Having just devoured the best spicy seafood soup of my entire life, I feel sufficiently fired up to reflect on our first laid back days in Vientiane.
Vientiane has a different feel to it than the rest of Asia. It is still largely unaffected by tourism, unlike its neighbours. You don’t get touts all over you. You don’t have beggars hassling you. We have walked up to souvenir stalls and not even been spoken to. People smile and say “Hello” but don’t try and hit on you to take your money. But the most striking feature after crossing from Cambodia, is how nice and clean it looks! It lacks the vibrancy and party life of most Asian cities, but it is loved and cared for. Lots of nice buildings and temples and a strong French influence.
There is a reassuring sign as you enter the Vientiane Airport, saying ‘No tipping allowed.’ Unlike Cambodia and Thailand, you do not have to make any bonus payments to secure the necessary entry documents. When you arrive at the taxi desk you can hire a fixed price car or van to take you to your hotel. This is a refreshing change from being inundated by touts, all trying to ‘take you for a ride’, or being ripped off by outrageous prices at the travel desk inside the terminal.
We shared a taxi ($2 each) with two German backpackers to our hotel. We had chosen the La Ong Dao Hotel… 4 star, brand new, air-conditioned, ensuite, cable TV, including AFL footy, (enjoyed the St Kilda v Hawthorn match last night), free Internet and buffet breakfast for $19 a double. This was too expensive for our cab-mates however, who went to search elsewhere.
Highlights of Vientiane:
Xieng Khouan Buddha Park.. 24km out of town but well worth a visit.
The Mekong River front…… water levels are very low at the moment but Wet Season will fix that!
Patuxay Victory Gate … very similar to the Arc de Triomphe, and great views from up the top
That Luang.. the Great Sacred Stupa… the most cherished religious monument in Laos
The National Museum… still developing but contains some interesting photographs and relics…… many signs that the imperialist Americans – and their ‘puppets’ were not very welcome around these parts in the 1970′s!
The Friendship Bridge… built with a lot of Australian money, linking Laos with Thailand. Sometimes referred to as ‘the AIDS bridge.’
But back to that soup….. HUGE, delicious, packed full of spices, bay leaves, bamboo, chiles and seafood, including maybe 8 plump, juicy prawns. Superb, especially in a land-locked country.