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Published: August 12th 2020
When you’ve heard it, you must see it; only after you’ve seen it make a judgement with your heart… ~ Lao Proverb
Today we were continuing to explore the friendly and peaceful city of Vientiane
We woke late and headed down to the Family Boutique Hotel’s large dining area for a late breakfast. It was the last few days of our Thai-Laotian holiday, and we were focused on relaxing in Vientiane. As was becoming customary on this trip, I enjoyed fresh baguettes and omelettes – my favourite way to start each day in Laos. I also helped myself to cornflakes, toast and jam, excellent coffee, terrible tea and the strange orange cordial that features at every breakfast buffet in the country.
After our leisurely breakfast, we shared a jumbo
(motorbike with a covered trailer containing facing bench seating) with a couple of travel companions to Pha That Luang in the late morning. We’d planned to walk the four kilometre journey the following day, but the option of getting there within minutes was too appealing to pass up. Besides, the sun had started to warm Vientiane after a cold wind had blown through the city the previous night, and we decided it would be far too hot to walk in the middle of the day.
Pha That Luang
is considered one of the most important national monuments in Laos, and one of the main Buddhist monuments in Vientiane. It’s big and it’s gold, so it stands out from the crowd. Literally! We wandered the peaceful grounds and marvelled at the monument’s lack of symmetry – the lower level corners did not appear to align with the upper level corners! A professional wedding shoot was underway in the grounds, so we were lucky enough to capture our second wedding in Laos (we’d witnessed one the previous day at Wat Si Saket).
After about 30 minutes it was time to go. Our jumbo
driver had waited for us in the car park, so we clambered in and headed back to the hotel. After quickly freshening up, we headed out on our planned walking tour of Vientiane’s wats
. We visited Wat Mixai, Wat Haysoke, Wat Ong Teu and Wat In Paeng. The four temples are all located within a short distance of each other, and apart from Wat In Paeng, they were all open. I’m not a fan of garish and untidy temples that are over-populated with icons (in this case of the Buddha), so my favourite temple was the
peaceful and leafy Wat Haysoke.
I’d been looking forward to visiting Indochina Handicrafts, a small curiosity shop beside Wat Haysoke that is known to stock antique Russian wristwatches (among many other knick-knacks and curios). Vientiane was inhabited by spies and correspondents in the 1970’s, so there was a remote chance that one of the old watches had belonged to a Russian agent. And for some inexplicable reason, this was very appealing to me. Unfortunately, there were no Russian watches available when we visited. I noticed a couple of Swiss and Japanese watches, but they didn’t pique my interest in the same way.
It was mid-afternoon when we left Indochina Handicrafts, and we were seriously hungry and thirsty. To heighten our thirst, the sun was now searing over the city. We decided to lunch at Makphet Restaurant, because (a) it was close to our current location, and (b) it was recommended in our Lonely Planet guide. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the place, and it was not for want of trying. I eventually relented and asked someone in the street, and they told me the restaurant had relocated to another part of the city. From the direction they pointed, it
seemed the new location was close to our hotel, but they didn’t know the new address.
To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. We decided on another recommended restaurant from our Lonely Planet guide, but that too was no longer operating. We were tired and hot, so we opted to return to the place we’d lunched the previous day – Benoni Restaurant. It was close to our hotel, and we knew the food was good. I ordered the crispy egg noodles with chicken, while Ren went for the pad thai with chicken. Both meals were fantastic! I cooled down with a Beerlao, while Ren rehydrated with a watermelon shake.
Feeling refreshed and rested, we headed back to the hotel, picking up a Beerlao on the way from the friendly mini-mart just around the corner. We showered, rested and caught up on our travel notes, then headed out to the night market in the early evening. The market, which sits on the banks of the Mekong, is nothing to write home about. A bunch of stalls selling identical products, albeit at very low prices. However, it did have a very family-friendly vibe, which was great to be
We made our way along the Mekong to the popular statue of King Anouvong, detoured through Chao Anouvong Park to the Presidential Palace, walked up Th Chanthakoummane to That Dam (the Black Stupa), navigated a few back streets and arrived back to our hotel around 8pm. We settled in our room, selected some photos, caught up on our travel writing and eventually retired at 10:30pm. It had been a great day in Vientiane, and we were growing fonder by the minute of this peaceful, friendly and laid back city.
