Click photo to see slideshow
or here for all Vientiane pics
There's not a lot you can do as a tourist in Vientiane. Sure, you can take pictures of the the photogenic Great Gilded Stupa, you can visit a few peaceful Buddhist wats, or you can stroll along the corridors of the National Museum through exhibits about the revolutionary history of Laos. But most of all, you will end up appreciating the restaurants that this town has to offer. The locals seem to be very proud of their flimsy French colonial heritage; bakeries, cafes, croissants and wicker chairs are pleasant fixtures of the city center streets. Many appealing, tastefully decorated dining establishments boast international cuisine on their menus - there is even a Mexican Taqueria on the river front - and most offer a very good, tasty deal for your money.
Surprisingly, the first few hotels we looked at as we got off the night bus from Pakse, were all booked solid. After wandering around in circles a few times, increasingly frustrated, looking at the "full" signs set up on top of many reception counters, we found a decent room at the Orchid Guesthouse, with bathroom, TV and air conditioning for $16. It was a little expensive, considering that Laos was supposed to be still one of the cheapest tourist destinations, but it seems that the Lonely Planet effect is being felt around here as well. As soon as something is listed in one of their famous, popular guidebooks the prices increase, sometimes up to double. You cannot negotiate much for room rates in Laos, even less so in remote rural areas like the Bolaven Plateau; more than once we arrived at guesthouses that were practically empty, yet they wouldn’t budge when I tried to haggle. Prices increase naturally over time, and the dollar is at a historic low nowadays, but these sudden radical adjustments of the most recent published rates seem only motivated by the greed of local businesses and the willingness of the tourists to pay without questioning. In the words of a bitter forum member on the Thorntree message board: "I travel with a f#@%*! Lonely Planet guide only so I know to avoid all the places listed in there!"
One day is all you need in Vientiane if you don't have any special business to attend to. I did - I had to apply for another tourist visa to enter Thailand again; unfortunately Romania is not on the list of the countries whose citizens are exempt of visas or can receive them on arrival. The process was as easy as ever: you stay in line to apply, you wait in a stifling room for your name to be called so you can pay the 1000 baht fee (about $30) and you pick up your passport the next day. And since Vientiane is a small town, I didn't even need to pay for a taxi to take us to the consulate and back - we rented bicycles and explored the town on wheels; the flat land and the absence of heavy traffic makes biking a very appealing alternative to tuk-tuks.
After two days we continued on our way north - the next stop was Vang Vieng, the backpacker's mecca in the mountains of northern Laos.Published from Luang Prabang