My hotel in Vientiane suggested that I take the morning train to Vang Vieng. That was a mistake. They also hired a taxi for me. When the day arrived, the driver was scheduled to pick me up at 6:00 am. He arrived at 5:45 am. Being my mother’s daughter, I was already in the lobby. It was still pretty dark out, as we crisscrossed our way through downtown. Then, as the city lights faded, it was pitch black outside. Around thirty minutes into the trip, I began making plans, in my mind. “If the taxi stops, in the middle of a field, I will …!” Suddenly, we made a hard turn left and the train station was in sight.
The Laos-China Railway has been in service since December 2021. As my driver pulled into the station, I noticed food stands setting up, along the side of the road. Once out of the car, I paid the driver the amount agreed upon. He shook his head. He wanted more money. I gathered my bags and sat on the curb, while he continued to ask for the additional cash. Finally, I said, “Take me back to the hotel!” He countered with, “I’ll call them!” After being put on hold, then going back and forth, for several minutes, the driver apologized, got back in his car, and drove away. The hotel doubled charged me for the train ticket. Perhaps, the taxi driver was to receive some additional cash from that.
The doors to the train station are locked, until an hour before departure. At six thirty, our IDs and train tickets were checked, once we were allowed inside. Immediately, our bags were sent through a scanner. We then had to walk through a metal detector, in order to retrieve them. Unfortunately, the conveyor belt for the scanner was too fast. Our items were flying off the belt and piling up, on the floor. By the time I reached my luggage, it was in a pile, being pushed forward, by other bags.
To be honest, I should have taken the bus. The train ride didn’t offer a lot to see. There are quite a few tunnels, during the short hour and a half ride. Plus, like Vientiane, the Vang Vieng train station is located on the outskirts of town. I exited the train station, in need of a ride. At the Tuk Tuk area, only one driver knew my hotel. He would take me, but there was a catch. He wanted more than twice the going fare and to be paid up front. The bus station, on the other hand, is in town.
Look, in spite of the fact that I’m traveling with two small suitcases, I’m not lugging them, down a dirt road, to my hotel. I paid the driver his blood money ($5.90) and toss my bags into the back of his Tuk Tuk. Then, I climbed in as well. Although not a long ride, only ten minutes, it was well worth the money, over the alternative of walking 45 minutes. I arrived safely to my hotel, four hours before check in. I was able to leave my bags, out in the open, at the side of the front desk, and walk around the neighborhood.
I quickly realized what an amazing location I picked. The Nam Song River is a short walk from the hotel. Walking in the opposite direction, the Green Restaurant and the Pull Mind Cafe were three and five minutes away. Both have amazing views, from their outdoor seating. Every evening, around sundown, hot air balloons and motorized hang gliders flyby. After a day or so, I made a right turn, before the restaurants, and visited Wat Kang. I had a lovely time with three retired nuns.
My favorite memory will forever be leaving my hotel that first day to check out the neighborhood. About three minutes from the hotel, I spotted a group of older men, seated outside, drinking beer. I thought I had found the restaurant. I walked up the driveway and the men waved me over. The view was amazing and I asked if I could take a photo. They nodded yes. As I was taking the picture, someone called out, “Where are you from … in America?” I said California. Everyone has heard of California. Realizing that I was in someone’s home, I thanked the men and began to leave. As I was walking by the table, one gentleman pointed to an opened bottle of beer and waved me over for a drink. I laughed and told them that I was too old to drink. They had a good laugh about that.
I’m so happy that I added Laos to my travel agenda. I can see why it’s listed as one of the top travel destinations in 2023! I’m back on the train tomorrow! Will I never learn? XOXO —GGT!