5. Riding The Rails: Muang Xai
We left the station and while walking to the tuk-tuk stand, Tim asked which hotel we were supposed to go to.
Good question, I’d sent a suggested hotel link in an email to all of us, but no one remembered the name of this place!
And of course, here none of us had access to the internet…
Another issue was money, normally one of us (usually me) pays everything and afterwards we settle all the expenses.
In Vientiane David and I paid some stuff with Thai baht, but here we needed Lao kip, which none of us had, at least not in any useful amounts…
We somehow managed to get just enough kip to pay our driver for a shared ride into town and got dropped off somewhere at the center.
Muang Xai wasn’t that busy and here we realized suddenly that it was Sunday, all banks were closed of course.
And this grubby town was not touristy at all either, in a decent-looking coffee shop they accepted kip only, our dollars and baht were useless.
David had enough of this, set his mobile on roaming and within a minute we had found our hotel’s name: Villa Keoseumsack
The hotel turned out to be just a 10-minute walk away!
Once there we finally could use our baht to pay for the rooms and the reception guy told us where we could exchange money, at the Du Du Minimart!
A little later we found this supermarket, quite a place with two old bomb shells used as door decoration, but they were happy enough to change our baht!
Time for lunch at a pretty good restaurant and we discussed some possible plans for the rest of the trip.
The idea was to spend a full day in town and perhaps cycle around the surrounding area, but Ray had mentioned he’d like to visit the Plain of Jars (*)…
All nice and well, but that would take hours and hours of bus travel as there is no railway line to Phonsavan.
The new train was a very efficient, comfortable, and convenient way of traveling through Laos BUT it was a single-track line…
This meant that in the morning there are 2 trains going from Vientiane to the Chinese border and these same trains do the reverse route in the afternoon.
David wasn’t aware of that when he booked his early afternoon flight from Luang Prabang to Bangkok and as a result, would have to leave Muang Xai one day earlier in order to catch his flight.
Suddenly our plans were getting a bit messed up…
We decided to return to our Villa K for a break.
While Tim and Ray returned to their room for some horizontal meditation, David and I discussed the options for him to get to Luang Prabang.
In Vientiane, it was dead-easy to book tickets for the train, hotels, and guesthouses were advertising it everywhere, but here…
We tried using the official LCR Ap for booking a ticket online but discovered that a Lao mobile number is required…
As that obviously didn’t work either we left our room and wandered over to a slightly better-looking hotel and chatted with the reception lady.
She said it might be possible to get tickets at her place but why didn’t we try at the station ourselves?
Not a bad idea at all as the station was only a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride away!
That’s what we did and it turned out to be ridiculously easy, the station staff was very helpful and David had his ticket in no time.
Back at the hotel we refreshed ourselves, met up with Tim and Ray, and went for a walk.
We decided to walk up a hill to visit Phu That Pagoda and have a look around across town.
Once up there the views were rather hazy and pieces of ash were drifting down from time to time, not a pretty sight.
Back in town, we wandered around a bit more, but truth be told, Muang Xai is never going to win any prizes as a tourist attraction.
The market area was loaded with Chinese goods and nothing looked particularly attractive.
In cases like this, the best solution is to stop for a few beers, which we did immediately!
A lively conversation followed lubricated by the famous local ale and we felt much more positive afterwards.
By then it was time for dinner and another walk through town where we accidentally discovered the night market.
This seemed like quite a jolly place considering the number of tipsy locals…
Some very friendly Lao ladies insisted that we had a drink with them, so how could we refuse?
Even so, after a few sips, we left for ‘safety reasons’ (a drunk husband/boyfriend was near…) and headed back to our hotel, a day well spent!
(*) He had read somewhere that some of the jars might be a gateway to a different universe, oh well…