Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vientiane, briefly

Sometimes when we visit a place we understand right away why it's popular. When we were in Luang Prabang or Chiang Mai, for example, we could tell why people visit there. Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on the other hand, is somewhat of a mystery. Maybe we're missing something, but we don't really see the appeal of this city. It's sort of like a tourist destination trying to become a tourist destination.

We survived our overnight bus from Luang Prabang, even coming in an hour early, but after taking a tuk tuk downtown we immediately found out that all the guest houses and hostels were full. This is the first place we've been where everything has been booked. And we're not the only ones who searched for a room. It's the opposite problem of Luang Prabang; there you couldn't walk 10 feet without encountering a guest house offering a room whereas here you can't walk 10 feet without encountering a tourist couple carrying their bags around looking for a place to stay.

We got lucky, sort of. The morning we arrived, we walked up and down the main street where most of the guest houses are, and although they were all full, we decided to wait at one of them for someone to check out and then grab their room. We only had to wait about two hours before we were able to check in. The price sheet said 45,000 kip (about $5 US) and I thought that was per person, but it turned out to be the total price! However, the room was about what you'd expect for $5...two very narrow metal beds with cigarette burned sheets, a plank floor covered with shoddy linoleum and a view out the window of a brick wall. Oh, and there were bugs. But being that we'd hardly slept on the bus and were both suffering from slight sickness (nothing a bit of Imodium couldn't fix) and every other place was full, we took the room.

Today we changed to a nicer place down the street (getting the last room in the place), which at 85,000 kip (about $9) is worth every penny. It's no Fairmont, but it's clean, there are no bugs and the wall does not have a drawing of a penis on it. And, there's running water! The first place didn't have any running water in the morning, which the people working there didn't seem too concerned about. By the way, here's a business idea for an aspiring entrepreneur: come to Laos and open a plumbing school. They need plumbers here. Everywhere we go the plumbing is shoddy: entire faucets turn when you turn them on, there are constant backwashes of toilets, drains don't drain, pipes drip, showers have no pressure and shoot in all directions but on your body, etc.

As for things to do here, we did take a walk down Lane Xang Avenue, which supposedly is modeled after Champs Elysees in Paris. There's even a Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe, called Patouxai:
We climbed the stairs to the top of it and although there wasn't much of a view on account of the smog/haze, it was fun enough.
Tomorrow we're going to continue south to the town of Savannakhet in Southern Laos, which supposedly has lots of French colonial architecture with a Vietnamese influence as well. Although there is an overnight bus, we figured we'd take the day time local bus. Not only is it cheaper, but the overnight bus lands you in Savannakhet at 3AM which we thought would be an inconvenient time to arrive.

We didn't take too many photos here, on account of there not being too much to take photos of, but here are the few that we did take.


  1. We thought of you on that overnight bus as we drove part of during the day today (we're in phonsavon)...you poor things...all those curves in the dark!! Thanks for the heads up about Vientiane...both the atmosphere and the room situation. Talk soon. G.

  2. I think the mid-priced and up hotels still had availability, but all the budget places were full. On the bright side, there is a Scandinavian Bakery in Vientiane! And you can get really good iced coffees all over town. Enjoy!


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