Planet View: N17°57.851′ E102°36.413′
Street View: N17°57.851′ E102°36.413′
Vientiane is the capital of Laos, situated about halfway along the north-south vertical of the country alongside the Mekong River. The bus ride to Vientiane from Vang Vieng was a little trying, a swelteringly hot five hour trip along some extremely bumpy roads with only a quick 10 minute toilet break. After the bus trip we weren’t in the mood for searching Vientiane for a hotel so found a fantastic little guesthouse in the city’s centre, a scrupulously clean establishment with beautiful hardwood furniture in each of the rooms. With the lull in tourism through Southeast Asia many of the hotels are severely discounting their rooms in order to attract travelers: our room is typically $USD60 a night but the hotelier was willing to let us stay for $USD25! A definite upgrade from the typical $USD11 to $USD15 we’ve been spending through Vietnam and northern Laos.
While Vientiane is officially the capital ‘city’ of Laos it’s really little more than a large village, an array of temples spread throughout an extensive array of restaurants, banks, embassies and drinking establishments. Laos’ French influence was very evident as we walked about town, quite a number of French restaurants are spread around the city centre as well as a number of headquarters of French-sponsored aid organizations. Vientiane’s morning market, Talat Sao, located a short walk from our hotel, was definitely the most laid-back market we’ve visited in Southeast Asia thus far. Inline with the laid-back demeanor of Laos people in general, the shopkeepers were quite happy to let their merchandise speak for themselves rather than resort to the persistent haranguing we endured in all the markets through Vietnam. In addition to the electronics and clothing typical to the markets in Southeast Asia the Vientiane morning market devoted almost an entire floor to goldsmiths. Such an amazing amount of gold was on display, all guarded by security bearing AK-47 automatics!
Lisa planned a fun walking tour of central Vientiane one morning, taking us past the aforementioned morning markets and up the city’s central avenue of Lane Xang. Perched in the middle of Lane Xang a few hundred meters from Talat Sao is the Patouxai, Laos’ equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe and another demonstration of the close ties between Laos and France. The view from the top of the Patouxai was quite a sight, we were able to take in all of central Vientiane down to the Mekong and across the river to the beginning of Thailand. Our tour also took us past Wat Sisaket, the oldest wat in Laos (constructed in 1818) and the only one to survive the Siamese sacking of the country in the mid-nineteenth century. Further on we walked past the Presidential Palace on Setthathilat Road and took in the small art and antiquities collection in adjacent Haw Pha Kaew.
We found a great way to spend the late afternoon in Vientiane was to walk down to the banks of the Mekong River and enjoy a few drinks at one of the plethora of food stalls that establish themselves in the dirt. Beers are $USD1.00 each and the food is all prepared on the spot, some great value traditional Laos eats. There were a few eye-raising dishes on offer, such as the BBQ or fried frogs available at the stall pictured here (the frogs in the blue bucket were live and would be skinned should someone order a frog dish!). The sunset was brilliant on the night I had the camera with me, a very picturesque spot…
We were originally contemplating heading further south in Laos to Pakse and then to the 4000 islands of the delta of Si Phan Don. However, given that we’re not overly keen on a day-and-a-half bus trip through southern Laos to Pakse as well as the fact that Pakse’s airport is closed for maintenance until November, Vientiane will be our last stop in the country. It’s been an eye-opening albeit quick journey, the wats and monks strolling the streets a constant reminder of the religious roots of the country. The inhabitants of the rural areas of Laos live in some quite squalid conditions yet the people all maintain an extremely friendly and, when compared to neighboring Vietnam, refreshingly laid-back attitude toward life. We’re both so thankful we decided to make the side-trip into this small, land-locked Southeast Asian nation!
This entry was posted on Friday, September 25th, 2009 at 11:20 AM and is filed under Laos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.