March 29, 2015 – March 30, 2015
After a week spent relaxing in Luang Prabang, Laos, it was finally time to move on, and make our way further south. Our next destination would be the country’s capital, Vientiane, roughly halfway down the length of the country, along the Mekong River and Thai border. So we boarded a hot dusty bus for the long ride through the Lao countryside.
The distance from Luang Prabang, to the capital Vientiane is roughly 200km, but since many of the roads in Laos are quite primitive, even the main routes, it meant we were in for a long bus ride. Eleven hours to be exact, so we happily paid a couple dollars more for the VIP air conditioning bus. We found out later that words “air conditioning” are used very loosely. If there was an air conditioner it did not work well, the air blowing through the bus was just recirculating and not cooled, which meant as the day wore on and as the bus grew hotter we were just having hot air blasted at us. Making for a long bumpy hot and uncomfortable ride for most of the eleven hours it took to reach Vientiane. There was however a few places with great views of the valley farmland and long ridges of pointy mountains.
We arrived after dark, just outside of town, as is standard in Laos. Buses to any destination just can’t quite make it all the way, requiring paying for additional transportation to your actual destination. After hopping on a tuk-tuk for the final few kilometers into town we found the city to be the most modern city in Laos. Though it is quite scruffy, as is common with most border towns, it was not without its small charms. There is a night market along the Mekong River, selling crafts and souvenirs and at least a dozen blocks of trendy cafes and restaurants.
The next day we toured the town and stopped by some of the small cafes. The city is quite walkable as it actually has sidewalks, which are mostly clear of motorcycles using them as a motorcycle lane. We tried to find another UXO, unexploded ordnance, visitor center. But again no locals had ever heard of it, and we didn’t have a good enough map to find it. We were able to find the presidential palace and Patuxai monument, a giant concrete arch which is the Lao version of Paris’ Arc De Triomphe. And of course like most cities in Laos, there were plenty of temples to tour, with a new temple around every corner.
Patuxai Victory Monument
This huge gray concrete arch, built at one end of a long boulevard between it and the presidential palace, stands out across the city and is quite easy to spot. It was built with concrete donated by the United States to build an airport runway. Though the resulting building looks nothing like a runway, it is still sometimes called Laos’ vertical runway. From a distance it is quite beautiful as you approach it gets more and more apparent that it was never quite finished and on closer inspection is actually quite ugly. The locals call it an ugly monster.
For a small fee you can climb to the top for a good view of the city. Other than admiring it from afar, going to the top is probably the only reason to visit it.
On our last night we ventured out to a night food market, not to be confused with the night crafts market along the Mekong. Hoping for some great Lao street food we were sorely disappointed. For a market which received such good reviews we were unimpressed. It was a meat only market, which stretched along one side of a single block. Either we arrived on a very off night, or it is just one of the most disappointing night markets we have ever visited.
Vientiane made for a good place to break up our long bus journey south, and if you are passing through it is a decent place, but it is not a destination worth staying in for long. It is a crowded growing city, with some decent restaurants and cafes along with a handful of sights, but there are much better places to spend your time in Laos, such as Luang Prabang.