Don’t panic – it’s just Vientiane

Patuxai, Vientiane
Vientiane’s “vertical runway”

Capital city time! We’d breezed through Bangkok, but had been pleasantly surprised by the intensity and charm of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Phnom Penh, so the Lao capital Vientiane was an exciting prospect, even if our main reason for going was to buy visas from the Vietnamese embassy.

It’s not the bustling city you might expect, though. It’s quite small, in fact – with little-to-no regular night life. Still, we arrived and were treated that same evening to an apparently famous Thai rock band playing a free gig alongside the Lao National Culture Hall.

Continue reading Don’t panic – it’s just Vientiane

Advertisements

In The Midst Of Death – Lawrence Block – [Book Review]

Walking cliché Matt Scudder is an unorthodox ex-cop, living in the bottle and In The Midst Of Death.

Unfortunately, Lawrence Block’s alcoholic private investigator doesn’t do anything particularly unorthodox in this installment, the second of the Scudder series, published in 1976.

Continue reading In The Midst Of Death – Lawrence Block – [Book Review]

The Hook – Donald E Westlake – [Book Review]

They say “Write what you know” – and if I was Donald E Westlake’s wife, I’d have been having kittens when The Hook came out in 2000.

That’s not to say I view all fiction as a reflection of its creator’s nefarious fantasies, but The Hook is so self-referential, the comparison is unavoidable.

Continue reading The Hook – Donald E Westlake – [Book Review]

A Suitable Vengeance – Elizabeth George – [Book Review]

Writing a whodunit is tough to get right. It needs plenty of characters, many of whom with motive to murder; it needs duplicitous clues, which might lead an investigation in separate directions; it needs red-herrings and plot twists; and it needs to drip-feed information to the reader to keep them guessing.

I don’t read many mysteries of this ilk – Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane novels being the exceptional exceptions – so when the meagre book exchanges of south-east Asia produced A Suitable Vengeance I was naturally excited.

Continue reading A Suitable Vengeance – Elizabeth George – [Book Review]

King of Kong Lor

Coming out the other side of Kong Lor
Light at the end of the tunnel

Most Laos travel guides will begin with a list of top-five, must-see, life-affirming experiences, and a trip to the caves of Kong Lor will undoubtedly feature – and highly. Hyperbole abounds, to the point you might reasonably expect to asphyxiate from awe (awesphyxiation, you might call it).

It sounds wonderful, but to get there is a little tricky. We picked the town of Thakhek to the south-east of Kong Lor to base ourselves, because it sounded pretty and we had been presently surprised by Savannakhet.

Continue reading King of Kong Lor

Been there, Don Det, got the shi*ts

4,000 Islands
Floating down the Mekong

Laos – the land of smiles and striking scenery. From the mountains of Vang Vieng, to the colonial charm of Luang Prabang, this land-locked country has a lot to offer, not least the area of 4,000 Islands, an archipelago in the middle of the Mekong by the Cambodian border.

But first, that border needs negotiating – and I choose that word carefully. Continue reading Been there, Don Det, got the shi*ts

Angkor blimey!

Make no mistake, Siem Reap is a tourist town. Everything here is geared towards tourists, or towards the infrastructure that the industry necessitates. Only here it is on an unprecedented scale. It feels as big as Phnom Penh as you drive towards its centre, with enormous resort hotels on the outskirts giving way to the bustle of dusty roads and boutique guesthouses further in.

Mexican food? I think? In Siem Reap
A restaurant on Pub Street

That being said, they’ve done a decent job of it. The restaurants are excellent and varied, the massage parlours are professional, and the bustling night market is colourful and exciting. The night life isn’t too bad either. Continue reading Angkor blimey!