Laos is like Thailand in that all the people are friendly, helpful and – on the whole – honest. The language is also rather similar, with some of the bordering regiions understanding Thai mainly as a result of TV stations filtering over.
However, this is a much poorer country. It’s still developing in a way Thailand was maybe 10 years ago, but it’s catching up very quickly. Many of the main roads are “sealed” allowing quicker and safer transport along major routes. Telecommunications are to the state where low-speed but reliable broadband is available to most major cities. Water and electricity supplies are reliable to the same.
It sounds daft to point these things out, but Hans travelled here seven years ago and he quite frankly stated that the country was like a building site at the time. I’m glad to say that is has come along a bit since then.
Regardless, Vientiane isn’t particularly spectacular as a capital city. It has beautiful temples – but there are similar and larger in Thailand and Sri Lanka. There are cafes and restaurants and bars aplenty – but there are cheaper and more varied in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. For once I’ll definitely go with the advice of people I’ve met on the road – visit the place by all means, but only spend a day or so and then be on your way.
I had a nice plodge from the Vertical Runway (the local’s name for their grey version of the Arc de Triomphe, manufactured from concrete earmarked for an aiport) through the Morning Market (open all day), and past a variety of temples along the riverside back to the hotel. The river isn’t high right now – wrong season – and can, in fact, barely be seen. Actually, the entire place is quiet – the result of arriving off-season tourist wise.
Lunch was some delicious pork fried rice and veg at a place in the Market, and dinner was an utterly astounding chicken rogan josh from an Indian restaurant on Th Fa Ngum. The only cheeky thing was charging us for the bottle of water supplied before we started out meal and which we hadn’t asked for. Still, cracking food.
After that Jacob, Joseph and I wandered to the Music Bar (which has replaced the On The Rock pub listed in Lonely Planet) and found the karaoke to be dreadful, the band to be non-existant and the beer to be stupidly expensive. 18000Kip for a small Beer Lao when most places charge no more than 10000 for a large one spells “AVOID” in my book.
Instead, we walked to the other side of the street to the Tex Mex with its free pool table and 15000 jugs of bia Sót (draught beer) where we guzzled OH groups and played pool till… erm.. 10:30 when they shut.
Jacob had moved out, leaving Joseph and myself in the room for the night. In good spirit, he’d paid over the fair share for the beer to make up for our marginal ($1 each for crying out loud) increase in rent for the night. Got to love the Dutch – honest to a fault.