23.10.2013 - 25.10.2013 30 °C
Our rather vintage night bus from Pak Se in the south of Laos was actually relatively comfortable with both Nick and I managing to get some sleep. Unlike the ones in Viet Nam they are completely flat, albeit double beds, so if you are a solo traveller you have to share with complete strangers! As usual the bus station is in the middle of nowhere, but there were so many foreigners on the bus that for a change we had the upper hand with the touts and managed to negotiate a decent deal straight to our hostel.
Sihome Backpackers http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Sihome-Backpackers-Hostel/Vientiane/69394 was a Western style hostel, something we had not seen for months now and according to the reviews promised a good atmosphere, friendly staff and great location. We opted for a private double (as we could not face the prospect of a dorm) which was huge and very clean, but as it was right above the bar/terrace area was quite noisy, The hostel was ok, neither of us think it is worth the rave reviews it gets, but suspect that if we had opted for a dorm after all it may have been different.
We only had 24 hours in the capital before moving north and had a lot to squeeze in, as well as sorting out transport and accommodation for the next day. We set off to find some breakfast and found JoMa Cafe http://www.joma.biz another Lonely Planet top tip where we had some yummy pastries and great coffee to wake us up.
From hear we were able to head to another Tourist Information to ask about bus tickets and they recommended just going to the bus station directly. They also said that Pha That Luang, the famous golden stupa and symbol of Laos was only about a 20 minute walk even though we had read it was 4km outside of the city? We started walking towards it trying to reach it before it closed for lunch, but after 20 minutes in the baking heat realised we had made an error as we were nowhere near it (we could see it, it just wasn't getting any closer!).
Instead we doubled back via the Patuxai, which is a structure very similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, only it has four arches rather than two. It is a fairly ugly concrete monolith even having a sign apologising for its appearance. It does however have a very ornate ceiling and offers great views of the city from the top.
We were quite close to the bus station at this point so decided to go and have a look to see if we could figure out how to get to Vang Vieng the next day, however they said we could not buy tickets in advance, only on the day of travel and to arrive early to guarantee a seat. We took one look at the bus and thought there had to be a better option though. It was a local bus and looked like it would break down as soon as it left the bus station and had peoples bags piled high on top. Hmmm, maybe a rethink! Annoyingly with all of this walking my nice new flip-flops (which I bought dirt cheap in Hong Kong) had started to rub and I was not coping well in heat so we had to walk all the way back to the hostel so I could plaster up and change into my trainers!
So it was now 14.00! We had not managed to see half of what we wanted, were no closer to getting a bus ticket and still had the dreaded internet trawl for accommodation! We set off back towards our original first stop, Pha That Luang however this time took the easy way out and bartering hard with a tuk-tuk driver to get us there. Finally, much later than intended we had made it - and were pretty underwhelmed! The stups is huge and covered in gold leaf so looks quite striking, but all you can do is pay to walk around the outside of it with no explanations or information (other than LP).
There were however some very impressive temples next to the stupa which were beautiful and well worth the trip, one even having a large reclining buddha outside it!
Still feeling rather underwhelmed we bartered another bargain tuk-tuk back to the centre, stopping to peer through the gates of the Presidential Palace and spotting the best crazy moped yet!!
Running out of both "sights" and time we had to get a bus sorted so headed to a travel agent close to where we had stopped for coffee. She was brilliant and very helpful explaining to us all about the bus and gave us a really good price 40,000Kip each!! (£4!!). We then headed back to our hostel to cool off, shower and book a hotel (which we did surprisingly quickly!) before heading back out to get some food at a really nice roof-top restaurant bar (even though we had to dodge a few Laos Ladyboys (apparently they are not just in Thailand!) to get there!
So after a very brief and some what disappointing day in the capital it was an early start the next morning where we were picked up by our minibus to take us to Vang Vieng.