There was an enforced late notice itinerary change today. To cut a long story short, I was supposed to leave Vang Vieng tomorrow, get a bus to Vientiane and then catch the overnight train to Bangkok. In order to simplify the process of obtaining a train ticket, I booked through a supposedly reputable agency weeks ago and was expecting to collect the ticket in Vientiane. However yesterday morning I received a message that the train was fully booked and would instead have to get a bus to Thailand. I sent a strongly worded email saying that I didn’t really want a bus as the idea of getting the train was that it is comfortable to sleep on. Road safety can can be an issue during overnight travel in South-Eat Asia. The agency had probably left it too late to book the ticket and with it being New Year in this part of the world, demand for train tickets was high. In the end I was informed that the only option to travel by train to Bangkok would be to leave Laos tonight. This meant getting on Vientiane bus this morning and therefore no tubing in Vang Vieng today.
I had a couple of spare hours this morning before the bus left, so headed out for a look at one of the many caves in the area. Inside Tham Jang Cave is impressive but outside you get some spectacular views of the surrounding scenery.
Once in Vientiane, the Traingate plot thickened. I was supposed to collect the ticket from a hotel. The receptionist informed me that there were in fact tickets available for tomorrow night’s train and that the initial reports of a sell-out were some sort of admin error. They gave me the option of staying in one of their reasonably priced rooms for tonight if I wanted. Having spent a fair bit of time already in Bangkok I thought I’d may as well have an extra day in Vientiane. Slightly concerned that I was being taken for a ride over this train ticket I was shown something that looked like an official booking confirmation for tomorrow night which put my mind at ease a little.
While being the capital of Laos and the only decent-sized city in the country, Vientiane has a bit of a reputation of being somewhat sedate. I’ve even heard other visitors use the phrases “boring” and “nothing to do” when describing the city. This certainly wasn’t the case today, although Lao New Year is obviously a great time to visit. It was the last day of holiday and celebrations were in full swing. The people of Vientiane were taking the water festivities to a new level compared to Luang Pabang and Vang Vieng. Pavements were lined with large paddling pools to get wet in. If you managed to avoid these, plenty of utes (as they say in Australia) were driving around with people on the back soaking you with supplies of water stored in full size dustbins on the back. Huge sound systems were rigged up all over the place to blast out music. I don’t know how people weren’t being electrocuted. And I dread to think what some of the water bills must be. Hopefully they’re not on a water meter!
All around Vientiane were parties sponsored by beer companies. They seem to have popped up anywhere there’s a bit of empty space. Beerlao staged a huge free event in an amphitheatre next to the Mekong River. There were all sorts of bands and DJs performing. It was kind of like what the Matthew Street Festival in Liverpool used to be like. Naturally being in communist Laos, beer prices from the sponsor were the same as they were in almost every bar, around £1 a go. A Dutch DJ was playing some of that EDM that the kids seem to be into nowadays. I didn’t catch his name although it sounded like DJ Dickhead, which would have been fairly apt. When I watch bands you are often told that there will be one last song. He announced that it was time for one last selfie before leaving his record player, standing at the front of the the stage and getting his phone out in the most self-indulgent manner possible. To be fair the dance music went down a storm with the locals, who were dancing as though they were at Creamfields. “Put your f-ing hands up” certainly seems to be a universally understood phrase! For a change of scenery I headed over to another of the large outdoor stages where an act resembling a band were performing. This was a bit more of a laid back setup with tables and chairs to sit around, rather than everyone jumping up and down.
I managed to lose my camera in Laos and unfortunately hadn’t backed up any photos for a week or so. Therefore I’ve borrowed some photos from Instagram of pictures taken as close as possible to when I was in a location. I did consider asking permission to use these photos but communicating with around 50 people would have got complicated. I’ve credited all of the photos used and in some occasions cropped them to maintain a matching size ratio. If by chance anyone whose photo is used finds this blog and would like me to remove the photo please let me know and I apologise in advance.