23.03.2011 - 24.03.2011 30 °C
23rd March 2011
Even the alarm sounded tired as it rang out at 5am this morning! We threw on our clothes, loaded our backs and headed off into the dark, silent streets of Hanoi towards the Tour Agency where our taxi would be meeting us. Already there were people on the roads warming themselves in front of small fires and setting their stalls out for the day ahead. Our tour operator was in the office and we told him we had booked a taxi for a 5:30am trip to the airport. No sooner had we explained this, our ride was pulling up outside. We were at the airport in plenty of time for our 8:40am flight to Vientiane, Laos and wasted the time looking around the small airport. Time flew by and we were soon landing in Laos after a non-eventful hour-long flight from Hanoi. In fact, it probably took longer to get through immigration than to actually fly! After paying our 35USD visa fee we found our bags had already been taken off the carousel and left on the floor! Again loading our backs we found an ATM and took out some local currency – Lao Kip - before running the gauntlet of taxi drivers and heading out of the airport in the direction of the main street, hoping to hail a passing tuk-tuk on the way. It wasn’t a very good idea because it was swelteringly hot and the main road was a long way off! We made it after a 20 minute hike and found a young lad washing his tuk-tuk! He was more than happy to give us a ride into town and to our hotel. Unfortunately we were too early for checking in, so had to sit in the hotel lobby and wait for our room to be ready, which it was after around half an hour or so. The heat, the walk and the early morning had taken their toll on our aching bodies and we succumbed to a short nap before popping into an Aroma coffee bar opposite and loading up on caffeine while studying the local area on our free hotel-supplied street map. We took the opportunity of checking out the coffee house’s guest rooms as we had only booked to stay for one night at our current hotel and wanted somewhere cheaper. Before making a decision, we decided to walk the streets and check out some other guest houses before making our decision based on lowest price but best comfort! Once that was out of the way we took a walk along a newly built road and park running alongside the Mekong River, picking out various temples and sights along the way that we wanted to see in the next few days. The daylight was thinning out and our legs and bellies were complaining in equal measure so we went in search of food, finding it at a small Italian restaurant on the main road. Opting to sit outside in the warmth of the evening, we ordered our meals and watched as the flying bugs seemed to congeal into small clouds! One by one, the eateries and bars along the road turned off their outside lights as the mass of insects grew larger by the second! We were amazed at how many there were just swarming around the lights near us. We were being eaten alive so had to rush our food and get out of there as quickly as we could, itching all the way back to our room! Having decided on where we were going the next morning, we got some tuk-tuk prices from drivers hanging around the hotel and headed for our room, catching up on some blog and some much needed sleep.
24th March 2011
After a decent and early (for us!) breakfast we walked the short distance to our new lodging. It was another beautiful day, very hot with brilliant blue skies. Although the walk was short, we were red-faced and panting by the time we arrived and checked in. After dropping our things off in the room (and discovering some very strange squeaks and bangs emanating from the bathroom!) we walked out into the heat again and put our negotiating skills to the test once more with a couple of tuk-tuk drivers. After bagging ourselves a bargain (amazingly with the help of a Thai speaking Brit!) we were on our way to the Buddha Park, a fifty minute assault on our backsides! Tuk-tuks are bumpy at the best of times, but coupled with the condition of the some of the roads, we were begging for the journey to end, despite the scenery being so lovely! The Buddha Park itself was built in 1958 by Bunleua Sulilat but was taken over by the authorities when he fled the country and they turned it into a public park. It is very beautiful and contains over 200 images of various characters from Buddhism and Hinduism as well as just some very strange, scary figures! The park includes towers large enough to climb up (and through!) and is dominated by a massive 120 metre reclining Buddha with enormous feet, and a three storey, pumpkin-shaped sculpture in which you enter through the mouth of a three metre high demon head. Once inside you can climb from hell to heaven, with the top floor (actually the roof!) affording lovely views of the entire garden. We spent a couple of enjoyable hours just looking around, despite the incredible heat, until we cried enough and returned to our waiting driver who must have been bored senseless! Surviving the fresh assault on our bodies we asked to be dropped off by the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a stunningly beautiful former temple (now a museum) of many colours, including much gold that glistened in the late afternoon sunshine. Built in the traditional style, it had three roofs overlapping one another and pillars running around the entire building holding them up. The steps leading up to the ornate main entrance were flanked by huge stone serpents or dragons, while stunning carved and gilded wooden shutters adorned the building’s flanks. The entire edifice sat in perfectly manicured gardens and was simply beautiful. Unfortunately it was to be a flying visit as we only had half an hour before it closed! Once again the evening and its associated hunger were upon us so we walked towards the area we had dined last evening and found a lovely little cafe where we sat and rested our weary legs (and tender backsides!) while enjoying a nice coffee and one of the nicest cheesecakes we have ever tasted! Just in case we weren’t happy with our new lodging, we popped into a few more guest houses on the way back to enquire about prices and availability before arriving back and flopping on the bed exhausted but content with our day.