh shrimp rice rolls go down an absolutely treat and my first night in Vientiane is a successful one, albeit, not very authentic.
I’d made a top 5 things to do list in Vientiane, pronounced Wing Chian, so the next day I a made a start on that list.
The COPE Museum was something that had been suggested a lot online, with most saying
“if you want to learn about Laos, this is a good place for it”, so knowing that, I was off….slowly and with a limp again.
COPE, meaning The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise is a non-profit organization that provides prosthetic limbs, mobility assistance and rehabilitation to Lao people with mobility–related disabilities and who can’t afford the necessary help.
There is a huge focus on Laos' destructive past, which is a sobering experience and a harsh reality. While a little regurgitated at times, it is an interesting yet harrowing experience and a good opportunity to learn more about the not so distant past of this quiet country and about the effects still felt today.
Two particularly incredible fact’s that I found thought provoking were, 1) There are still around 80,000,000 (not a typo) undetonated bombs, still un-detected in Laos and the 2nd) Between 1964 -1973, 1 bomb was dropped every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
With COPE ticked of the list, I went in search of a physio that I'd heard of online, with good reviews. After a brief game of charades with a lady in a massage shop without any winners, I decided to give up on that and limp around town for the afternoon.
Vientiane on the surface is a hustle and bustle city, but once you spend just a few hours walking around and taking everything in, you get the sense that the way of life is one of little stress and worry and this city shows little sign of it’s past. It’s very evident after only a day here the influence France has had on Vientiane with it’s cosmopolitan, European feel. Vientiane is actually known as the most European city in Southeast Asia, and there’s no denying it, this city could be in France.
I’d heard of a great restaurant in Luang Prabang and was pleased to hear that it had a sister in Vientiane. “Dinner sorted!”
After a long walk back to my hotel, and having not found a physio, first things first was to find a phsio and get booked in for tomorrow. I spoke to Arhum at reception and he informed me that the French clinic would be the best bet and it’s close by. “I will call them in the morning for you and book you in.”
“That’s great, thanks ever so much” with a sigh of relief. Finally, some professional help.
“What do you do now?” Arhum asked.
“I’m going for dinner”
I showed him on the map and he continued “ I live 2 doors down, pointing at the map, I know where that is, I will take you.”
“Really, wow, thanks! Let me get changed quickly” I said.
It was already 7.35pm by this point and new that I could be there in 10 minutes with a tuk-yuk. Changed and hungry I was back at reception.
“10 minutes, my staff need do a few things first”. 45 Minutes later and we were ready to go, which I’m very glad for, because my stomach was starting to self-harming itself in hunger.
I knew the restaurant closed early having read a review, so before I left, I asked Arhum if he could call ahead for me. They were hesitant but with a little persuasion from Arhum, they accepted.
After a cool chat with Arhum on the way to the restaurant about his roots in Pakistan, we arrived. Arhum had to plead with them to let me eat and eventually, we said bye and I sat down.
Tamnak Loas is a Laotian restaurant with typical Laotian food, which was the main reason I chose it. The interior of the restaurant was stunning, with dark brown, varnished wood everywhere, with a really authentic feel to it and there was a man playing a traditional violin style instrument which sounded so soothing and fitting. After looking through the menu quickly and sensing I was soon to be the only person eating in there, I ordered away. Spring rolls, sticky rice, and beef dish that I forgot to take the name of.
The music had stopped shortly after ordering and just as my food arrived, my senses were met when the last big table of people left. It was 9 o'clcok by this time.
There is something quite disconcerting about sitting in a silent, empty restaurant with 4 staff members talking a foreign language behind you as you eat.
The spring rolls were excellent, really tasty, the sticky rice was, sticky and rice, but good, the beef is something that I would never order again I’m afraid and incredibly over powering. Whether I’d chosen wrong or just didn’t understand the menu, where Thailand balance food impeccably, this was sadly missed here by a country mile.
From experience, I knew straight away that this was one of those restaurants you need to experience with a local or a group, which was a shame, but a good experience none the less. So after a fairly average, but expensive meal, I headed back to my hotel, via a local bar to wash the taste out of my mouth, but excited about the physio the next day.
