Mar 5, 2020
Location : Vientiane, Laos
Visa Run to Vientiane
With my visa expiry, Vientiane was the nearest border from Udon Thani, Thailand. I boarded the International Bus that took me 2 hours through a painless border crossing. I wasn't impressed the last time I visited Vientiane - it had seen better days. But that didn't matter - all I wanted was to find a suitable place to do my first fulltime job writting B2B software reviews for a Polish company. I alighted from the Khua Din Bus Station which was a good 1.8km from my hotel, the InTouch Guest House. Not knowing how much to pay the motorcycle guys, I just walked. I walked by the row of embassies lined-up along the Presidential Palace.
InTouch Guest House
At Baht 88/night on Agoda, it was the cheapest. I subsequently made an arrangement with the Vietnamese owner to pay Kip 30k/day (Baht 100) for every extension. I was a little apprehensive given the mixed reviews. But getting there, it wasn't bad for what I paid. A/C was activated late and turned-off early. Without A/C, the air inside the dorm room was dead - not conducive to even resting during the daytime. The common area provided me a working space where I could do online work. The travelers were a mixed bag of European students on a budget, barefoot hippies, Israelis just off their army training, and one-offs like me. I wasn't too social as I was pre-occupied with work. I eventually became conversant with the owner, Chang, who was surprisingly Vietnamese, and not Lao. She also warmed up to me, sharing bits of her journey. She even invited me to lunch on what she prepared.
The moment I stepped out of the bus, the pressure was on as I had to start working fulltime the following day. I had to find a Lao SIM and internet load. That was a bit complicated. I also had to change my Thai Baht into Lao Kip. I had to settle down to my new hostel and find a suitable working environment. At the same time, I had to work on hotel deals for better accommodation. None of the hotels I previously emailed to, responded. I knocked on a few doors with no luck. To those who replied with a decline, I revised my terms, still to no avail. My phone was also dying as I was doing my hotel rounds - lost my charger in Udon Thani! The following day, my hotel rate on Agoda shot up from B88/night to B300/night. Yikes! Fortunately, the owner extended a flat Baht 100/night rate. I also had to download 2 software that I'll need for my 3 pm onboarding the following day. I had to learn fast how to use them. It was raining hard in the morning, I had to search for an umbrella vendor. Whew!!!
A New Vientiane
It wasn't the same Vientiane I left more than 5 years ago, which I found disheveled with decaying infrastructure. Despite the dismal turn-out of tourists due to the Corona Virus, infrastructure rebuilding was in full swing. New malls were already on soft opening. There were more chic cafes and boutique hotels. Prices were expectedly more than Thailand. A Baht 40-50 meal in Thailand will cost around Baht 50-60 (Kip 15k-18k) in Vientiane.
I saw a traveler do his yoga in the hotel lobby. What dedication! We got into a yoga talk and that's when he asked me if I can conduct a class for him. I told him it'll be a free class, but open to a donation. So we did my yoga along the Mekong River. I gave him a high-level understanding of my entire practice consisting of philosophy, asana, pranayama, kumbhaka, mudra, bandha and meditation. After, he invited me for a meal (as his donation). I recommended a cheap eating place - where only locals eat. When the bill came to B140 (given what we ate, it was a reasonable amount for Vientiane), he balked so much at the amount that I offered to pay for my meal - to which he acquiesced. Oh well, so much for a free meal. No, he wasn't Dutch.
Increasingly, I notice that when anything free is offered, it's not taken seriously. Either they come late (like what happened in Udon Thani), don't show up (like in Mae Sot), or simply think it can't be important because it's free. Solution? Next time, I'll charge for yoga. And it won't be cheap. Maybe they'll show up on time and take the practice seriously.
I've only been here a few days. It feels very different because I can't keep my mind off the new job. But I manage to still pound the pavement for a hotel deal. The food is ok but I enjoyed my meals more in Udon Thani. I still don't have a blueprint for what's up ahead. I have a full month before my visa ends. Let's see what else unfolds.
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Next stop: Software Review Writing for 'Finances Online'
Vientiane City Bus Route Map
Vientiane FYI / Tips
- Vientiane is slightly less expensive than Pakse, but still more expensive than Saigon, Bangkok or Phnom Penh
- the tourist area where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators, etc., are located along the river beteen the Khun Bu Lom Road and Rue Chanthakhoumane - if you book a hotel within this area, no need to take a tuk-tuk ride to get to the main drag
- in Vientiane, internet speed is generally slow - some guesthouses only have lobby wifi. It was only very recently that fiber-optic connection has been made available, and at $200/month for the cheapest package, very few business owners are availing of it.
Udon Thani (Thailand) to Vientiane by bus
Take the International Bus at Udon Thani Bus Terminal 1 - no pre-purchase, on sale tickets only for the next departing bus, Baht 80 (Kip 23,500), departing times 8:00, 9:00, 10:30, 11:30, 14:00, 15:00, 16:30, 18:00, no visa-no ticket (except ASEAN), unloading at Khua Din Bus Station, 2hrs 15mins
Pakse to Vientiane by bus
This is an 11 hour bus ride along paved roads. You are advised to take the sleeping bus on the night trip - that way, you sleep while traveling and wake up in Vientiane, effectively saving you an additional day and sparing you the cost of one night's lodging. Bus price ranges from 150-170,000 Kip. Pakse's bus terminal is right in the city so you can just walk it.
Vientiane to Luang Prabang by bus
This trip is a 10 hour bus ride along paved roads. You are advised to take the sleeping bus on the night trip - that way, you sleep while traveling and wake up in Luang Prabang, effectively saving you an additional day and sparing you the cost of one night's lodging. Bus price ranges from 170-190,000 Kip. The bus takes off from the North Terminal. Even though you can get it cheaper to buy the tickets directly there, it would cost you more to ride the tuk-tuk to get there - best to have your hotel arrange the bus booking and you get picked-up right at your hotel.
- Buddha Park - an eclectic collection of concrete sculptures of Buddha and Hindu deities, 25 kms southeast. Package tour - Kip 70,000. You can also do a self-tour
- Pha That Luang - a third-century golden Buddhist stupa right in the heart of the city - biking distance
- Sisaket Temple - a Buddhist temple built between 1819 and 1824. It houses thousands of tiny Buddha images and rows with hundreds of seated Buddhas from its cloistered walls. This could be Vientiane's oldest surviving temple
- Patuxai (Victory Monument) - a war monument built between 1957 and 1968, it is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France
- Wat Si Muang - a Buddhist temple built in 1563, considered to be home of the guardian spirit of Vientiane
- That Dam - a black stupa believed to be inhabited by a 7-headed king cobra who protected the Laotians from an invasion by the Siamese army
- Night Market
- Mekong River Bank
- Ho Phra Keo
Vientiane Cost Index
As a general rule, Laos is a little more expensive than Thailand. What would be sold in Bangkok for Baht 40-50 would sell for Baht 50-60 in Vientiane. Some vendors would accept Thai Baht as payment, and may even exchange Baht for Kip. Vientiane is slightly less expensive than Pakse, but still more expensive than Saigon, Bangkok or Phnom Penh
- Kip 10,000 one big bottle, Beerlao (Kip 12,000 if by the river)
- Kip 5,000 1.5 liter drinking water, sugar cane juice, soy milk
- Kip 50,000 one hour massage
- Kip 20,000/pax tuk-tuk ride from bus terminal to city center
- Kip 12,000 coffee
- Kip 15,000 noodle soup with meat
- Kip 10,000/day bicycle rental
- Kip 10,000/kilo laundry
- Kip 175,000 sleeping bus to Luang Prabang (155,000 if seated bus)
- Kip 40,000 dorm bed incl. breakfast
- Kip 80,000 double bed in a fan room, shared toilet incl. breakfast
Laos Travel Tips
- Laotians hardly speak or understand English
- like Switzerland, Laos is land-locked by its neighbors - Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China
- Laos is a communist country and has close ties with Vietnam, its communist neighbor. Best not to talk anything negative about the government
- some establishments will accept US$ for big purchases but it's best to exchange your dollars to Kip for the small day-to-day expenses
- Laotians are generally honest people with a calm demeanor, much like Cambodians
- like Cambodia, Laos is steeped in its devotion to Buddha - pagodas abound and monks are an integral part of the landscape
- best place to exchange currencies is at the border. City money exchange centers won't give you the best rates
- best to exchange US dollars to Kip for good rates. If you exchange Vietnamese Dong to Laotian Kip, the rate is horribly low
- Exploring Huay Xai, Laos May 9-11, 2016
- Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos Dec 30, 2014 - Jan 3, 2015
- Exploring the off-the-beaten-path of Pakse, Laos Dec 17, 2014
- Goodbye Vientiane: in Search of Greener Pasture Mar 12, 2020
- Software Review Writing for 'Finances Online' Mar 10, 2020
- Vientiane Revisited Mar 5, 2020
- Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park in Vientiane, Laos Dec 27, 2014
- Exploring Laos' Capital, Vientiane Dec 24-29, 2014
General Travel Tips
- arrive early - in case there is a snag (visa snag, documentation snag, transport ticket snag, etc.), you will have ample time to troubleshoot the problem if you arrive early (to the airport, to the bus terminal, etc.)
- put detailed itinerary on the Calendar apps of your smart-phone according to timelines - this is where you do all your thinking and planning. Once written down, you don't have to think anymore while you are on the journey...you just follow the steps. This frees your mind for something else that might happen while you are already en route
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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Software Review Writing for 'Finances Online'
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