Recently in Vientiane Category

No Visa? Bo Bpen Yang!

I don't know if I have mentioned it here before, but I have changed my status at my school to "part-time" instructor for now. I still have high hopes of starting work on a PhD soon, so hopefully this will free up some of my time so I can start working on that.

The extra time is the good news. The bad news is that I don't have a work permit or the year-long work visa any more. So that means that I will have to make the infamous "Border Run" on a regular basis.

My 30-day tourist visa expired on the 15th, so last week I decided to head to my favorite border country: Laos. I wanted to apply for a 3-month Non-Immigrant B visa at the Thai Embassy. Supposedly all I needed was an invitation letter addressed to the Embassy in Vientiane from my school, a couple of photos, and a few baht.

However, my school told me that they couldn't address the letter to the embassy, and instead would just address it to me. Well, my previous experience was that the Thai embassy in Singapore wouldn't like that idea, but the one in Vientiane might be ok with it. However, it appears that the embassy in Vientiane is following the law a little bit more closely these days, and I even after the long trip to Laos, I was denied the 3-month visa.

Amazingly, though, on this entire trip I was very conscious of my very bo bpen yang ("no worries", in Lao language) attitude about the trip and about life. The train ride up was pleasant, even though we arrived 3 hours late and I had to wait until the next day to visit the Embassy. My dealings with the embassy were pleasant even as they told me no. The time spent in Vientiane was pleasant, even though my favorite guesthouse only had the small room facing the street available for me. My trip back over the border to Thailand was pleasant, even though I was questioned for 30 minutes by three different Immigration officers because of the complicated issues around my visas.

So it's interesting for me to look back at the links I posted above of a very similar experience three years ago. (I can't believe it has been so long.) Sure, it's frustrating sometimes when you don't get the service or the help that you need, but it's all about how you deal with the frustrations that is important. It's all about the bo bpen yang.

Disconnected in Vientiane

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I noticed that I didn't post anything for the last few days and then I realized that I hadn't even been near a computer the entire time we were in Vientiane. It was nice to be disconnected for a while, but when I saw how many emails I had this morning, I knew it would take me a while to catch up.

The Lao Aviation flight south from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was as hot as it was on the way north. (It was the same plane, with the same broken air conditioner as far as I could tell.) For the next couple of days we did the usual Vientiane thing: massages, eating som tam and drinking Beer Lao on the Mekong, visiting the "steam shack", and eating at the Scandinavian Bakery every morning.

Perhaps the most special part of this trip was a motorcycle ride just outside of the city to visit a few silk weavers. A friend of Ted's designs and exports Lao weaving and he showed us some of his beautiful and highly detailed work. I learned a lot about weaving, but I think I would have to study it for quite a while to learn all of the intricacies of the art.

It was an incredible week, with only one downside. On the last night in Vientiane, I got sick (again). A trip to a Lao hospital gave me enough medicine to make the flight home. A trip to a Bangkok hospital gave me enough medicine to cure me (I hope).

But even stomach ills included, it was a wonderful trip. Now that I am back in Bangkok, I feel like I had been away forever. It was definitely a great experience.

That Luang
I have posted the pictures from last weekend's quick trip to Laos. They include beautiful That Luang (shown here) and an afternoon in Odai's small village.

They can be accessed in the Pictures of Vientiane, Laos Photo Album. Enjoy!

(By the way, I also created a new picture category: Animals. Tigers, Elephants, Monkeys, Dolphins, Pigs, Cows, Ducks, Dogs and Fish, oh my!)

I just uploaded a few pics from Vientiane, Laos from my trip earlier this month. Most of them were taken on my stroll around town and along the dry-season beach on the Mekong. Check them out (along with the ones I took last October) in the Vientiane, Laos Photo Album.

Mellow Vientiane 2

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I have been spending the morning walking the streets of Vietiane. It is quite a charming and quaint city and it is even quieter now than it was when Rupert and I visited last year. Last time, we just happened to catch the Boat Racing Festival at the end of the rainy season. The crowds were huge and so was the Mekong. But now just a few people stroll or sit along the river and the river itself has shrunk so that a broad sandy beach extends half-way to Thailand.