We woke early, as we had a number of things planned for our second last day in Laos. Our short visit to this incredible country was drawing to an end, and there still quite a few things we wanted to do and see. We headed down to breakfast around 8am, where I once again helped myself to fresh baguettes and omelettes (along with cornflakes, coffee and orange cordial).
We headed out mid-morning to explore the eastern side of Vientiane. Our first stop was the Black Stupa, with was literally a minute’s walk from our hotel. We had wandered passed this the previous night, but the light
hadn’t been good enough for photos, so we vowed to return. While the mid-morning sun was in a good position, the city haze wasn’t conducive to photography, so this impressive landmark was proving difficult to capture. We did our best.
We continued eastwards to Talat Sao (Vientiane’s morning market), where we picked up some Buddha statuettes for ourselves and a few scarves for family members back in Australia. We really liked the underground section of this market, but the soulless jewellery stores on the upper floors fostered a claustrophobic reaction that sent us scurrying out onto the street.
We turned southwards and re-visited the outer section of Wat Si Saket, then continued in a south easterly direction to Haw Pha Kaeo, Laos’ national museum of religious objects. This impressive structure (once a royal temple) was built to house the Emerald Buddha, but the Buddha was plundered at some point in history.
From Haw Pha Kaeo we continued on to Wat Si Muang (also known as the City Pillar). This place has a less than illustrious beginning. Back in 1563, when the pillar was being positioned with ropes over a large hole, a villager was required to throw
themselves into the hole as a sacrifice. Legend has it that a young pregnant girl jumped into the hole of her own accord, and that she was killed instantly when the pillar was released. However, her jump may not have been altogether voluntary, and there are some who believe she was accompanied by a small monk. It all depends on the objectivity (or otherwise) of the storyteller.
We left the City Pillar feeling a little sad, despite the supposed guardianship of the young girl who sacrificed herself and her unborn child for the future safety of this peaceful city. We made our way towards the Mekong, then turned back towards the city centre, stopping at Chau Anouvong Park to capture King Anouvong with a blue sky background, as we’d only ever visited him at night. The last monarch of Vientiane stands pointing at the Thai border with a straight arm and outstretched hand, and every time I walked past this enormous statue I wondered what King Anouvong would make of this representation of himself…
The early afternoon sun was searing and we were flagging, so we decided to head back to the hotel. We dropped into an interesting
souvenir shop (The First) on the way to buy some postcards, and we were lucky enough to pick up some stamps from the friendly staff at the hotel next door to our own.
We settled for a while in our room, then headed out in search of Mini-Makphet, a modern Lao restaurant with a social conscience – training young disadvantaged Laotians to pursue future careers in hospitality. We’d tried to find the place the previous day, but we discovered it had moved. We were told it was close to our hotel, but we just couldn’t find it. We asked in various shops, but to no avail. Then we stumbled upon it – it was literally just around the corner!
The place closed at 3pm, and we settled at a table at 2:30pm. Phew! We shared a red curry with pork and eggplant, and a lemongrass spicy chicken with stir-fried mushroom and young bamboo. Both dishes were great, and it was great to be supporting such a good cause. The young waiting staff were in training, and while they were nervous and prone to mistakes, we didn’t mind in the least. I cooled down with a Beerlao, while Ren
ordered an iced tea with sweet milk. We shared a plate of banana fritters with ice cream to finish the meal, then walked back to the hotel. Our time in Vientiane was coming to a close.
I headed out in the late-afternoon sun to pick up a bracelet I’d seen earlier when buying postcards, then dropped into a nearby mini-mart to pick up some Beerlao for the evening. With Ren sleeping, I settled at a small coffee table in our room and wrote a few postcards as the afternoon sun dipped in the sky.
