Having returned from base camp the previous day, we were eager to continue our journey on to Laos but had to wait for money to clear to pay for flights. That morning, as soon as the funds were in our account, we jumped onto the airline website to book our flights out of Kathmandu for that afternoon. This turned out to not be possible via the Internet if booked within 6 hours of a flight, leaving us with the option of staying another day or finding an alternate way to book. We headed down stairs to try and call Thai airways directly, only to discover that the local office didn’t open until after 10am (which would cut it fine for the 1pm flight). The manager of our hotel offered to help with the situation, stating that he knew someone who could organise the flights. We left the preparations in his hands, heading out for breakfast to pass the time. Contrary to the manager’s assurances that there would be “no problem” and that he had it “all under control”, at 10am we were still waiting for confirmation. This finally came but then they were unable to take payment on our card, resulting in them having to get a local bank manager to come to the hotel to swipe the card for payment. With the flight time drawing closer we finally were in a taxi, on our way to the airport, heading to Laos.

The flight would have a layover in Bangkok and get us into Vientiane, the capital of Laos, around 9pm that night.  Once we had cleared security and taken our places in the separated male/female boarding areas we waited patiently for boarding. The flight was smooth, the inflight entertainment good, with plenty of food for the journey. Before we knew it we were landing in Bangkok with just enough time to get a quick dinner before boarding our connecting flight to Laos. This was 90 minutes, spent swapping stories with a fellow Aussie passenger who works in Laos and lives in Jakarta. Once we landed we were faced once again with the on arrival visa situation we had encountered in Nepal, requiring Glenn to once again have to exit the airport to get money from the ATM outside. This time Glenn thought he’d make things even more interesting, by forgetting the pin number to the card and after three incorrect attempts managed to get our card blocked.

So with our other card in hand and after being reminded of the correct pin he headed off down stairs for another try.  Lucky for us this time he returned with cash in hand and before long we were headed to our hostel.  When we arrived we were shown to our room, we had a quick shower and retired for the night. The following morning we were introduced to Philip the Aussie general manager of the hostel and Johnno the South African tour guide and chief.  Much to our delight they were able to help us organise some important tasks including washing (to be exact 8 kg of washing), point us in the direction of the nearest internet café, so we could get the card unblocked, and finally arrange our visas to Vietnam. This saved us a lot of time instead of having to visit and wait at the embassy ourselves. Our visit to the Internet café was also brief and in less time than it took for Glenn to get the cards blocked, we had it unlocked and were able to access our money.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the hostel and catching up on some of the tasks that lapsed during our base camp trek. While sitting outside, we met some other backpackers who had recently completed their PADI dive course, which lead to many stories being swapped. As it grew later, we all headed down to the foreshore to the rooftop bar for some dinner, pool and drinks. We ended the night early, ready for our early morning tour the next day.

The next morning, we headed out with Johnno on a tour run by the hostel around the city to a few major sites including Buddha Park, the Beer Laos Brewery (complete with tasting), the Laos version of the Arch de Triumph and the Cope Centre. The COPE Centre provides prosthetics and rehabilitation for people who need them, often due to losing them from unexploded ordinance dropped during the Vietnam War. The entire tour was very educational and we learnt a lot about the history of the country and its people. That evening the hostel hosted a BBQ for the guests and we were treated to a great spread of salads and meat. That night we were introduced to some more newly arriving backpackers, one whom initially was unable to stay at the hostel due to lack of rooms. After some discussion between the owner and him, a bed was organised which resulted in Glenn and I getting upgraded to a private room. This room proved to be one of the best we had stayed in, better than most hotels as well, with a huge room, bath and balcony. With BBQ and beer flowing, Glenn made some new friends and stayed up until the early hours of the morning with several other hostellers. Due to us having to leave on that mornings bus, bound for Luang Prabang, I was less than impressed with the situation, we ended up changing it to the overnight bus that evening.

We were picked up and taken to the bus station around 6pm that evening and settled ourselves into our small, shared berth on the sleeper bus. This was about the size of a single bed designed for much shorter people but it was better than sitting and trying to sleep in a seat. Unfortunately, about 5 km from our destination the following morning, the bus broke its clutch and we were herded off the bus to wait for a replacement. Lucky for us this came quickly and before we knew it we were checking into our next hostel then out exploring our new town. 

Firstly we had to go and pay the deposit to secure our spots in the Tamarind restaurant cooking class we had booked for the following day, which was conveniently on the same street as the hostel. What we didn't realise was how hot and humid it was outside. By the time we got to the restaurant we felt like we had been walking for hours and were drenched in sweat. Once we were all paid up we got some lunch before heading back to the hostel to arrange bus tickets to Hanoi (Vietnam), as well as accommodation, then showered and relaxed. Later on we headed out to get a quiet dinner and check out the night markets we had heard so much about. These offered a nice range and we spent the evening wondering the laid back streets of Luang Prabang.

We were up at our normal time, ready for a quick breakfast before walking down to the Tamarind restaurant for our scheduled 8:45am start time. Once all the other participants had arrived we were in a Tuk Tuk (many who were Aussies) heading for the local markets. The markets offered a huge range of produce and we were shown the different ingredients used in Laos cooking by the head chef. Some of the more unusual items that were on sale at the market included live toads, eels and all manner of animal parts. After spending an informative hour in the market, we were back in the Tuk Tuk and off to the cooking school. This was located in a great garden setting and the head chef proved to be very entertaining. We spent the next several hours learning to cook 6 dishes before sitting together to feast on the delicious lunch we had all created.

Once back at the hostel we decided to stop and have a beer and were soon joined by 3 German travellers we had met at our previous hostel in Vientiane. They invited us to join them at the Utopia bar we had heard so much about, which we gladly agreed too. The place was a great little establishment, where you were seated on a cushioned deck overlooking the Mekong River. Complete with it’s own volleyball court it would have been an interesting place to spend a few hours. As the sunset, we all headed for dinner, sampling Mekong river weed for the first time (delicious! tasted like Vegemite) before heading across the street to sample some Laos Laos, the countries infamous rice vodka. We had a great time, fantastic food, interesting conversation and altogether, it was a great way to end our time in Laos.

The following day we were departing for Hanoi and after a relaxed breakfast we headed into Luang Prabang for one last visit. Before long it was 5pm and we were off to the bus stations to catch our 24-hour sleeper bus to Hanoi. This turned out to be a different design to the one we had arrived in, with each of us having a small reclining seat with no room for your feet. Another torturous journey was about to begin.