Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A little about a lot

It's been a while since I've posted (as predicted) so I have a lot to write about. Therefore I am having to resort to writing brief unconnected bits about each thing. So bear with me. Or don't - it's not like I get paid for this!

We left Luang Prabang for Vientiane on the second of January, two days ago. On the journey we had to travel along dangerous, dangerous route 13. You might not know about this, as I have been refraining from mentioning it thus far for fear of terrifying you all (well, some of you), but Route 13 is the road that runs from the north of Laos right down to the south, winding through beautiful misty mountainous jungle. It is also the most dangerous road ever.
Well, alright, not quite. But buses travelling on it are sort of semi-regularly held up by armed gunmen and stuff along it's route. This happened several times in 2003 and 2004. And then in 2003 a bomb went off at Vientiane main bus station. It's all the work of... well, no one knows who it's the work of, actually. General consensus is Hmong (it's a tribe) rebels, but the government claims it's just the work of common or garden bandits. Mind you (checks over shoulder nervously for secret police), this is a Communist government that doesn't allow opposition, so they would say that.
Anyway, suffice it to say we survived. Yay. Though I'm not going to claim that when the bus actually broke down right in the middle of the most dangerous but we didn't crack a fair few fatalistic jokes... Thank goodness for spanners, and the mechanical mindedness of the driver!

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos, across the Mekong river from Thailand. It's a sordid, run-down little berg, but having got thoroughly bored of the quiet life after spending just too long in Luang Prabang, the facts that as I speak there is a whore walking the street outside this internet centre ("Hey Baaaaabyyyy" - no joke, no Full Metal Jacket pastiche, that is actually her line), and our guesthouse is a shit heap don't bother me too much. At least there are people here. And things to do (and I don't mean the ho). And without further ado, here are some accounts of the things I've done in since arrival.

Since I gave an account of the bureaucracy involved in getting my Indian visa, I feel I should give an account of what it took for us to go to the Vietnam embassy and get a Vietnamese visa. Actually, that's about it. We went there. It was open, despite it being the first Monday after New Year and thus everything else shut. We filled out a form, gave in our passports and photos, paid our US$55, and were told that the "three working days" it took to process would mean we could collect it on the 5th, when we handed in the application on the 2nd. So that's not like bank-style full working days - yay! Then, on the way out, Si took the risk of causing a diplomatic incident and stole a toilet roll from the Embassy toilets. Have that, Vietnam!

Today we got up (eventually - hey, I'm on holiday), and went to Buddha Park, a collection of scenes from Buddhist and Hindu mytholosy sculpted in cement by a monk. Judging from the sculptures, the man in question was completely insane - his vision of hell was an enormous concrete Giant Peach, into which one could crawl through a bit mouth, wander round the labyrinthine structure looking at bizarre concrete scenes, then eventually end up on the roof. Very highly recommended - it's utterly surreal.

After that we went to the Beer Lao factory. Yeah, I know it's a brewery, not a tourist attraction, but Beer Lao is the nicest beer in the whole wide world (probably), so we turned up at the reception, smiled and asked for a tour. And we got one, as well as free stickers, leaflets and, yes, a free glass of beer each. The bottling plant was fantastic. It was like all those videos in Science on Industrial processes, mixed with the Science Museum, and finally combined with beer. That good.

Finally, tonight I sat in a cheap Chinese in the sort-of-Chinatown here in Vientiane and ate fried pork and rice, then watched an utterly fantastic Chinese film about the perils of gambling. It had everything - the aforementioned gambling, sex, violence, comedy, awesome characters, and more plot twists than anyone could possibly foretell. And what was the name of this great film? I have no idea - the credits were in a Chinese language. Damn.

Right, off to Vietnam in the next couple of days, so again, if you don't hear from me for a while, don't panic and think I've been blown up at Vientiane bus station or somehow stumbled onto one of the many many pieces of unexploded ordinance the yanks left strewn across this still-Communist country when they weren't at all at war here stopping the Red Menace.


Blogger Akshay said...

Scanned through your entire blog, must say it was eye glue. Carry on

January 7, 2005 at 5:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My co-worker was in Vietname for four weeks. He came back to work yesterday and he was telling wonderful stories with regards to the affordable prices in Vietnam. Other than the expensive airfare from the US, most of the male workers in the office are eager to visit Vietnam for its women and everything else. You guys are so lucky!

March 23, 2005 at 2:06 AM  

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