Its hard to travel in developing countries on a strict time schedule, but we had plenty of chores to do in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We had to get into town and take care of our tasks before the fast approaching weekend locked us in for some extra days. These are the official kind of chores that can only be done in capital cities. I needed more pages added to my passport, our Lao visas needed to be extended, and we needed to get visas for Cambodia -and all these places have only specific hours for these services.
We got down to business immediately. First stop was the US Embassy. We arrived at the opening 8AM whistle, and there were already about 300 Lao in line. As one of the (many) perks of being American, we got to walk right past them to the front. The extra pages turned out to be no problem -and free to boot! (Ann even got some.) We also had a nice conversation with an American Foreign Service Agent about life overseas. (Hmmm...) Our passports were ready in the early afternoon and we zipped them over to Lao Immigration for our visa extentions. Also, simple and straight forward, but not free. The next morning I got the passports back at the 8AM whistle again, and biked them 3 km out to the Cambodian Embassy. By late afternoon they were finished -and so were our chores. (Although once again and despite my instructions to the contrary, Ann's visa was issued under her maiden name -and they misspelled it as well!)
In between all of the tasks, we got to enjoy Vientiane a little and soak up some sights. Since its reached the point of being unbearably hot, Ann spent most of her time scheming on how to get from one air conditioned room to the next. A popular stop for us was the confines of JoMa, a fantastic bakery/sandwich shop that makes the best gingersnap cookies I've ever tasted.
Out in the brutal heat, I somehow managed to get the job of chief pedaler, and took the bike -Ann in tow, around the city. We saw the Patuxay, the Vientiane equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe. I've never been to Paris, I think the true Arc is more of a sight; the Patuxay looked awkward. So much so, that a sign on the side of it describes it as a "monster of concrete." Funny side note: The Patuxay was made with American donated concrete that was intended for the Vientiane airport, so the structure is jokingly referred to as "The Vertical Runway."
We also saw Pha That Luang, the most important national monument in Laos and a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty. Its picture appears on the national seal, on many of the currency notes, and even graces the cover of our guidebook to Laos (so we feel a certain affinity to it.) We deemed it too hot to see some of the many wats in Vientiane -a decision that many of you are no doubt rejoicing in!
On the advice of our friends Larry and Jeanne, we stopped in to meet an American weaver Carol Cassidy and her husband Dawit. Carol happened to be in the States at some trade show but we had a nice time talking with Dawit. Turns out he, an Ethiopian, and Carol met in Lesotho where I did my Peace Corps tour, so we had a great time swapping African tales. Small world!
Lastly some sad news: we had pipe dreams of extending our travels for one more month, but those dreams were dashed by official word from Ann's employer. Turns out she is a very important cog in the workings of Merck New England -and duty calls. Myanmar will have to wait, but it was worth a shot.
Capital cities are normally more of a stop for us, but between the chores and the oppressive heat, we were ready to push into southern Laos for a real adventure.