There are a lot more tourists here than what I have seen in Isaan (which is not saying much). Most of them tend to be couples: either backpackers or retired senior citizens. For some reason though, they don't seem to stick out as much here as in other places I've been. Maybe it is because of the colonial architecture here (Vietiane is one of the most European cities I have been to in Asia). Maybe as I eat a delicious chocolate croissant at the Scandiavian Bakery, I expect to see a lot of white faces. In any case, for some reason they blend in. Perhaps that it is because these people have opted for a little adventure, rather than a trip to Asia just to smoke and drink and party on Bangkok's Kao Sarn Road.

First Lao Pics

I have just uploaded the first set of pics from my trip to Laos last month. I haven't had time to get to the ones from Luang Prabang (which, in my opinion are the best ones) so I will do those when I get back from Vietnam next week.

You can view them in the Pictures of Vientiane, Laos Photo Album.

Big Pile of Money

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At this moment my pocket is bulging with a huge stack of three different currencies of money. No, I am not rich (by American standards at least), it's just that Lao money (Kips) are exchanged at 10,000 kip per 1 US dollar. Similar to Siam Reap, Cambodia, both US dollars and Thai Baht are accepted everywhere. Unlike Cambodia, however, the local currency is also accepted.

After waiting in line in the hot sun again today, I am now the proud owner of a Non-Immigrant B Visa to Thailand. I noticed that it is still a single-entry visa, so to avoid the problems I had trying to leave the country last time, I will have to try to get a multiple-entry visa when I get back to Bangkok and before I leave for Sydney at the end of the month. I will also have to do the paper work needed to get my work visa. Then (and only then) will I be done. I think.

Mellow Vientiane


So far our time in Vientiane has been very mellow. We walked along the Mekong River last night watching the sunset and sampling Thai/Lao food and drinking "Beer Lao". Later that night we met up with some friends of friends from Bangkok and they took us by motorbike to a bar/restaurant called "Smile Beer". It was a typical open-air establishment very similar to other places I have been such as the Riverview restaurant in Chiang Mai that I visited with Tu and Tee. This one was on the banks of the Mekong and was full of young Lao people (we were the only Caucasians there) eating and drinking beer and singing along to the loud American and Thai pop music.

Prices in Lao are even cheaper than in Thailand. We find it hard to spend more than $3 total for our two dinners, or more than 50 cents for a beer. Even having said that, I am sure the prices we are paying are outrageously expensive to the Lao people. Our friends who we hung out with last night (who both have college degrees) make about $25 a month, which according to our guide books, is an average salary here.

This morning I stood in line for an hour in a blazingly hot sun to get my Thai Visa, and this time they took my paperwork and money and promised to have my Visa ready by tomorrow. Perhaps this nightmarish red-tape fight will be over soon.

Laos Arrival


Rupert and I have made it safely to Vientiane, Laos after an easy one-hour flight from Bangkok. So far today we have walked around town visiting a few temples and spending some time at the Thai consulate working on my visa application. We are heading to check out the Mekong River (the border with Thailand) tonight.

So far I really like what I am seeing here. In many ways it reminds me of Siam Reap, Cambodia. Just as in Cambodia, as we flew in to the Vientiane airport it looked like we were going to land in a rice field. Luckily a paved runway showed up underneath us just in time. The airport was small, but airconditioned, and the immigration and customs process was very smooth.

Life here definitely moves at a slower pace -- even slower than in Thailand. The traffic is not very heavy and consists of anything from old Russian cars to brand new Mercedes, as well as motorcycles and bicycles. The streets are dusty but not too trashy; the buildings along them are a mixture of Thai/Laotian style, Chinese shophouses, and French colonial. Most everyone we have dealt with speaks at least a little bit of English, and all have been very nice and helpful.

Our plans are to stay in Vientiane for a few days until I can get my visa, then head north to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. By the time all of that is over, it will be time for me to head back to Bangkok and start my teaching job on the 23rd.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Vientiane category.

Luang Prabang is the previous category.

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