Only tow days short of the New Year 2012 we arrived with Air Asia in Vientiane from Kuala Lumpur. Some people had already told us that Vientiane (and pretty much all of Laos) was very peaceful, slow and quiet … and so it was: No rush at the airport, no noise, efficient formalities, at the exit of the airport there was no line of taxis waiting and honking, no tourist guides eagerly waiting for customers. We stepped out into Vientiane and were totally amazed that the airport was almost deserted. Finally after changing some money we caught a taxi to our prebooked hotel. The airport is not far from the city, so we were there in less than ten minutes.
Our hotel was an old renovated building at the river front with huge rooms and a lovely pool – so it was a nice spot to spend New Years at. After settling in, we started exploring the city and immediately noticed that this capital was different than other capitals in Southeast Asia: not a lot of traffic, only few tuk-tuks, some motorbikes and cars which all drove very orderly & slow. Nothing compared to busy and bustling cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City … The Mekong river is flowing languidly along the board walk, which is almost finished with the refurbishment (to give the city a flashier look). Some buildings along the river front are still in pretty bad shape though.
The inner part of Vientiane is a bit more lively. The area around the bus station is probably the busiest place in town. Vientiane is also not as large as other cities and therefore everything can be reached by foot, though travellers tend to rent bicycles or motorbikes, to get around faster. “PVO Motorcycle Rental” on Norkeokumman Road has good bikes to rent and allows driving anywhere in Laos as well (this is where we rented our motorbikes). You have to leave your passport but that’s no problem because no one is going to want to see it (unlike for example in India) when travelling through Laos.
As Laos was once French territory, it’s easy to find shops selling wine and champagne (which was lovely for New Years). You’ll find a lot of different restaurants serving all kind of food in down town Vientiane. We opted for local cuisine – why eat Sushi in Laos? – and found an extraordinary little restaurant called “Lao Kitchen” in Rue Hengboun close to Lao National Culture Hall. This place serves authentic Lao food and has a very very pleasant ambience – highly to recommend!
The market stalls behind the American Embassy sell a lot of curiosities: antiques, animal parts like rhino horns or tiger claws. We were a bit suspicious if these were fakes but who knows … if there is a demand, it could be. In that case, poor animals! At the wet market in Vientiane you’ll find different kinds of strange food like bush meat , toads, frogs and snakes. You can also buy them the “take-away version”. There’s definitely plenty to explore here.
With our rented motorbikes we drove to the Buddha Park, which is a sculpture array about 25 km southeast of Vientiane. The statues are made of concrete and often have a religious theme … some are really bizarre with a labyrinth inside the structure which you can follow until you find your way to the highest outlook.
In the evening a night market opens along the riverbank and on the street side lots of food stalls open their kitchen, offering all sorts of yummy food. Some places even have mattresses where you can lay down and eat your meal while lying – this was not ours though …
And one more thing that should be mentioned … all through our days in Vientiane, we hardly saw any beggars or homeless people. Of course there are some but a very educated Lao man told us that unless you are very very lazy, nobody in Laos needs to starve. There is enough for everyone and if you are bright and clever you can live a very good life in Laos. So maybe that’s why almost everybody has a smile on their face :)