We woke early (6am) with a tinge of sadness – it was our last day in Laos. We were leaving the country in the evening, and we wanted to make the most of our last few hours in our comfortable hotel room. We headed down to breakfast around 8am, and as I’d done every morning since arriving in Vientiane, I helped myself to fresh baguettes and omelettes (along with cornflakes, coffee and orange cordial).
I headed out in the mid-morning sun to deposit a few postcards into an old metal post box just down from our hotel. Faded lettering on the front of
the box indicated that mail was picked up daily at 9am and 2pm, but the tell-tale signs of rust around the edges seem to suggest this postal box had not been in operation for quite a while. I slipped the postcards in, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best…
We rested in our room during the morning, organising our packs and preparing for the flight back to Australia. We were flying from Vientiane to Bangkok at 8:30pm, then from Bangkok to Melbourne at midnight. We were arriving in Melbourne at 1:30pm the following day.
We checked out in the early afternoon, then headed to Mini-Makphet for our final meal in Laos. We ordered two dips with steamed rice – young bamboo and ginger with mint, and smoky eggplant. The dips were a little dry and tasteless, but it was a light meal – perfect before a long flight. We also shared a banana fritter, and it was even better than the one we’d enjoyed the previous day. Ren refreshed with a lemon iced tea, while I ordered a Beerlao. I also purchased a notebook cover (which had been carved out of an old rubber tyre) from the
restaurant’s gift shop, because all proceeds from the shop go towards this well-meaning and life-changing vocational training restaurant.
Having finished our meal, we walked the short distance back to our hotel and settled in the lobby. We didn’t need to leave for the airport until 6pm, so the air-conditioned lobby was a perfect base to catch up on our travel notes. We just needed to dodge (or kill) the pesky mosquitoes… SHE SAID...
We woke happy and rested in Vientiane
. We’d arrived the day before and seen a bit of the city, and we were looking forward to exploring more of it in the coming days.
We wandered downstairs for a late breakfast. We’d said our goodbyes to everyone in our group the night before, so it was quite funny that we all managed to get to the breakfast room at exactly the same time. Breakfast at the Family Boutique Hotel was a pretty standard affair, with tropical fruit and a fusion of western and local dishes. None of the dishes were worthy of writing about.
We had planned to spend the day doing the Lonely Planet walking tour. However, Chris had floated the
idea of sharing a jumbo
(motorbike with a covered trailer containing facing bench seating) to Pha That Luang. We initially declined, but later changed our minds and joined her and Dave in negotiating a price for a return trip. Mr Ki had told me how much it should roughly cost for the 20 or so minute ride, so we weren’t bargaining blindly.
Pha That Luang is considered the most significant Buddhist monument in the city, because the main golden stupa is believed to enshrine a breast bone of the Buddha. The focal point of the square three levelled monument is a large gold stupa on the highest level. This is surrounded by 30 smaller gold painted stupas on the second level, and a rather plain (by comparison) first level. At the ground level, each side of the monument has a Naga
(mythical serpent) guarded prayer gate that leads to the first level. The structure is surrounded by a lawn and a cloistered gallery containing old Buddha statues and other sculptures.
Apparently, this temple was variously built in the 3rd, 12th and 16th centuries, but like most of the temples in Vientiane, it was looted for the gold in
its stupa and damaged by the Siamese Army during the Siamese-Laotian war in the 19th century. It was fortunately rebuilt to the original plan by the French in the 1930s.
The complex is large, and despite the vast number of golden stupas, it felt rather drab and underwhelming. This may have been because it was a very cloudy and overcast morning, or it could have been because the scale of design felt ‘off’. I’m a lover of symmetry and balance, and I tried very hard to get the corners of the bottom level to line up to the main stupa – to no avail! And to further confuse me, it actually lined up on the other side! I later realised that they’d set two squares (top two levels) within a rectangle (bottom level) within a square (the cloistered gallery)… why??? My brain hurts just picturing that weird imbalance. The cloister also felt weirdly disconnected from the central structure.
