Friday, February 29, 2008

There goes our view...

When we moved into our apartment we were happy because we could look out our balcony and between a few apartment complexes see the water and we could relax as watch the container ships head out to the ocean.

However, we were looking across a open lot to see this view, and we figured that it was only a matter of time before construction was started on that lot to build yet another 30+ story condo building. Apparently, March 1st was that day, as today they started by building the workers lodging, the small two story white building in the corner of the lot. The are setting up another one of these in the other corner, so we can probably expect that in the next week they will begin excavating. The workers will live in these tiny houses, several to a room, for the entire project.

This is at least a chance for us to watch the construction and take photos as they build up and our water view is slowly taken away from us.

We also expect this to all happen fairly quickly, as things like this happen in China at a much faster pace then we are used to. They call them China years, and at the current pace of change in China 1 year here is equivalent to 4 years in the States. It still amazes me that in somethings they are 4 times faster then us, but it other things it seems to take 2-3 times as long as we would expect....

Winter break is over..

Well it's back to school next week. Amazing how time flies when you are having fun. That being said if I didn't have school to go to, I would be driving myself (and Mark) crazy trying to occupy my time while Mark is at work all day.

Earlier in the week Justin and I headed to the university to get our grades from the last semester. I ended up with an 85% which is better than I had expected. Justin, on the other hand ended up with a 94%. It probably helps that your relatives are from China and Hong Kong!

So yesterday we met up to register for the second semester. Unlike the first semester, this went fairly quick. They wanted us to go to the opening ceremonies again, and listen to all the speeches. You start with the university anthem, the welcome speech, then a few professors say a word or two, then the police tell you about procedures that need to be adhered to, and finally the Dean speaks. It's always fun to listen to what the rules are when it comes to visas here in China. The cliffs notes version is something like this: You cannot work while you are a student in China, you must register with the police within 24 hours, and you will be fined 500 RMB to a maximum of 5000 RMB for overstaying your visa. You may also be deported and not able to return to China for the next 5 years.

This is where we exited and tried to figure out where we register. We were told to go to the 3rd floor but no one was there. We went to the second floor and found a teacher that I happen to recognize, that tutored our friends here in China. She told us that we do not register here. You need to go to the Overseas Student's Building.

We find the offices where we need to register. We asked where and when we would find out about our schedules and purchasing books. The reply Saturday. Okay when Saturday? Afternoon. Anytime? Yes. So I can come to the university for my books and class schedule at 1pm? No, you should come at 3pm.

So I guess anytime, really didn't mean anytime, it meant 3pm.

As we were lining up in queues for various reasons, it dawned me after watching this process how we foreigners learned from the Chinese, rather quickly I must say, just how to cut in front of each other. It will be interesting to see people back in their countries attempting this Chinese manoeuvre. I suspect it won't be quite as accepted in the native land as it is here in China.

We were out of there in about an hour.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How well do you know the world?

Okay, so when you are bored, or just don't feel like working we have a game for you to check out. We ran across the site awhile back and we're both addicted to this game.

It's from trip advisor and it's basically an IQ test on geography. The idea is to locate the cities very quickly. You get points for proximity and speed.

We're challenging all of you to try this and see how well you do. Good luck.

Trip Advisor IQ Quiz


The highest I was able to score was 575,000, level 11. Apparently, I need help with Russia.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Strangest conversation I have ever had..

