Vientiane, Laos, is a relatively sleepy capital city when compared with many others in the region. Most visitors from Chiang Mai tend to stop over for a brief overnight before heading to the ruins of Pakse or the World Heritage charm of Luang Prabang…or as so many expats know, to sit in the Thai embassy waiting for a visa. But there are indeed great reasons to go to Vientiane, and here are some of them.
1. Beer Laos by the Mekong Join the locals as they stroll along the banks of the great river in Chao Anouvong Park, just outside the city centre. This large park is a great way to take in the city’s gentle vibe; there are groups doing tai chi, backpackers lounging on the grass with cans of Beer Laos, and vendors selling all the favourite outdoor street food at cheap prices to keep you happy. And did we say Beer Laos? Forget the huge green and yellow eyesore of a factory and their tours, Beer Laos is a nectar best appreciated withy some serious ambiance.
2. Laotian Baguettes If you are adventurous, or even slightly curious, you will come across some great street vendors of the Laotian’s beloved “khao jee” baguette. Somehow Chiang Mai’s bakers haven’t quite mastered the perfection that is a Laos baguette, all soft and aromatic on the inside and crisp to the crunch on the crust, and when it is filled with veggies moo yor pork or pat้ and some good SE Asian chili sauce, is simply divine.
3. COPE Centre The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise has a visitor centre as part of the organisation’s National Rehabilitation Centre. Here you can wander around their excellent multimedia exhibits to learn more about UXO problems and the wok done to provide for Laos’s many disabled. Support the wonderful work being done by buying a gift or making a donation in their gift shops where you can get t-shirts, post cards and all the usual touristy souvenirs.
4. Bowling Join the middle class as they wind down after a hard day’s work with some hard bowling, which seems to be a national sport in this country. Nothing works very well, the balls are dented, the scoring boards often defective and the alleys tired, but the atmosphere is electric with loud pop music, sounds of glasses clinking and the regular eruption of cheers. The Lao Bowling Centre has ten aisles and is open day and night, though much more fun after the sun goes down. There are many other bowling alleys in the city, just as popular, so make a night of it.
5. Go French Take a stroll around the immaculately clean city and take in some of the majestic old colonial architecture. Many buildings have been renovated in recent years into embassies or museums and while their numbers and majesty don’t equal Saigon’s or Hanoi’s, they retain an old world charm. After some exploring continue the French fascination by indulging at any one of the city’s many classical French restaurants where garlicky escargots, perfectly risen souffl้s and a tender coq au vin can be had with a chilled glass of Chablis for next to nothing.
The list goes on, but as we were guests of Bangkok Airways and only had a short time in Laos this time, we will have to wait for our next trip to give you more enticing reasons to visit Vientiane.
www.bangkokair.com Bangkok Airways Call Centre 1771 (24 hours)