February 23nd – 25th 2010
Left Luang Prabang early in the morning to catch a 9:30 am bus to Vientiane. Luckily for me, they still had seats on the tourist bus, which is more comfortable and takes a shorter time than a local bus, although more expensive of course. It was quite a scenic journey through winding roads in the mountains to straight roads that went right through rustic Lao villages. One thing I noticed is that there was a lot of new construction (mainly home building) going on. In fact, it’s not surprising to find a relatively modern brick single-story home (in pretty peach pink no less, which is THE most popular color in Laos for these homes) standing right next to an older wooden village shack, with a backdrop of acres of rice-paddy fields. It adds even more charm to an already charming environment.I wish I could’ve taken pictures but one thing I’ve learned about taking pictures from a moving bus or train with windows, they never ever turn out good (might be different if I had an SLR that had no shutter lag).
After 9 hours, the bus reached Vientiane, after passing through Vang Vieng a couple of hours ago. It was around 8 pm so I had to go find myself a place to stay. A lot of the cheap budget places were full so I had to resort to staying in a more expensive hotel ($19/night) but I figured, it’s nice to splurge on a night at a fancy looking place once in a blue moon (yes, I call $19/night in Laos splurging). The nice thing was that it had A/C and a TV so I could catch the Man Utd/Marseille game, which I had to wake up at 2:30 am for, and resulted in a bore-draw. I ended up checking out the next day and finding accommodation at a cheaper place across the street, same deal, but cheaper. Or as the Thais and Lao say, “Same same but different” (it’s a popular saying around these part of the world from what I’ve observed).
Vientiane itself doesn’t look like a big-city capital when compared to cities like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. It’s relatively small and definitely has an administrative look to it when compared to Luang Prabang, although it does maintain a relaxed and calm feeling. As in anywhere else in South East Asia, lots of temples around but I only visited one and a half (one was closed so I was there but not inside). There was an Asian version of the Arc d’ Triomph as well, which was really cool because it had Asian-inspired designs on it despite it trying to imitate the AdT. The National Museum was a bore, definitely not worth going if you ask me. It was inside an old building and it was hot inside and all the displays were old and dusty and littered with thousands of pictures of Lao politicians from their history. It’s not set up very well.
I ran across a food festival going on during that weekend I was there. Cameras and reporters were everywhere, trying to interview some of the vendors there. I got to see some Lao foods that I have never seen elsewhere but they didn’t look like they catered to the Western palate so maybe that’s why they are never found in the main traveler areas. There was a display serving fried cricket so I decided to take a stab at it. I overcame the mental block surprisingly quickly. The trick is to close your eyes and pop it in your mouth and chew away. It tastes nothing like it looks. Since it’s fried and salted, it tasted (drum roll) fried and salty. No juices or anything. There was a plate of friend grasshoppers next to it but it was all eaten up, I guess those Lao people like grasshoppers.
Food-wise, I tried some pastries from some of the French bakeries in the area. I also spent one dinner eating at an outdoor “restaurant”. The “kitchen” was a street stall with all the ingredients displayed in the open, the main one being fish. There was a simple grill set up for the cooking. I had grilled fish and vegetables but it wasn’t that great to be honest.
I decided two nights was enough in Vientiane. The next day, I would have to catch a bus to the border to get back into Thailand.
p/s : Lost 2 pairs of good socks when the laundry place didn’t give it back to me and I forgot to check for them. I just hate losing valuables.