Lao lao

After seeing Hanoi and surrounds, we decided to head into Laos. We didn't know much about Laos, except that every traveler who had been there raved about it. We paid for a "tourist" bus from a Hanoi travel agency which ended up being a glorified local bus which was packed to the hilt with cargo.

The Vietnamese exit point included some low-level corruption and the Laos entry point and visa application had the most ridiculous double-handling and unorganised system we've encountered so far. After our breakdown and several stops to speculate on the value of sugar cane, we finally reached the Laos capital, Vientiane, almost 24 hours after we began the journey. During the trip we befriended a Canadian couple, Matt and Lindsay, and a Frenchman, Matthieu, who we continued to travel with for some time.

Vientiane is a small (just 200,000 people) and relaxed city, compared with other capitals we have seen. We instantly liked it compared to the pushy feel of tourism in Cambodia and Vietnam. There are less touts, less scams, and more friendliness without expectation.

We hired bicycles for a day to look at the few sights that Vientiane offers. The national monument of Laos is Pha That Luang, a tall golden stupa with magnificent surrounding buildings.

We also went to a Wat (Buddhist temple monastery) with tens of thousands of bhuddas.

We caught up with our friends from the bus journey in the evenings and had dinner together. We tried the local drink of choice, lao lao, a kind of rice wine which is reminiscent of Chinese baijiu and is just as potent and unpleasant. It was hard work for us to finish off the bottle but we got there in the end!

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