Vientiane – Day One … http://paulsr.net/post/284
I had something special planned for my second day.
While browsing the web for interesting things to do, I stumbled across http://www.vientianebycycle.com/ Get it? Vientiane By Cycle. This sounded perfect. A ride around and outside the city, through tiny villages, along the river, all with specially prepared local food. I hadn’t ridden a bike in close to thirty years, but I think it’s something you never forget how to do, and I was mentally prepared for the aching muscles for a few days afterwards. So, I booked their one day tour, and they confirmed promptly by e-mail.
The company is run by a Dutch couple who are long-term Laos residents, so I figured they would know a lot about their adopted country. I was expecting it to be not only the highlight of my trip, but also a lifetime travel experience.
Towards the end of my first day, I realized I was close to the point shown on the Google Map on their contact page. I figured a twenty minute walk in the cool morning air would be a nice start to the day, so I set off at about 7:20am with the intention of meeting fellow riders well before the 8am start time. The company’s e-mail mentioned a restaurant with a yellow sign, so once I arrived at the point shown on their Google Map, that’s what I started looking for. But, in the few blocks around that point, there’s a lot of restaurants with yellow signs, and none of them with the name I was looking for.
I asked a few people, and they all pointed along the river bank. So I headed off in that direction, and checked-out a few more side streets. Eventually, some time after 8am, I walked into the hotel that pops up on the Google Map. They kindly gave me a real map, pointed out where I needed to be, which was a couple of kilometers from where I was, and sent me off again along the river bank. They actually said “it’s a long way” which didn’t make much sense at the time.
Walking faster was no good. That part of the bank is a construction zone, and I was soon ankle deep in sand and getting nowhere fast. Unfortunately, my phone was in the hotel, as I’d decided not to turn it on, in order to avoid roaming charges. I was also trying to travel light. So, somewhere around 8:40am, figuring the tour was well underway, I gave up.
That was a pretty depressing start to the day. Not only was I not going to be seeing Laos in a whole new light, but I’d walked for an hour and twenty minutes, I was exhausted, and I was nowhere near my hotel. I thought about taking a tuk-tuk, but in the end, had a slow wander back via a different route. The only good news was that I hadn’t paid in advance.
After exchanging a couple of e-mails with Aline at Vientiane By Cycle, it seems the restaurant mentioned in their e-mail is a “new temporary meeting place.” Hmmm. If I hadn’t bothered to do any research and I’d just taken a tuk-tuk from the hotel, I would have had no problems. I assume that’s what other people do. Silly me! Even more upsetting is the fact I was apparently the only customer that day, and would have had really personal service.
So, after a few more wat visits, and a few rests along the way, I was back at my hotel by 10am, with the whole day ahead of me and nothing planned.
Thank goodness for free WiFi and Wikitravel. Except even they say…
After you’ve done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to the riverside, relax with a cold Beerlao – the Lao national beer – and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
Sound advice, but not the right time for beer no matter how good it is, the sunset was eight hours away, and What Mekong? So, after a rest, I decided I would wander around the nearby streets, grab some refreshments, sleep during the hot part of the day, and then do something a little more dynamic after 4pm.
I tried to visit the National Museum, but it was “close” (sic). I did find a wonderful little coffee place, with French pastries to die for. I whiled away an hour or so here, and then headed back to snooze.
After consulting various Wikis and Googles, I could see there was one part of the city I’d missed, but it was going to need a long walk. Okay, tuk-tuks are everywhere and they’re cheap, but I think you can miss so much by going from A to B so quickly. Somewhere around 4pm, I set off off anew. My route took me back past the Patuxai, the Arc de Triomphe thingy, and out to an area with yet more wats plus Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos. At last, this was a good plan!
That Luang is a three-layered gilded stupa, and quite spectacular. By the time I’d arrived it was close to sunset, and the place had closed for the day. But the guard very kindly allowed me to walk in to take some photographs. The surrounding wats are also well-worth seeing, and there is a large statue of one of the past Kings. Nearby there’s all kinds of food stalls, and it’s just generally a nice area to spend an hour or more taking in the sights and sites.
Partly because I was pooped, but also because it was starting to get dark, I negotiated a sensible fee to take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, but I was a little surprised that the lady who showed me to the correct vehicle wished me “good luck” as I boarded! Anyhoo, I was back at my hotel in what seemed like three minutes, and only the luck I needed was trying to explain to the driver which way he had to go.
I really didn’t need more walking, but I had seen somewhere online there was a restaurant called “Just For Fun” that was highly recommended, and only a few blocks away. So after a shower, some fresh dust-free clothes and a Beerlao, I set off again.
One block left, one block right, make another left, and there it … wasn’t!!! Story of my day. Only now have I noticed on Wikitravel it says …
Note: do not rely on the Google Earth view of Vientiane for locating the sights: many locations put there by well-meaning users (the “Google Earth Community”) are clearly in the wrong place, not just a block or so away but some even in a wrong part of the town!
Good advice, read too late.
So, I wandered back to the area near the Black Stupa, just around the corner from my hotel, and parked my bum in the first restaurant I could find that had outdoor seating. I have no idea what the place was called, or even what most of the food was. The menu featured lots of things with “gut” … including “fried gut with paper.” I settled on a pork curry, which was really delicious. After that, and a suitable quantity of Beerlao, I was ready for Zzzzz…