The plan was working almost perfectly. Right from the start, when the personal ride to Bangkok was waiting for me when I left my apartment. We made it to the Bangkok airport in about 3 hours, with a strategic stop along the way, and despite the driver’s unusual driving habits.
His name was Toto. I wanted to ask him about Dorothy but knew that wouldn’t go anywhere. At first I thought he was a young, hip dude, based on his sunglasses and 3-inch curvy spiked hair. But he had a belly and was more like 40.
His problem driving was that he often seemed like he drifted off, falling back from the car in front of him, and then, suddenly, accelerating to catch up. But we made it safely.
At the airport, I was 3 hours early, checked in to get my ticket, went through security and looked for a meal. Why is that airport food is so expensive and yet it is so utterly awful? You would think for what you’re paying they might be able to serve something edible. I still had nearly 3 hours to wait for my flight to Vientiane. In fact, I had enough time to compile and post my news feed for the day for HuaHinExpatNews.com, which is making real progress.
The 737 to Laos was packed to the overheads- lots of Asians, probably a mix of Laotian, Thai, Chinese, Chinese Lao/Thai mixes; a few Western businessmen, based on their attire; older retireds like me; and a bunch of young backpacker types, mostly paired up and looking like they had been on the road for awhile.
In the window seat in my row and across the aisle were two young women from New York who were part of a modern dance troupe that was to perform in Ventiane Sunday. They are on a 10-week Southeast Asian tour that brought them from Taiwan and will next take them to, wait for it, Indonesia – Jakarta and Yogyakarta primarily. And I know this how? Primarily because I ran into their fivesome after midnight as I was looking for my first real meal of the day.
Which brings me back to how my day went from good to terrible.
Once we landed in Vientiane, I was able to get near the front of the pack for visa on arrival check-in. I had my headshots, my forms were filled out properly and I paid the USD35 fee. Then, no sweat going through immigration, where they also take your picture. Once free from the bureaucracy, I headed for the taxi area, a translated name and address for my hotel.
But first you have to go to the taxi desk to pay the fare. Mine was 170,000 Lao Kip, or about $21. Pretty steep. And I didn’t get the sense anyone actually knew where my hotel was. The driver said no problem, so off we went, driving down back roads, dirt roads, local neighborhoods – for an hour and a half.
Finally, he stopped at some sort of office with a couple of guys inside to get help. Then he checked my hotel info again. He called his boss at the airport and they start telling me the hotel is in another town and we had to go back to the airport. The communication wasn’t going well and I exploded, a combination of the long day and a lack of food. Makes me cranky. I insisted the hotel was in Vientiane because Google Maps said it was.
Once again, Google Maps failed me.
Back at the airport, now almost deserted and ready to close the doors, and with me somewhat calmed down, a soft-spoken young man explained my problem in English. My hotel was not only in another town, it was in another province. I asked how much the fare would be.
He looked at his watch and said it would be better to get a hotel in town. I could see my next-day tour go down the tubes, along with the $53 already paid for it, as they would be looking for me at the Laos Haven Hotel at 9 am, and I would be nowhere near there. I was then told the ride the Laos Haven would take 3 1/2 hours. It was already nearing midnight.
Fearing that any hotel in town would be somewhat expensive, I asked about their rates and was assured there were plenty available in the $40-50 range. So off my driver and I went, to a hotel I knew nothing about and didn’t even know its name. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Inter City Hotel, a 4-story older building that turned out to be across the main road from the Mekong River.
The rate was $40 a night for a double bed room. It’s actually an interesting hotel, decorated in Laotian style (I guess) with a breakfast as part of the fare.
Oh, and before I left the airport I did find the duty free shop and picked up a liter bottle of Jim Beam for only $18. That costs almost twice that in Hua Hin.
I settled in my room pretty quickly, tapped the Beam, and headed out to find some food. However, even the street vendors had folded up shop, but I took a walk. Surely, there would be someplace open, even if it was only a quick mart. On the way, someone offered me opium. Yeah, right.
Three blocks later I did find a couple of restaurants open, one filled mostly with expats that was some sort of Western-style pub, and next door a more-local, Lao food establishment. I chose the latter. And guess who was in there eating – my dance troupe soon-to-be friends from the U.S.
After ordering a crispy pork and noodles dish ($2), the bourbon loosening my inhibitions, I walked over to their table and the woman who sat in the window in my aisle on the plane immediately recognized me. The waitress brought my food over and we all had a pleasant conversation.
I finally made it to bed about 3 am and woke this morning to the sunlight at 6:30. Had some breakfast and lots of deep black real coffee and now it’s time to wait to see if the tour finds me here – I sent an email last night telling them of my change in plans. If they don’t show, I will take a walking tour by myself.
Update: The tour never showed and I did do that walking tour – for my next post.
FYI – the Internet speed here is worse than dial-up.
FYI2 – The temps here are quite comfortable, even a little chilly at night.