To date I’m still not sure exactly why we decided to go to Vientiane, I mean we read that it wasn’t suppose to be the most exciting city, but we still went.
We generally like to visit places that aren’t necessarily top touristic destinations – I guess we were hoping to find there some off-the-beaten-path sites – but it didn’t work out like we expected to.
Coming from Luang Prabang, we had already experienced the laid back and relaxed Laos culture and lifestyle which we didn’t mind at all, but being the Laos capital, we thought Vientiane would have had a slightly different approach to the everyday life – we were so wrong!
A Different Capital City
Vientiane is very different to any of the other capital cities I’ve been to, it isn’t chaotic and frantic at all which didn’t bother me, it simply surprised me.
Within half a day we’d covered everything there was to see from a tourist perspective and everything else left over after that. We simply walked a lot as we normally do, without following a map or directions.
We saw Patouxay – the Victory Gate – also known as the Lao version of the French Arc de Triomphe, not my kind of thing to be honest. It looks very majestic from afar, but it still didn’t win my admiration. The only thing interested me about it was that the concrete used to built it was donated by the US to built a new airport, the Lao people at that time obviously thought that building this monument was the priority, pride always wins!
Next we come across the famous and very golden Pha That Luang that again is a very impressive structure but not so catching for my eyes. It might have been that by that time we were a bit templed-out coming from Thailand that it didn’t have the wow factor that it was supposed to.
As first impression, Vientiane looked to us like a very poor city which is completely understandable considering Laos is the most bombed country in history. Most of the buildings aren’t in a good shape, they are in need of renovating works and the local people didn’t look like they were living in luxury, but it’s not that which we didn’t like. We saw some VERY expensive cars parked or driving around the streets and we thought it was a big contradiction compared to the rest of the surrounding. It seemed to us that those few that had plenty of money to afford to buy such cars were also very eager to show them off to everybody else. The disparity between the wealthy and the common people is quite big and sad, like everywhere else in the world I guess?
For the first time after spending a bit of time in Southeast Asia, nobody was constantly offering us tuk-tuk rides (probably because there wasn’t really a place to go?) or trying to sell us food or any other goods, which was quite pleasant and a nice break in all honesty.
A walk along the riverside, that’s supposed to be the nicest part of the city, convinced us even more that we couldn’t force ourselves to love Vientiane. It’s fair to say that we were pretty unlucky to be there when the Mekong was very low (I’d say completely dry) therefore it wasn’t a very pretty sight, but it simply added on to our disappointment.
It was funny and entirely charming as we watched the local people at dusk doing some fitness exercises in open public spaces altogether as well as seeing the other locals trying to earn some money by giving a pedicure to tourists just on a park bench.
Despite being a port for tourists, we enjoyed the night market along the riverside. It was the most ‘lively’ thing in the city so we went every night to buy some sweet treats until our stomachs could take no more. The morning market was good too because it was a local one, there were not souvenirs to buy like at the night one, so we enjoyed buying fresh fruit and veg or the amazing French style baguettes, they were the best!
One day, while walking in a random street, we accidentally found this abandoned building which we loved, Dale especially. We think it might have been a cinema or a theater in its better days, it was very sad seeing it rotting and in ruin, but at the same time it was part of its beauty and character. Call us weirdos, but I think that (together with the fresh daily made baguette) was our highlight of our Vientiane’s findings.
I think Vientiane will change soon (I’m not sure how fast) but the tourist businesses will probably soon understand they will have to develop in some ways, which is a shame! I know I might sound contradictory here, but despite Vientiane not stealing our hearts, I wouldn’t like to see it transformed in another tourist trap.
Unfortunately it didn’t offer us that something extra good enough to make us fall in love with it. Vientiane lacked of everything we usually love to see: different and interesting architecture, no matter if it’s new or old one (with the exception of that old building mentioned above) contemporary art and even the food disappointed us apart from the bread of course.
I don’t want to discourage anyone to go there, I think it’s an experience for everyone and a taste of how the Laos culture is starting to change, trying to catch up with its neighbor countries. Please remember that those are very personal views and impressions, and I’d love to hear your owns.