Vientiane is perhaps the most maligned of the Southeast Asia capital cities. It does not have the charm of Hanoi, the gravitas of Phnom Penh, the magnetism of Bangkok. It loses out even to the second cities: the scale of Saigon, the majesty of Angkor, the zen of Chiang Mai and the charm of Luang Prabang are all valued over Vientiane as places to stay a while.
If I hadn't needed to go there – my last chance saloon for a Chinese visa – I may not have visited at all.
I'm very glad I needed to go there. I spent nearly a week there in all, and it's a great place.
That may have something to do with the hostel I stayed at.
My first morning there, a Thursday, I headed out to the Chinese consulate, handed over my passport, and was told to come back to collect it on Tuesday. And to go to the bank at some point in between to pay for the visa, as this could no longer be done at the consulate.
This done, and having extended my stay at the hostel, I must confess to spending the majority of my time in Vientiane in a place called the Scandinavian Bakery, trying to catch up on my maths course and eating cinnamon rolls. They were good cinnamon rolls. I cannot say as much for the maths.
I did get out a bit though.
V and M at the Golden Stupa. National symbol of Lao, and generally shiny thing.
Me. Dragons. It's a theme...
I think Spandau Ballet wrote about this thing once.
Do you like my hair?
Guys? This is a bit heavy...
Nonsense! I'm helping, look! And your hair is fabulous, by the way.
No French influence here. Nope. Move along...
Leila being eaten by a giant pumpkin thing.
Inside the giant pumpkin thing.
View of the Buddha Park from the top of Giant Pumpkin Thing. Freaky surrealist statue parks are fun.
I think this one might be heaven...?
Hell. Definitely Hell. Or Bathgate.
Perfect place for an impromptu English lesson. This is Leila trying to explain when to use 'on' rather than 'in' for public transport methods; and the difference between 'gone' and 'been'.
On Tuesday morning, I went to collect my passport, and then spent an hour running around Vientiane paying additional visa fees to get it amended to a dual entry visa from the single entry that had been issued. The guy at the consulate was very apologetic, and managed to get it amended the same morning, so that I could still get my bus to Vang Vieng at 1pm. I could have left it at single entry, but I don't have enough time to get another visa in Hong Kong, so I'd have to miss going there without the dual entry visa. This would not be the end of the world, but it would probably annoy me a bit not to be able to go as I'll be so close by. I may still have to skip it if I decide to spend longer in certain places in China, but at least I have the option. I like options.