At breakfast the following morning, Arhum came and told me that he would book me in for 11am, which was perfect, and only 200m from the COPE museum, so I knew where I was heading. A quick tuk tuk ride later and I was there. Sitting in the waiting room and a guy sits down next to me, I’m not sure how or why the conversation started but we got chatting and it turns out Dan is Canadian and lives in Vientiane with his wife and now adopted twin boys, Henderson and Noah, who are Laotian. We chat about a number of things and Dan explains that he was originally a police officer in Canada and now runs a humanitarian project here and that he’s the company director of another company, but was also in a band with a bit of a following back in the day. This wasn’t your average band if there is such thing either. Dan carried on, that one of his friend’s had down-syndrome and that his friend had always dreamed of being the singer in a band. So after a rehearsing for a while and putting together some recordings etc, they had formed a band and had their first gig. So on stage and ready to rock, Dan’s friend, the lead singer with down-syndrome, continues to perform, in tears the entire way through the set, which is cut short 4 songs in. Dan said that once back stage, they asked the lead singer why he was so upset, to which he replied, “ that was the most amazing thing I have ever done!” and it turns out that the lead singer is quite the star now and has a following. I though this was a great story of great friendship. We swap contact details and I share my blog details with him.
The French Clinic, as the name suggests, is run by French speaking doctors, dentists and others, so when I hear my name called out “Andrew Rantell”, I step up, walk over and say “Oui, bonjour, ca va?” in my best French accent “ My French isn’t very good, sorry!” say’s a Dutch voice.
“Well that’s lucky, because that’s about as good as it get’s I’m afraid” and we both laugh..
“I’m Maxim, what’s the problem?”
I continue to explain my adventure, and my past month and what I thought was wrong.
After talking for 5 -10 minutes, I was face down on the bench with my achilles finally being examined by someone, and hopefully the start of a full recovery.
“Ok, I’m going to put some needles in your achilles” Maxim said.
“Needles?” I question
“Yes, acupuncture, well, dry needling it’s called but a form of acupuncture”
“Ok cool” I agreed, sitting in a Laos medical facility.
I’ve never had acupuncture, and hear it’s quite pleasant. Within a few minutes, I was guessing that when people had said it was quite pleasant, they weren’t referring to acupuncture in the achilles tendon. Wow! Now, I’ve had some quite extensive work done to my mouth at the dentist, which wasn’t very fun and whilst hindsight has a way of undermining the pain of the past, this next bit was almost up there.
“Andrew, now if you could move your heel like this for me for 3 minutes. This will feel most uncomfortable”
“Awesome” I said with a nervous giggle.
I love it when people say that, like when the dentist say’s “ Now, you’re going to feel a small sharp prick”. Cue the white knuckles.
When you start something that is excruciating or uncomfortable instantly, knowing that you have to do it for a certain amount of time, like a CAT scan, or root canal treatment, or worse, that’s a challenge!, but for the greater good, I did it.
After strapping it up very tight and squeezing it with what felt aggressively hard, like he didn’t like me, I was booked in again for 2 day’s time, the 11th January.
300,000kip which is around £26 pounds for 1 session, which is pretty reasonable, but meant I'd be sleeping rough for one night.
Vientiane isn’t a huge city, and you soon get a feel for where everything is. At the heart of Vientiane is the touristy, hotel area with ‘farangs’ everywhere, but all fairly pleasant it seems. In my search for a cheaper, authentic lunch I find Sa la van, a back street-ish restaurant with no people in it, but for some reason I like the look of it and the menu. My judgment is correct.
The menu is great, and has a really nice selection, but one thing stands out; Roast duck with steamed rice. The kitchen is open-plan, as it is in most places I’ve experienced and I see the chef, pull down the bright orange hanging duck from the hangers. Awesome.
With in 3 minutes of ordering, I have a full plate of roast duck, bright orange skin, a mound of steamed rice and a delicious sauce accompanied by a pork broth which is a usual accompaniment with cheaper dishes.
The previous night cost me 160,000 kip, so let’s say £16, and was unpleasant, but mis- represented I feel.
My first experience of Sa la van which included 2 large beers and the roast duck with steamed rice, cost me 45,000kip, or £4.50 and was the best meal I’d had in Vientiane (Win-chian), so far.
Fine dining in a foreign, non-English speaking country can be a real mixed experience. In my experience, unless you are with someone that is accustomed to the experience or knows the language, it’s quite hit or miss.
Having found what is quite possibly the best lunch in Vientiane and one that I’d visit for the next 2 day’s in a row, I walked the town at a slow pace, after all, it’s called ‘Laos, please don’t rush’. This is derived from Laos PDR – the ‘People’s Democratic Republic’. If 'please don’t rush' is self-proclaimed by the Laotians themselves, then there’s certainly an irony in their driving! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such ridiculous overtaking and I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous overtaking!
