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Vientiane, Laos

Feb 28 – March 3

From Vang Vieng, Miguel and I took a VIP bus to Vientiane. We managed to lose our bus tickets twice before boarding the bus (as is our style), but it all worked out in the end. Arriving in Vientiane, you would never think it to be the capital of a country. To me it felt much more like a sleepy, medium sized town.

The hotels were kinda expensive considering how crappy and characterless they were. And after wandering around for a while, we decided that all the options in the city center were basically the same and we just settled on one. It was hot and we weren’t too excited about carrying our backpacks around any longer.

To be honest, Miguel and I didn’t do a whole lot in Vientiane worth writing about. I remember spending a lot of time sitting inside our hotel room or in the shade somewhere near the river reading, sleeping, or just laying around and sweating. To our credit, this is what most of the locals seemed to be doing as well…so we fit in perfectly. I think the laziness of Laos was starting to rub off on us at this point.

We didn’t see any of the sights except for this small temple near our hotel.

And I’m not sure what my deal was in this city, but looking back…I was really lame at taking photos.

We did see a cute dog that seemed to be from Fraggle Rock. And I took his picture.

We saw a crazy tree.

We saw some more “no trumpet” signs.

But a lot of our time was spent lazing around by the Mekong and doing nothing.

And playing with waterbugs.

One day, Miguel let a bunch of little kids borrow his skateboard.

Out of the group, each had their own learning style and it was fun to watch them play with the board and figure it out.

I thought it was cool that this tiny kid had a Rancid shirt on.

This kid was the bravest. He kept falling down over and over and over. After falling so many times, he took his shoes off and I thought that meant he was finally finished. But, nope….he had a different plan – elbow pads!

A few days we managed to met up with Renae, a girl I met in Perth, Australia. She’s an ecologist and works for biodiversity conservation in Laos. That was fun. We went to a few bars with her and her friends, and we ate dinner at a restaurant called Mak Phet, which is run by former street kids and is one of many projects of Friends-International – a nonprofit aimed at providing vocational training to children living (or at risk of living) on the streets.

Miguel and I also checked out a few bars on our own.

The first place we tried was Galaxy Bar. The beer was overpriced, the music was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself talk, and even though it was packed full of trendy local youths…nobody was dancing. Everyone just seemed to be standing around and staring at each other while these little sparkley lights whizzed around all over everyone’s faces (making it difficult to take people seriously). We had one beer, then left. It seemed to be an upscale bar and we didn’t seem to quite fit the dress code, but the guards in the front let us in anyway. Sometimes you get away with these things when you’re a tourist – especially if there’s a language barrier and the people are afraid to talk to you.

The second place we tried was Wind West. It was a wild west themed bar, but yes – it really was called “Wind West.” There was a big birthday party at the bar while we were there, but nothing too interesting going on. The music stopped pretty soon after we arrived.

We also spent some time wandering around the various markets. There were quite a few markets that all merged together, making it difficult to tell which one we were at.

And even though the government puts up these signs…

They don’t do much good.

One day at the market, I saw a man with a little cart full of animals and creative things he had carved from assorted trash and pieces of Styrofoam. I was impressed. He could sit around and beg for money – or he could make a little bit of money from free stuff laying around. I wanted to take his photo and buy something from him…but figured I’d come back. Of course when I did, he was gone. Sad. :(

And now on to the food….Miguel and I dedicated a large chunk of time one day trying to find this vegan food stall, but we never managed to. If anyone has luck, let me know and give me directions please!

We did find this restaurant though.

Based on the menu, you wouldn’t think it’s a veg place….but it’s all vegetarian.

And they even have things you’ve probably never tried the real version of….or wanted to.

The buffet was pretty nice. But wow, do people in Laos love their fennel. Its a bit too much for me sometimes. It’s in everything!

Here’s another veg place that we didn’t manage to try.

