A May 2005 trip
to Vientiane by Kez
Quote: Located on a sweeping bend of the Mekong River the city of Vientiane is the provincial, slow-paced, sleepy capital of landlocked Laos.Not expecting much I really enjoyed my visit here and I was surprised to find that I was quite taken with it's indefinable charm and the graciousness of it's people.
Because Laos has only been open to tourism for a relatively short amount of time, approximately 15 years or so, the people are so refreshing and not jaded; they are just a delight to be around. Any small compliment results in a wai (small bow and prayer-like hand gesture similar to that in Thailand) and a sank (thank) you very much. They are definitely what makes Laos so special.
The main sights in Vientiane are:
That Luang - the most sacred stupa or Buddhist monument in Laos
Patuxay Park, with the Victory Gate Monument similar to the Arc de Triomphe for its stupendous views
Talat Sao is the morning market, and I thought that it was pretty good. All types of clothing are available, both traditional and modern, with tailors or cloth by the metre on the ground floor and the second floor having mainly jewellery, silverware, and household goods, and then there are all the smaller stalls running off the main section selling everything else you could think of!
There are also a couple of beautiful old villas built by the French near the town centre worth seeking out. Unfortunately, you will need to be content looking from the outside, as you are not able to enter.
Also, some way out of town is Buddha Park and the Friendship Bridge on the border with Thailand.
The majority of my favourite spots were actually the small cafés dotted around the city, as you could sit outside and they were a great place to people-watch.
The shopping is pretty special, especially if you are looking to purchase gemstones and gold jewellery. The piece we bought was valued when we returned at more than three times what we paid for it, always a nice result.
There are also a number of interesting shops selling antiques and bric-a-brac from a bygone era. One of our purchases included a buffalo bone opium pipe from the early 1920s to 1930s, beautifully carved with its own wooden stand. This shop is located a couple of doors along from the PVO café. We found similar in other shops in a more upmarket area of town and at ten times the price.
The Scandinavian Café is a great place for lunch and PVO is a small café that offers everything from cold Beer Lao and food to motorbike hire.
This is a post-communist country, so don't come to Vinetiane expecting lively nightlife. There are not many clubs out that openly advertise. The restaurant that we went to did have live music, but this was the closest that we found.
You need a visa to visit Laos, which can be obtained at the airport for the cost of US. It is all fairly casual; we were one of the last through and customs had already packed up and left!
Don’t make the mistake of taking one of the airport taxis waiting for passengers at the front doors. Prices are fixed at for a little old Toyota number that hasn’t been seen in the West for quite a while. Put your backpack on and start walking to the entrance gate and the price will drop to US, or take a jumbo at the gate for half this amount again.
If you get the chance go to Laos, you won’t regret it.
The staff are really friendly and always ready for a chat. I found them very efficient in handling my booking via email prior to leaving and very helpful when we arrived.
The rooms are not large but comfortable and the air-conditioning worked a treat.
Guest house rules according to the in house information sheet include:
* the front gate being locked at 12 midnight but knock at the gate to be let in (I'm not sure anywhere in this sleepy capital would be open until then)
* no visitors to meet guest in room (obviously looking after everyone’s morals)
* no illegal items allowed (wouldn't even think of it!)
* no smoking on the bed – it causes hazard.
We paid $16US for a double upstairs room including a breakfast that changes daily and does on some days offer some strange choices such as steak sandwich (luckily, we weren’t there for that morning).
The rooms shared a communal passageway each with its own little outdoor setting do you could sit out and it was a great way to meet other travelers.
Breakfast is served down in the pleasant garden area in the courtyard or if raining on your balcony.
They were renovating while we were there so I think they may be expanding and building an indoor restaurant.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 6, 2005
Restaurant | "Scandinavian Cafe"
It has a two level eating area that is air-conditioned and a small outdoor section if you like to swelter.
Very efficient you fill in the menu order form yourself, ticking off what type of bread, which filling if you want butter, salt and pepper and so on, hand it in, pay and the waitress brings it to you when ready.
They do great shakes and also offer a bottomless cup of coffee. The cake display is to die for. I guess it depends on how much walking you are doing or your waistline.
There is also a TV normally tuned into an International news program so you can catch up on the outside world or if you can read one of the Scandinavian languages you can browse the relatively out of date newspapers from that part of the world.
It's really popular and easy to understand why!
74/1 Phangkam Road
+856 21 215 199
Restaurant | "PVO Cafe"
Serving freezing cold beer Lao at just 6000 kip a bottle sitting at the front of the cafe offered one of the most interesting places to watch the world go by and the torrential rain come down, which at times it certainly did!
Their menu includes fantastic stuffed baguettes including the local specialty; that of pate and vegetables. They also offered a range of Vietnamese dishes including fresh rice paper rolls with a choice of do it yourself fillings.
Family run, you can meet up to 4 generations over the duration of one beer.
They also offer motorbike (scooter) hire for a reliable bike. We hired our bike at around lunchtime so it was not due back until 24 hours later. Because it was just near our hotel we left it with the cafe overnight and picked it up in the morning and surprise, surprise they had siphoned the majority of the fuel from the tank. But we still had enough to go where we wanted to get to. I think the proprietor thought we were a little odd when we asked for helmets but these were produced without any fuss.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 6, 2005
344 Samsenthai Road
+856 21 214 444
Attraction | "Stupa That Luang"
The original That Luang built in 1566 was in ruins from various attacks and looting. The French began reconstruction at the beginning of the last century.
The base of the stupa has walkways and stairs connecting the different levels, designed for the faithful to climb. I found it disappointing in that you were unable to use the walkways when we there. You had to be content to walk around the outside at ground level.
I must admit I did not find it that impressive. It was quite overcast when we were there so maybe we did not see the true effect with the sun striking it or I guess I am just not into lots of gold paint. Still, there is no way you could come to Vientiane and not pay it a visit.
There is also an art display along one side of the temple where local paintings could be bought but the standard was not high and some looked as though they had been there for many years!
Interestingly and making a refreshing change, there were basically no hawkers selling postcards or many other religious items that you would normally find at a site like this. That was apart from a couple of kids selling fresh bread and a couple of moto drivers.
Entry is a 1000 kip donation.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 6, 2005
That Luang Road
+856 21 212 251 (Lao
Attraction | "Patuxay Park with the Victory Gate "
Approached via a grand boulevarde graced with ornate French style lamps the gate is one of the tallest buildings in the capital and is well worth a visit for it offers some fantastic views.
You pay a small admission fee to climb up the gate and there are two levels to take in the views. Lots of steps though.
Ignore the no photography signs - everyone else was when we visited so we took our prompt from them and started snapping away.
Although the arch itself appears very French it is when you take a closer look that you realize that the carvings and most other artwork are more Buddhist or Hindu rather than French provincial. It is interesting that all the local people we spoke to despise this huge concrete monolith.
The gardens in the park are beautifully manicured and planted. The fountains contained in the ponds are apparently "musical" (?) but were not operating the day that we visited so I can't explain further.
You can park near the monument but be aware you need to pay the self appointed parking inspectors that lurk nearby and approach you as soon as you park. At least the bike was still there when we returned although I don't think theft is a problem in this sleepy capital.
After visiting the monument the park itself is a great place to relax in whilst indulging in an ice cream and watching the passing parade of locals and tourists passing by.
Patuxai Monument/Victory Gate
End of the Grand Lang Xang Avenue
+856 21 212 251
Broadbeach Waters, Australia