Earlier this week, I met up with a classmate, Justin at Xiamen University to get our final marks from last semester. We have to register this week for next semester. As I was waiting for Justin, minding my own business, this young woman approaches me and asks if I speak English, to which I replied, yes I do. For the next 20 minutes I had the oddest conversation.
Here's how it went down:
Chinese gal: I need your help, angry people are trying to kill me. I live on Gu Lang yu #6 something street. It use to be my grandfather’s and I live there and people want my place and told me that they would kill me.
Tina: Have you gone to the police?
Chinese gal: Yes, and they said, you die, who cares? You die. I was a doctor and no one will hire me and they want my grandfather’s house. I cannot work because bad people are trying to kill me.
Tina: Do you have parents?
Chinese gal: My father is dead and ( I don’t remember what she said about her mom) You must help me, they will kill me. You must save me.
Tina; I would love to but I don’t’ know what to do for you. Do you have siblings that might help be able to help you?
Chinese gal: Yes , they don't live here in China. They live in England.
Tina: Perhaps they can help you?
Chinese gal: They move around a lot
Tina: Can’t you get a hold of them and tell them what’s going on? They must have cell phones, everyone has a phone or email.
Chinese gal: No they move all the time, and they don’t have phones because they move. I don't know where they live. They don't want me to know.
Chinese gal: The Police Chief’s wife stole my phone from my house. The police wont’ help me, they want to see me die too.
Tina: Perhaps if you went to another police station, maybe they can help you? Do you want me to go with you?
Okay, at this point I'm thinking scam?
Chinese gal: No, I cannot go to the police, they don't care if I die.
Tina: Are you a student here in Xiamen?
Chinese gal: Yes, I am
Tina: Have you spoken to one of your teachers?
Chinese gal: They are Chinese they won’t help me,.
Tina: Do you have any Western teachers?
Chinese gal: Yes, but they do not want to take the time to listen to me.
Justin arrives and as I tell him about her plight, she quickly informs me I should not say anything to him.
She then continues...
Chinese gal: My father and grandfather gave me medicine for 10 years so I will forget things. I can’t go to the hospital because the police have told me that they will kill me if I should go to the hospital. Do you have medicine you can give me?
Tina: No. Perhaps you should go to the hospital and get some medication.
Chinese gal: I cannot go, the police said if I go t the hospital, I will die. The doctors will kill me. You have to save my life.
Tina: I'm not sure what you want me to do.
Chinese gal: I have to leave but the gov’t wont give me a passport. They won’t let me leave China.
Tina: Exactly what do you want me to do?
Chinese gal: Go back to your country and tell them that the gov’t of China wants to kill me. (She pulls out an id that looks like a version of their passport) Not sure what she wanted me to do with it.
Tina: I’m not going back to the U.S for a long time, so I can’t tell people on the radio about your problem.
Chinese gal: They will kill me, these angry men who want my grandfather’s house on Gu Lang Yu.
Tina: Then perhaps you should leave Gu Lang Yu, and move somewhere else.
Chinese gal: No I cannot. It's my grandfather's home and the bad people want it. Thank you for listening to me. I know you can help me.
Justin rolling his eyes at this point.
We start heading to the department to get our marks, and this gal is following us.
Chinese gal: You have to help me, they will rape me if I stay at my grandfather's house.
Tina: I don’t think I can help you, unless you want to go to the police, or go to one of the professors here at the University.
Chinese gal: Perhaps you know of a western man, who will want to marry me. If such a man asks to marry me, I would say yes and then we can leave China.
Tina: I don't know of any men that want to get married at the moment, though you are in the right place. The university has all sorts of single men from various countries around the world. Perhaps you might find someone here.
Chinese gal: Yes, but these students don't want to marry a Chinese woman. The culture is too different.
Chinese gal: Thank you for listening to me, even if you can’t save me and I will be killed. Please tell people back home on the radio that people are trying to kill me.
She stops following us. I just looked at Justin, " you had to be late didn't you?"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yuan Xiao Festival

Ah, getting back to the current day and what's been going on in China, and mainly what's been going on in Xiamen. As Tina made sure to mention before, we were coming into the year of the rat, and as such everywhere that you go you will be reminded of such, much as it's hard to not realize that it's Christmas in the western world.
Part of the New Year is the Yuan Xiao Festival, which is on the 15th of the new year. We are told that this pretty much ends the New Year's celebrations. This is the first full moon of the year since the year started with the new moon, and the Chinese have been celebrating this night with a lantern festival since the Han Dynasty (206BC-221AD).
This year the Xiamen lantern festival included 114 different light installations, and luckily ran for a full month to give everyone a chance to see it. We went over last weekend instead of on the 15th (which was last Thursday, February 21st), but coming home that night traffic was extra slow and there were hundreds of people heading to the park.

More mice celebrating their year

One of two dragons on display, each over 60 meters in length
Head of the second dragon
More of the lantern festival
Wall of lanterns at the entrance
Yet another lantern display
And, of course, the Olympic display
The sheer size and quantity of all these displays was amazing, and there were thousands of people wandering around the park when we were there looking at it. There are also vendors selling all sorts of light-up toys and items like swords, devil horns, mice, and musical lanterns. Most everyone seemed to be buying something, we did not, but thought about getting a musical lantern because they played 'Jingle Bells'.
This view of the park is the best that we could get to try and show the overall size, the dragons are located on the lower right side of the photo.

