SE Asia – March 16 – 17, 2013 – Vientiane, Laos
The flight from Siem Reap to Vientiane was easy. There was an intermediate stop in Pakxa, southern Laos to clear customs and take on the majority of the passengers. All of the airports were small so it was not crowed; nothing like going through Cambodian immigration at Poipet. Vientiane is the Lao capital city but it’s small at only 250,000 inhabitants. The pace is pretty slow. And it’s not noisy. The traffic is orderly. They haven’t adopted compressed natural gas fuel for the tuk-tuks and commercial vehicles, so there is air pollution. But it’s nothing like in Bangladesh where the brick ovens spew coal smoke all over the country. Vientiane is on the Mekong River. The waterfront is diked, and they’ve used the space nicely to provide a wide promenade all along the river bank. The river is low now because it’s dry season, so there are large sand dunes in the river course. But there are no trucks hauling away the river silt for making bricks as they do in Bangladesh.
Vientiane is fairly well developed. There are stop lights that everyone obeys. It’s a tourist town, so there are plenty of services. There is a sewer system, but it’s just covered street side troughs. The smell can be overpowering. It’s a bit difficult to enjoy a lovely Lao meal if the outdoor tables at the restaurant are perched right next to the smelly sewer trough. There is a wide variety of hotels and guest houses. And you can get just about any kind of food you’d like. We even encountered a Swenson’s ice cream shop where we could get the latest confection straight from San Francisco. The clientele was almost exclusively Lao enjoying an American treat. Every other “ice cream” shop serves gelato. For those of us used to dairy foods, the yoghurt served at our breakfast and the frozen cream treat are welcome. We’ve had some excellent Lao food and some OK. There is a considerable variety of vegetables and fruits available. And there’s even seafood available though Laos is a landlocked country. We can get spicy or not, noodles or rice, many varieties of meats, and lots of herbs. Our beef salad yesterday was full of mint. How refreshing!
We did the circuit of temples and museums yesterday. The Buddhist temples are of course important to the Laos. But the temples just don’t compare to the spectacle and grandeur of the central Bangkok temples or the ancient temples of Cambodia. The Khmer empire of Cambodia did extend into southern Laos, but it wasn’t a major factor in Lao history. The National Museum is pretty sad. They really need a women’s civic group to get involved and spruce it up. Laos has a long history and quite a story to tell. There was some information on early history and the people that created the stone jars in the Plain of Jars. Regrettably the most recent history of being overrun by the Thais, the French, and the Americans figures most prominently in the displays since this recent history is pretty raw. There were only a few pictures and a couple of garments highlighting the four main ethnic groups in Laos. We would both have liked to see more information and a better display about the ethnic and cultural diversity in Laos.
Vientiane is a good place to catch our breath and enjoy the slow pace. There are plenty of shopping opportunities of course. And sitting in a rooftop bar overlooking the Mekong and the riverfront promenade while the sun goes down is pretty nice. The kids are all out riding bikes, skateboarding, having a good time. Tourists are out perusing the markets set up along the promenade. Families are out enjoying the slight drop in temperature as evening approaches. It was only about 90 degrees yesterday with humidity to match. That’s about normal I guess. In Cambodia it was around 95 degrees and high humidity. The heat and humidity don’t bother me. But Deni certainly welcomes A/C in our hotel room and when we travel by bus.
Today we’re off to the north to Vang Viang where we expect to see limestone cliffs and mountains. We’ll let you know what we discover after we’ve been there.