It was such a relief to leave Vang Vieng, we caught a bus to the capital of Laos - Vientiene. The drive took about 4 hours and we were dropped in the northern terminal several km's out of the city - despite being told we were going to be dropped in the city centre. There was another bus offering to take people into the centre but it was fairly expensive so we thought we'd go out the front of the terminal and get a tuk tuk, bizarrely all the tuk tuk drivers refused to take us and the expensive bus drove round to find us - don't really know why we were only allowed to get this bus, after a bit of bargaining we got on for cheaper and went into the centre - all our backpacks were loaded on the roof and it suddenly started tipping it down, everything was soaked! The men set off to find a room and us girls sat in a cute little restaurant eating some lovely pork 'slop' and rice. We asked the owner what the slop was and he said it was just because they slop it on a plate! He played his bass guitar and sang out of tune while we ate our slop. The men came back and had found us a room - Vientiene is much more expensive than anywhere else in Laos, we had a room at the Mixay Paradise for 10 dollars but it included breakfast and was quite a nice room.
We had been to Vientiene in 2007 too and it had changed so much! The riverside now had a promenade with a market, when we came before it was just mud and grass and there were also now many restuarants and bars - even a few chain ones! We all had a drink overlooking the river - we were again opposite Thailand and there was lightening in the distance it was really pretty!
The following day we decided to hire some bikes and go off exploring, we rode along the river front where lots of flash houses were being built - it almost looked like an English estate! We went by several statues, the prime ministers office and ended up at the COPE centre. The COPE centre is an organisation that supports people who have lost limbs - mostly from unexploded bombs from the secret war. The centre makes artificial limbs and trains people to make them and helps with rehabilitation. There are so many unexploded bombs in Laos because between 1963 - 1974 the americans dropped something crazy like 2 million tons of bombs in Laos - it was to do with Vietnam but it was called the secret war as most people in the american government didn't even know what was going on - anyway they've caused a right mess of Laos. Hundreds of people every year are killed or lose limbs from stepping on unexploded bombs and sadly lots of the victims are children. The COPE centre was so informative (much more than me in this blog!) there were some heartbreaking interviews with parents who have lost their kids, one was very harrowing about an 8 year old who had been blasted by a bomb, the parents had to hire a truck to get him to a hospital - the hospital didn't have any oxygen or blood so they took him to another hospital and they had the same problem. He would have survived if they had these basic things. The truck owner didn't want the boy to die in his vehicle so they had to take him back home where he died. The mothers face was haunting when telling the story. We watched a few documentaries about how America hasn't really helped Laos with the clearing up of their mess. Laos is such a poor and remote country so deaths like the little boys will sadly continue. There are teams that go out and detonate bombs but it's a painfully slow and hard job.
After the COPE centre we thought we would cycle to the southern bus terminal to get some tickets for our next destination, Savannakhet. It was a little further than we thought and seemed to take ages to get there along a very busy road! We also stopped at a mall that was the only one in the city - it was in the very early stages so there wasn't really much in there at all! In the evening we went for another curry which was really tasty - all the bars in Vientiene seem to shut by 10:30 so we had an early night!
It would be really interesting to go back to Vientiene in a few more years to see how it will again change - there were many billboards showing new developments of hotel complexes and shopping malls, all a bit crazy when the rest of the country is so basic!