I distracted myself from this disproportion by watching the very interesting wedding photography shoots and other group and solo selfie antics. My favourite was a lone woman dressed in a golden evening gown and a pink scarf – she had
set up a camera on a tripod and was videoing herself doing Kate Bush type dance moves. The dance always culminated in her throwing the scarf into the air and dancing under it as it fluttered down. 😊
The waiting jumbo
transported us back to the hotel, and we arrived just as the rest of the group was leaving for the airport (for their onward journey to Vietnam). We bade them a third and final farewell and started our Lonely Planet guide walking tour of the city.
We had already covered some parts of the walk the day before, so we decided to focus on four temples that we hadn’t yet seen. The streets of Vientiane are exceptionally calm and quiet in comparison to other Asian capital cities. Walking through the city centre is a pleasurable activity – it’s devoid of loud traffic, and the low-rise buildings allow the streets to be light-filled. It felt more like a regional centre than a capital city – in the best possible way!
We began at Wat Mixai, the closest of the cluster of temples on the main street (Th Setthathirath). The gates were flanked by two giant nyak
giant guardians, called yaksha
in Thai Buddhism). I almost needed my sunglasses in the main prayer hall, because the collection of Buddha statues came in all manner of glittery golden hues, and the building itself was an abundance of fluorescent yellows and oranges. However, even with all of this brightness assaulting my eyeballs, I couldn’t stop staring at the monk attending to his priestly duties with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I was cheeky and snuck a photo. 😊
Wat Haysoke is off a small side street, and it immediately drew us in with its shady and peaceful courtyard. There was a beautiful old bodhi tree at the entrance, surrounded by the birth day buddhas. I loved the wooden architecture and the relatively subdued colour palate of the prayer hall. Apart from the novice monk on duty, we had the whole beautiful complex to ourselves. The main feature of the prayer hall seemed to be replicas of the three versions of the Emerald Buddha (he famously gets a change of gold outfit for each of the seasons). This small and unassuming temple ended up being my second favourite temple (after Wat Si Saket) in Vientiane.
Ong Teu Mahawihan is almost directly opposite Wat Haysoke, but the two temples couldn’t have been more different in style and ambiance. This temple was purpose built to house the 16th century bronze Buddha statue that is supposed to be the biggest in the city. While we were walking around trying to avoid being splashed by the blood red paint being slapped on the temple beams, two young women came in to request a special blessing from a monk. That was our cue to respectfully leave.
Andrew has a fascination with old watches, and he had read of an antique/handicraft shop that sold rare Russian watches. We dropped in to have a look, but not only was Indochina Handicrafts really badly organised, the woman in charge acted like she was doing us a favour working there! I normally love browsing the cabinets of old shops, but I was seriously put off by the woman’s attitude and the fact that most things were hideously expensive. Plus despite me loving shop dogs and cats, their resident dog smelled so gross that I had to wait outside for Andrew.
The last temple on our list for the day was Wat In
Paeng. This sits on the banks of the Mekong and is set in a lush garden. I had read that it was the most beautiful of all the temples, so I was disappointed that it was closed. Luckily, we still managed to get a look at the beautiful wood carvings with inlaid mosaics on the outer walls of the main prayer hall.
By now we were starving and had decided on Makphet Restaurant for lunch… but we just couldn’t find it! We first blamed the Lonely Planet guide map, then we blamed our crap map reading skills, and finally, after about 45 minutes and unsuccessfully asking multiple locals for directions, we had to concede defeat. We then went looking for our second choice – Le Banneton – which was also impossible to find! By now we were extremely hot and tired, and quite frustrated… so we took the easy option and walked to Benoni Café where we’d had a delicious lunch the day before. It also had the added bonus of being close to our hotel.
We rehydrated with a delicious watermelon juice for me and a large Beerlao for Andrew. Andrew ordered the crispy egg noodles with
chicken, and I had their pad thai… fully admitting that it was only because I’d seen a serving of it the day before that induced a case of food envy! Both meals were delicious, and I was so totally full that I couldn’t even think of getting dessert from the fabulous looking offerings at Joma Bakery next door.
