Arrival in Vientiane
From Vang Vieng I took a minibus which brought me downtown Vientiane in two hours. The road was bumpy but not as bad as I recalled the one from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (maybe I got used to it?).
The anti-social hostel
This time I had booked a hostel in advance (though the hostel bookers app). I stayed at the Vientiane Backpackers Hostel which was located downtown Vientiane (and a short walk from where the bus stopped). I was disappointed to find out that everybody in the common room and in the room was sitting in front of their laptop, tablet or phone and not socializing. I think that it’s very important to keep in touch with friends and family back home, but a minimum of social contact should be a must when staying in a hostel. This was the first occasion where I actually wished I hadn’t moved on to the next city and stayed in Vang Vieng a bit longer with the group of people I had met in Chiang Mai. This made me think about how it’s important to live the day and enjoy every moment when traveling! The hostel itself was quite disappointing since the people didn’t seem to be really into socializing (maybe just bad luck?) and neither did the staff. I didn’t have any key so anybody could have just walked into the hostel and the room. There was some place for a backpack under the bed (basic wooden doors you could lock), it didn’t seem very safe though. I stayed on the second floor and the bathrooms (only one was working) were at the ground floor. For dinner I went to a Japanese restaurant.
Fortunately a nice breakfast was included and gave travelers a chance to socialize among each other (again, most people were sitting at their laptops). Luckily this time I met some nice people from Holland and we planned on exploring the city by bicycle. I booked a bus to Bangkok since I didn’t want to spend much more time in Vientiane (it doesn’t really have many things to do compared to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang). We walked down the street where the hostel was and rented bicycles for 10’000 LAK for the whole day.
We visited the Wat Sisaket (temple), a really old temple which hasn’t been renewed. Then we headed towards the Talat Sao Shopping Mall, a huge mall with little shops which sold everything from gold to souvenirs and fakes. The mall reminded me very much of the Silk Market in Beijing. Unfortunately the prices were pretty high (for Lao standards) and I couldn’t find the same things I had wanted to buy in Luang Prabang. The most interesting part was the cantine of the mall. We were the only foreigners there, which is mostly a good sign when looking for local food. There were many small stands with different lao and asian food. The food was delicious and very cheap (4 dumplings were 5000 LAK).
A delicious fruit shake (coconut, papaya & banana) in one hand and the steering wheel of the bicycle in the other we passed the Presidential Palace and went on to the Patuxai (also known as the „arc de triomphe“ of Vientiane). The view from the Patuxai is stunning and gives you a nice overview of the city.We went on to the COPE Visitor Center where you can have an interesting introduction into the UXO (unexploded objects) problem in Laos as well as the engagement of the center itself, which offers services to people with disability caused by UXOs. The center offers a free bicycle rental. After a delicious home-made ice cream at the COPE we continued towards a huge local market which was nearby. At the market there were many cheap things. Again we found ourselves to be the only foreigners there. Be prepared for extreme odors (especially in the area of meat/ fish) and fantastic colors! The market was outdoor, but some rags formed a very low (and dirty) ceiling. Many vendors seemed to live on the market, sleeping between mangoes and bananas by their stands. The market was my personal highlight since it showed the daily life of many locals. There was even a hairdresser near a fish stand where an old woman was chopping off fish heads with a machete. At some point the smell of fresh meet got to intense and we jumped back on our bikes and headed towards the National Museum, a very old building and museum where we took a quick tour. Afterwards we drove along the Mekong and passed a little market and the Chao Anourong Statue. The last stop was JoMa Coffee after giving back our bicycles to spend the last LAKs I had left before taking the 14h-sleeping-bus to Bangkok at 5pm.
I really enjoyed the architecture of buildings in Vientiane since it seemed very different than what I had seen in the rest of the country. Also exploring the city by bicycle was something very different than what I had done up to now. I would recommend to stop in Vientiane if it’s your way, but half a day-a day should be enough to see most things.
Hostel: 40’000 LAK/ night
Food: 10’000 LAK (mall) – 80’000 LAK (fancy Japanese restaurant) (coffee is about 10’000-15’000 LAK)
Attractions: 20’000 LAK (museum & temple)
Bicycle rental: 10’000 LAK/ day