Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was my first stop on a visit to Laos and Cambodia. I hadn’t been away from my family for many years, or in this part of the world for ages.
This year’s vacation is in the form of an ego trip to the Far East, more precisely Laos and Cambodia. I was in this part of the world in 1985, but these two countries were at the time practically sealed off to foreigners. The backpackers are now pouring in, groups are following suit – and I want to see the countries before they turn into another Thailand.
In 2009 I spent a week in Laos and the next week in Cambodia. In a series of six articles I am offering transcripts of my travel diary, a lot of photos and several videos.
Monday 29.6.2009, Stavanger – Bangkok
Judging from my plane ticket I will be gone from Monday 29.6 to Wednesday 15.7, but in practice my stay is shorter. The reason is of course long flights.
The plan is to be about a week in each country, each with the capital and a temple town. Apart from the flights nothing is booked. It’s been a long time since my last on-my-own trip. New countries but a known region. To me. I’m now sitting in Bangkok’s airport waiting for my plane to Vientiane.
Tuesday 30.6, Bangkok – Vientiane
5-6 hours waiting time on a time of the day which in Norway qualifies as night-time, is not good. Especially on an airport. But Thai Airways brought me here all right. Getting the visa stamp (35 USD) in Vientiane airport went smoothly and I jumped into a taxi which brought me into town for 6 USD. I got off at the Nam Phu fountain in the centre. In Lonely Planet and Travelfish – the two guide books I brought along – it was stated that the town centre was full of guest houses and I ended up on the
- MALI NAMPHU. Rooms around a stylish backyard in colonial style. 24 USD with breakfast. My books stated <20, but the proprietor had probably read them. Nice and clean.
From door to door the journey had taken 21 hours. With only short naps on the plane and on the airport, I decided to lay down for a couple of hours.
And then into the heat. The temperature was hardly above 30 (Celsius), but the humidity is high (+67 %) so it gets sticky when you get out. By habit I’m not a slow walker, even though I tried this time.
I wandered fifty metres down to the fountain and a further 250 metres down to the Mekong. That river is life itself for all countries in South East Asia. It flows past Burma, Thailand, Laos (24 years ago I was in that crossroads) and on to Cambodia before it finally drains into the ocean in Vietnam.
The rainy season or not: the river was not running high. The river banks are not very developed, more of the picturesque sort. A grand new hotel at the far end, a couple of restaurants in the middle, tendencies of a park here and there.
Otherwise there was only a high embankment. On top of it there were lots of eating places, primarily frequented by locals. Plastic tables and chairs taken in and out every day. They are not legal, but extraordinarily popular. All kinds of grill, frying and boiling.
The town picture is dominated by small shops, mopeds, cars, eateries. Noise yes, but calm people even for a capital city. Not big either.
Late lunch at Joma’s – a western place with a/c (puh!), spinach-croissant and cappuccino. I cooled down even more in my room before I once more went out hunting for dinner. I ended up in a back street and good Laotian food: Sticky rice, chili garnished minced meat and Beerlao.
On my way back I bumped into what looks like the town’s only decent bar. Right on the corner of Nam Phu. Met a Norwegian who is here often. He works for a Norwegian construction firm. I discovered his language by the way he said “hallo” on the phone. It was his wife, he said to the local lady he was together with…
Wednesday 1.7.2009, Vientiane
Slept well and had a nice breakfast on the patio. Afterwards I rented a bicycle for 2 USD a day and pedalled away. Hot.
At first I went far away, to the national monument, a large stupa of 48 metres. Gold painted all over. Surrounded by lesser spires and a wall. Several places of sacrifice with incense sticks burning. I had a bottle of water right outside the premises and took a picture of a monk in his saffron coloured robe.
After that I returned past a triumphal arch at the end of a long avenue with the presidential palace on the other end. On the middle of the avenue is the Talat market, mainly roof covered. Textiles, electronics, (they all have mobile phones here) but not so much food. I walked most of the market and bought some local food on the street.
I cycled further on past and partially into a number of temple complexes. Golden, green and red. Kind of gaudy in a sense. Met a Frenchman I took the taxi from the airport with yesterday. He tipped me of a place to go, a village on an island in the Mekong just outside the town. Across a steel bridge of the narrow type.
I came to a place for mopeds and hardly for bicycles. Houses on stilts. Rather poor. Drank water at a small family’s place with a charming one-year old.
Cooled down in my room and then went for another bicycle ride. Not a large centre actually, but better cycling than walking.
I have up until now paid with dollars, but find the kip-currency more in use than what my guidebooks tell me. I exchanged some at a money exchanger’s. They misunderstood and thought I wanted dollars on my Mastercard. It all screwed up and I will probably lose money on the fees back home. However, I don’t think I was ripped off by intent, they seemed genuinely sorry for the mistake.
I dined on the river bank, but not much of a view. Dark.
On my way back I dropped by a jazz bar, although jazz wasn’t the best matching word for the music they were playing. Stylish bar. Tasted local liquor and mojito. The bartender was a nice guy. A young man from the south of the country. He turned out to be a farmer’s son who came to the big city to study sustainable development and help his country. He figures on earning 200 USD/month in an international NGO.
This trip to Laos and Cambodia is described in a series of articles.
- Laos (1) – Vientiane: This year’s vacation is in the form of an egotrip to the Far East, more precisely Laos and Cambodia. I was in this part of the world in 1985, but these two countries were at the time practically sealed off to foreigners. The backpackers are now pouring in, groups are following suit – and I want to see the countries before they turn into another Thailand.
- NEXT CHAPTER: (2) – Vang Vieng: What’s wrong? Entering a backpacker’s haven on my own, twenty years older then the rest and what more?
- (3) – Luang Prabang: Ahhh! This is more like me. A fascinating landscape and a beautiful city full of temples, high on the World Heritage List in my opinion.
- Cambodia (1) – Siem Reap & Angkor: This was going to a most extraordinary experience: The temple complex of Angkor.
- (2) – Phnom Penh: What a capital, what a past and (hopefully) what a future!
- (3) – Sihanoukville: Trying to get a tan in the rainy season. Here is the story of my last few days in Cambodia.
There is a YouTube playlist of Laos with my four videos.
I used these guidebooks (click to enlarge images). The first should be familiar to most readers. The second was a self-made compilation from various web sources with Travelfish as the main source.