We waddled back to the hotel via the minimart to buy some beer for Andrew. I showered and slept for two hours… I enjoyed my nap so much that even the street raucous of the Lion Dancing celebrations (to celebrate the Chinese New Year of the Rat) didn’t bother me.
After recovering our energy, we wandered down to the night market by the Mekong that we’d missed the night before. We were quite disappointed with the products on sale – everything was so very mass produced. It was a futile effort to find anything of interest. On the plus side, this market had a local clientele, and seemed very popular with young families and teenagers. It created a very convivial atmosphere.
We walked along the Mekong again, looking at the lights across the river in Thailand. We had seen
the giant statue of King Anouvong the night before, but we wanted to look at it more closely. I’m not usually taken by statues of rulers or royalty, but there was something quite poignant in his expression – and yet it was clearly a strategically placed monument right on the border. I couldn’t quite tell if his outstretched hand towards Thailand was a welcoming or defiant gesture. It intrigued me, and I wanted to see this statue in daylight.
We had read that the Mekong wasn’t a great place at night because of dodgy characters linked to the smuggling trade, but it felt quite busy and safe. We began walking back to the hotel through the dimly lit park behind King Anouvong’s statue, past the beautifully lit rear entrance of the Presidential Palace, and then across the roundabout with That Dam (the Black Stupa).
I had liked the Presidential Palace when we’d seen it the day before, but it wasn’t until I saw it lit up that night that I realised how much I loved its architecture. And oddly, I think the back of the building looked much lovelier than the front! I googled it that evening and
apparently it was built in the Beaux-Arts Architectural style (which draws on French neoclassical, renaissance and gothic elements). One of my favourite buildings in Melbourne – Flinders Street Station – is also of this style.
I woke naturally at 5:30am on our last full day in Vientiane, even though I had expected that we’d both sleep-in given we had been quite tired from walking a lot the day before. We had a long relaxed breakfast with Dave (who was the last one left from our group). The breakfast buffet contained more interesting local dishes than the day before, especially a delicious Lao layered coconut jelly. Like lots of South-East Asian jellies, it had the firmer consistency from using agar agar
instead of gelatine. I probably ate more of it than I should have! 😊
We ambled out of the hotel at 10am and walked to the Black Stupa just behind our hotel. There’s a local legend that a seven-headed Naga
(mythical serpent) lived here to protect the stupa that was covered in pure gold. However, the stupa suffered the same fate as many of Vientiane’s monuments and the gold was pillaged by the Siamese Army. The Lao people
apparently still regard the Black Stupa as sacred, so I was surprised but glad that the stupa hadn’t been overly (if barely) restored. It showed its age and history in its scarred and damaged bricks, with plants and grass growing wherever they could. I found the stupa all the more authentic and charming for it.
We then walked to the morning market at Talat Sao. There was a small fresh produce area in front of the two storey building. We started our explorations on the ground floor and I was amazed at how much better the quality of items were, compared to the night market along the Mekong.
This had been a traditional market for decades, but we’d heard that the smaller old fabric stalls were losing ground to modern stalls selling electronics and other mass produced items. However, there were still a few rows of small stalls carrying high quality handwoven traditional fabrics. I’d recently read an interesting article about shopping ethically in Laos, and how to spot and support local artisans over the mass produced imported knock-offs of traditional designs. After we bought a couple of presents for our mothers, we also got souvenirs for ourselves
at stalls selling all manner of religious iconography.
