Posted by: Larzizou | April 7, 2009

Vientiane, Laos

As we arrive at the meeting point at a hotel in Vang Vieng (where we discover we got ripped off accommodation-wise the past few days)  and gather with our – mostly Israeli – commute-mates (of which we have already met many in the last days), we intuit the 6h ride to Vientiane is gonna be long. That’s because we are used to bus travels in the area.

Oddly enough, the commute does not go horribly this time, which – in light of the recent chain of events – seems almost miraculous. On the positive side : the bus is not packed, the humidity not unbearable, it does not take us more than 150% the expected travel time. Negative : mosquitoes fly in the air and settle on our pulpit (wrong internet translation for the French word “chair”; so much for my rhyme) skin, no air conditioner, the road is rocky. We survive. We because I am still traveling with Mike the psych.

Upon arrival in the capital (Vientiane is Laos’ capital), everything goes rather smoothly : our passport with Vietnamese tourist visas are ready and waiting for us at the travel agency where the bus drops us. Most Lonely Planet-recommended hotels are full. So we walk around and opt for a random one (Douang Deouane, I believe). Clean double room with hot shower and TV negotiated for less than $20US. Time to rest. Time to eat. Street stalls, again and again. Mostly seafood. Sticky rice. And chicken.


We walk around and quickly realize that this 700,000 souls city is not large. And cannot boast the colonial charm of Luang Prabang’s streets. But has character.


Plus, the view is rather pleasant.


If it took us slightly longer than planned to travel throughout northern Laos, there is a very natural and cyclical reason : the wet season. Roads are flooded, causing you to postpone or cancel departures. Vientiane is enduring heavy rains too and this rice bags are brought to corner the Mekong. Just in case. As it happens, when we’re there, the Mekong knows its largest flood here since the 1960s. The luck of the draw.


But it seems Vientianese are ready to face Poseidon’s evil forces.

Edit : I am told Poseidon rules over and under the seas. And the Mekong is a river not a sea. Which means that Vientianese are safe (see the great movie, Poseidon).


Rue François Ngin. As you probably know, Laos was a French protectorate. Which didn’t prevent it from being attacked by all its neighbors and their allies. If you want to know more about Vientiane, several options include a) reading this post further, b) reading this post further and click on Wikipedia’s Vientiane link.


Orange buddha buddies.


Vientiane – a gated community. There are a few foreigners, but not as much as in Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng, in spite of Vientiane being the capital. The French heritage is extremely present tough.


Peculiar architecture. One of my hopes before leaving Laos to Vietnam is to get good French food at a decent price. Because French food is so good and Laos so cheap.


At night, street stalls again. Exhausting haggling to pay a kg of jumbo shrimps $10US. We have no idea whether we get ripped of  (which mean we probably do). At this point, it does not matter – we are HUNGRY.


A few hours spent in the extremely slow internet cafés watching Plus Belle La Vie or Catherine (a Canadian sitcom I can only recommend) on TV5 Monde and sleeping later, we are back on track to investigate the city a little more. Which brings us again on the Mekong bank.

There is a small gathering.


What are people looking at ?

There is an old saying about an old wise man pointing at the moon and a fool.


But none of them is old.


Or wise.


Or a fool.


And I don’t remember the end of the story. Mystery unsolved.


Not mentioning how kind people have been in Laos (except for the hotel staff at Duang Deouane) would not do justice to the country. Done.


Obviously, Vientiane does not exude wealth.


And animals play an important part in the daily social life.


Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.

My travel companion, likes to describe himself in these profligate words.


Laos is pretty much an annex of Thailand today. Not really but still. It should come as no surprise to find the Bangkok Post right here right now, maybe more easily than the Vientiane’s post. And Thaksin (former Thai prime minister) escape news.


Indian Hut. Rings a bell ?


Rather displeasing western food: omelet, chicken nugget, chicken-cheese-avocado burger. Local freshly squeezed fruit juices are from out of this world though. So much for my haute cuisine rendez-vous


Surrounded by land, Laos is not a secluded country – here (some) people love Manchester United.


Who’s this drop-dead gorgeous gentlemen with black sweatpants, a grey t-shirt and holding a sexy laundry bag ?


Another “rue“. Nokéokoummane. Sounds like Abdel-Rahman to me. Or Egyptian. And for once, Google cannot help me. When was the last time it happened to you ?


I have scientifically computed that since I left home, about ten months ago, after having been diagnosed a rocket scientist (by my mother), I have taken an average of 60 pictures a day. That picture, below is one of these too many pictures.


But sometimes, I get good at it (reframing water plays and stuff)…


Surprising myself (again) at taking pictures with a flawless technic. I may have missed my calling : stalking young ladies and secretly take pictures of them.


I have yet to understand why people visit and take pictures of this boat. Of course, it would probably have helped to visit it to have an informed idea. But the pepsi ad discouraged me.


The hell with it, I had more important things to do. Such as…


…shaving my head. For the first time, ever.

According to normal people, it ranks pretty high on the scale of ugliness. According to people like Mike or Youri  (a minority, with dubious tastes; you are strongly encouraged to click on Youri’s link), it looks pretty attractive.


Shaved, it’s too late for me to splurge in a good French restaurant (I would probably be denied entry) and it requires too much audacity, maybe The Audacity Of Hope (how many visits did I earn mentioning the title of Obama’s bio ?). I have only an hour and decide to spend it in a random internet cafes, amidst the dozens the main street boast. Obviously, so strong is our mental connection (or so predictable are we) that Mike is there, already surfing. I decide to do something I should have done months ago : print a detailed roadmap on the country I am visiting. About thirty Wikipedia pages of Laos ancient and modern history, art, politics, economics and so on.

Wow! Hum.. Really ? is approximately what I go through when skimming through it.

Ok, this is the one person to avoid in Vientiane (and her colleagues too in all South East Asia).


Why ? You don’t need to see her to know she’s around. Not because she’s a witch! Because…she’s selling (and thus smelling) dried squid. The most horrid smell in the world (after Durians), and very persistent. So nauseating that we  run away before she would come too close (about 20 meters).


There are buildings to contemplate too in Vientiane (but we don’t).


And humongous trees to climb on (but we don’t).


Alas, it’s already time to leave. Going to the bus station to take the 28h bus that will bring us to Hanoi. The van is packed as you can see.


So one of us has to sit on the roof.


Hard to leave such a Picasa-enhanced sky.


Not Picasa-enhanced, still not that bad. At the bust station. As we wait for our bus and buy water and more sticky rice with our remaining kips, we see one old local man getting dispossed of his luggage by young chaps going for the kill. In a strike of courage, we do nothing.


No, this is not a sitting-disco. Just a bus.


Left, Mike with his much-loved sticky rice. Right, the German Ludger (whom we meet en route).


Now begins the nightmare. More on that in the next post.


Kopchai lalaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.



  1. Most amusing.

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