Vientiane was a real pleasure to walk around and snap photos. As Southeast Asian capitals go, it was a very relaxed place. One thing I like doing in all cities is trying to find different angles of popular attractions. Sometimes these views make the object unrecognizable but for me, that is not what matters. It’s finding an interesting aspect of something that maybe someone else missed.
Fondest memory: Laos had been an unexpected joy. Despite the fact that anyone that I had spoke with that had been there extolled its many virtues, I had a hard time getting worked up about such a rural country. But squeezed between Asian megalopolis, Bangkok and the utter chaos of Vietnam, Laos would later present itself as precisely what everyone had said about it: a relaxing and completely enjoyable Asian backwater. From the Mekong River entry to being bowled over by utterly charming Luang Prabang, Laos did little to disappoint. The only regret I had was not seeing enough of it and this was a common observation by travelers we had met, due in part to the limited fifteen-day visa issued at the border on arrival.
So, it was with a bit of trepidation that we arrived in Vientiane, not knowing what to expect from the reputed easygoing capital. All we did know was it would be the last stop in Laos and for that reason it would be a time to be savored despite any impressions from the city itself. Though lacking the grandeur of Luang Prabang, it was surprisingly full of interesting sights. Combined with the mish mash of interesting local cuisine and western taste catered amenities, Vientiane was certainly an intriguing place to spend a few days and say goodbye to Laos. It was a place where you could eat a roasted fish on a stick one minute and sip a cocktail in a plush garden setting the next. The French Colonial influence was evidenced in not only the architecture but also in the fresh baguettes on most street corners, waiting to be served up with eggs or pate. Coconut curries could be bought by volume in plastic bags to go and smiling locals still seemed genuinely surprised you were there in the first place. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: Though there was no shortage of pubs in town catering to western tastes, one place up river sounded worth the walk for its local flavor and advantageous riverside location to watch the sunset. The stroll there was a leisurely pleasure and the place itself was a pleasant rustic affair of wooden planks overhanging the river. Its charm only grew as red hues from the sun cast luminous light on the wooden enclave. We soon met up with an Aussie couple seated nearby, similarly there for nature’s display as well as some Beer Lao and spring rolls. One beer led to another and combined with the light show, it was soon dark with mozzies out in full force. We had been lucky up to that point in Laos regarding the nasty parasites, as previous cities had been downright cool at night. We applied some repellent and soon noticed an enormous herd of geckos on the ceiling beams glamoring for the fluorescent light. The attraction was a double one, the mozzies to the light, the lizards to the mozzies. We watched transfixed and happy for their protection as they slurped down their dinner with even more gusto than we had our beer. But this second show would come with a price though not of admission. It was such good fun that we stayed much longer than anticipated, well after dusk and soon found ourselves in the unenviable position of having to walk back on a dark and now hostile looking road. Our newfound friends were on motorcycle so we had to go it alone and soon all the barking dogs we had ignored earlier in the day seemed far more ferocious. (concluded below in My Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: With some lights finally flickering in the distance, we knew we were close to the city center and looked forward to leaving the once cozy but now unfriendly feeling road behind. Once in town, we went for something to eat and on our way home, we ran into the Aussie couple, sitting at an outside café. They invited us to join them and soon I convinced them to hit a beer garden that had Beer Lao on tap. We had a fun night there, downing the easy drinking beer into the night. But it would not be into the wee hours. It seemed that Laos has a curfew that we had missed out on as we had been in bed early every night since our arrival. Yes, indeed, at 11 PM, we were asked to leave the bar and go home within a half-hour. I was too tired to be upset over what seemed absurd and once in bed, I realized it was all for the better. Sure, it was only 11:30 PM but in less than eight hours, we would be on a plane to Hanoi. And Vietnam would prove to me a bit more trying in the patience department than its backwater sister was. We would need all the sleep we could get to tackle it.
We had already completed a full day City Tour with our group and having spare time my wife and I decided to take a private half day tour to attractions within Vientiane and surrounding district not included in previous tour.
This worked out well, a small shock factor when we arrived at a Salt Factory but this gave us an insight into country village life. The trip to the salt factory took us out into the countryside passing various farming activities including rice paddies, cattle, roadside stalls etc etc.
What we enjoyed most was the lunch cruise on our own private boat with one crew member. It was not on the Mekong River but a secondary river which was several hundred metres wide and good water flow.
The visit to the Nikone Silk Factory was included.
Transport was provided in a modern Hyundai van.
Fondest memory: Travel@Lao
120 Phangkham Rd , Vientiane
Favorite thing: One of the best places to enjoy the sunsets in Vientiane is by the riverside. There are here a group of terraces where you can have a fruit shake for 0,30 USD while you enjoy the view of this mighty river, so broad here in Vientiane...
On most of the temples you will find these images of Buddha's life. They explain in a graphic way the life and teachings of Buddhas, so when illiterate peasants come to pray they can learn about that without reading.
It's like a king size comic, and it's useful too for those who can't read lao language (me, for instance, LOL)
Laotian is just special. I was with my big backpack stepped down from a tuk-tuk walking from street to street to look for a budget GH. This guy riding moto asked if I want to try his GH, US3 a day. I replied, let me look around first? He smiled and said okie.. then left! I am surprised.. as in Vietnam the tout can follow you for a few streets persuading you to go and have a look on his room! This is the 1st impression I have about the kind and humble laotian.
