What’s that I hear? Nothing? Bliss.
After Vietnam, we were used to every man, woman and their dog honking, barking or yelling throughout all hours of the day. Stepping out of the airport in Vientiane was a shock, Neil turned to me and said, “do you hear that? There’s no honking,” his face bemused. I liked this place immediately. One thing that we really loved, there were hardly any tourists – for some reason Laos is usually skipped by travellers making their way through Southeast Asia, after 13 days here we found it hard to see why, we wanted to stay longer!
THE FUNKY MONKEY:
We got a taxi to our hostel from the airport, this cost $7US ($9.90NZ) from a counter in the airport. We had planned to get a tuk-tuk, but there weren’t any when we arrived. Laos airlines had been our favourite so far, super friendly air hostesses, and included a feed with booze in the low fare category! Winning.
Our hostel was called the Funky Monkey Hostel and it was very basic. There was no soap in any of the toilets, the beds were very hard – but this is the norm in Laos! With almost non-existent Wifi and millions of mosquitoes, we didn’t spend much time here. But, it was in a great location, came with free breakfast, had a pool table and only cost $5US ($7.10NZ) each a night! I’m not sure I’d go back there though.
The reason I’m talking in US dollars is because other than the Kip, which is regarded as toilet paper to the rest of the world, US dollars are commonly used in Laos. We ended up using Kip most of the time, but it was helpful having a few US dollars on us as sometimes it made it easier to pay, such as the times I just mentioned.
Thankfully, our bank back home, ANZ, has established a global network throughout Southeast Asia, meaning no ATM or withdrawl fees!
MARKET AND DINNER TIME:
On our first night, after check-in, we decided to go for a walk through the night market (two-minute walk from our hostel). It was huge! The locals are so laid back they don’t hassle you or beckon you to come to their stalls. This was so different from the other Southeast Asian countries we have been so far. We bought a few small goodies, Neil was very amused at all of the fake Bose speakers and odd product names:
We kept walking over to the Mekong River. Here we found the road next to the river was closed, something they do every night, and made into a large walking street with local veggies for sale. A beautiful place to walk during sunset.
At this stage, we realised that neither of us had eaten and it was incredibly hot compared to our last stop in Vietnam. Neil was getting pretty hungry and agitated, but I thought we should walk along the river as there were quite a few flashy lights ahead, possibly food? Turned out it was an extension of the walking street filled with food stalls! There were heaps of friendly locals, the best skewers and peppered chicken steaks ever and even apple cider! My little gluten free socks were knocked right off! Not to mention it was all really cheap, it cost just under 60,000 Kip ($10NZ) for us to full up on the delicious local eats, including drinks! We came back to this street three out of the three nights we spent in Vientiane.
DRIVING, TEMPLES AND SO MANY BUDDHAS:
We had one full day in Vientiane for exploring, it was amazing. Most travellers we’d meet and the research we’d done told us there wouldn’t be much to do here so we had low expectations – that information didn’t stack up, we loved the place.
We did our usual ‘hire a scooter for the day’ thing and it, once again, proved to be a great choice (70,000 Kip ($12NZ) for 12 hours).
This was our first stop – a war monument in the middle of the city dedicated to those who fought for independence from France.
It’s also known as the Arc de Triomphe of Laos as it resembles the one in Paris . Neil has now been to both and said he liked the one in Laos better because it was decorated with cool creatures. It cost 3000 Kip ($0.50NZ) each to climb the stairs to the top – great view!
Pha That Luang
The most important monument, built in the third century, Pha That Luang was as gold and pretty as the pictures we’d seen.
It cost 10,000 Kip ($1.70NZ) each to get in. Unfortunately, it was undergoing maintenance while we were there, but we had a lovely walk around it as well as the surrounding big temples and massive sleepy Buddhas (I don’t blame them for sleeping – it’s so hot!)
One odd thing I noticed was a few local women were selling little cages filled with birds. Tourist bought the birds simply to set them free. I found this so weird and a bit disturbing. I’m not sure where they get all the birds from but, I had a lot of questions they couldn’t answer. Why? It’s a job. Where do the birds come from? No answer. Do you just catch them again and re-sell them when they’ve been sold? No answer. Isn’t this cruel? No answer. I didn’t buy any as I didn’t want to endorse what they were doing, I did find it very sad that they had to do that in order to made a living though.
After this we stopped at a restaurant called Khop Chai Due and had a traditional Laos meal for lunch, chicken laab – minced chicken with lots of herbs and spices served with salad, yum! This place also had great wifi and was a comfortable spot to wait for the heat of midday to pass.
It took us about 50 minutes to scooter out to Buddha Park (entry: 5,000 Kip ($0.80NZ) each) This magical place reminded me of the witch’s garden in Narnia – so many Buddhas and mythical creatures made from stone.
Right at the front of the park was a massive pumpkin representing hell, heaven and earth. We walked through the mouth of the devil into ‘hell’ where scary creatures were torturing each other, creepy as!
Next, we climbed up tight little stairs to ‘earth’ where the statues looked a bit happier, although there was still a bit of torture going on. The third level was ‘heaven’, it was full of happy mermaids. From heaven, we climbed the last set of stairs to the very top where we sat with monks and admired the park for a while, lovely.
After our walk around the many Buddhas, Neil suggested I learn to drive the scooter. I thought about this for a second and decided why not? It was so much fun! Why had I waited so long?
We were exhausted after our day of adventure, but super happy we made the effort to see Vientiane. I don’t think you need more than two nights here as there isn’t heaps to do, but I would recommend doing the things you can, it’s so much fun!