Laos – Vientiane

41 vientiane street

I didn’t really know what to expect in Vientiane. Some people say its an uninteresting city compared to the small Asian villages, others say its a nicely paced city compared to places like Bangkok or Saigon. I’d say the truth lies right in between – it certainly doesn’t have the crazy traffic and the aggressive hawkers but it also doesn’t really have much vibe to it either. My centrally-located hotel was clean and comfortable although a bit on the pricey side I thought for Asia ($50), and the next morning I walked to the central plaza. Up until now I haven’t really mentioned the heat – its not unbearable but neither does it go unnoticed. Its in the high-30’s with stifling humidity, much like a summer heat wave in DC. For me its doable if I drink about 3 liters of water each day – for others its a bit debilitating by the end of each day.

39 buddhas

One unique thing about traveling to strange places is the rollercoaster of euphoria and disappointment, excitement and trepidation that you go through. I was excited to be in Lao but as my bank cards failed at ATM after ATM, I started to be concerned about my funding. Its really a terrible feeling to run out of money, or to just have it inaccessible. As I sat in front of a corner store downing a cold 1.5L of water I drew up a revised budget, allowing $10 a day for food, $10 a day for activities, and $30 a day for lodging. It was a frugal but realistic budget that would stretch my $200 cash to my pre-paid flights back toward home.

Feeling only slightly better about my predicament, I walked off toward the Lao National History museum to see exhibits about “vicious French colonialism” and “murderous American imperialism” (remember, Lao became a communist country in 1975 and remains so). One block further I found an ATM that accepted my bank card, and given that $1 = 8000kip, I became an instant Lao millionaire. With pockets stuffed and spirits much higher, I kept walking toward the museum. One block later a mirage appeared in the sweltering heat – a Swenson’s ice cream shop. That’s right, a Swenson’s ice cream shop just like the one we had back home when I was a kid. I got myself the biggest, coldest, and best goddamn milkshake I have ever had in my life. And the rollercoaster continues on.

P1000228

The royal palace... of a communist country

The royal palace… of a communist country

53 street

After kicking around the museum for a while inspecting tons of confiscated M-16’s and Colt 45’s, I hopped on my next flight to Luang Prabang, or just Prabang as its known in Lao. The airport was small and as I walked across the hot tarmac to the awaiting prop plane I could almost imagine American pilots 40 years ago prepping their Air America flights to supply the ‘Secret War’ just across the border from Vietnam. There was no anti-aircraft fire for us though, just a smooth flight over intense jungle before touching down in Prabang.

42 air lao

42 arial

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