[Father Post here: Return to Vientiane by ratchada]
Well, I have been to Laos (three days in May of this year) since my last report, but since it’s been about a year since that missive I thought I would post a sort of update.
This trip started with a flight from Bangkok to Luang Phrabang, a destination I highly recommend for those who haven’t been…basically, it’s everything it’s cracked up to be/touted as: misty, high in the mountains, quaint, almost unbelievably picturesque…and it really has not changed much since my first visit there five years ago. I also have to say, though, on the occasion of my third visit, that if you’re an action-oriented, city rat like me, it starts to get old on the third trip. Two days is definitely enough, and that’s what I did on this trip. Don’t even think of going to Luang Phrabang to play…you’d do better further north in those bleak Lao cities on the China-to-Thailand truck routes, and that’s only if your idea of fun is concrete block hotels, brothels, and sharing your girls with Chinese truckers. Not my idea of fun, that’s for fucking sure.
While I highly recommend the 10-12 hour bus or van ride from LP to Vientiane at least once–I swear, some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll see on this earth, and I live in California!–I really didn’t want to deal with the winding roads and cramped seating this time around, so I flew: a very reasonable $84 one-way on Lao Airlines, on a spanking new Chinese MA-60 turboprop (perfect safety record so far for the equipment, and Lao Airlines has come a long way from the days 15-20 years ago when foreign embassies forbade their staff to fly them domestically, haha…). 40 minutes beats 10 hours any day.
Vientiane, I gotta say, is still hopping. Despite a few backward steps (IMO), like the new 80s-style Soviet Communist flag pavilion and [mostly cement] park along the Mekong, displacing all those great drink-beer-and-watch-the-sunset makeshift restaurants (what were they THINKING?!), the city is still moving forward.
Some would criticize that forward movement and say it involves everything rising in price. And yeah, a lot has gone up…in particular, transportation. When I first visited Vientiane some 8 years ago, a tuk tuk from the Friendship Bridge to the city center was a mere 100 baht (in those days, $2.50 US!!), the return trip 200…now they try to get 300 for the ‘to’ trip, and close to 400 for the return…and folks, these days 400 baht is like $12 US! The horror, the horror.
Still, I gotta say, it’s kind of amusing to see the backpacker set getting all spastic about such farang transportation prices, while they think nothing of spending more than an average Lao’s weekly wage at Joma coffee for a nice big cup of coffee and a croissant, but whatever.
What hasn’t gone up in price in Laos is the beer. I mean, shit, 12,000 kip–about $1.40 US–for a large bottle of Beer Lao? Try doing that in Bangkok at a bar!! Laos is a cheap high, no way around it. Decent beer, too…and if you’ve only tasted it at the Mango, trust me, it’s better closer to the source…even better still on draft. See the following photo for the way the freelancers like to do it, 3 liters (about 5 big bottles’ worth) for 50,000 kip (about 200 baht).
Okay, so the bar scene…pretty much the same as last time I reported. Bor Pen Nyang (BPN), the fourth floor restaurant/bar/pool place along the river, and conveniently located two doors down from my hotel, Lao Inter-City ($35 US a night for the back rooms, a not-worth-it $55 for river view rooms, very girl friendly) is the place to go for good Lao girls (and boys) and freelancers alike, and of course lots of us white folk. (One interesting side note, I noticed lots of gay male couples there this time, usually farang/Asian, though mostly not P4P situations, from what I could tell…there were 4-5 such
couples in there my first night!) BPN closes at midnight, at which time everyone dutifully heads over to nearby Samlor Pub, which is packed to the rafters until its 2 am closing time. At that point, those still up for more flock to the Don Chan disco (can’t miss it, it’s on the 3rd floor of the tallest building in Laos, a couple kilometers down the river from the main restaurant/hotel cluster). BTW, though I’ve never done it myself, Samlor Pub is also a good place to pull girls.
Now, if you haven’t been to the Don Chan in a while–it had been six months for me–your jaw will drop at the changes there. The tiny little black-walled box with low ceiling that served as the disco before–cozy in its best moments, claustrophobic at its worst–has been replaced by a warehouse-huge ravey kind of space, though still filled with the Thai style ‘hang your purse under the table and dance around it’ high tables that all the girls seem to prefer to a real dance floor. Not sure how I feel about the transformation (you no longer have to leave the disco to use the restrooms, that’s a plus), but man, was it packed. Can’t speak for how it was for pulling (there were tons of groups of Lao boys and girls out for their big night out, in fact, that might have been the majority), since at that point I was in a big group composed of my girl from BPN, her friends, and an Israeli guy I ran into who speaks excellent Lao (we used to always see each other in Bangkok when I lived there, and rarely ever spoke English to each other) and his friends.
About my girl (see photo):
…just like last winter’s trip–and most of my Vientiane trips, actually–she whisked me away on her motorcycle and thus provided transportation for the two of us in our bar-hopping. She’s 25, lives at home with mom and dad, and was probably the prettiest, nicest and smartest Lao girl I’ve ever taken home. I spotted her right when she walked into BPN and decided that it was going to be her or nobody (tall, some meat on her bones…a bit young for me, but I let that slide, haha); luckily, she returned my interest from the word go and it was GFE-land from about 15 minutes into our first conversation for the two nights I was with her ($40 US ‘gas money’ each night to her for her troubles). I let her go the third day because, well, as those who know me are aware, I generally like my girls waaaay older than 25, and way more on the raunchy side rather than the nice side. But she was fun.
That’s about all I have to say about this trip, except for this bit of advice: don’t bother bringing all your spending money in US dollars or Thai baht (as I used to); ATMs are convenient and plentiful in Laos now, and they only charge 1% for withdrawals (like the old days in Thailand…not this new 160 baht per transaction bullshit!!). While in Luang Phrabang I took out 1 million kip (it comes mostly in 50,000 notes) in one withdrawal, which was $128 US, and that was plenty for all my incidental spending, dining, drinking (my hotels were paid for in advance on Agoda.com–which I also recommend–and I did have US dollars for ‘body price’ for the girls) over five days. Also, if you’re doing the Air Asia BKK-Udorn flight to get to Vientiane (also recommended), don’t let them bully you into paying 300 baht for the return van trip from the Friendship Bridge…it’s 200, and they know it…once you convince them you know it, you’re good to go.