Lane Xang, home of a million elephants, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic- Laos. We entered Laos via the friendship bridge across the mighty Mekong river from Nong Khai in Thailand. We didn’t know that much about the place, except that everybody who had been there who we spoke to loved the people and the place. I don’t remember ever hearing a bad word spoken about the place.
So with much excitement we booked a couple of nights in Vientiane the nations capital city of 200,000. Our hotel was on the banks of the Mekong and was probably the height of soviet era luxury back in its day, but had now lost a bit of it’s shine. Huge rooms, empty corridors and unfinished wings: we opened a door at the end of the corridor to a sheer drop onto the remains of the poolside area. The pool itself no more, but littered with a few shacks and signs of a future luxury development as tourism increases.
Vientiane itself had a soporific feel about it and walking around we slowly merged into it, stopping for a drink in a chic café here and there, watching the world go by. Beautiful office girls walking hand in hand with umbrellas to shade the sun, soviet flags flapping off stores and houses and tourists walking slowly around, slowly unwinding to the pace of Laos.
In the evening the Vientiane riverbank buzzed gently to the rhythm of open air fitness classes, night markets and road side restaurants selling beer lao and fish. There were Chinese theatres playing god knows what, but it was loud, bright and everybody seemed to find it funny. A steak dinner in a French restaurant frequented in the past by CIA types even had two older Americans talking in hushed tones – about what I don’t know but you can only imagine.
And everywhere Toyota pick- ups: wherever you go a Toyota in grey international aid colours, with European or American or Australians buzzing around.