Vientiane Diversion

4 Jul

Early Morning Tuk Tuk Ride

I began my journey before dawn. As I walked in the dark early morning sky to the entrance of campus, I was relieved to arrive at the gate and find my chariot awaiting. There she was, a local and reliable tuk tuk driver, ready and waiting to take me to the airport. Just a few days earlier I had scheduled my ride for the journey, not quite certain if the message was successfully received in the confusion of speaking English to a Thai ear. “Monday?”….. “No, SUNday….” But there she was.

I was heading to Vientiane, Laos to handle some visa business. It is funny how just a few months earlier from the more refined land of Vienna, Austria, a Thai visa run to a bordering town seemed like perhaps a shady endeavor. After simmering just a few months in the local culture, now more at ease in the land of tuk tuks and unexpected power outages, a visa run to Laos seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.

My route was the well-weathered path of countless travellers before me. I took a flight to the Thailand border town called Udon Thani. From there I took a van to the Thailand/Laos border. After $30 USD, a Laos Visa on arrival, and a quick bus ride across the “Friendship Bridge”, I found myself for the first time in Laos.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a seasoned array of tuk tuk drivers waiting for their regular meal of travellers making their pilgrimage to the Thai Consulate in Vientiane, Laos. I was fortunate to meet a respectable and fair driver who took me and a fellow traveler from New Zealand to the center of town for a modest rate. His coach was like a miniature truck with passenger space in the back. We traveled down the right side of the road, a switch after the left-sided ways of Thailand. We drove exposed to the heat, the wind and dust whipping through my body.

River WalkIn no time, we were deposited along the riverside in Laos. It didn’t take long to get my bearings in this small unassuming little Laos town filled with fellow travellers passing time in town. I quickly drank up the feel of the city noticing it’s collection of French cafés and inviting assortment of local restaurants.

I made my way to my hotel, just a stones throw from the riverfront and in the heart of the tourist and “foreigner-friendly” part of town. I treated myself to a comfy stay at the Ibis hotel in Vientiane. I felt just a little spoiled in my easy modern room with its heavenly bed and pillows that melted away the tensions of traveling.

Basket Maker in VientianeWhile Vientiane is a sleepy little town, I was still charmed by it’s local people and red carpet of expat friendly eateries and restaurants. It was fun to spend a few days exploring the restaurant landscape and enjoying a few happy, healthy and affordable meals in town.

I first made my way to Jahmil’s Indian food for dinner. Tucked away down a little alley and modest and informal in it’s ways, I was a bit hesitant upon my arrival. I walked in feeling like I was walking into someone’s living room wondering if it was indeed okay to come in. My dining company for the evening was a fellow expat, from Canada, and in the early dining hours the only other only guest in the restaurant. We made our way through casual conversation and satisfying curry. A screamingly affordable bill later, I was full and happy and on my way into the steamy Loas evening.

The next morning was an early departure to the Thai consular’s office.  I arrived there joined by three of my fellow teachers also on the journey as well as a substantial collection of others waiting in line. Time passed quickly and soon we were happily receiving our numbers and successfully submitting our paperwork. We were outa there around 10am. Hooray!

VientieneThe rest of the day included restaurants to explore and some heat to escape. Vientiane was holding strong with it’s hot season temperatures, even more so than Chiang Mai. I appreciated the cool respite of my hotel and the occasional HBO film, a decadent “western” treat.
That night I made my way to a great little eatery called Lao Kitchen. Its open-air eating space welcomed me in, but offered no protection from the heat of the day. I was grateful for the competent English of my waitress as I did my best to explain that I cannot eat refined sugar. This request is a bit daunting in Asia.  I am asking that not only sugar is left out, but also fish sauce, soy sauce and any other places where sugar can sneakily hide. As I placed my order she looked at me a bit peculiarly, but did an outstanding job of passing my request along to the kitchen. Amazingly, after I asked to leave pretty much everything out of the red curry stir fry I ordered, what I received was a fresh flavorful dish all for the equivalent of less than $4 USD.

That night I visited the nightly outdoor market gathering along the curve of the mighty Mekong river. Surrounded by a sea of motorbikes and locals shopping for goods and having fun, I appreciated taking in the wide array of clothes, paintings, and local knickknacks. Shortly after I arrived so did the rain. Slowly at first. I took the lead of the locals who literally fled the outdoor market scene with the arrival of the first raindrops. I followed the crowd and literally ran out of there not making it to my hotel before the downpour came.

What a joy it was to appreciate the simple culinary pleasures while handling a little business along the way. Breakfast was next …… I arrived an early bird at Noy’s Fruit Heaven and had my selection of tables as I sat and took in the quiet Vientiane morning. I had to smile when a young Loas boy adjusted the fan near-by so that it would blow in my direction while shooting a smile my way. I appreciated his sweet sensibilities to tend to my needs.

Breakfast was simple but great. A vegetable omelette with a generous portion of watermelon on the side. I took in the morning and the meal appreciating my modest feast. I was surrounded by the daily business of the local family owning and running the business. The grandmother, sneaking in a nap before tending to business and practicing her English. The young boy sheepishly offering me a hello and a few practiced words in English.

Early that afternoon I connected with my fellow teachers and we made our way for the last legs of our journey. We found easy success at the consulate’s office. Within the hour we picked up our passports newly decorated and ready to go. Afterwards, we used our developing negotiating skills to secure a decent rate for the journey across the border. For the first leg of our way, we found room for all four of us in a nice Honda sedan, a real luxury and unexpected coach. Once we arrived at the border we were connected with a mini-van driver who took us the rest of the way to the airport. We sat in the mini-van for ten filled with expats of all shapes and sizes telling their stories and making their complaints along the way.

And in no time at all I was home… or in Chiang Mai… or perhaps a little bit one and the same. I was grateful to return to my comfy little room on the quiet grounds of the school campus. After a somewhat descent night sleep, I awoke on Wednesday morning birthed back into the world of teaching and classrooms bursting with students, a bit of a shock after my brief Vientiane diversion.

And so life continues. A little more settled. A little more adjusted to the somewhat wacky ways of teaching and life in Chiang Mai. Still easing into the heat. Grateful for the relief of intermittent air-conditioning and brief Vientiane diversions.

4 Responses to “Vientiane Diversion”

  1. Mary Dewein 04/07/2015 at 20:41 #

    Hi Nancie,

    I love your letters. You make me feel that I’m right there with you! I don’t think I would like the heat either. MS doesn’t like heat! Thanks again for the letter and be sure to take good care of yourself. Be aware! Love u, Auntie Mar

    • nancieteresa 18/07/2015 at 03:44 #

      Hi Mary Good to hear from you!

      • Mary Dewein 18/07/2015 at 17:53 #

        Hi Nancie…. I hope you are doing OK! Enjoy your adventure. Think of you always! Love u, Auntie Mar Tom says “HI”. Do Elephant smell while you are riding them? Tom got a “chuckle” out of your letter about the elephant!

  2. Mary Dewein 18/07/2015 at 18:07 #

    Hey Nancie….. was that fun bathing the elephant? You look so cute in the water with the BIG elephant! What an experience you had with him/her. The guy you are with is nice looking also. Have fun… stay cool! It is so HOT here right now! Love u, Mar

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