The festival is also big with dumplings made from glutinous rice balls full of sugar or something, this is what is called yuan xiao or tang yuan, the first name being what the festival is called. And, as delicious as they sounded, we failed to make it out to a restaurant to try any...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Final Days of Vacation

Since the boat departed at 7:00am, we had to get up early yet again, since this was the only time the boat left for Phnom Penh. It will take approximately 6 hours. Yup, Mark was a happy puppy!

Upon arrival to the dock, there were people pushing water and food on you, the second you foot hit the soil. We have grown accustomed to the peddlers of Cambodia. We went to the boat which looked like it had better days and hoped for the best.

As we waited to depart more tourists came and these young guys would grab their luggage hoping for a tip. They don't say anything and the poor tourists believe that these guys are working for the boat company. When the person finds a seat, they just stand there asking for their tips. They were quite aggressive and annoying. The 7am timetable went out the window as more and more tourists wanted the same fun adventure as us. Mark and I just looked at each other, thinking where the heck are these people going to sit? The answer, upstairs. No, it's not a seating area. It's not about safety here folks, just dollars. Yea, I'm thinking this can't be good.

We finally leave Siem Reap. About an hour into the boat ride, the boat starts lilting, where enough nervous passengers sitting down below realized what was happening and moved very quickly to our side of the boat to help right itself. Mark almost ends up in the water as he was taking pictures, and people losing their belongings up above. The tourists inside the boat are grabbing life jackets wondering why they decided to go by boat when the bus was safer and faster.

We found out later that the boat hit a sandbar due to the low waters.

We get to Phnom Penh nice and safe but we were both glad to get off the boat.

Later we grabbed a bite to eat before we heading to the airport for our flight back home. As we were sitting there enjoying a nice relaxing lunch, we see something rather odd walking in the middle of the street.

The fun of travelling. Enjoying the unexpected!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Angkor Wat

This is going to be a long post, as this was a very long day of touring the sites at Angkor, and I don't know how to compact what we did into a nice short update. So, if you just want to scroll quickly through the photos that's fine, they start at sunrise and then are basically temple, temple, tree, temple, and finally back at Angkor Wat....
So to start, we had our wake up call first thing at 05:00 and we were outside of our hotel waiting for our tuk-tuk at 05:30. The streets are relatively quiet this early, with the odd tuk-tuk driving by and slowing to ask if we needed a ride. We'd wave them off since we had a driver coming, but after 15 minutes of waiting we gave up on him and grabbed another driver that, again after some haggling, agreed to drive us out Phnom Bakheng for $4.
Phnom Bakheng is just about 3/4 of a mile north of Angkor Wat, and according to our guide book, the greatest place to watch the sunset. So great, in fact, that thousands of people crowd the steps most nights; this is why we chose to go to Angkor Wat the previous night for the sunset, although it was still crowded. The books do also recommend Phnom Bakheng for sunrise, and because it is up on a hill we decided it would be a good idea.
Because of the delay in leaving the hotel the sun was just stating to come up when our driver sped past the main entry to Angkor Wat, but we still were there early enough to enjoy the early morning sky. He dropped us off and told us that he could drive us around all day, no problem we said - we are good with walking, and despite him trying to explain that it's a lot of walking we paid him and sent him on his way. Just to get to the top where Phnom Bakheng is a 15 minute walk that winds up and around the hill, and once there you have to climb up their steep, slippery, uneven steps to the top of the temple. It is worth it.

