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Vientiane, Laos

Awoke at the unearthly hour of 3:45am. We went into the lounge where Polly was sleeping and were astounded to see her up and dressed already – think she was proving a point!? Not good at mornings let alone this early, even breakfast is a struggle at this time!
Our pick up was arranged for 5am to take us from the apartment to the airport. We flew from Bangkok to Udon Thani in the North East of Thailand, from there it was a taxi into town and then about an hours wait for the bus that would take us across the border into Laos and onto Vientiane. Although the journey was fairly long in total, the different modes of transport broke it up quite nicely.
After manic Bangkok, it was good to get somewhere with a more sedate pace. Although Vientiane is the capital of Laos, the population of the city is quite small. Our hotel was situated in a quiet backwater with hardly any traffic, it seemed a little surreal.
Much to Polly’s disgust, we did a large walking tour of Vientiane the next day taking in some of the bigger sights. First up was the market (groan!) and then Patuxai which looks a little similar to the Arc du Triomphe. You get a good view from the top looking down the main road towards the Presidential Palace.

From there we trudged on to Pha That Luang, Laos’s most important monument and (according to Lonely Planet) a symbol of the Buddhist religion as well as Lao sovereignty. Em was somewhat perturbed by a monk who was caught short there and relieving himself against the monument – I don’t know, monks these days! Although it was impressive, its not as gold as the pictures lead you to believe.
One of our objectives with Polly was to try to get her to be more adventurous with food. This was achieved on night 2 when we went to a restaurant with no English menu. We pointed to a couple of pictures on the menu and had a great meal of barbequed meatballs and make yourself spring rolls washed down with a bottle or two of Lao beer.

The following morning we made a visit to the Thai consulate as Em and I knew we would have an issue with our Thai visa. Strangely when you cross into Thailand over a land border they only grant you 15 days in the country. Once in Thailand you can only extend for 10 days at a cost of £40. Whichever way we looked at it, once Polly had gone home, we were going to have to leave Thailand and re-enter if we didn’t sort out a different type of visa. We managed to do this at the consulate for no charge but it meant staying in Vientiane a day longer than we planned.
The next day we hired bikes and cycled to Cope, an organisation which helps people who have lost limbs. This help takes many forms - rehabilitation, provision of prosthetics and mobility devices. Unexploded ordinance (UXO), a remnant of the Vietnam war, it still a massive problem in Laos and about 40% of people Cope help are victims of injuries caused by UXO. A startling fact – Laos has 0.1% of the world’s population but 51% of the world’s UXO. I encourage anyone going to Vientiane to visit Cope (http://www.copelaos.org/index.html)

From Cope we cycled back to the Thai consulate to collect our Passport with a nice shiny 60 day visa contained within.
The next blog entry will be narrated by our guest editor, Polly Nicholl!

permalink written by  Tim and Em on August 5, 2010 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Round half the world!
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