I remember hearing the pre-dawn monastery bells, and got up soon after at about 5.30am. We were out the door while it was still dark and climbing into a minivan for the short drive to the airport. I’d slept really well, but fighting cats outside had kept Carol up most of the night.
Check in at the airport, and a wait for a while for the flight. We had a few mouthfuls of a crappy packed breakfast of fruit and bread provided by the hotel. I bought Carol a book on the Hmong as a present. The flight wasn’t announced, but we asked at the gate and we were walked to the plane, thinking we were last to board—but in fact we were first and the rest of the passengers followed soon after.
A quick flight to Vientiane over misty, low, forested mountains. We were met at the airport and driven to the Salana hotel, a modern boutique hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, so we went for a walk in a big rectangle, returning via the riverfront (though the river is actually a long way from the city edge as there is a scrubby island between them). It’s a strange, somewhat characterless city, as all government cities tend to be. Since we’ll need new entry visas into Cambodia just for our one night stay, we got some US dollars at a bank (it’s US$30 for a visa) and some passport photos taken at a shop, in case we needed them.
Back at the hotel we got into our room, had an overpriced lunch at the hotel restaurant, and rested for a bit. About 2.30pm we got a tuk tuk for the 4km drive to Pha That Luang, a tall, golden stupa that is the symbol of Laos. It was impressive—if, unavoidably for being covered in gold, a bit tacky.
Another tuk tuk back to the hotel and, after waiting for some business function taking place there to conclude, we had a drink on the balcony outside the hotel bar.
Then we headed down to the ‘riverfront’ and wandered through the very busy night market, which sells mostly cheap clothes, fake wristwatches, and iPhone covers. Two groups of locals were doing aerobics to very loud Eurobeat music. A huge eating area was surprisingly empty of patrons. There were lots of people wandering around, but a subdued kind of vibe.
We walked about ten minutes to find a restaurant called Mini Makphet; another in the Friends International group that helps disadvantaged street kids become waiters and chefs. There was almost no one there and it was really just a little vacant concrete space with a few chairs and tables, but the food was great.
Unfortunately they didn’t accept Visa cards and I, for once, didn’t have enough cash, so I had to leave Carol as a ‘hostage’, borrow a bicycle and go riding off into the night to find an ATM. The first was out of order, the second wouldn’t accept my card, but I finally succeeded at the one down by the river where we got our US dollars earlier today.
I made a triumphant return with all the staff laughing and smiling as I rode in. We left a big tip. It was a really fun last night in Laos and a last little adventure.