12/24 – 12/30, by Jason
With our second trip to go tubing fairly successful, except for Chris’s minor losses, it was time to head back to Vientiane to celebrate Christmas with Sally, Caroline and Trudy. We had an uneventful bus ride back south into the city and we checked into the Chanthapanya Hotel for two nights. This place was a nice upgrade from most hostels and guest houses we’ve stayed in and still a steal at $45/night! It was a two bed A/C room with hot water shower (it even had a divider between the shower area and toilet area, something I haven’t seen in months!) refrigerator, cable TV, etc. We dropped off our bags and headed to the Lao Beer Garden for a quick bite to eat and we then headed off in search of some wine, champagne and western snacks to make our Christmas eve enjoyable. In Vientiane I definitely recommend Vansom Wine Shop and the Phimphone Market (their older, original location) for wine and champagne. We headed over to the newer Phimphone Market location for goods (smoked salmon, pate, cheeses, crackers and olives, etc) While running our errands we ran into the weirdest hippy Santa I’ve ever come across!
We spent a little time getting dressed then headed down to the girls suite for drinks, snacks and Christmas eve comeradery. (To Swiss that includes a card game.) We even showed up with Santa hats for the group…enjoy:
As you can tell the food and wine hit some of us harder than others, so it was time for bed. Christmas morning we enjoyed a delicious cooked to order breakfast in our hotel, then Swiss and Chris went off to rent scooters and check out the National Stupa (I’d already been so they were going to pick me up afterwards.) Well they’d been going over an hour and a half and Swiss suddenly appeared to tell me that Chris’s bike had broken down at the Stupa and that they’d be a little while. Oops, crap start to Chris’s first test on a scooter in SE Asia. Well, as it turned out that even though the gas gauge read “full” the tank was actually empty, and the seat was jammed so the gas tank could not be accessed. Doh!! They swapped out the scooter for a new one and came to pick me up for our trek out to the Buddha Park (hey, it was Christmas, why not visit a large, artsy and definitely unique Buddha Park!?!? :) We had a rough map out there (read: someone at the front desk drew two roads on a piece of paper) and when Swiss was nearly certain we were heading the wrong direction, we arrived! Pictures of our stroll around below:
We headed back into Vientiane (about 25 km) but not without a quick stop at the BeerLao Brewery, the location where this nation’s most delicious beverage is created, for a quick picture:
We all got ready and then headed over to the Lao Plaza Hotel for their Christmas Buffet dinner (and a steal at 200,000 LAK/person, which included unlimited beer!) They had a delicious spread of salads, cured meats, cheeses, fresh shellfish and custom made Caesar salads, roasted turkey and sides, fresh grilled meat and seafood, sushi and a selection of Asian (mainly Chinese) dishes, plus a dessert bar! Trust me, I think we all had our fair share of the buffet (and maybe me more than others, but hey, it’s the holidays!)
We hung out until a little before midnight when they cut off our free beer and the band that was playing behind us had packed up for the night. Although it would’ve been nice to have had the comforts of home and family, we created our own little family and had a great Christmas dinner, and certainly a Christmas I won’t forget!
After a late night and a bit too much beer (OK, for me at least!) we grabbed breakfast just before they closed then went on the hunt for a bus ticket to Pakse. We found a pretty good deal, we thought, with an overnight sleeper bus (actual beds!) for 150,000 LAK/person. We spent the afternoon killing time, the guys got massages and grabbed a quick burger from a roadside stand before getting picked up for our bus. Our bus left fairly promptly at 8.30pm and did have actual beds, although it was 2 people/bed…a little odd. Chris and I took the top bed while Swiss shared the bed below with a German born/raised French girl below. After a fairly sleepless night we arrived, as promised, a little after 6.30am in Pakse, Southern Laos. A quick breakfast at the Langkham Noodle Shop and we ended up checking into the Phonsavanh Guest House (A room with three beds, hot water shower, A/C and satellite TV for 100,000 LAK, a pretty good deal I must say.) Now we went on a hunt for a trek around the area and ended up at Green Discovery. There were 2 treks we were interested in, but one of the two was not available at this time. The one that was available was pretty moderate and included some steep trekking, according to the folks there, so I decided that I would not join the group (remember me and heights? Yeah, steep trekking is not so much for me. And actually when they got back the guys said their trek was more advanced than moderate and pretty tough, a good call on my part to skip that journey)
The guys left the next morning for their 2 day/1 night trek while I spent a lazy Monday exploring town (let’s just say that I didn’t leave the room until after noon) and a fairly busy Tuesday getting some errands done (sending post cards, getting a haircut, doing some research for Cyndi and Matt’s arrival in Vietnam and finding a room for us in Siem Reap over New Years)
Wednesday morning we were up early, leaving at 7.30am for our LONG day of travel, 13.5 hours on buses from Pakse to Siem Reap, Cambodia!