I’d planned to the see the night market that night, and my day around it, so as the sun was going down, I headed to the waterfront and just aimlessly walked, taking everything in.
After a little while it was beer o’clock. Now, I don’t know if you know anything about beer o’clock, but when the clock chimes, you know. 11am, 3pm, 6pm there’s no rhythm or rhyme, but you know that chime! I happened across a place that over looked the Mekong, was close to the market, had live music and bright lights. Done!
With a fairly high metabolism, only 3 hours after eating a good size meal, I was ordering another. This dish was called a ‘Lam Bo’ and “hot”, as warned by the waiter.
“Yes please”. I do like a bit of heat and can take my fair share on the scoville scale. The difference over here, is the chilli actually tastes of capsicum, and when you can smell it, generally you know you’re in for a treat and sometime’s that treat uncomfortable, like a deep tissue massage. Beautiful agony!
It was delicious, really tasty and soon enough I was holding tissue in my hand, wiping the heat off my lips and beads off my brow. It’s a great, simple place and perfect from 4.30 – 7.30 for the sunset. It’s called 3yaek Parkpasuk Restaurant. As you walk along the Mekong waterfront in the center of Vientiane town, heading away from the friendship bridge, you come to a roundabout and it’s at 2pm from there. Cool place and recommended for a lively sunset beer and some good grub. Stay away from the Lam Bo, but the squid rings are delicious!
The night market, like most night markets, offers an array of clothing, cheap electronics and accessories, but I was still eager to look around and see what was on offer as I was in the market for a sleeveless ‘wife beater’ as they are sometimes called.
This proved unsuccessful and once you walk for 5 minutes, you’ve pretty much seen it all. It was a crowded place also and I don’t fair too well in really crowded places, so I decided to start the long walk back to my hotel and have a casual beer before a good night sleep.
Laos Golden had been a good hotel and reasonable value and Arhum had been incredibly kind, but it was booked in haste and frustration initially and was proving to be a different experience to what I wanted. The previous night I’d booked 2 nights at Villa Laos which is the other side of town and an authentic, wooden built complex that was also more affordable and in-keeping with my budget.
Arhum and I had a great chat at Laos Golden that morning and when the time had come to say goodbye, I knew that I had met another great person on this adventure. Thank you Arhum, a great pleasure to meet you. Good luck.
So with moving to my new hotel and Maxim wanting to see my bike and set-up, I took Surly Temple to meet Maxim, fully dressed. Physio had become a frequent thing in the past few days and today was going to start the same. The sadist in me actually started looking forward to them. Pain inducing therapy that I knew was doing my achilles the world of good. Maxim and Laurence both had a look at my riding set-up and positioning with a few recommendations, which I took heed of and changed once I could. I’d mentioned to Maxim that I had planned to cycle to Buddha Park, a short 26km ride outside of Vientiane city and he gave it the thumbs up, so after some more, painful but satisfying acupuncture and some strapping, I set off without my panniers, feeling hopeful. Google maps doesn’t have navigation in Laos, so I used maps.me instead, another app that I’d got used to using. It gives you the options of bike routes, walking or driving, so I thought I’d do the cycling route. Not long outside of Vientiane do you see a drastic change. Infrastructure that had been started years ago that was never quite finished, or maybe that it is taking a decade to finish. The road I was on was a concrete route, with cars going any which way they like. 4 lines of traffic with each side going each way. All was going well until I started seeing a lot of red dust and cars disappearing off the road. Turns out this main road was having road works and there was a diversion, which would put top gear 4x4 challenges to the test. So my first ride back during some extensive physio took me off road, down some steep and very bumpy clay.
This was short lived and within under a km we were back on solid ground, but with a mouth full of dust and nostrils feeling like they’d been kiln dried. The route took me through villages that saw no resemblance or the economies of Vientiane but had their own charm. 5 km from Buddha Park and the road’s take another turn for the worst. The road turned into something Travis Prastrana would have fun on (if you don’t know what he does, check him out) Red clay roads that resembled small ponds. Ponds that had dried up in the severe heat of the summer, that rattled your bones as you cycled through them. With large vehicles driving past, kicking up dust, it brought a new appreciating to the phrase “eat my dust”.
Soon enough Buddha park was in front of me and it was worth the bone rattling, dry mouth inducing pain and 15,000kip entrance fee, which is a very reasonable £1.50.
Large, Buddhist and hindu inspired statues on this 1.5 acre plot, that really made you stand and look in awe. These statues aren’t really that historic. Constructed in 1958 no less by Bunleua Sulilat, who moved to Thailand in 1978 and built a near exact on the opposite side of the river in Nong Khai, yet they have a sense of place and worth the trip.
It sometimes feel’s a little bit lost in translation without some information, but at the end of the day, it’s a manmade park of statues that are in-keeping with a culture and belief.
Oh, and if you don’t like biting your tongue or having your brain rattled, this might not be for you, the road is treacherous!
The next day was suppose to be my penultimate day in Vientiane, but after the day before’s ride, I realized that I needed more time for recovery. Whilst there isn't a huge amount to do in Vientiane, It’s not a bad place to have to extend your stay, after all, it’s got all the amenities you need and if you need to extend your visa, you can do so easily and with Thailand just across the ricer, you are well placed for worse scenarios. That said, I extended my stay Villa Laos by another 3 days.
I feel I’ve been very fortunate to find Maxim and Laurence at the French Clinic. They are Uncle and Nephew from Holland. Maxim came travelling to Laos 7 years ago and never left, and Laurence is studying physio and sports therapy and over here for 6 months doing a placement. They both seem to know their stuff and seem very passionate about what they do.
I was introduced to Moxibustion, a Chinese Herbal remedy made from dried Mugwort and used in conjunction with acupuncture. It come’s in different shape’s and used in different techniques but the science it self is always the same. You burn it and allow the smoke and heat to open the pores of the affected area and the smoke is absorbed to that area. It smell’s of marijuana when burning and also burns incredible hot, which I found out first hand from Laurence. What I had was a long stick that looks like a firework or dynamite. It’s literature dates back to 475 B.C. and is still used widely today.
I booked in for the next day, feeling confident for a full recovery with the right exercises and caution.
Physio this time consisted of a fairly uncomfortable, new sports technique called ‘floss bands’ which are designed to severely compress the affected area and once released after stretching, you get a blood rush to the area, which helps greatly with recovery and flexibility.
On the way to the clinic that morning, I’d spotted a restaurant I hadn’t seen before, close to the clinic, which looked great, so I thought I’d give it a try afterwards, and boy am I glad I did.
Again, full of locals, deep in conversation, with slurping of noodles and now and again that disgusting ‘hawking’ noise that is so accepted here, but makes me want to go a bit Steven Segal on people. I appreciate it might be part of the culture, but I will never, ever think it’s ok to do. Rant over.
I order the roast pork with steamed rice and sliced sausage. I’m intrigued by the funny, unappetizing thinly sliced sausage, so that’s my first mouthful. Wow! My mouth, taste buds and brain were dancing in harmony. An explosion of flavors. Smokey, sweet, meaty, with a little unexpected crunch on the outside. This is certainly on par with my favorite restaurant in Vientiane so far, Sa la Van. The pork and rice equally as delicious, with the only downfall being its temperature. If the rice had been steaming hot, then this may just have surpassed Sa la van with the sausage being the star of the show. I had to ask what the sausage was it was so good. It’s called ‘Sai gok wan’ and is from Thailand, it really was a delicious combination of flavors. So delicious in fact that ordered another plate of it 30 minutes later, much to the delight of the manager! “ Sep” I said with a big thumbs up. Sep, meaning delicious in Laos.
The rest of the day was very chilled out with blogging and some dinner along the bank of the Mekong, at a rather western restaurant called The Spirit House and order a ‘Mekong’ fish burger with fries, which went down perfectly. Bed beckoned soon after and it was a nice early night.
I’d planned to meet Dan the Canadian that I’d met in the clinic that day for a beer, so after another successful but painful physio session, I jumped in a tuktuk over to Common Grounds, a central coffee shop, which I later found out Dan was the Country Director of. We went to a local noodle restaurant which Dan proclaimed was the best in town and it didn’t disappoint. A big bowl pork noodle soup with the usual condiments. Dan I chatted about his business, charity and about both of our lives and was generally a cool conversation. The chat got a bit philosophical and as we left, Dan said, here’s a question I’ve been pondering for a while that I want to ask my staff, and asked “ Andy, what would you tell your 17 year old self?” Which I found interesting to answer. Before I tell you what I said, I’m going to ask you that question and feel free to comment or message me your answer.
