Hanoi to Lao

I spend my second day in Hanoi first by going to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, but it was not open on Sunday. We did however get into the Ho Chi Minh museum, but it was mainly communist propaganda. Afterward we went to the 3 story market, which was insane. You can buy anything and everything you can imagine. Outside the indoor market there were streets packed with food, cloth, and electronic vendors. On the way back to our hotel Kim, Lyn, Carrie, and I picked up our laundry, which only cost 15,000 Dong per kilo, about $.35/lb of dry laundry. This was the first time I did my laundry (no washings before 20 days, not bad huh?). We dropped our stuff off and went to KFC for some lunch. Then onwards to the water puppet show, something Hanoi, Vietnam is known for. It was interesting, but I got bored. I had no idea what the hell the story line was. On the way back to our hotel, after the show, Haereshem and I got some Bao. That night we went out to eat and I got a side of kimchi. It was the best I've ever had, very flavorful and very spicy. After dinner we said our goodbyes for those that are not going to Lao. Some of us went to a night club but it was something else. I mean, 5 security guards in uniform greeted us inside the front doors and checked our bags. When the doors of the club opened we were almost deafened. It was SO loud. We found out that drinks were around 70,000 Dong, which totally a rip off, so we left. We noticed 4 more security guards scattered outside and around the front door, scoping the area. There were also several Mercedes, and other nice cars parked along the road. Mind you, this is a country where someone is rich if they own a 1985 ford. This place was definitely mob run.

Getting into Lao
The next morning, we were on the road at 5:30, which meant we had to wake up and pack our bags much earlier than that. I got in the van, now 6 of us, the Finnish couple, the Aussie couple, my German roommate Steffen, and myself. They are all 26 to 29 years old. I went to sleep for about 1.5 hours, at which point I could no longer sleep. The hotel had packed our breakfast for us, since breakfast was included in our stay, but we left to early to eat it. They packed us 4 slices of break, jam, butter, orange soda, and 2 bananas. The others told me that the break was moldy so I only had the bananas. Before we got to the Vietnam/Lao border the roads got VERY curvy and bumpy. We were riding along the edge and scaling several mountains. There were signs ALL OVER the place warning us of loose rocks, rock slides, weak bridges, uneven pavement, etc. These roads went on for hours and hours. We must have averaged 15km/hr. We checked out of Vietnam fine and now we were in no man's land. We had to drive to the Lao border, which was only half a km or so away. We had to pay a 2 dollar bribe and my visa was $35 USD. This fee was dependent on our nationality. We all were happy to be out of the ugly, rude, dirty Vietnam and into Lao. Lao was very different than Cambodia and Vietnam. Even though Lao is more poor than Cambodia, it isn't too apparent. True they live in wooden houses I could construct within a week, but there isn't the extreme poverty we saw in Cambodia. This is because Cambodia is missing an entire generation of people from the Killings in the 1970s.

Pak Xan
We arrived in Pak Xan around 8:30 at night, after having left Hanoi at 5:30 in the morning (talking about a long day of traveling). This city is tiny, which our hotel was the only hotel in the city. There is only one street (highway 13) that we will be taking during our stay in Lao. I went for a run in the early morning around 6:30 and then we had some breakfast. The hotel had a caged bear which we fed and pet. We had another 4 hour or so bus ride to get to the capital city of Vientiane.

This city was very quiet. It's the sleepiest capital city in the world is seems. We walked around and visited some pagodas. Steffen and I went into a shopping mall and could not believe what we saw. There were bootleg bags, watches, and clothing all over. Food kiosks selling all types of unusual foods and beers (at least unusual to me). We walked into one warehouse-like room where they had at least 20 kiosks of high-tech phones. MUCH more high tech than back in the states. Outside the mall there was a market. We say some locals melting down scrap metal and making jewelery. We wandered into another market where all they sold was electronic stuff. From cameras, to cell phones, to video games. You name it. They had more merchandise than all the products in a given Costco, UNBELIEVABLE. They had the same quantity of clothing and bags and shoes upstairs. Likewise with gold and silver jewelery. There were more people in the mall and these markets than in the entire city. On the way out I bought myself a black t-shirt of the Lao alphabet for about $1.50. On the way back to our hotel I met a couple from the US. Steffen and I got to talking with them and we decided to get a beer riverside. Mind you, the Mekong River was pretty dried up where we went to get the drink. We talked for a couple hours and had drank a little shy of one and a half liters of beer (which is quite a lot of beer in the hot sun). They are married and have been traveling for about a year. They have been all around south east Asia and eastern Europe. We talked about the cultural differences and how we all hated the Vietnamese people.

Vang Vieng
After another 3+ hour bus ride we arrived at a nice backpacker's city called Vang Vieng. We checked into our Bungalows and all went tubing down the Nam Song river. It is crazy, like a spring break of South East Asia. There had to have been 8 bars, that all had water slides and zip lines that through your out at least 15 feet above the water. We had to sign a waver with our tour guide and with the tubing company becuase many people have died using the zip lines. The bars were filled with western backpackers and free shots for all that stopped at their bars. People would through lines at your on your inner tube and we would grab on and they would drag us to their bar. They all served Beelao, a pretty nice lager, but we got a 'special' menu at one of the bars. They had Magic Mushroom Shakes, Weed Shakes, and, Weed Brownies for 50,000 kip. They also had Opium Tea for 250,000 kip. There are about 8,500 kip to $1 USD. The tubing trip took some time and I got off a little earlier and walked with my tube for about 3 km to see the town. Much of the town is filled with only locals. I get stares from the children like Jesus or something. They also say hi, or hello, in their broken English. It's very cute. When I within half a km to our hotel I saw the touristy area. There were Internet cafes everywhere, and ATMs, and book exchanges. There were tour booths, food stalls, and more white people than I've seen in the last 3 weeks. All the bars here have reruns of Friends playing on them, I'm not sure why, but they are just known for it. Tonight is a full moon and there is a huge Full Moon party that we're going to attend. Tomorrow we head for Luang Prabang, where we will be staying 3 nights. It will be nice to be somewhere for that long. We've stayed in 14 hotels in the last 3 weeks and it's becoming a pain in the ass to unpack and repack the same stuff over and over again.