Upon arriving in Vientiane we had one goal in mind, obtaining our visa for China. We initially planned to get our Chinese visa along with our Russian visa in Hong Kong. But upon further research, we realized that Hong Kong was REALLY expensive. Waiting four days for our Chinese visa plus six days for our Russian visa would absolutely kill our budget. We needed to try to get one or both of our visas earlier and spend as little time in Hong Kong as possible.

Luckily, a solution for getting a Chinese visa presented itself while we were in Luang Prabang, Laos. Most of the city is loaded with tourist information and tour booking places, which we usually don’t pay too much attention to since we try to do DIY activities. But I just happened to glance at one of the billboards next to a shop and saw they advertised Chinese visas. We looked into it and discovered we could make our way to the Chinese embassy in Vientiane and get a visa in just four days. We would have to add on a few more days than we planned, but it would be well worth the cost saved by cutting our stay in Hong Kong.

We thought that it would be fun if we rented a few bikes on our first full day in Vientiane. Our first task was to head straight up to the embassy and ride around town to get the lay of the land before we had to return the bikes. It didn’t feel that hot out when we were riding on the flat streets but when we hit the hills all of a sudden my sweat glands kicked in to hyper drive and I was drenched almost instantly. It probably didn’t help that we missed a key turn and we got lost for about a half hour. Riding past the US ambassadors residence (for the second time), we stopped to ask directions. The guard rushed out of his shack but met us with a huge smile when he realized we were Americans and just stopping for help. He was super friendly and gladly pointed us in the right direction.

Arriving at the embassy, we noticed we only had 10 minutes before they closed. As I locked up the bikes, Jodi bolted inside to start the paperwork. I’m glad Jodi got the forms since I’m not sure that my thoroughly sweat soaked appearance would have gone over that well. Luckily the form was pretty simple and with our paperwork turned in they assured us that we would have our passports back in four working days.

With that out of the way, we were thoroughly exhausted so we decide to postpone the city tour and just work our way back to our guesthouse. We made it about half way back when suddenly from out of nowhere a torrent of rain hit us. We quickly made a bee line for the nearest cover; I think it was some kind of used car business but the showroom was completely empty and the workers were just hanging out reading the paper. For about a half hour it poured, turning the parking lot into a shallow lake. Stopped tuk-tuks and trucks littered the sides of the streets, unable to see with the volume of water pouring from the sky. But just as quickly as it started, it vanished. And, we started out again keeping an eye out for possible cover in case the clouds opened again.

We passed the days waiting for our visas doing the normal tourist stuff. We visited many sights in and around Vientiane. We especially liked the National Museum with its interesting exhibits on the Laos people and the history of their country. We visited the Patuxai, which is modeled after France’s Arc de Triomphe. The US Government gave Laos a bunch of cement for an airport runway but instead of using for that purpose, they decided what they really needed was an arc. Hence, many now refer to it as the vertical runway. From a distance, it looks pretty impressive but when you actually get up close it looks run down and unfinished. Climbing to the top though, we enjoyed some nice views of the city.

One other place that we both liked was the Buddha Park. The guide book didn’t say much about it but we decided to catch a local bus and visit it. The park was created by a yogi-priest-shaman who merged Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. In 1958 he built huge concrete sculptures from both religions. It was actually pretty impressive considering the size and detail of his work. A huge reclining Buddha and this round tower structure are the largest pieces in the park. You can actually go in the round tower and inside are all these concrete statues on multiple floors; there must be hundreds of them inside.

Finally, the day came when our passports were ready. We decided to forgo the bikes this time and just took a bus to the embassy. And low and behold, our passports were ready as promised. With the Chinese visa out of the way, we just have to worry about getting our Russian visa in Hong Kong. Hopefully it all works out or it might be a shorter Trans-Mongolian train ride than we planned. We will keep you updated.

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