Phnam Bakheng at sunrise
Angkor Wat as seen from Phnom Bakheng
Tina on the steps of Phnom Bakheng
There were maybe 50 other people up at the top of Phnom Bakheng when we got up there, we walked around for a while marveling at everything then continued on our tour. Most of the guide books tell you that the place is too big to see everything in one day, and that you really need three just to get a good feel for the place. We looked at their itineraries and they have people visiting 2-3 temples a day; we figured that we wouldn't spend as much time admiring all the reliefs and intricate details and that we could easily breeze through 6-7 in our one day, and besides we were up at the crack of dawn... So starts our marathon sightseeing tour.
From Phnom Bakheng we walked up to Angkor Thom, this is the site that has the massive entry gates with the large faces looking out in the cardinal directions. Once inside our first stop is Bayon - this temple has a total of 54 towers and 216 faces that are looking out in every direction, supposedly watching over the entire empire.
Gate into Angkor Thom
We didn't feel the need to kiss the faceIn front of one of the towers in Bayon
From Bayon we walked down the long causeway to Baphoun, then back around the now dried up ponds. We stopped for a quick cheese baguette before walking past the Terrace of Elephants to the Terrace of the Leper King, and then we crossed over to the north Kleang and just wondered about how amazing this all must have been back then.
We then walked up to Preah Khan, which is just about a mile outside of Angkor Thom. This is one of the largest complexes in Angkor, and is yet another that really can't be adequately described. This is where I started to get confused, as we had read that some of the sites still had the trees growing through the buildings and that in some places they were starting to cut back the jungle and restore the sites. I thought this was one that was still overrun and was disappointed to see only a few giant trees growing through the stones and several places where you could see them cutting out the large trees. We were really only on site three and already was starting to get them confused...
From Preah Khan, our little map from the hotel showed a quick path that wound through the woods over to Ta Keo, and seeing as we were starting to get tired from the walk and all the steps I convinced Tina that this was a good idea that would save us maybe 30 minutes and about a mile of walking. The path was a little hard to find, but we did find it and followed it around until it came to a small river where there were just two bamboo poles across, one to step on and one to hold. Needless to say we didn't cross there, so we doubled back and then I cut down another side path that should have followed the river. This winds through the woods for 10-15 minutes and we stumble upon a small house where two men are sitting outside - "Cigarette?" one asks, and we say no and continue in the direction I think we need to go, he stops us and points to a trail off to the left. Ah great, we thank him and follow that path until it comes out of the woods just about 20 yards away from where we started...
Yep that was fun, so we then walked back through Preah Khan to the main road with me knowing that an "I told you so" would be mentioned sometime later in the day. We stopped here for lunch and then started the mile walk back to Ankgor Thom. Luckily here a tuk-tuk drove up to us and asked where we were going, and for only $2 he gave us a ride over the, what turned out to be, almost 4 miles to Ta Keo. He was working for a couple that had hired him for the day and driving to Preah Khan he saw us walking, knowing that they would be touring for at least a half hour he saw us as a quick way to supplement his income; lucky us.
From Ta Keo we walked down to Ta Prohm - the site that still is somewhat overrun with the jungle. On this walk we passed another couple walking and they asked us "You're walking? We thought we were the only ones." Yeah, now we understood why our morning driver thought we were crazy, and I started to wonder how much it would have cost us to hire him for the day. It seems like it really only would have cost us maybe $15, and in retrospect we (me) are idiots for not just paying.
Tomb Raider Tree in Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Stepping though a tree at Ta Prohm
From Ta Prohm we walked over to and through Banteay Kdei, and then we started the long walk down the return road to the back side of Angkor Wat. At this point it's hot out, we are both tired from all of the walking, and with our rough map we really can't tell how far we have to walk. We keep hoping for another tuk-tuk to stop but none show up, and we slowly trudge the 2 miles to the back entrance to Angkor Wat. If we can provide advice to anybody it'll be this - hire a tuk-tuk for the day.
Back into Angkor Wat we walked around and this time took a stroll through the outer section that has all the relief showing battles and other big events. Turning the corner near the front and suddenly we were confronted with crowds, most of the day there were people around but never huge crowds of hundreds of people, but suddenly here they all were, pushing to get up steps, to see the reliefs, to climb through doorways and take photos. We quickly pushed our way out to the front grounds and enjoyed some more open space...
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Back out front we had to find a tuk-tuk without riders, and here they feel they can charge more because they know you're not going to walk back into town. But eventually we found one and headed back after a very full day, it was around 16:30 when we left. Now we understood why the recommended tours only do a few sites, as it is a bit overwhelming and near the end they all do start to blend together.
Path we walked calculated from Google Pedometer.

One of the things that we did when we got back was to figure out how far we had walked, I had estimated it at maybe 9-10 miles. As you can see from the above map, the total path was just over 17 miles and all but 4 miles of that was walked by us. If you click on the link in the photo title you can zoom in on our actual path and see some nice satellite views of Angkor.
Back in Siem Reap we relaxed with a nice Indian dinner and then another night where we were early to bed.

Siem Reap

Ok, we are just about approaching the climatic end to our journey, and today we arose early in Phnom Penh to catch a tour bus to Siem Reap. This bus is a full sized tour bus, as we learned our lesson from spending all that time on the local bus from Vieng Vang to Veintiane. We also got up early enough to enjoy breakfast and have a few baguettes made to take with us on our trip.