Then I passed in front this hotel with a pretty girl smile on me and wish "sabaidi, you looking for room?". I said yes may I know where can I get a US3 single room? She said they only have US8, but there are more guesthouse up front, I can try my luck there...
wow!!.. I never met this in other places.. sorry no offend, I tend to compare Vietnam with Laos because I just came from there.. under this situation in vietnam, they will tell you.. hey there is no such cheap room here.. my room is the cheapest.. come come...
Lao language is about the same as Thai.
1. Their numbering are the same
2. Sawadeeka in Thai is Sabaidi in lao
3. Kwap Khun (thank you) in Thai is Kwap Jai in Lao
4. Toilet is the same- Hong Nam
5. How much is Thao Rai in Thai but Thao Dai in Lao
A lot os similarity, that's why Laotian can undstand Thai easily. Further more, most of the people in Laos watch Thai movie instead of Lao movie.
You can feel the special replationship between laos and thailand especially near the border, north-eastern thailand. In north-eastern Thailand, many of the residents are origin lao.
Although Laos is categorized as a third world country, it is poorer than cambodia, but the living standard are still compatible with others, which means the food are almost the same price with other countries in SE asia.
I met 2 men from China, they were looking for investment opportunity in Laos. When I met them, they were having their breakfast and told me, this kind of bread, I can get in China for only 0.5RMB but in Laos, it is sell at 2RMB.
Laos is clean. At least is much cleaner than Cambodia and Vietnam. Cambodian and Vietnamese, especially latter have the habit of throwing the rubbish any where they preferred.
In vietnam, I have difficulty to get a rubbish bin; in Laos, the situation is much better. I can find rubbish bin whenever I look for one.
That Luang Festival is an important Buddhist festival and is held around the That Luang Stupa (read my other tips). Normally the festival is held in November, and is 3 days of religious ceremonies and a week of general festivities and entertainment – and people from all over Laos travels to Vientiane to celebrate.
I went to the festival area a couple of times during my stay in Vientiane, and quite a sight with the many orange-dressed monks around the stupa - combined with the huge festival area with modern music and stalls where you can buy anything. If you are in Vientiane in November check out the festival schedule...
Vieng Chan is the name of the city as it was born in 1563: it means , the "City of the Moon".
The reason? I simply don't know.
In terms of landmarks, sightseeing or size there is not much in Vientiane, and thank goodness for it. Often it is referred as Asia's largest village, just because for a capital city it's extremely small and sleepy, like the location where it sits: on an equally sleepy shore of the Mekong River
Fondest memory: the broad tree-lined boulevards, colonial mansions and even a Lao version of the Arc de Triomphe. But also the temples, some simple huts, some lively markets, some rice fields.
... deserves your attention while in short stay to capital, it would be Wat Sisakhet I believe. Why, then? Its grounds are home of thousands of Buddha statues, placed in niches by wall and worshipped in temple - it's place unique to Vieng Chan, which somehow avioded turbulent history during Siamese occupation when other buildings were gone in fires or got seriously damaged.
One of the most significant wats of capital was built by King Anouvong in 1815 and was used by Lao elite, 'high class' then whom used to come to temple to pay tribute to Siamese. Anouvong tried to unite Lao and their teritorry, for which was martyred and later he died.
Fondest memory: The boards in front of the wat main entry will further and in detail explain philosophy of this religious architecture and it's read most interesting - if you are interested. It's place rich in detail and color - and greatest number of visitor are local Lao Buddhist though significant numbers of 'outsiders' will visit out of curiousity or for deeper search - reason known to themselves only.
We like to come here too, when we seek silence in its enclosures and answers to aspects of local beliefs. Among those thousands Buddhas - they all may be look the same, but are not.
Behind, the Naga comes to life during festivals and ceremonies when water from hers mouth will purify all what has become dirty during the year - one of the most respected acts in a year of devoted believer.
So interesting that place is!
Where? At the main intersection to Lan Xang Avenue with Setthathirat road, next to Presidental palace and Ho Prakeo temple.
There's about 1 USD entry fee for foreign visitor.
When traveling to Vientiane, it is possible for foreign tourists to obtain a Laos visa on arrival at either the Friendship Bridge crossing from Thailand or at Vientiane's Wattay Airport. You will need a valid passport with at least 6 months validity, two passport size photos, and $30US or the equivalent in Thai Baht. Keep in mind that tourist visas on arrival are valid for only 15 days, so if you plan to stay longer you may want to obtain a visa at a Lao embassy, which is valid for 30 days. According to Laos' tourism website "The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will only extend tourist visas for one day. It is sometimes possible to get an extension for an additional 15 days by submitting an application through a tour agency. Foreigners who overstay in Laos risk arrest, and they will be fined $5 for each day upon departure."
Fondest memory: http://www.visit-laos.com/before/visas.htm
The Tourist Information (or Lao National Tourism Administration) is located on Lane Xang Avenue, not far away from the Talat Sao morning market.
I went inside for at quick look and there were a couple of information plagues about other regions of Laos - but nothing about Vientiane. Not much help...