Wednesday 12 June 2013

Vientiane and first impressions of Laos

When I got to the capital of Laos it seemed like the Asia suddenly stood still. There were almost no people on the streets, the car drivers didn't horn at each was quiet. After Myanmar I found this new peace a little unnerving, but started appreciating it as soon as I checked into my hostel. 

First thing that I really liked about Laos were the low prices. A double room with a private bathroom and air con cost just $10 - Allelujah!!
Then I went out for a quick bite. My first meal? A Laotian baguette. Oh my god - it was good! The bread was slightly heated up on a grill, so it was warm and crispy when it finally got into my hands.
The baguettes are a heritage left by the French and are beloved snacks enjoyed by many who come to Laos. You can get them from little street stalls almost everywhere in the bigger cities. The fillings come in great varieties, from cheese and ham to nutella and banana. The savoury types are filled with vegetables and sauces. A sandwich like that can fill you up for a whole day.

Baguettes, baguettes, baguettes...YUM!!

After such a meal I was convinced that I would love the country.

I got up early the next day, excited about what laid ahead of me. I was curious of the city I was in.
Another thing I learned about Laotian was that they are not early birds. Vientiane wakes up late and very slowly. The bars open around 10 am and one need to wait another 30 min or so for the cook to heat up the grill. I didn't mind waiting. I ordered my coffee and sat back in my chair to watch passers by.

I wondered whole day, looking into temples, checking out the little shops, sitting on the benches, lining up some of the streets. I could easily imagine myself living there.

Vientiane is more European than any other city I have been to in Asia. The paved roads are wide and the main ones have a few lanes. The small colonial buildings and a river with a promenade give the city a seaside resort feel.

One of the busiest streets in the capital

There are only a few attractions in the capital. No surprise that many travellers either avoid the city completely, or just don't spend much time there.

I didn't feel like visiting every single temple and every single museum. I reached the Patuxai - a Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe - and sat down under it, enjoying the surroundings.
The building stands in a middle of a busy street. It is a huge, grey creation, made out of cement, donated by the USA, which was supposed to be used to build a new airport. Obviously, the Laotians had a more creative idea.
The area around the Arc is a great place to take a breath and sit among beautiful roses and other flowers, covering the square on which the building stands.

Patuxai. You can also climb it for 3000K

The heart and soul of the city is a very new and modern promenade, and the main street running just next to it.
In the evening I bought a small Beer Lao from a local supermarket and went to sit on a promenade to watch the sunset, thinking that the whole fuss about the famous local drink was just exaggeration and in fact it was one of the worst beers I had in my life.

The riverside comes to life in the evening. The night market is up and running as soon as the night falls. The kids come out with their rollerblades, bikes and skateboards. Young boys look at giggling girls, walking around the market. Families go for walks and meals, enjoying the cooler, fresher air.
It seems like Saturday evening lasts all week long in Vientiane.

Night market

Kids playing football on the promenade

I bought my dinner at one of the stalls and looked around. For the thousandth time that day I thought that I could live there. I could sip my coffee every morning in the same bar, ride my bike through the quiet streets, make some friends with the locals and eat hundreds of baguettes.

Food stall at the night market

The bars were full, so I chose one of the quieter ones, where only a few tables were taken. The people in the bar were looking at me all the time, but I was accustomed to that kind of attention. People had stared at me all the time in Myanmar. As the time passed and my bottle of beer got emptier, the bar started to fill up. I was in my own world so didn't notice that the clientele mainly consisted of older men with young girls or boys. And just then I realised not only why I was stared at (I was a single woman sitting alone in a bar, surely waiting for my middle aged prince) but that the city was full of the mixed couples, the typical beauties and the beasts ones, where the gorgeous Lao girls hold hands with their white, overweight lovers. And that was the only part I disliked about the city.

Boys looking at the Thai side of the river

Have you been to Vientaine? What did you think of it? Were there any places you especially enjoyed?
Maybe you are going there soon? What are you expecting?
Don't be shy! Leave a comment!


  1. Oh no! You didn't like Beer Lao? We're big fans of the beer - one of South East Asia's best. Do try it again please - drink it icy cold.

    Vientiane sounds like a lovely laidback little city - I'm looking forward to heading there.

    1. Nah, I tried it icy cold and it was just no good for me. I much prefer Singha.
      You will enjoy the city. Just don't expect too much of sightseeing etc. Just take it easy and enjoy the surroundings.

  2. Hey there - just wondering where you stayed in Vientiane? We cant find double accomodation for anything under $25-30!! So expensive!!

    1. I stayed in a hostel on the main street, near the pier. If you're sharing a room it shouldn't be too expensive. I think we paid around $5 each per night.