Fried Tarantulas
This tour bus put us into Siem Reap shortly after three, another 6 hour ride. We did have a stop again in the middle, and the above photo shows one of the food offerings that they had along with all sorts of other fried bugs and critters. Them baguettes we had packed this time were very tasty. I was going to try one but figured that I could wait until we were in a city with restrooms as opposed to finding out they don't agree with me while stuck on a bus. We never saw them again, and I think that I'm a little disappointed...
Siem Reap is a small little town, again built only for tourists and with signs, menus, and beggars all communicating in English. There are a lot of big name hotels here and even more being built, and it is said that everyone that visits Cambodia comes through Siem Reap. There were two million visitors to Cambodia last year, and as more and more Chinese are able to travel these numbers are bound to balloon.
Ah, but for why everyone comes here - Angkor Wat. Tickets into the whole Angkor Wat complex cost $20 a person for a day, they drop a little if you buy a 3-day or 6-day pass, but the beauty of this is that a one day pass lets you in at 19:00 the night before so that you can watch the sunset...
This is our tuk-tuk driver that first night, we bartered him down to $4 to Angkor Wat and back. We took this picture so that we would know who we were looking for among the crowds of people and other tuk-tuks.
As everyone, or I guess our guide book, tells you - the most impressive thing is your first sight of Angkor Wat, the moat and outer walls that lead in and the towers in the background. It truly is a sight to see, and it was hard for me not to overload this post with pictures.

First view of the moat surrounding Angkor Wat
Main entrance to Angkor Wat
Inside Angkor Wat
Another view of stairs at Angkor Wat
View across one of the ponds when inside the main walls of Angkor Wat
Another view

We wandered around awestruck, the size and detail of this place can't even be explained. we were a little disappointed in that sometime recently they decided to close access to the five central towers, but we did finally agree not getting in might be better then being crushed by a loose brick, these building bricks are mammoth in size.
Around 18:30 we started to get directed out, and reluctantly we wandered back towards our ride, happy only in the knowledge that we had a full day of touring coming up...
Sunset over the moat. .
Back in town we enjoyed a dinner nice local Khmer restaurant, and then we retired to bed so that we could get up bright and early to be back at Angkor Wat by 06:00 for the sunrise. Our tuk-tuk driver had agreed to pick us up at the hotel bright and early at 05:30....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Phnom Penh

We arrived in Phnom Penh and it was what we expected Laos to be; dirty, gritty, poor with pockets of wealth scattered around the city. Garbage is everywhere here in Phnom Penh and yet you don't see rats. We didn't get it.

We found a guest house across from the Mekong river where many of the restaurants and bars are located in Phnom Penh.

The poverty here is unbelievable. I remember seeing this type of poverty in Cairo years ago but really haven't seen this in a very long time. Children were running through the streets naked, some with open wounds, hounding everyone for 1 USD. We didn't see any parents or older siblings but we were told that parents will send the children out to beg as they will make more money than the adults. We gave them food instead, which they ate with verocity.

One of the main sites to see in Phnom Penh is Tuol Sleng, which is/was called S21 by the Khmer Rouge. It was a high school until 1975, where Pol Pot's security forces turned it into a nightmare known as Security Prison 21. This was to be their largest centre of detention and torture. Once inside you were not expected to live. The Khmer Rouge were quite meticulas in keeping records. The prisoner was photographed before and after their torture. Also during this time the the security guards would turn on their own as well. The people who tortured and executed were in turn tortured and executed by those who took their place.

Even when they were being liberated there were a handful of prisoners tortured and killed. Only 7 were found alive due to the fact that they had skills necessary for the Khmer Rouge. The prison was only one of the sites of the mass genocide that the Khmer Rouge exacted out on Cambodians, there are still debates on exactly how many people died during this time with some experts saying close to 3 million.

It was truly gruesome and depressing.

Personally #6 was my favorite!
We decided we were depressed enough and went over to see the Royal Palace. We arrived and thought we were back in Bangkok, looking at the Grand Palace. When you travel throughout Southeast Asia, you realize how intertwined some of these countries really are, to the point you forget which country you are in.

After that we decided to head for a bite to eat and along the way we saw some beautiful old French buildings. If only the walls could talk!

