Well, it all got a little higgledy piggledy after our arrival in Vientiane. After I (Zoe) had an awful journey on the overnight bus, culminating in feeling sick, not being able to get into the toilet on the bus, and then nearly getting locked in the toilet on the bus, it was decided that rushing to get onto a 20hour bus immediately after may not be the greatest idea. Well, James was happy to, but I was still feeling sick, so we booked into a hostel in Vientiane (not the easiest thing to do. Most hostels in Vientiane were full). I slept, while James went off to explore and look into options as to where to go next.
We decided against the 20 hour bus to Luang Nam Tha, and toyed with heading to Luang Prabang, but faced difficulties getting from there to the Laos-Thai border. Pushed for time we settled on heading to Vang Vieng the next day to look at some caves and then come back to Vientiane to head to the border crossing. Tickets to Vang Vieng booked we spent the day exploring what Vientiane had to offer. Not a great deal it seemed. We found the Laos version of the Arc de Triomphe, and went up it. A particular highlight was the sign on the mini Arc de Triomphe (I'll add the photo of the sign when I get to an internet cafe that will allow photo uploads) which said something like "even less impressive closer up, like a concrete monster" - obviously the Lao people are proud of their mini Arc de Triomphe, created with concrete donated by the US for Laos to build an airport. As you do.
Desperate to really explore the Laos culture we spent the evening in a bowling alley. Turns out this might not be the most popular past time in Vientiane, as it was empty bar one German man, at 7:30pm. I started abysmall, scoring about 3 in my first four bowls (is that what you call them?) whilst James stormed ahead with spare after strike after spare - gaining many applauds from the Laos bowling alley staff who had nothing better to do than watch our game. I saved myself from complete shame with a strike a few shots from the end of the game. Unfortunately the strike came at a price. As I sent my ball flying towards the pins I heard a ripping sound. Yes, I had ripped a hole in the crotch of my trousers!!! Despite this embarrassment (thankfully neither James or the crowd of Laos bowling alley staff had noticed) I carried on, reaching a final score of 57 to James' 137 We decided to have a second game, where I started amazingly and James started very badly. Here James' competitive streak came out. He obviously didn't like losing to anyone, especially not a girl! My completely pot luck bowling saved the day for James, as I started rolling balls down the gutter, followed by the computer miscalculating my score after a strike, giving me 0 instead of 7! Either way, James won the second game too, 100 to my 66 (which should have been 70 something). However, the important thing is that I was winning until halfway through the second game!
The next day we got our 9am pick up to the bus to Vang Vieng, but due to the organisation of Laos buses, our bus was over booked, so they had to get another one. Even after this bus turned up we were sat on it til 11am waiting for it to leave! This meant we arrived in Vang Vieng at 3pm, over an hour and a half late. We hurriedly booked a hostel, dumped our stuff and ran off in search of caves. The place was dead! We eventually found a tuk tuk who drove us the 16km to the caves we wanted to see. After paying a toll to cross a bamboo bridge we found a guide and headed off to the caves. We were given lamps to put on our head, and battery packs to carry around our neck. We were then expected to scramble up steep rocky slopes, racing after our nimble guide! The caves were cool, but offered no escape from biting midges, which for once ignored me and started chomping on James. We explored two caves, at one point I was crawling on my hands and knees to avoid banging my head and falling in the water. It had to be ridiculously unsafe, as we had no hard hats or any back up lighting. The final cave involved getting in a rubber ring and floating down river to a tiny crack which you were meant to float through. Having survived two caves without my claustraphobia disabling me I decided that tiny crack was one step too far (plus I didn't have any swim wear on and didnt fancy floating around in my underwear). James took on the challenge, however, and disappeared into the cave in a rubber ring and just his shorts. I sat back and enjoyed a Laos coffee, watched two Laos men build some decking onto the river and chatted to other tourists appearing from the cave. At about 5:45pm (the sun beginning to set and the temperature having significantly dropped) James reappeared, and it turned out he'd been wearing more than just his shorts. About two thirds of the way through James had realised he was still wearing his money belt around his waist, which was now submerged in the water! His money, debit card and passport, were soaking wet!!! I found this very amusing, but tried to show concern. His passport seemed fine, the visa stamps were still visible (just). We headed back on our tuk tuk, with James attempting to dry off his passport by holding it in the wind. Back at our hostel James set up all his money and passport by the fan to dry them off. He then realised his money belt was missing. We think he left it on the tuk tuk. Thankfully, he'd removed everything of value, so it just means I have to carry his passport around in my moneybelt, which makes me look like I'm in the early stages of pregnancy!
Our return journey to Vientiane was much better. For an extra 25p each we'd decided to travel by minibus and this proved to be a very good idea. Back in Vientiane we rushed into action to get hold of bus tickets to Khon Kaen in Thailand. It was 12:30pm and the bus left at 2:15pm. The travel place we intended to buy tickets from was closed for lunch until 1pm, so we headed to a cafe to get some lunch. I looked after the bags and ordered whilst James ran back to the travel agents. It turned out they didn't sell the tickets and we had to get them directly from the bus station. James ran back to the cafe to tell me this, pick up the map of Vientiane and ran off to the bus station. Meanwhile our sandwiches arrived, so I ate mine while reading my book and waiting for James. When he came back he still didn;t have our tickets, because apparently they needed our passports to book it as it was a cross border bus! James wolfed down his sanwich and we both headed back to the bus station at a brisk pace, worried that the bus would sell out. We shouldn't have worried. When the bus pulled out at 2:15pm, only 6 of the 60 seats were occupied!!
The journey was smooth and on time. Some queuing was required at the border, but it was very organised, and we didn't have to pay an exiting fee. The woman at the desk just waved us by!
In Khon Kaen we found First Choice hostel eventually, and settled in. We had a wander around at half 7, but not much seemed to be going on. After dinner we went to a completely empty bar and had a drink. The owner put on the tv for us and we watched Gremlins. Feeling disheartened that the town was so dead we headed to bed at about 10:30pm. At 2pm music was still blasting out of the nearby bar that we had drunk at, which had been dead at 9:30pm!! Not sure at what point the town suddenly burst into life. Maybe the owner was just playing really loud music in his still empty bar.
Today we haven't been up to much. Taking it easy until our overnight bus to Chiang Mai. There isn't much to do in Khon Kaen. As I've been typing this James has been waiting to play Pro Evo with the Thai kids. It doesn't seem to be very successful. Either they are ignoring him, or they don't understand he wants to join in. Poor James.