Vientiane, a four hour minibus ride south from Vang Vieng is the nations capital and was our last stop in Laos before crossing the border en-route to Udon Thani, an Air Asia flight and finally: Phuket. Vientiane offers the first glimpse of western commercialism that we’d seen since our time in Laos. 7-Eleven’s haven’t yet made it to Laos yet but mini marts, Pizza Hut and many others serve as a warning of what may become of the Laos in future years. Having only come to the capital on transit we only had 2days/1night to explore.
A large esplanade that lines the Mekong river comes to life in the evening with makeshift restaurants and bars appearing, springing to life out of no where as the sun slowly sets into the river. A great spot to sit back and have a beer, however we were a bit late and only caught the tail end of the sunset. A night market also appears on both sides of the street running parallel with the esplanade. Nothing really noteworthy for sale is available here in comparison to the huge market in Luang Prabang, although I did see some funny (and very geeky) pluggers with a keyboard etched into them. A few bars and clubs are scattered in blocks near the esplanade but we didn’t patron any as a night off was just in order after a few days in Vang Vieng. Food here seemed surprisingly expensive to me as I thought prices in smaller towns such as Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang would have been higher. All in all, the whole city felt like the type of place even the most avid museum/history lover needn’t spend more than a few days.
Arising the next day we hopped on another bus headed for the Friendship Bridge that connects Thailand and Laos. The Laos side was expectantly slow yet eventually we made it through, paid our exit fees and got our second Thai entry stamp and continued onwards to Udon Thani. We managed to get ourselves on what seemed to be a local’s only bus as we were the only Caucasians on it, something which has happened several times on the trip. As such we really had no idea what was going on when the bus stopped at different points, handed us our bags and then took off! Luckily, it turned out we needed our bags to go through customs, a search which never happened before being returned to the idly waiting bus on Thai territory.
Udon Thani is without a doubt my least favorite place I’ve been in Asia. We spent about an hour walking around trying to find a guest house and luckily some locals pointed us in the right direction. The street we stayed on was loaded with guest houses, most of which were oddly booked out. The street also housed what had to have been the seediest part of town. There wasn’t even a single bar that we considered going into. Walking around in the afternoon you could see old rich men walking or sitting in a bar one (or more) young Thai girls. Bar’s from across the street would yell out ‘Helloooo, welcome sexy mannn’ in horribly high pitched voices. Topping it off was a sheltered lane way similar to those running off the main bar strip in Patong beach full of very grabby and persistent ladyboys. The day or so we were stuck there waiting for our flight to Phuket we didn’t encounter a single young westerner.
Whilst it wasn’t the most interesting few days, it opened our eyes to a few more cities and also saved us a few hundred dollars when compared to flying out of Vientiane. Going from Laos to Phuket isn’t the most usual path for travelers in the region as most go south to Cambodia, however the group consensus was to go. For anyone reading this and planning on getting to Phuket from Vang Vieng or Vientiane: If you catch the first bus out of Vientiane, you should be able to make it to the afternoon Air Asia flight to Phuket without having to spend the night in Udon Thani. We were also able to get a bus directly to Udon Thani which some sites/books say you can’t. However, the bus will only stop at center of town and you will need to hop in one of the numerous cabs nearby to get to the airport.