Later that evening we had dinner and drinks at the FCC, which is the restauarant/bar where the correspondants would gather and write their articles for their respective papers. It was rather erie to see the black and white photos of Phenom Penh empty of life when Pol Pot and his gang came to power. It was on the second day that the Khmer Rouge started clearing Phnom Penh of all citizens, forced to slave labour in teams working 12-15 hours per day. Okay that's it for the history lesson.

All in all, it was a great day and we both decided that we were glad that we changed our flights in order to have the day in Phnom Penh. Definitely recommend at least one day here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Ah, our last few days in Laos before we take a quick flight down to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. After a warm nights sleep in a somewhat dirty and dark guesthouse that didn't have much of any air-conditioner and no hot water, we hit the streets somewhat refreshed.

Our first stop was a nice coffee shop for a quick breakfast, then off to walk the streets of the Capital.

Presidential Palace
View from the top of Patuxai

We wandered through the streets past the Presidential Palace, to the Haw Pha Kaeo, through Wat Si Saket, and then over to their version of the Arc de Triomphe, Patuxai. The temples were beautiful, Haw Pha Kaeo is home to what are called the best examples of Buddhist sculpture in Laos. The Wat Si Saket is an older looking Wat and it believed to be Vientiane's oldest surviving temple, and contains over 2000 images of Buddha along with 300 Buddha statues, most from the 16th- and 17th- century but with some coming from 15th-century Luang Prabang.
We wandered through their markets, disappointing compared to what we are used to in China, and then stopped at a small noodle shop for lunch. Here the lunch seemed closer to the Vietnamese pho, and it was delicious. A lot of walking and checking our guide book and we come to the conclusion that in just over a half day we've seen most of Vientiane, huh - what to do tomorrow?

This is where Tina is genius as she suggests just moving our flight up a day. We head into the Laos Airlines office and they quickly change our flight to fly out a day earlier...
Now we are good, we stroll along the bank of the Mekong River and stop to have a drink at one of the small relaxing places built out over the river. Or they would have been over the river in the wet season, now they are just hovering over sand. We walked out on the sand to the actual river, and then when the sun was starting to set we climbed back up and grabbed a seat at a rooftop bar overlooking the river.
People walking out to the Mekong River
Sunset over the Mekong

Then we wandered over to an area with a fountain surrounded by restaurants with outdoor seating, where we enjoyed a nice French meal...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Vang Vieng Part II

Our bus didn't leave until the afternoon so we had some enjoy the scenery from the river before heading to Vientiane.

It was quite lovely and very peaceful winding our way through the river in the morning. The locals were just waking up and heading to the river for their daily wash. They wear sarongs in Laos since most of the bathing is communal or in this case the local river.
As we were making our way down the river we couldn't help but notice the changes that will be taking place here in Vang Vieng. What is a sleepy, relaxing town, populated by back packers will soon become resort location for your high end travelers. We saw cottages being built along the river, and bridges that are wood will be replaced by more solid concrete bridges .

Going down the river we understood more clearly why people wanted to spend the day tubing. There are little bars or more like shacks along the river where people stop and grab a drink before continuing on to either another bar for a drink, or you can try the rope swings if you have the nerve to attempt to climb these things. It would have been interesting to see the river in the afternoon when it becomes much hotter and people are tubing.
Not sure I trust this contraption. We did manage to see a few people kayaking and a lone tuber first thing in the morning.

Later we headed into to town so that Mark could get a haircut. The cost for the cut, USD 2.50. It was more expensive than in Xiamen.
We continued wandering through the town where we came upon a toll bridge, well their version of it. The cost is approximately USD1 to walk over to the other side. We thought we would go and see the caves since we still had some time left. Unfortunately the sign said 500 meters, it was more like two kilometers. We ran out of time and turned around since it would take an additional 20 minutes to tour the cave. On the way back we saw some locals who clearly didn't want to pay the toll.

We were happy to have been able to enjoy this little town while it was still casual and relaxed.
The drive from Vang Vieng to Vientiane wasn't as picturesque as the drive from Luang Prabang and took approximately 4 hours.
Once we were settled we found the Indian Restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, and it was very tasty and quite inexpensive. We later walked around Vientiane, found a French restuarant/bar and enjoyed some wine. We spoke with the owner who had been living in Laos for 17 years. He was originally from Nice, France. Personally, I would have stayed in France but that's just me.