Two Backpacks

Mekong River Vientiane

Chapter 21 - The start of our journey north - Vientiane, Laos

             It’s been a long day, flying from Ko Samui to Bangkok and then to Vientiane in Laos.

             I’ve booked us into the Avalon Hotel, two blocks from the mighty Mekong River. Tired after our travels, Ron and I find a café nearby for supper and then head for bed and an early night.

            A thumping headache wakes me early. My shoulders and neck are stiff and sore and signs another migraine is on the way. All I can do is lay on the bed and wait until it passes.

            ‘Is there anything I can do?’ asks Ron when he wakes and finds me with a damp, cold flannel across my eyes. ‘Is it another migraine?’

            Speaking, forming words when my head hurts, is difficult. ‘Yes,’ I mutter, not having the strength to say anything else.

             After three such incidents on our travels, Ron knows he can’t help; he just has to leave me in our dark, quiet room until I recover. He showers, dresses and quietly closes the bedroom door. I close my eyes and try to work through the excruciating pain.

            I’ve no idea what has gone on through the day, but when I wake, Ron is asleep beside me. It’s dark outside. I’ve slept intermittently throughout the day. But the migraine hasn’t finished with me. I rush to the bathroom, unsure whether to vomit or sit on the toilet first. I’ve no idea how long I’ve been in there. Eventually, my body stops shaking, and the nausea eases. I run the shower, desperate for a hot refreshing shower.

            Returning to the bedroom, Ron’s still sleeping. Feeling somewhat better, I snuggle up to him and wait for sleep.

            ‘How are you?’ Ron asks when he wakes the following morning. ‘You look better. Do you fancy breakfast?’

             ‘I’m not sure I can manage anything fried, but I’d love a piece of toast and a cup of sweet tea,’ I reply.

            When Ron and I walk into the small hotel restaurant, a young waitress shows us to a table.

            Ron goes for the full breakfast of fruit, scrambled eggs, toast and jam, but the thought of eggs has my stomach doing somersaults again.

            ‘I’ve had a headache,’ I explain to our waitress. ‘Is it possible to just have toast and a cup of tea?’

            ‘Of course. Is there anything else I can get you? Do you need a doctor?’ she asks in perfect English.

            ‘Thanks, I’m better now, but I’d love a cup of tea.’

            The tea and toast work wonders, and I soon feel much stronger.

            ‘Do you fancy a walk down to the river? The fresh air will do you good,’ Ron asks, still concerned.

             We take a slow walk through the city. It’s very different to Phnom Penh; much quieter, calmer, and more tranquil. We pass the national football stadium.

            ‘Let’s see if they’ll let us in, just to look around,’ suggests Ron.

            Before I can reply, Ron walks up to the guard standing at the entrance to the imposing stadium. I watch on. There’s laughter and much hand-waving. Ron smiles and waves me over.

            ‘He’s going to let us in, and he’ll let me have a photo in front of the goal,’ Ron states proudly.

            I’ve no idea why he’s so keen to get a photograph, but I follow him down the tunnel and out onto the pitch, the guard following closely on our heels.

            ‘Quick! Take a photo before he changes his mind!’ Ron instructs, posing in front of one of the goals.

            Our friendly guard is getting nervous.

            ‘Come on, Ron. Let’s go. Don’t want to outstay our welcome!’ I say, taking Ron’s hand and heading back towards the tunnel.

            Outside again, we bid farewell to our guard and continue our walk, passing fish restaurants setting up for lunch, with row upon row of raw fish awaiting their fate over the barbeque coals.

           On the bank of the Mekong River, I find the restaurant I’d read about in the Lonely Planet. Seated at a patio table, we have views across the vast expanse of the river.

           ‘It’s so peaceful here,’ I say, watching a seller pushing his bike, laden with an assortment of brushes, along the road.

            ‘I know. Not at all what I expected. I hope it’s as quiet when we go for our Thai visas tomorrow,’ replies Ron, finishing his beer.

            I’m being good; only soft drinks for me.

            We’re planning on spending Christmas in Thailand. One of the reasons we’re in Vientiane is to obtain our sixty-day visas for entry into Thailand. While a thirty-day tourist visa is possible on entry to the country, the extended visa we want is only available from the Thailand Embassy.

            Our food is as good as the reviews state, and still feeling the after-effects of my migraine, Ron and I head back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta.

            It took twenty-four hours for our visa applications to be processed, and now, with our Thai visas pasted into our passports, we’re on our way to Vang Vien.

            Tiny villages with traditional wooden stilted houses line the road as we leave the city and begin our journey north. Two hours into our trip, we climb upwards, the two-lane road barely wide enough for passing cars and trucks as it twists and turns along hillsides before plunging into a valley.

            As we climb higher, dense jungle replaces the patchwork of cultivated fields. We cross small rivers, the fast-flowing water cutting its way through the hills, dirty brown with silt from its banks. Then, the scenery changes; karsts replace the steep-forested hillsides, their peaks visible against the skyline. We’ve arrived in Vang Vieng.