Aside from the odd vegetarian restaurants we managed to find, I didn’t think the average Lao restaurant food was all that wonderful….but it could have just been our luck. I’m sure home cooked Lao food is great, but there was definitely no love at the restaurants on the main strip alongside the river. The first place we walked into, the woman scowled at us and looked so annoyed that we were interrupting her soap opera…so we knew we’d get horrible service and just walked right back out. The second restaurant we tried wasn’t any better. Our curry came back full of tiny red ants. When we tried to explain this to the girls inside, they kept insisting that it was chili and not ants. But we were sitting outside in the sun and could tell clearly that it was NOT chili. When I went in to complain and saw how dark their kitchen was, it made perfect sense why they couldn’t see the ants. After much pushing, they eventually made us new food…but I was still too weirded out to eat it. If they couldn’t tell the difference between ants and chili, who knows what else was going into our meal. And after we had complained so much, I was worried maybe they would spit in our food. The funny thing is, ants are considered to be a delicacy in Laos (ant eggs especially)…so the girl was probably wondering what the big deal was. ew! This was our last meal in Laos and it made me excited that we’d soon be back in Thailand – the home of wonderful, spicy, vegetarian curries. On the topic of food in Laos, here’s a book that seems interesting.

Anyway…one of our last days in Laos, we rented bicycles. But there were a lot of one way streets and the heat combined with the traffic (although the traffic was definitely more chill than many places) didn’t make it the most relaxing bike ride. While riding, we happened across a waterpark…and that is where we stayed. It was a very surreal experience.

When we got to Nong Chanh Waterpark, the place looked deserted and we were convinced it was closed. But some man showed us where to park our bikes and assured us that it was open. When we walked in, we seemed to be the only ones there….even though there were plenty of workers all over the place. A bunch of employees were drinking tea in the bathroom and there was an excessive amount of lifeguards considering they hadn’t been guarding anyone until we arrived. A few other tourists showed up later (considering the entrance fee is pretty pricey for the average Laos resident, it’s not surprising that the park is mainly visited by tourists trying to escape the brutal heat).

The park consisted of a few curly slides, a few wavy slides, and a few straight slides…as well as some shallow swimming pools that seemed to be designed for children (although there weren’t any children).

And there were lots of rules and procedures to follow.

After a lot of confusion as to which colored mats were used for which slides, Miguel and I marched up the stairs to give them a try. One lifeguard seemed really annoyed that he had to accompany us up to the top each time we wanted to go down a slide. And we had a large audience of bored looking lifeguards staring at us each time we went down one. The whole process was awkward…but kinda hilarious!

Miguel almost fell out of the curly slide and decided he had had enough.

I went down a straight slide, but it was a bit too straight….ending abruptly onto a flat surface. It knocked all the wind out of me and I got a scrape on my leg somehow. I decided I had had enough.

We spent the rest of the time floating in the shallow pools at the end of the park. Noone was watching us there and it was definitely safer.

Later Miguel and I ate at a restaurant and told the owner about our adventures at the water park. He said something like “You went there? It has only been open for a year and so many people have ended up in the hospital! Nobody goes there anymore except for tourists because they don’t know any better.” When we told my friend, Renae, she said basically the same thing. No wonder there were no kids in sight!

So since Miguel almost fell out (but didn’t) and I got only a minor war wound….we’ll consider ourselves lucky.

Notes:

  • Here are some nice stickers and stencils I found.

  • Like the rest of southeast Asia, tuk tuks are everywhere in Laos. But the funny think about Laos is that the tuk tuks don’t really seem to want to work. During the heat of the day, you can find all the tuk tuks parked on street corners with the drivers comfortably lounging in hammocks strung up inside the back. Occasionally you’ll walk by and one will glance up and mumble “tuk tuk” very unconvincingly …then go right back to napping once you pass. Maybe that’s why there is a “no tuk tuk” sign on this street corner. They don’t really want your business. They’d rather sleep.

  • This is what the little toilet elves in Laos look like.

  • I may be wrong….but I don’t think she looks like that.

  • Ummm…that’s nice dear.

  • And to end on a happy note…Lao is the most heavily bombed country in the world, per capita. The US has dropped more bombs on Laos than Germany and Japan during WWII combined. Here is a really insightful blog post explaining some of Lao’s horrible history: Saddest in the Happiest Country.
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2 Comments

  1. Scott

     /  May 25, 2010

    I love your blog! Very helpful.

  2. laura

     /  April 22, 2011

    wow- your blog is awesome. i will leave china soon nd head down to vietnam and laos.. can’t wait!!

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