As related in my previous post, I need to leave Viet Nam before 17 February and re-enter under a new visa. Instead of making a simple same-day-over-and-back trip to Cambodia as most ex-pats I know are doing, I chose to turns "have to" into a 1000-or-so km motorcycle run through Northern Laos.
Laos' visa-on-arrival process is fast and easy: fill out a short form; hand it to the first officer with one passport-size photo; side-step (a la Soup Nazi) to the second officer and pay US$35 (in US$); side-step to the third officer and collect your passport with said visa in-place. I suggest that you check the visa before moving to immigration because, even though immigration said nothing, my visa has my name as "John D" without my last name. I'm hoping it's a non-issue on exit, though we'll see. Immigration takes another 3 minutes, and you're in. Next stop was the SIM card kiosk 'cause VN numbers don't work outside the country. Final stop was to arrange a taxi to my hotel; and all of 30 minutes after arrival, I was headed to the Seasons Riverside Hotel
The hotel is nice, BUT make sure you get a room on the street-side! Normally, I want to be away from the street because of traffic noise. This street is small and lightly-traveled, so noise is a non-issue. What was an issue (for me) was that the rooms on the non-street side are rocked until 10:30 every night by the live music that is staged against the wall that is also the outside wall to your room. All street-side rooms were booked my first night, though they did move me to one the next morning so my second night was much more peaceful.
I've seen a good number of larger (400cc and above) cruiser-style motorcycles, so maybe the roads will be good?
Dinner was in one of the 10 or so grilling restaurants side-by-side-by-side along the Mekong River. I walked through/by all of them before backtracking to the only one displaying octopus. The Beerlao Gold was good; the octopus undercooked--I sent it back for additional time on the fire; and the service very lackadaisical. The ambiance and the view were pretty good, but I prefer good food in a dump over disappointing food anywhere.
After dinner, I walked around a bit and through the street market that sets up a bit downriver from the grilling restaurants. It consists of a 100 or so open-sided red canopied stalls selling native-style clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks (a.k.a. dust-collectors), t-shirts, decorative hand-made lighting, food, and more.
Most of it appeared to be mass-produced crap made in China, though there were some interesting pieces of art... though not to my taste, so I got away clean.
The next day (my only full day in Vientiane) I walked through town, went to a couple temples,
walked by the Presidential Palace
where I saw NO security save two rather lazy traffic cops sitting in an open gazebo across the street with their feet up. I say lazy because when one waved his white baton at an offending motorbike rider, the rider ignored him and kept going. The cop got up, walked to his motorbike, and, after watching the fleeing scofflaw for five seconds, went back to his seat in the shade of the gazebo.
I also visited the locals' market;
where I bought a ball cap
(not this one, though I was tempted) to shade my eyes from the bright sun; and walked up the stairs to the top of what seemed to be the tallest structure in the city, the Patuxai (Victory Gate) built to honor lives lost in the 1953-1975 Laotian Civil War. It's a climb worth making, though you will encounter souvenir vendors on each floor.
walked past the American Embassy (note the similarities in security compared to the Lao Presidential Palace)
Yeah, I don't see them either.
Later I happened by the Embassy of Bharian and its equally tight security...
When are the war-mongers and the chicken hawks in the U.S. going to realize that kicking the crap out of countries just because we can is very bad foreign-policy? I'll bet you didn't know about this one: Bush Rejects Taliban Bin Laden Offer.
Let's follow Greg Mortenson's example instead of Genghis Kahn's
By now, I'm pretty hungry, so I went to a place I passed earlier called Sputnik Burgers. I figured that any place with this outdoor seating
deserved a shot at my food dollars. I was right! The eggplant burger with goat cheese and radish sprouts was both uniquely presented and DELICIOUS!
After my late lunch I went back to the hotel to meet with the guy from whom I am renting the motorcycle. More on that next time
Just before dark I set off again to wander the streets in search of visual stimulus... and stumbled across a street fair with a bit of street entertainment
and, of course, more vendors
Since I am shooting for an early departure tomorrow (9 Feb), I called it an early night.