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Vientiane

July 25, 2012

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The ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane is not a long one by Laos standards, only four hours or so, but the bus I took still made a rest stop at a snack stand. It seems that every bus heading between the capital and Vang Vieng stops here. In this rest stop, a rural outpost in central Laos, it was wall-to-wall white people. I’d run into this sort of thing before, of course, particularly in Thailand, but I didn’t expect it in Laos. Yeah, I knew Vang Vieng would be this way, but a rest area? In the “low” season?

Vientiane, like Luang Prabang and Phonsavan before, had a sizable tourist scene in the city center, but the proliferation of European restaurants in this former French Colonial capital certainly made sense. The town center was much more inviting and livable than I had imagined it to be, and the Mekong riverfront and night market marked the south end of the downtown area.

The city also featured a French-style Grand Boulevard that ran from the presidential palace through the triumphal arch, and past what was clearly the worst big city mall I’ve ever seen. I was hoping it would have a movie theater so I could check out the new Batman, but it turns out there are zero proper cinemas in all of Vientiane.

Vientiane has a decent night life by Laos standards, but is still a far cry from Bangkok. I found one beer garden that was pretty much all locals, so it was nice to get away from the farang scene there. I also found a bar that was mixed between locals and foreigners. I ended up drinking Johnny Walker with a Lao government prosecutor and his ladyboy friends, which certainly made for an unusual night out. Like elsewhere in Lao, things close up early, but there are late night clubs out by the airport, though I didn’t bother with these.

On my first full day into town, I looked into renting a motorbike to drive out to Buddha Park. Every shop wanted a passport, and I didn’t want to leave mine. I had no trouble avoiding this in Thailand, Philippines, and even elsewhere in Laos, but in Vientiane it appears impossible. I ended up taking the local bus out to Buddha Park. It was a nice, air conditioned Japanese-built bus for most of the ride, then a minivan for the last leg. All told, it took and hour and cost less than a dollar to ride bus 14.

At Buddha Park, I talked to a couple of monks who wanted to practice their English, and then to this random college kid. The kid is trying to get into an IT training program in India, but thus far his English scores were too low to be accepted. I ended up having lunch with him, and we discussed idiomatic English expressions and Korean pop music.

As I left Buddha park, I got beckoned over to a little roadside food stall by a couple locals who, by the looks of the bottles on their table, were getting hammered in the afternoon. I sat down at their table and they poured me a couple glasses of beer over ice and seemed adamant that I drink it quickly. They seemed like a fun group despite the language barrier being total, but my bus came a few minutes after I sat down.

All told, I spent two nights and just over two full days in Vientiane. I saw most of the major sights, and I spent too much money on food – Vientiane is an awesome culinary town. In the end, I got on the night bus to Pakse in southern Laos.

On to the pics!

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Vientiane streetscape.

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A downtown temple. This is also proof that Instagram is pointless – it’s really easy to take a shitty picture using conventional methods.

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The Mekong Promenade. I actually didn’t care for this, because it separates the river from the city by quite a distance. Mekong sunset is next.

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This is the primary building at Buddha Park, a few miles outside of Vientiane. I walked inside, it’s pretty creepy with three levels on the inside, only lit by window light. The next picture is inside this temple.

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Sculptures at Buddha Park.

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Phra That Luang, the national symbol of Laos. It reminded me of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon a bit, as both building are gold stupas and the most important historical edifices in their respective lands. Plus, both buildings lie well outside of the city center, which I found a bit. Curious since they are amongst the oldest buildings in their respective towns.

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This is the Patuxai, or triumphal arch.

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Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in town. All of the other old wats were burned down by invading Thais back in the day, but they left this one alone. Unfortunately, pictures inside the temple proper weren’t allowed, but the next picture is also from the grounds.

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Hey, a jar from the Plain of Jars! This was in the Lao National Museum. Photos weren’t allowed here with, but I had the place to myself.

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A model of Phra That Luang, I suppose for people who are too lazy to see the real thing a couple miles away.

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And finally, I’ll leave you with something that the museum had no shortage of – communist propaganda.

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