So I flew from Hanoi to Vientiane this morning–I had planned to take the bus, but after listening to the horror stories from some travelers who’d done it recently, I decided to fly instead. (26 hours on the bus, not 20, and the bus only stopped once the entire time. Thanks, but I’ll pass.)
Vientiane is much nicer than Hanoi. For a start, I’ve been here for a whole five hours, and no one’s tried to cheat or scam me yet. Remarkable…I was annoyed to discover that my hotel in Hanoi managed to “get” me one last time, though, by “adding” the $14 airport tax to the price of the ticket–but they didn’t actually pay it, I had to pay again at the airport. Thieving bastards. Well, I’m out of Vietnam, and I ain’t going back. At least, not to Hanoi.
(I am being a little uncharitable here. Vietnam seems to have two personalities–one warm, friendly, generous, and helpful–absolutely wonderful people–and one that could be charitably called a bunch of thieving bastards. (As an example of the first, a little old lady saw me trying to cross a major street yesterday, realized instantly I was a foreigner, and grabbed my arm to escort me across the street. Which was very nice of her, esp. considering I was convinced at least six times we were going to die on the way over.) The trouble is, it’s impossible to tell which you’re dealing with at any given point, so in a way it’s worse–or, at least, a lot more complicated.)
Vientiane is also warmer, which is great–cold weather sounded like a great idea in Hanoi, until I found out that hotel rooms aren’t heated (!). A fifty-degree hotel room is absolutely no fun at night (unless you have someone to snuggle up to to stay warm–I don’t). Also, if you’re sharing a room, only one of you gets hot water in the morning–the heaters are quite small. (Fortunately, I had a single, but a lot of other travelers complained. Hey, at least *they* had a big hot-water-bottle sleeping with them, to keep them warm. So what if it snores? 🙂 )
Anyway, if you’re going to Hanoi in the wintertime, travel upscale and shell out for a hotel with heat. (Which is probably what I *should* have done, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.)
Anyway, not much to say about Vientiane–I just got here, and haven’t gotten oriented yet. but it seems like a very nice town, and the weather is beautiful–22 degrees, which I think is roughly 70F. It’s quite small, only 150,000 people, and very laid-back. I like it, at least the block and a half I’ve seen so far.
Btw, I looked at my passport photo today and almost didn’t recognize it–I’m a lot thinner than I was, so the planes of my face have changed a lot. My weight hasn’t changed much, though (down 5 lbs to 143), so I suspect the difference is now muscle. Hopefully it’s all quads/calves, so I’ll have some chance of surviving AIDS Lifecycle when I get back. 🙂
Oh–congratulations and condolences to everyone at Liberate. I’m not sure whether to congratulate those who are still employed or the newly Liberated–a 50% layoff is traumatic all round–but I’m thinking of all of you, and sending hugs in your direction. If you find yourself at loose ends, come join me in Laos–the weather’s warm, the people are friendly, and the beer’s cheap. Great place for a month’s vacation before going back to the “real world”. And, not at all expensive.
I plan to take three days to decompress in Vientiane (I need it after Hanoi), then head up to Vangvieng for a week of kayaking, tubing, and caving; then Luang Prabang, where I’ll do some hilltribe trekking, and also see a silkweaving village nearby, that’s legendary for its work. After that, it’s off to Thailand, where I’ll probably spend a few days in Chiang Mai, then head up to the border to start work at DEPDC, the organization working with hilltribe daughters.
(Ben: can you please find out for me whether The Two Towers is likely to be playing in Chiang Mai; and if it’s not, how long it’s likely to be playing in Bangkok? I’m not planning to pass through Bangkok until Feb 17-22, but I’ll make a special trip if necessary, to catch it in the theater. I’m certainly not going to see it in Laos; movies here are heavily censored, and it’s a pretty sleepy place, anyway.)