The laidback air of Laos greets us as we step off the plane and we have an instant feeling of being made welcome here. It was confirmed right away by the friendly immigration officials at the airport. We had queued for immigration without getting our visas which seemed to cause much amusement amongst them. The officials just laughed and pointed us toward the booth where you could get a visa on arrival.
Jane had a bit of go at the officials when she realised they were charging her $5 more than they were me..all the time practicing her 2 words of Lao. I had never before met immigration officials who were so laid back and willing to have a joke! They corrected her Lao and ignored her questions about the visa fee :)! I felt reassured..they obviously like Australians here…:)
We were glad we hadn’t read Jane’s guide book before we got on the plane. She passed the book to me on the plane and I read that most western embassies have travel advisories against flying Lao Airlines because they only take cash and booking flights is a nightmare. The guidebook states “for most travellers, flying with Lao Airlines demonstrates bravado, but it’s not really something you want to do if you don’t absolutely have to!” Having flown Lao Airlines I can report that we’ve had a great experience and I would happily fly with them again :)!
Salli was waiting to pick us up when we got out. He was a really cute Laotian boy who looked 16 and was actually 30 and said he would be our local guide tomorrow! People here look so young..and we often get caught out.
We met up with Kung our Intrepid guide at the hotel in Vientiane. I have travelled with Intrepid on a number of tours now both in Asia and Africa and this is the first time I’ve had a female tour guide. She is Thai but is conversant in Lao and familiar with Vientiane. I am sure we will all get on just fine and it will be interesting to observe how a female guide goes about her business.
Our first impressions of this city are good ones. The people are really lovely and Vientiane the capital of Laos is a sleepy little place in comparison to Hanoi. People keep to their lanes while driving (what a concept in Asia!) and traffic is very orderly. When crossing the road, you don’t just step out and hope the motors go around you…you actually wait for a lull in the traffic before you step out.
Perhaps this is what cities like Colombo must have been like back in the sixties. This city has about 150,000 people while the population of Laos is only 6 million! The land mass of this country equals that of Britain and I read it is the most sparsely populated country in Asia! Most people are farmers and live in the more rural areas. Laos is a landlocked country and shares its borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma and China. The Mekong meanders its way through here..1,800 kilometres of this river passes through Laos forming most of its border with Thailand and Burma. The climate here is hot, humid and dry with the monsoon occurring between May to October. In fact we have arrived just at the start of the monsoon season so we may be in for some wet weather…! It is actually bucketing outside as I write. I think the monsoon is breaking…. “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley