We managed to arrive in Vientiane around 8am. In the last period we kept hearing comments from people complaining about the harassment of the tuk-tuk drivers. Not only that, we were told we would be scammed at the bus station and in town. Let’s make it clear now: for us, Vientiane was the most chill and easy experience so far! Berit, Silviu and I negotiated a tuk-tuk, with a very nice driver, that dropped us in the city center. We looked and found a hostel pretty fast. Once this part was done, and a refreshing shower later, the exploration started!
Vientiane was once Perine’s homeland. Indeed in 2012-2013 I spent a year living in that quiet capital while working for the French Red Cross. It was my first time coming back since then and I was excited to show it to Silviu and our new friend Berit! Our first stop: breakfast at Kung’s Cafe! Located at the end of a small alley in front of the Ministry of Health this place is a little gem and had luckily not changed! We ordered (way) too much food (as always) but it was soooo good (and cheap!). They loved it so much that they claimed to come back again the next day! In particular we all fell for the coconut blended coffee: incredibly delicious!
On the way we were able to pass by my former office. Unfortunately the French Red Cross had permanently closed its office just 10 days before… But I managed to contact some of my former colleagues that we would meet later in the evening.
After Kung’s Cafe we decided to go for a digestive walk of… 5 minutes 🙂 Our next stop was COPE, Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise. It developed a few years ago a very interesting and well presented Visitor’s Center full of explanations about the heavy problem of UXOs (unexploded objects) in Laos. Indeed, as the media and politics were focusing on the Vietnam War, Cambodia and Laos were the silent victims of the so-called “secret war“. In the case of Laos, the border with Vietnam was heavily bombed as some Viet-cong were passing through the territory of Laos. In addition to that, the US bombardiers had the order to release the bombs they didn’t drop in Vietnam over Laos as to come back “lighter”. It’s a real tragedy as the US didn’t recognize it until only a few years ago: only NGOs are intervening in the area to clear the space but there is so much to clear and so little means available! Consequently, every year new innocent victims die due to these bombs while farming, playing or even collecting themselves those bombs to clear an area. COPE helps victims which lost limbs from UXO, as well as from other reasons, by providing prosthetics and reeducation. They even have mobile clinics. Many villages are unaware of their existence and would not dare spent so much money on a trip to the capital, therefore the mobile clinics are very helpful. If you go to Vientiane, do not miss a visit (and a donation) to COPE.
We later had a walk around the city center passing by the new modern mall (Vientiane Center), the morning market (Talat Sao), the That Dam, Nam Phou Fountain, etc… It was Sunday, so the city was even quieter than usual with many shops closed. We saw on the way two electricians working on a big electrical hub in the city with ZERO protection. No security harness, no helmet and no safety shoes… We also noticed that the neighborhood was out of power! At least that! So in the “dark” we sat in a coffee shop (JOMA) and worked there waiting for the electricity to come back so that we could order a much-needed coffee.
In the evening we met two of my former colleagues, the two wonderful ladies I shared my office with for one year! We partied lao-style, which means with a LOT of beer and ended up inviting 2 other tourists to join us. After my colleagues’ departed we followed them to another bar where Berit and Silviu started a karaoke session, followed by some other customers. It really was a lot of fun! But as they say, what happens in Vientiane stays in Vientiane so no picture on this blog! 😉
The old us suffered the next morning but we still managed to make our way to the Talat Sao bus station looking for the bus 14 with direction: Buddha Park! This crazy little park located out of town is filled with more than 200 concrete statues of Buddha and other religious figures (Bouddhist and Hinduist) build in the 50’s by the artist monk Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. It really is a funny place and I happily discovered that not only they rebuilt the once-very-bumpy access road, they also planted a lot of beautiful flowers in the park!
As I said before, on the way back Silviu and Berit claimed to go back to Kung’s so we headed back there for another wonderful lunch!
We later wandered a bit more through town, passing by a shop I really love and recommend: Saoban. They offer a large and beautiful range of fair trade articles from Laos and because one of my friend was working for them I can re-affirm their full commitment. It was really hard for me not to buy everything but unfortunately having another 2,5 months of traveling around prevented us from buying too much… sadness.
In the evening Silviu and Berit needed to work some more, so I left them in a coffee shop and went exploring the night market and all the changes offered by the Mekong river, including new solid structure for the market, a fountain with light and music, a food court and… animated dinosaurs!! I also noticed that the fitness session by the Mekong really took off as they were 3 different groups exercising!
We later met another of my friend, who happened to be on holidays in Laos. We had a very nice dinner together even though the 3 of us were getting really tired at that point… ah beer and age seem incompatible to us!
The next morning we took a bus to Vang Vieng. We notice that our bus driver must be a DJ in his “other life”!