Saturday, September 23, 2006

Trip: Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR)
Date: September 23, 2006
Place: Vientiane

Good news! I was able to cross the border into Laos. I didn't run into any political trouble, but knowing what to do to cross is a bit tricky. The steps to cross the Friendship Bridge from Nong Khai Thailand to Vientiane Laos are:
1) Hire a tuk tuk to go to the "Bus Station to Laos" (about 30 baht if you negotiate)
2) Go through Thai immigration and give them your departure card
3) Take a bus to Laos (you can buy a ticket just on the other side of Thai immigration for 20 baht)
4) Go to the window in the front to get a visa for Lao. You will need $30 USD (or apparently $31 USD on Saturday; you can pay in baht too, but it will cost about another $15, so it's best to use US currency if you can...). You will also need a passport photo. Thankfully, the Fulbright folks recommended that we bring several passport photos with us, so I had a large sheet of passport photos made and took them with me. I didn't have a scissors though, so I handed the guy at the visa counter the whole sheet and asked if he could cut one off; they all had a long chuckle about that!
5) Pick up your visa (and your change if you have any) after they call your name. (It takes five minutes or so for them to process the information so you have to wait on the benches until they are done...) Oh, and the Lao visas are pretty like the Cambodia ones! :)
6) Fill out your entry/departure card. I got mine from the Lao Immigration counter, because I went there first, not knowing about the special visa window! You can probably get one from the visa guy though...
7) Go through Lao immigration where you show them your visa and arrival/departure cards
8) Go to the entry fee counter and pay 10 baht to enter the country... I guess it is a 30 cent tax on foreigners?!
9) Take a tuk tuk (50 baht) or a taxi (150 to 250 baht depending on who you talk to! Again, negotiation is key!) to your destination in Vientiane!

Vientiane is much smaller than I expected. I guess because it had a French name and was one of the main border towns, I expected it to be large and well developed. Not so! It is quite small (easily navigable on a bicyle which you can rent for a dollar a day) and run down like most cities in developing countries. The roads are quite torn up, but I think it is because they are planning on constructing new roads soon...

I did have dinner at a very nice French cafe tonight though called "Dao". The food was great and their ice cream was some of the best that I have had. It was a bit expensive though - $8 for food and desert. Funny how $8 seems outrageously expensive to me now, when I would have thought it was ridiculously cheap just a month ago!! I have put myself on a strict $300 a week budget though, as I do not want to go through my entire savings before I even get to Bangladesh! Thus, an $8 dinner is considered a "splurge"!

I am actually getting quite used to traveling. I sleep as well in my hotel rooms as I did in my apartment back in New York. Squeezing into a rickety tuk tuk with seven other Lao women seems normal. I am even getting used to the heat and humidity. I still sweat gallons a day, but it doesn't fatigue me like it did in the beginning.

Oh, just a quick note before I go, the Morning Market in Vientiane is a great place to buy Lao textiles. And Lao textiles are amazingly beautiful! Even better than the Thai ones I think! I have been VERY good on this trip and have not purchased anything except for rooms, transportation, and food, which for those of you who know me well was quite hard! I almost broke down at the textile booths today though. Fortunately for me the ones that I really wanted were outrageously expensive (the store woman's initial quote was $180 - I always have had expensive tastes), so my budget prevented me from indulging... Once I am back working again (in a place where I can wear Lao style clothes), however, I am definitely coming back to Lao to go fabric shopping!!

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