Laos Vientiane 2002.02.21 - 02.22

Capital of Laos

Vientiane has little to see, but it's a major tourist layover point. Those coming from Thailand across the Friendship Bridge just south of Vientiane are exhausted from numerous bus-boat-truck connections required to reach the city. Those coming from Luang Prabang and other northern points are exhausted from cramped 12+ hour bus rides down nauseating mountain roads. Those, like us, coming from Pakse and other southern points are similarly exhausted from even more cramped overnight bus rides. We all reach Vientiane limping with bruised knees and drooping eyes. Finding any excuse to postpone boarding the next transport, we each find refuge in the cheapest available guesthouse for sleep and recuperation. Guesthouses fill fast. The earliest arrivals are at 05:30 from the south. The next lot straggle across the Thai-Lao border between 07:00~09:00. By early afternoon, many of the cheap guesthouses are full. If intending to stay the night in Vientiane, don't arrive after noon expecting to find budget accommodation.

Prices, except for Internet, in Vientiane are more expensive than elsewhere in Laos. The cheapest guesthouses charge 35,000 Kip (about US$3.70) for a dirty double without WC, about 2-3 times the price found elsewhere. Lao food stalls where decent meals cost about 5000 Kip (about US$0.53) per meal around Laos are replaced by Western bars, bakeries, and restaurants in Vientiane. The only bargain is the Internet where a frustratingly slow connection costs 6000~9000 Kip (US$0.63~0.95) per hour. In relative terms, an equally slow Internet connection in other parts of Laos are 2.5 or more times more expensive. This by no means implies that Internet is prevalent in Laos. In Southern Laos, we saw zero Internet points and only an occasional phone. Between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Laos' two biggest cities, Internet and telephones work sporadically at best.

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