In contrast to the small fabric and artisan shops on the ground level, the larger and more mainstream shops were upstairs (in the more modern part of the market). Even though I didn’t like these shops, it was nice to get an idea of the traditional outfits they sold. The Lao sinh
(also called pha sin) is the traditional long wraparound skirt made of woven silk or cotton and decorated with exquisite patterns. It’s worn with a long-sleeved shirt called a suea pat
, and a long scarf-like fabric called a pha biang
is then draped diagonally around the chest and attached over one shoulder. The Lao men wear a similar long-sleeved shirt with a pha biang
, but the bottom half of their outfit is what I can only describe as massive puffy shorts worn with knee high socks! I tried to get Andrew to buy one, but I got an emphatic ‘no bloody way’. 😄
I really enjoyed the Talat Sao morning market, and even though we had to be weary of the stalls at the start of the market charging almost double that of stalls in the bowels of
the market, the stall holders were all extremely pleasant and the vibe was downright docile compared to the souks we had walked through in Morocco the previous year. 😊
We walked through the beautiful grounds of Wat Si Saket on our way to Haw Pha Kaeo… further confirming to me that Wat Si Saket was still my most favourite temple in the city. Haw Pha Kaeo was once a royal temple built specially to house the Emerald Buddha, before the Emerald Buddha was ‘taken’ to Thailand. It’s now the national museum for religious objects. Firstly, I had no idea the revered Emerald Buddha (that now lives in Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace in Bangkok) had been such a pawn of war for hundreds of years. Its various homes reflected the constantly shifting power struggle between countries in this region. Secondly, to call this place a national museum was probably pushing it. The collection of Lao Buddhas and artefacts were interesting enough, but the building was probably the most remarkable part of the visit.
We then walked to Wat Si Muang – the home of the City Pillar and keeper of the city’s guardian spirit. We had
made the trek out to see this temple because Andrew was captivated by the legend of Si Muang. She was a young pregnant woman who became the guardian spirit of Vientiane. Accounts vary on whether she volunteered to be the guardian spirit and willingly jumped into the hole where the pillar was placed, or if she was pushed to her death by the gathered crowd. If she was indeed ‘sacrificed’ against her will, I would question if her spirit would be a benevolent one and would want to protect the city!
We then began the hot walk back to the city centre. The city sits on a broad curve of the Mekong, and we decided to walk back along the shady riverfront. I was quite surprised to see how horrible the Mekong foreshore was in the harsh light of day. We had seen this area twice at night, but the darkness had hidden its ugliness! While I saw this as a wasted opportunity, I suppose it is an international border and they didn’t want to encourage hordes of people hanging about near it. We re-visited King Anouvong’s statue for the third time, but the first in daylight. We got
to study the curious abundance of all manner of elephants and horses that visitors had left at the base of the statue.
We walked back to our hotel along the fragrant frangipani-lined street that borders the Presidential Palace. I had noticed (and loved) the profusion of frangipanis along footpaths in Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but it wasn’t until later that I realised it was the national flower of Laos.
We always keep an eye out for postcards on our trips, and we finally found a small but beautiful handicraft shop called The First that sold ones we liked. Later in the evening, Andrew double-backed to this tiny shop to buy a unique leather bracelet that had caught his eye. I had seen some scarves I loved too, but we had bought a few already.
We had seriously bombed out on finding the Makphet Restaurant the day before, and had later found out they’d recently moved. The new address looked like it was close to our hotel, and the hotel reception staff confirmed that it was near the Black Stupa. They called to book a table for us and realised we only had 30mins before the kitchen closed…
so we hightailed it around the corner. And would you believe we couldn’t find it?! This was getting beyond a joke now, but even after walking up and down the street a few times, we just couldn’t see it. We’d given up and were walking back to the hotel when we spotted a tiny ‘Makphet’ sign. The restaurant was now called Mini Makphet and was in a tiny shed-like building behind a parking space for motorcycles. Oh joy of joys that we FINALLY found it!
We were a bit ashamed that it was literally around the corner from us, and that we’d walked past it multiple times and never noticed it. Makphet is a vocational training restaurant for street kids and underprivileged youth, and is part of the Friends International Group (and a sister restaurant to Khaiphaen in Luang Prabang).
I enjoyed my drink of ‘iced tea with sweet milk’ (which turned out to be a Thai iced tea), but Andrew’s Beerlao was slightly warm. As Makphet is a training restaurant and the servers were extremely nervous trainees, Andrew didn’t want to embarrass them in front of their supervisor… so he drank a warm beer.
was all the more delicious for our difficulty in finding the place. We shared a red curry with pork and apple eggplants, and a stir-fried lemongrass chicken dish with mushrooms and young bamboo (which turned out to be more like a green curry than a stir-fry). Both dishes were absolutely delicious, as was the dessert of banana fritters. We really like supporting restaurants that are great social enterprises, and even more so when the food is excellent! We promised ourselves that we would come back for lunch the next day.
