Sunday, January 11, 2009
In the morning my friend and I flew from Phnom Penh into Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We stayed there just one night in a place on the Mekong- Thailand was on the other side. The price for the charming room, complete with AC and fan, TV, running hot water, phone, and free bottled water, was $24/night. Budget trips are the best. Wish I could remember the name of that place, but we probably found it using Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring.
Before heading out for the evening we drank Beer Laos on the river, where a tiny cat jumped up on my lap and purred there for about half an hour. For dinner we walked to Nam Phu, the town center, and chose a French place called La Cave des Chateaux. Like Cambodia and Vietnam there is a strong French colonial presence in Laos, particularly here in the capital. The steak was very good. My friend had a terrible stomach ache so after dinner we called it a night.
Monday, January 12
Our flight to Luang Prabang was at 6:30 PM so we did a marathon day of Vientiane. It’s a sleepy little capital- actually Luang Prabang was the original capital which might explain why it was busier than Vientiane.
Got up at 8:30 for breakfast at Joma, a terrific little coffee shop where we bought the day-old stuff which was half price and just as delicious. Then on a whim we rented a bad ass motorcycle and zipped over to the Patuxai: Vientiane’s Laotian-style Arc de Triomphe, which we paid a modest fee to climb up. It’s nicer from afar than it is up close, but the views were legit.
Next we visited Pha That Luang: The Golden Stupa, and Lao’s national symbol.
The entrance fee was 60 US cents, and it was a cool sight. Next we saw what our map said was That Dam (Black Stupa). We thought this was funny since it looked like it was trying to say “that damn black stupa”, even though That Dam would be pronounced “tot dom”. It turned out to be sort of lame.
…And clearly not even black. So the map was a racist.
Then lunch at a no-name-in-English cafe where we had laap (Laotian spicy meat salad) and fried glass noodles. Both delish.
Then we went to what we thought would be Wat Si Saket but it turned out to be something else. So now the map is a racist and a failure. Just joshing- the wat we found actually turned out to be beautiful. With lots of fun things to photograph.
Next we tried to ride out to Buddha Park but after a 40 minute drive and no hints of being anywhere near it we turned around. The trip was not in vain however, since rural Laos scenery is a treat! I was completely in love with the country and I hadn’t even been there 24 hours. Yes I would go back, in a heartbeat. Laos is so unspoiled by the west.
On the ride back my butt was killing me from the pot holes and the dirt roads so we made a side stop which happened to be next to a school. Class appeared to be dismissed, and what must have been every child in the school gathered around us, smiling.
They didn’t speak English or French so I tried Thai, since the languages are similar. I somewhat was able to talk to them a little like this. There was a stream nearby, lined with concrete, and the boys amused themselves by jumping into the rushing brown water.
They were a delight but we had to catch our flight that evening.
We got back into the capital, returned the motorcycle, grabbed our stuff and a tuktuk/songtaew hybrid to the airport for $5 (yep, US dollars are taken here). The flight to Luang Prabang was 40 minutes… Too short to sleep. Stay tuned.