I find myself in the second largest city in Laos, with a population of over 120,000 and a mix of Lao, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese.
The city has its own airport, which is served by Lao airlines, and is a wholly-owned carrier of the single-party Socialist Laos Government. A rather dubious reputation for safety, the airline has lost a number of flights over the years. If you can’t afford to get across land to see Angkor wat, or need to get to Bangkok in a hurry, Lao airlines will get you there. So, take this word of advice if you fly with them: Lao airlines mainly use two type of aircraft, the French-built ATR-72 and the Chinese-built MA-60. Let’s just say you should make sure that you fly on an ATR-72.
At the end of the Vietnam war in the mid 70′s, the US airforce flew in regular C-130s in their investigation of soldiers reported as missing in action.
I head along to the old French colonial part of the city, which is now rather sad and dilapidated. The French had first entered these countries in the 1850s, forming French Indochina, having taken parts of Vietnam and Cambodia. Laos was added in 1893. France released the peninsular after the Geneva Conference in 1954 and events after these agreements later formed the basis of the United States’ involvement and later still, the Vietnam War. The city now spreads out around the old part and there is very little left.
As it starts to get a little dark I head towards the Mekong river bank, just a little north of the city and get a table in the Lao Lao restaurant. Here I am in Laos and I end up in a Thai restaurant, but this is good food with a cold beer. As the sun goes down I look out over the river expanse and I’m already looking forward to the next stretch tomorrow.