We expected the road to improve once we came out of the hills on the lowland of the Mekong valley. If anything it got worse. Typically the road is a couple of hundred metres of tarmac and then the same length of dirt. It seemed to have been dug up deliberately in this way perhaps prior to repair. However, we did not see any sign of road repair gangs until we were on the outskirts of Vientiane. Buses and trucks weave from side to side trying to find the most level surface which often seems to be the opposite side of the road to the direction of travel.
Once in Vientiane things improve dramatically the roads are like French boulevards which is what they are. The French laid out the roads so the main streets are tree lined boulevards in the French style. Vientiane even has its own Arc de Triomphe. Apparently it was built from concrete that the US intended to use for an airport. It's now quite a place of pilgrimage for Laotians. Here are some school children we met at the top who were eager to take our photos and be photographed themselves.
Our hotel here was a delight. Inexpensive but filled with beautiful artwork much of it made from local timber or bamboo. The French influence is also apparent in the many fine restaurants serving Laotian, Chinese, Italian and French food. They seem particularly keen on wine here, another vestige of the French influence and it is reasonably priced and there are many wine shops.
We arrived at the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Teams of young Chinese toured the city in vans banging drums to encourage dragons to eat bunches of lettuces tied at the entrances of the Chinese businesses. Once the dragon had eaten the lettuce the team get given some food and drink by the shopkeepers.
We explored the narrow allies of the market where Chinese dragons appeared again.
Carol Cassidy Lao textiles is a large traditional French house which displays beautiful silk fabrics. The fabrics are made on the premises using Laotian silk, apparently this is better quality than Vietnamese silk. In Vietnam though they can get more silk from the worms than in Laos. A lot of the fabrics are special designs for curtains purchased in the main by wealthy New Yorkers and their interior designers. We were shown round the small factory.
The time taken in making these fabrics can take up to 18 months just to set up the design on the looms. After that the intricate work of making the cloth takes place which in its turn can take months or even years. The workers are mainly women but there was one young male weaver prized for his long arm length. He was apparently the son of a former master weaver who has taken to the trade forsaking drugs.
The two days spent in Vientiane were a relaxing spell after the long slow roads of Laos. We were quite sad to head off to the frontier with Thailand and back to Phuket. The frontier is a long bridge crossed by bus. The crossing was made more interesting by Michael leaving a bag of papers on the Laotian side and having to go back to look for them. Amazingly enough they were still where he had left them on a seat! From the bridge it is a short journey to an airstrip with direct connections back to Phuket.