-“What advice would you give your 17 year old self?”-
Dan mentioned a group of people were going out for Mexican dinner that night and whether I fancied joining. “There will be about 10 of us, but we don’t all know each other. Mainly partners and a few kids if you don’t mind that? I’ll send you the address and if you want to, come along?”.
After receiving a message with the address that afternoon, I replied with “Great, see you there at 5.45”
That afternoon I chilled out and did some admin bit’s. I decided to cycle to the restaurant which was a little out of town and as my achilles was feeling good and I wanted to keep it aware of cycling. You also get to see a lot more of a city by walking and cycling.
The restaurant was a Mexican called ‘Gringos’ and was great. The Burrito I order was really tasty and everyone else’s looked very good also.
The boys and girls sat at different ends, so Dan, Danny and I sat and chatted away. Danny was there on holiday and helping out with some building work in Dan’s new Laos jewelry and accessories shop, made by local Laos women, with the proceeds going to various humanitarian projects they work with. Danny is the Production Manager at Disneyland - Anaheim, so you can imagine my excitement and some of the questions! “Favorite Disney song? Favorite movie? Coolest stages?”and more, it was really cool. Dan equally as inquisitive with his question and love for Disney.
Dinner was a short and sweet affair and by 7.15, we were saying goodbye and I jumped back on my bike, ready for a few more beers before calling it a night.
The Patuxai monument had been on my ‘to see’ list in Vientiane, so after a standard breakfast of greasy fried eggs and bread at Villa Laos, I grabbed my now routine day pack with my usual tools; camera, tripod, go-pro, laptop, charger, powerbank and notepad, a took a casual walk to the monument in the north of Vientiane. Built between 1957-1968, The Patuxai, which translates to “victory gate” was dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. It is reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which holds a certain irony.
For some reason, pizza had been on my mind all day, so when dinner came around, I was excited.
I looked online for the best reviews of pizza and ‘Pizza de Roby’ came up trumps with “Best pizza in town” and “better than pizza in Italy”, so I was excited to see if it stood up to it’s rave reviews. It was also very close by, which was a bonus!
On arrival, there was no mistaking that fresh pizza smell which got the saliva flowing. I sat outside, in the corner, ordered a vegetarian pizza and continued to blog, which is a very common occurrence now. The tables were filling up and a group of 3 walk in, 2 westerners and a local looking lady. The waiter gestures to my table and as they approach, they ask ”can we sit” with that basic English when not knowing the nationality of the other person. Of course I yes “Please, do”.
Jean-Christophe , Mikeal and Por sit down and introduce themselves.
Jean-Christophe in his early 50’s, is the World Bank’s Country Manager for Lao PDR, Mikeal in his early 70’s is an investor and economist and Por in her 30’s, works for Mikeal and is still studying her masters. Mikeal is a real character and has a very strong accent that I can’t quite put my finger on.
They continue to chat amongst themselves and I continue to blog, with one ear on their conversation and Mikeal's accent.
Micheal starts talking to me and I’m intrigued by his accent. I would have put a small bet on and said he was Jewish and that he was Israeli.
“Mikeal, where are you from?” my curiosity getting the better from me.
“Bosnia, France, Israel and America” he says
He has a real ‘no bullshit’ attitude which I find endearing and is a real character. His accent is like that of a Jewish character off the ‘Simpsons’ or the movie ‘Snatch’. I could have spent a good few hours talking to him, he sounded fictional almost. He asks why I am here alone and I explain my past couple of years in brief. “So vhat, she decided to start ******* somevone else, **** happens” he says in his strong accent like a scene from the movies, which made me laugh. After sharing a little bit more detail he come's back with “ok, so that’s different, she’s a proper bitch, oiy” which made me laugh even more. “Vhat would you say to here if you walked past her on the street?” he asked “I wouldn’t" I said, "I’ve got nothing to say, she might as well not exist.”
“Vell, ok” he replies with a smile and a nod.
I’d already eaten my pizza by this point which was very tasty, but I wouldn’t say better than that I’ve had in Italy in reply to the person on Tripadvisor. Mean while, Jean-Christophe, Mikeal and Por are eating away when Mikeal offers me some pizza. “You vant some?, here!”
“No, I’m fine thank you” I respond
“ Go on, have some pizza”
“No, honestly, I’m fine thanks”
“Go, on have some”
This again made me laugh. He really was a character.
