August 7, 2016

LAOS DIARIES PART 3: 36 hours in Vientiane

Vientiane lies at the bank of the Mekong River and although it is the biggest city in the country, it has retained that small town charm and laid back atmosphere. Our visit only lasted for 36 hours but it wasn’t hurried and yet we feel we’ve covered and experienced enough we had to break this travelogue into parts.

It was only past 9 in the morning of February 22 when we were deposited at Hotel Khamvongsa straight out of Thanaleng train station. Our pre-booked room wasn’t ready so we deposited our bags at the reception and walked around. We found Joma’s bakery further along at the main road and joined the line for their famous freshly baked buttery French pastries and potent Lao coffee, perfect top up breakfast.

When we came back at the hotel, we were ushered to the 2nd floor and to our room at the end of the hallway. We rested (slept) for a bit and showered before heading out. The staff speaks excellent English and helped us arrange our transport to get around after lunch. We rented a tuktuk for 100,000 LAK and the hotel staff pored over the map with our driver and plotted the itinerary.

The city has wide tree lined streets dotted with French cafes and some notable Buddhist and Hindu shrines.

Our first stop was Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple in the city and houses thousands of Buddha image. Located at Lan Xang Road, it is open daily from 8 AM to 4 PM. Entrance fee is 5,000 LAK.

We ducked into the Hophakaew Museum across but it was under renovation and boarded heavily so we left to head to Patuxai (Victory Gate.) The imposing concrete monument is Lao’s version of Arc de Triomphe.

We just got there and was roaming the grounds when a freak storm descended on Vientiane and whole palm tree fronds started flying overhead narrowly missing us. My skirt did a full on Marilyn Monroe impersonation but luckily there was no audience as the tourists and locals have already scrambled to find shelter from the rain and wind. We joined them at the base of the monument crowding the pillars to prevent from getting wet from the slashing rain.

The peak of the storm lasted for less than an hour. We were a bit shaken from the unexpected experience so we decided to cut short our sightseeing. When the winds have let up and people have started moving out of Patuxai, we asked our driver to bring us back to the hotel and made arrangements for him to pick us up the next day.

While having coffee at the hotel lobby, Kim saw a days old local newspaper. Apparently, on February 19, just 3 days before our visit, a severe storm has also hit Vientiane. The storm began early morning at 5am and lasted for about 30 minutes leaving minor injuries and hundreds of houses and buildings without roofs or power. The cost of damage was estimated to be at 10 Billion LAK. At the time of our travel, 1 USD is equals to 8,120 LAK.

At sunset, the weather seemed to have calmed down. We gingerly ventured out of our room and saw some fallen tree branches and blown garbage bins but no major destruction. The community has also resumed their activities and began cleaning the debris.

Armed with scarves and rain jackets, we set off in the direction of the river and its many nightly pop up restaurants.  We sat down at still damp wooden chairs to dinner of pork sausages and barbeque while Celine Dion's "my heart will go on" karaoke Lao version is wafting in the frigid air.

We capped our eventful first day with an egg crepe dessert from one of the red tents at Ban Anou night market. The market is geared primarily to backpackers with an extensive display of fisherman’s pants and knock off sunglasses but we were able to pick out good quality souvenirs for cheap to bring home.

Fujifilm XA1, Fujifilm XE1
Fujifilm 27mm, Fujifilm 60mm, Fujifilm 18-55mm, Samyang 12mm

To be continued.

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