We landed at Vientiane airport around 1 PM on Wednesday Dec 21.
The flight was uneventful, although less comfortable than the one to Bangkok. Considering that it was just 55 minutes, we really can’t complain. We were very tired though. Losing a night of sleep due to the time zone change really took its toll on us.
The process at the airport was fast and efficient. We queued to get our visas on arrival and noticed the price lists for visas depending on the nationality of the tourist ( see exhibit A):
Oh, Canada! What have you done to Laos, I wonder. Also, we were a bit weirded out by the immigration paper asking for our race…I guess I’m white? (See exhibit B)
We got our bags – they were already waiting for us at the luggage belt – and got a prepaid taxi for 57.000 Kip (the exchange rate is 1 to ~8.500) into the city. The drive to the hotel was very smooth, we got to our room around 2PM and lied down for a quick nap…
We woke up after what felt like a few minutes later completely confused and just a little bit embarrassed for having napped for 4 hours. But there was no time for a guilty conscience, we had already wasted precious time. We showered at the speed of light, got dressed and rushed into the evening heat.
For a capital city, Vientiane is on the small and quiet side. Our hotel is located in the city center, but there isn’t much going on apart from heavy traffic, some food stalls, restaurants, and terraces with live music or just regular CD players blaring local musicians into the night air. It’s clean and tidy with little room allowed for pedestrians: every sidewalk is cramped with mopeds and street food stalls and sometimes pick-up trucks or tuk-tuks. The air smells like fried food and smoke. We were reminded of Vietnam. Which isn’t surprising, given geography and history and politics and stuff…
We found a restaurant, had a quick dinner of local food and then we spent the evening walking around. We paid a brief visit to the night market along the Mekong river. It looks very pretty from far away, a sea of red umbrellas and lights sparkling inbetween. The market itself isn’t anything remarkable: lots of counterfeit fashion, ironic iphone cases, etc. And a lot of people.
We went for a night cap at the Dresden Lao cocktail bar and then back to the hotel.
Thursday, Dec 22
We had the best of intentions, really. We made it just in time to breakfast – they close at 10:30AM. Instead of heading out right away , we gave that nap thing another try and who’d have known – we sure didn’t – it was 2PM when we woke up. Now, most of the sights in Vientiane are open until around 5PM. This limited our options quite a bit.
We started with a coffee at Le Trio Coffee (great cappuccino)
then took a tuk-tuk to the Pha That Luang Temple (exhibit G). This temple is a giant golden structure surrounded by a small garden.
There were just a handful of people walking around and that made the entire experience very lovely. On the drive back we stopped at the L’Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane (exhibit H) and took some pictures.
Unfortunately it was too late to go up and enjoy the view over the city. Apparently they built this structure with cement received from the US to use in the construction of the airport. So apart from it´s original name of Patuxay, it is also fondly referred to as “vertical runway”.
We continued the tuk-tuk ride to the Kong View Restaurant and had a snack and drink overlooking the Mekong and the natural border to Thailand (exhibits J and K).
Somehow we arrived ahead of most guests so we had he entire place to ourselves for about an hour – it was lovely. On our way back we walked a dirt road between the river and the main road. Left and right we could see into people´s houses and notice how they go about their evenings. Every second or third house also functions as a small shop, selling everything from toilet paper to vegetables. There were small fires lit here and there and the air smelled like smoke and heat. And fish. After about 30 minutes, the dirt road merges into the river promenade and causes a significant change of scenery. Suddenly it´s bright and loud and there are food stalls, cafes, bars and restaurants everywhere, there´s music and people and karaoke and cars and children and did I mention the loud music (exhibit L).
The promenade leads to the rear side of the night market where all the mopeds are parked (exhibit M).
We squeezed through and made our way to La Terrasse for some dinner (exhibit N).
Tomorrow we embark on a 10h bus ride to Luang Prabang to get some nature in us.
We just need to wake up at 6AM. Right now, I have little hope 😉