It was another interesting encounter with more interesting people and once again, another great day in the world of Andy ETC.
It’s my penultimate day in Vientiane and a very chilled, relaxed day of blogging. Straight after breakfast, I crack straight on at Villa Laos in the outside wooden hut. The hours go by and I’m lost in my blog. Once you are in that zone, it’s amazing how you can shut everything else out and focus and get lost in moments. So much so, that I hadn’t given any thought to lunch and soon enough, lunch had passed and it was well into the afternoon. My attention is taken for a minute by two blonde girls with large, errrr, backpacks at reception. I take my attention back to my blog, until 10 minutes later, the 2 blondes come into the wooden, open side, thatched hut and sit down next to me, giving me a brief “Hi” and a smile.
I keep on blogging, but now aware of the 2 attractive blondes sitting next to me, talking in a Nordic/Scandinavian accent.
15 minutes later and the hottest one gets up, walks over to by where I’m sitting, and lies down, “you don’t mind” smiling. “No, not at all, make yourself comfortable” I say smiling to my self and her. She’s very blonde with that Nordic look and with blue eyes, something I’ve liked since my ski season in Chamonix when I was successfully chatted up by a Swedish girl.
“Where are you from?” she asked looking over. “England” I say “and you, where are you from?”
“We are from Finland”
The chat continues and it turns out they had been staying here for a few days and were waiting for a taxi to the airport to fly to Bangkok. They’d been on holiday for 5 weeks traveling around and seemed really nice and friendly and thought my cycling around South East Asia was absolutely awesome.
I was also reminded again that I hadn’t been taking advantage of the massages, when they tell me that they’d often been getting 2 a day, much to my surprise! My blogging was nearly done and their taxi came so we said our goodbyes with a few cheeky smiles.
It had started getting dark by this point and food was most certainly on my radar, so I took a walk into town, not knowing what I fancied. This was quickly answered when I wandered upon this busy little Indian restaurant. “Cor, a ruby, yes please” I said outloud. Not quite sure what to expect, I sat down ordered a beer and perused the menu for 5 minutes, getting hungrier and hungrier by the minute. “ Can I have the Chicken mossala mackeua, sag aloo and steamed rice please with a garlic nan” The food was absolutely delicious an suffice to say, after all that, I was suitable gut fu...., full by the end of it.
It wasn't a new experience by any means and these dishes wouldn’t be out of place on a UK curry house menu, but I was more than happy with that. My eyes began to feel heavy, a sign that bed was calling. With a 20 minute walk to help my food digest, I was back at the hotel and soon in my bed, counting the sheep with supermodels on their backs and dosing off, knowing that in 2 days, I’ll be back in the saddle. The little rush off excitement pushing me over the edge into my sweet dreams.
My last day in Vientiane and my mind is focused on the next few days and the route to Vang Vieng. I’m nervous about this part of the journey as I know that the hills roll and the towns get fewer a further between. I get all my things together, adjust a few things on Surly Temple and take her for a ride into town. Sa la van restaurant was still up there with the best restaurants in Vientiane, so my last day wouldn’t have been the same without my last Roast duck and steamed rice for the nth time that week, but this time, I also had chicken satay, which I'd been eyeing up all week.
After lunch I went for a coffee at Common Grounds and started looking at hotels and further planning. Although the next day was only a 25km ride, I still like to consider the unexpected. No hotel’s being a realistic one and a realization that was soon to be met!
Every night the Mekong’s edge changes into a buzzing, vibrant street market and at the end of every evening, it is totally cleared away again with nothing remaining. As I’m sat there at common grounds, looking out onto the road, 3.15 pm, a gentle trickle of people walking with trailers, motorbikes carrying trailer loads of goods ready to be sold, all walk there loads to the front. The motorbikes more often than not aren’t attached to the trailers and instead, the riders have one hand on the accelerator and one hand holding their trailers, which aren’t small or light by the looks of it, and looks incredibly dangerous, not a word in South East Asian’s vocabulary it seems.
The night is young and I take a stroll along the front, marveling at this capital, so influenced by it’s French rule, but with underlying, Asian charm and culture. It’s a great city and one that I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time in. As a holiday destination, it’s definitely worth a fleeting visit, but there’s not a huge amount on offer it seems, however, you can definitely appreciate it’s charm as somewhere to live. Who know’s Vientiane, I might see you again in the future, but if not, I’ll remember you forever.