Adventures with John & Nina – Where is Laos?
by Nina Sabin - Travel
Not long after our repat, we were off again on another adventure. This was to a country in Asia called Laos. We had seven days to explore during the Eid holiday vacation. This was our fifth Eid holiday trip since moving to Saudi Arabia.
Laos (pronounced Lao) landlocked between Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Laos is one of the poorest and least visited countries in the world. The Lao people are known for their gentle polite nature and for their charming hospitality. The Mekong River flows through western and southern regions and forms a natural border with Thailand and Myanmar.
We started our excursion by landing in Udon Thani, Thailand. As often as we can, we prearrange transportation from the airport to the hotel. Many hotels throughout the world provide free shuttle services for a nominal fee.
We have been to many of the main cities in Thailand like Bangkok, Chang Mai, and Hua Hin. However, Udon Thani has to be most historical of all the cities. The province’s main attraction is its archeological sites that date back over 5,000 years, particularly the one at Ban Chiang. Besides encountering the historical sites, we also did some browsing through the markets, which as we often find have very unique items. One in particular was the pig face on a stand. We are not sure what they use it for but John had fun taking pictures with it. The other was being offered to eat fried locus that they just scooped off the streets. I say we are adventurous with trying all the unusual delicacies, but this one we decided not to try.
After exploring Udon Thani for a day we were on our way to Laos. As with the ‘Sabin’ trend we tend to find the local way to travel. This time we were on, as we called it “the chicken bus”, where not only were there people, but chickens, and bikes, limited seating with holes in the upholstery, and the door stayed open most of the time. We took this bus to the border, however, the bus could not cross the border so we had to cross on foot.
In Thailand, we often felt we went back in time some, but once we crossed the border into Laos it felt like we went even further back in time - like the 1950’s. At least the taxi we found was from that era.
The first city we visited in Laos was the capital, Vientiane. Our adventure in this city started with our hotel. As seasoned travelers, we spend time researching hotels for the best price, location, and reviews. This hotel appeared to meet our usually criteria. However, to our surprise it was not quite what we expected. We were celebrating John’s birthday and decided to go to the bar adjacent to the hotel. As we walked to the bar from the hotel we passed a window with woman dressed in cocktail dresses sitting in seats in rows. Each lady had a number pinned to her dress. We thought how strange, but maybe they are part of a pageant, or the entertainment. We proceed to our booth and didn’t think much more about the ladies.
John decided to order the local beer which came in a huge glass, however, no ice. We thought that was strange as well. This was about 9:30 at night. Well, the strange events kept on unfolding, as John had another story to share after he went to the restroom. He walked pass a staff member as he entered the restroom. He proceeded to the urinal where he came upon ice in each one, so the mystery of the ice was found, but we don’t understand why they are in the urinal. Then as he was going to the bathroom, he felt small hands beginning to massage his back. It is a full service bathroom as the staff he passed job was to massage the clients while they use the facilities. John froze as this was totally out of the norm in a restroom. All of a sudden he no longer needed to go to the bathroom. He quickly left the restroom to share the story with me.
At that point, the lights came on and the bar announced they were closing. We were very confused, but paid our bill and began to walk back to our room at the hotel. The waiter decided to walk us out, he explained that the girls in the window were call girls and once the last girl is picked they close the bar and go up to the rooms in the hotel with their gentleman callers. We were in shock as our young daughters were sleeping upstairs while these events were going on.
The crazy night was not over yet. Our waiter looked at John with stars in his eyes and said “you very handsome,”. We thought that was a little strange and maybe he was just being nice, but as we walked further to the hotel the waiter said, “you very good looking.” With that we knew he was flirting with John, so we quickly said good-bye, ran up to our room, locked the door and debriefed from the crazy experiences that unfolded that night. We realized later it our events always make great stories to tell.
We only spent one night in Vientiane, which was just enough. The main place to visit in Vientiane is the local market called Talaat Sao, that has anything from food, to handicrafts, to clothes. Our favorite place Buddha and Cultural Park. There are approximately 200 Buddhist and religious images dating back over 500 years, most of which were introduced from India. At one end of the park is the Sawan where the spirits of good people are known to reside and bring harmony to the land.
We decided to try a local cuisine at the park. It was chicken pieces in a stew. Basically they cut up a chicken bones and all and put it in a stew. We had a hard time finding the meat around all the bones. We did enjoy our first coconut milk out of an actual coconut with a straw. If you never have had one, it is fun to drink directly from a coconut.
In our next blog we will take you to two more cities in Laos. Stay Tuned!