Getting to Vientiane from Hoi An was a bit of an adventure. We were both totally surprised when both we, and our bags, arrived at Watay International Airport that evening!
We checked in and not long before we were due to board, our flight was delayed. We had to go back through security to the Vietnam Airlines counter & explain we had a connection in Hanoi. Generally a fifty minute delay would be ok but we had to collect bags, get to another terminal and recheck in, going through security & passport control for a second time.
The airline changed us onto a flight that was leaving fifteen minutes earlier than our rescheduled flight which would give us a bit more time. As we were waiting to board this one, they announced this was also delayed! After a mad dash around the airport we were put back onto our original flight which was now just about to board, an hour later than it was scheduled to leave.
We landed at 15.30 and got into the terminal at 15.40-the time check in closed for our 16.20pm flight. We really didn't think the bags would make it given they'd been taken off a flight, put on another, taken off that & put back onto the original, but somehow they did. And they were the first off. An airline representative was there to meet us too to get us to the international terminal, a five minute shuttle bus drive away.
We were too late to check in our bags and they told us they would be delivered to us tomorrow. We were not having that and so they allowed us to take them with us, a baggage handler would meet us at the aircraft & we would hand them to him. Security then wanted me to take my boots off for inspection and go through Tony's bag- probably because they'd seen a huge carrier bag of liquids and a penknife, but the airline rep managed to get us out of this so we could run to the gate. We flopped into our seats just before the doors were shut and we took off exactly at the time we were supposed to.
I really had been expecting to spend the night in Hanoi, thinking there was no way we would make the connection. I was proved wrong!
Villa Lao, our home for the next three nights was basic! The bathroom walls didn't touch the ceiling, the bathroom door didn't close, the back door was locked with a coat hanger and as they had failed to give us any information when we checked in, we didn't know not to lock the front door and only use the padlock. This resulted in us not being able to get in and the night staff getting hold of a big kitchen knife and somehow break in! He then said 'I forgot to tell you not to lock it'. Ah, that's because you forgot to tell us anything!
A two night stay in Vientiane was extended to three, as actually, as far as cities go, it was quite nice. It was one of the quietest cities I've ever visited. There aren't any major sites to see, per say; it's just rather nice to wander around, drink coffee, beer, see a few temples, eat some food and wander some more.
We couldn't decide what to do for New Years Eve and thought about finding a nice restaurant and splashing out. Reviews of them though we're rather mixed and therefore we didn't want to spend £100 plus for a mediocre dinner. Our second plan was to go to the Lao restaurant featured on Anthony Bordeins cooking programme. Unfortunately it was empty and not quite the New Year atmosphere we were hoping for.
We wandered a while and decided on a Belgian restaurant that served lots of moules frites. The mussels however hadn't arrived from Thailand due to New Year and so we ordered steak. It. Was. Delicious!!
We had a charcuterie board to start with olives and pickles and lots of hot fresh bread, the steak and chips for the main, finished with a cheeseboard and two carafes of red wine. Perfecto!!! Whether it tasted so good because we hadn't had such food since Africa I don't know but we both really enjoyed it.
Laos has a curfew of 11.30pm and as such, we were booted out of the restaurant just before midnight! We had spent part of the evening talking to a Russian couple and the four of us decided to hunt out the main plaza where we had seen some sort of crowd gathering. We had a NY countdown, Lao style! Blaring euro pop and trance, lasers, and a big screen doing the countdown surrounded by lots of drunk Laotians who had been on the beer Lao all night. There were lots of 'happy new years' a bit of arm waving and then at 12.10pm we left the drunken madness and wandered the back streets home, with lots more friendly Lao people shouting happy new year as we passed by.
The next evening after watching the sun set over the Mekong River, looking across to Thailand, we sought out a little back street where the locals go for their duck, either to take away in a little plastic bag or eat at the road side, which is exactly what we did.
A bag of whole duck, another of steaming sticky rice and two little bags of hot chilli sauce for 40,000 kip/£3.30. We found plastic chairs near a 'corner shop' and bought big bottles of beer Lao and settled down to watch the local men playing pétanque. They were rather good!! After a while they invited Tony to play and after assessing his standard either wandered off no longer interested, or asked if he wanted to play for money. Well aware of his ability in comparison, he politely declined the offer and instead we had a friendly shot of whiskey with them before heading home.
Other than three french people sat near us, there were no other westerners and it was one of those experiences that will be forever fondly remembered, as being invited to join in local life when travelling is so rare nowadays.