Wednesday, January 29, 2014

WALKING THE STREETS OF VIENTIANE - LAOS - DAY 1

Reading some travel guides on Vientiane before I headed out, I read that most books say 2 days is enough for visiting Vientiane, unless you go trekking in the country. So, i booked 4 days. Simply because I try to see everything that's there, except for places which are totally overrun by tourists. No danger here in Vientiane though.
For my first day, or rather half day, after flying in and checking into a hotel in the old part of town, I just wanted to get acquainted with the town, scanning shops and restaurants  around my hotel and getting the usual necessities like water and SIM card.  

But after that I wandered off to the Mekong, which I did imagine a bit more exciting. But then this is Laos and Vientiane, where few tourists go. And this is not Singapore, where business owners would have a theme park, entertainment and riverside restaurants etc. built along the river. It is very much a quiet town which is very walkable. So is the walk along the river on Fa Ngum Road. 

There are a few bars with drinking and screaming locals and tourists located along the river but that is really it during daytime. I went West first and passed through a small park with Fa Ngum Statue on my way back along a parallel road to the River. Even though it was exceptionally cool in December, there were still no people around in the parks. Initially I was prepared for people to say it is too hot!
Going back to the river on the east side of the old town, there were a few more sights to see and explore, all around Anouvong Park. Life is still very slow here. I have seen groups of novice monks walking down the street along the river and turning around at once just to walk back up the street. 

Occasionally Vietnamese girls on bicycles will ask locals and tourists for manicure jobs but during the daytime there is no hassle to buy things. The statue of Anouvong, the Presidential Palace and a small Chinese Temple are really all the attractions here but this is a good place to wait for the sunset, i thought. 

And the sun sets really spectacularly as an orange-reddish ball across the river above the treeline in Thailand. There were more people out now and more mosquitoes and I was glad that I had a bottle of mosquito lotion in my backpack! 

With the sunset finished Fa Ngum Road was closed for traffic and local joggers were doing their evening routine while all along the park, people started setting up their tents for the nigh market. During the week the night market was nice and relaxing to see, while on the other evenings and specially on Saturday evening I was more or less pushed through the market by Lao teenagers. There are no real bargains to be found here, nor were there any unique items sold. A few shops with Buddha images (all new, made look old!) and a few shops with paintings (some people actually painted) but mostly T-shirts, clothes and electronics were sold. 

The all so quiet riverfront became an open air disco club on Saturday evening with two huge groups of aerobic fans doing their exercises to the sound of funky tunes from huge loudspeakers. I was wondering how the monks of the nearby Chan temple would be able to concentrate on their evening chanting, since the temple is right next to it. 

The bars and restaurants along the riverfront and in the side streets were relatively full with tourists at that time. Some places were completely empty with some places totally full. My favourite place became (sadly) Via Via Pizza, which did have the best Pizza in town and around, good prices and friendly service and since this was my third visit in Laos, I did (for good reasons) fully intend not to eat Lao food on this trip!
While there were plenty of tuk-tuk drivers who offered their services in a polite and non-pushy way, I decided not to use their services this time. Vientiane is a totally walkable town, though one has to be rather good on foot, even on my first afternoon and evening, I did quite a few kilometers on foot here.

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