Vientiane is a capital city that doesn’t know it’s supposed to be anything special. I’ve read places that Vientiane is the Paris of the East. I don’t know who the hell penned that one because I have been to Paris, and I liked it. Well, it’s not that I didn’t like Vientiane it’s just that it’s a little devoid of thrill. Frommers describes it as the sleepiest capital city in the world. I would duly describe the people of Laos as the sleepiest in the world. The funny thing to me, is that should you walk down the large promenade of the Hat Don Chan banks, you will see a large set of billboards advertising the city’s grand aspirations. The boards paint a large and glittery metropolis with international brands and tall skyscrapers. It is so ambitious it is comical, warranting a ‘Yah, okay Laos.” So apparently someone in the city thinks Vientiane needs to be a bigger deal.
But presently, traffic chokes the large leafy boulevards that characterize the city. There’s a ton of French architecture, even a large traffic circle with a Victory Monument that channels that of Paris’ Arc de Triumph. However, if you read the plaque on the arch it describes it as a rather ugly, unfinished imitation of the iconic French structure. It is also decidedly Asian because there are tacky gift shops on every level as you ascend it. There is a very large boulevard between the President’s Palace and the Victory Arch that appears to mimic Champs Elysees, so I guess this is where the Paris reference originates. We ascended the arch for a good view of the city before moving on to Pha That Luang. So you could say that we saw the two postcard images of the city in half a day.
The other major tourist attraction in the outer reaches of Vientiane is the Buddha Park. I would suggest not hiring a tuk-tuk for the 25 km ride, for a multitude of reasons. They include but are not limited to: it will be way overpriced, the road is dusty, the road turns to dirt about 21km out, tuk-tuks in Vientiane have zero horse power and the local bus runs frequently enough. After visiting the supremely disappointing Morning Market (which is more of a mall and outdoor shopping area that operates all day) we ill advisedly commissioned a tuk-tuk. We were five white humans put-putting along at a snail’s pace. Apparently too much for the vehicle to handle, it crapped out on us (luckily) at about kilometer 22. Unwilling to wait in the mud (it had began to rain and the road was dirt) while the driver fooled around with the chain, we began to walk. To our fortune, we spied the local bus and flagged it down. The group consensus quickly decided that we would not be taking that tuk-tuk home.
We toured the weird, wacky, wonderful attraction that is Buddha Park. When we were done we saw that the tuk-tuk driver had repaired the chain and was waving at us in the parking lot. Great. We had agreed on 200,000 kip for the round trip journey and needed to break it to him, that we were not wasting another minute of our lives in his slow ass tuk-tuk. Angela being the very forward and aggressive negotiator of the group brokered the situation, gave him 80,000 and then very conveniently the public bus arrived and we made our escape. Yes! Another case for taking the bus is that it costs 6,000/person. AND there was a very drunk (or senile) old Lao lady on the bus that even made the bus driver wary, so you know she was legit off the rails.
Other notable things in Vientiane include finding BAGELS and CREAM CHEESE at Joma Bakery Cafe (the first I had had since leaving Canada) and sushi (again, another first).
That’s pretty much Vientiane folks. Not more than two days were needed for us!