Back at the hotel, I started packing while Andrew ducked out to buy his bracelet and to stock up on beers for the evening. By the time he returned I was settling in for ‘a little nap’… which turned into a two hour affair. I absolutely love my holiday nana-naps! The day ended with a room picnic of snacks and drinks while we managed to get some writing done.
I have to make a small note on the temples we have visited in Vientiane. Even though most of the temples were originally centuries old, as mentioned previously, they were predominantly destroyed in the 19th century and have since
been restored in the 20th century. Apart from Wat Si Saket and Wat Haysoke, all the others seem to have employed the same colour-blind and sloppy painter/decorator, with a severe aversion to using painting drop cloths. The main design aesthetic seems to have been hoarder-chic, and they also clearly got a good deal on bulk orders of neon coloured paint pots at the hardware store. Of course I jest (kind of). Despite the majority of the interior design offending my eyeballs and challenging my inner neat freak, I did enjoy visiting the temples quite a lot. They were all very welcoming and calm spaces, and it was lovely to get a better sense of Lao Buddhism.
Waking up on a day of international flight holds many emotions. There are the immediate thoughts of time management, logistics and my eternal battle of what to wear – what will keep me comfortable on land and in airports, but also combat my getting seriously cold on flights? Then there are the thoughts and emotions associated with either starting or ending an adventure…
This trip to Laos had been a short one, and we hadn’t been away from home that long. But
I was grateful that our body clocks hadn’t yet fully embraced the Asian time zone. This hopefully meant we’d struggle a bit less when we returned home to a time zone that was six hours ahead.
We breakfasted early, after which I finished packing. Our flight wasn’t until the evening, and we’d decided to keep our day low-key. Thankfully we’d scored a free late checkout, so I enjoyed the best post-breakfast nap until noon. At 1:30pm we checked out and walked around the corner to Makphet Restaurant.
We had a light late lunch of two spicy Lao jaews
(spicy dips) – young bamboo shoots with ginger and mint, and a smoky eggplant. I ordered their black iced tea, but it turned out to be their Thai red tea with lemon. While I love Thai tea, it was way too strong for me without the milk to mellow the strong flavour. Our last meal in Laos ended with the same delicious dessert as the day before – banana fritters with a cashew nut crumb, a lemongrass syrup and coconut ice cream. My idea of absolute tropical bliss! 😊
We returned to the hotel and sat around in reception
for a few hours while we waited for our 6pm taxi to the airport. Even though the Family Boutique Hotel was a bit on the tired side and slightly mosquito infested, its location was great and the service from the staff had been flawless. Sitting quietly in the corner of a hotel reception gives you a fabulous fly-on-the-wall glimpse at what hotel staff have to put up with… plus I love people watching. The notable characters were an ultra-rude old dude who was at fever pitch about not being able to exchange money; an arrogant young woman who was shitty at the world because her phone wouldn’t charge; and a guy who made me giggle to myself when he asked if they knew any bars that played ‘good music’ and ‘served American beer’! At least he was extremely polite and remembered to say thank you, unlike the other two!
Apart from people watching, I also had time to reflect on our time in Vientiane. Strangely, it was a bit difficult to put my feelings into words. I think this was mainly because I felt I should have loved Vientiane more than I did.
Although it’s the largest city
in Laos, Vientiane still retains a small town vibe and has a very understated and quiet feel. I appreciated its relaxed and welcoming ambiance, which I suppose is very rare in a capital city anywhere in the world. I also relished the fact that despite it being friggin’ hot, it was a very walkable city for the most part. So while I had immediately liked the city and had enjoyed our time exploring it, there wasn’t really anything to really gush about. I would happily return to Vientiane if we needed to, but it didn’t grab me enough to be a destination in its own right.
And thus, our adventure in Laos had sadly come to an end.
Next we catch three flights to take us home! We will write again from our plane seats and the odd airport lounge.
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