There’s not much to see in Vientiane from a tourist perspective. It’s Laos’s largest city, but it’s still very small with more of a village feeling. It doesn’t take long to walk around the main part of the city and see attractions like Wat Si Saket, Haw Phra Kaew, and Patuxai.
Wat Si Saket is an example of what happens to beautiful temples when there is not enough funding to maintain them. The interior used to be covered in murals but they’re sadly fading away. There were two things that struck me about Wat Si Saket and Haw Phra Kaew. First, the wood construction. After so many grand stone buildings it was almost jarring to see temples made out of dark wood. They mixed with stone in some places for support but the roofs were still largely wood. Second, the mini Buddha statues. Inside and on a periphery wall were alcoves filled with small Buddhas, looking like a 3-D wallpaper supporting the larger Buddha statues in front. It gave a unique texture to the spaces.
Patuaxi is Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe minus the elegance. It’s a hulking stone structure in the center of a traffic circle. Once you safely cross the winding traffic (not so bad compared to the rest of SE Asia but an adventure nonetheless) you have the option of hiding in the shade on a bench underneath, which is what we did and not as pleasant as we’d hoped, or climbing up to the top to look over the low-rise city and the circle of cars, motorbikes and tuktuks whizzing around. We didn’t climb, it was damn hot and didn’t sound worth the money, but if you’re strapped for things to do go for it.
We were searching for something else to do and found it: the bowling alley. I’d heard of bowling alleys in Laos but for their late night activity not mid-afternoon bowling. Laos has a curfew on bars, sometime around 11:30 pm, so when they close down people flock to the bowling alley where the night rages on; at least that’s the story in Luang Prabang. I would assume it’s the same in Vientiane because they were clearly shocked to see us walk in around 3 pm to bowl a game. But it was hot out, we were looking for a fun activity, and who doesn’t love a little beer and bowling on a Wednesday afternoon?
We finished our day by playing cards by the Mekong and enjoying a delicious Lao dinner at Lao Kitchen. I love the spiciness of the Lao papaya salad. We had no qualms about deciding to leave the next morning. Vientiane may be the biggest city in Laos but it was by far my least favorite place. However my opinion of Laos would improve greatly from here.
So who’s the “we” now? The most exciting part of Vientiane was meeting up with my Laos travel buddy Simo. Months ago I’d gotten an email from my cousin connecting me to Simo, her husband’s cousin who has also left the States for an extended trip around Southeast Asia. After lots of back and forth we finally overlapped for 9 days in Laos. I was so stoked to finally meet the guy I’d gotten all the witty emails from and he did not disappoint. His adventurous spirit and inquisitive conversation was a constant pleasure during our time together and he was a huge part of my positive experience in Laos. So for the next few posts get used to his name, we had some great times. See you in San Francisco whenever we both return Simo! (Also check out his blog, he’s a talented writer: https://medium.com/re-orient)