You can't really have enough of the place. You can't. Unless you try it for a year or two, that's a maybe. The thought of staying is a sweet thing. People don't live this simply anymore (I know, I know, I already stressed that in my other blog).
Life's simple surprises still happen in Vientiane. Such as ... eating khao niaw (sticky rice) straight from a bamboo basket. Or joining that heart-warming baci ceremony to welcome and thank guests for visiting. Or being welcomed by children and community people lined up with bunch of flowers. The last time I did this in a remote village, I got misty-eyed. I felt like Michelle Obama (presuming I guessed it right how she feels in a red-carpet walk). When I opened the floral wrap, a child has written what her dream is - to go to school. If I wasn't thinking of making a you scene, I would have cried a river. Very sweet, without really trying. I hope I am not drifting.
Can you remember a pizzeria entrance looking this great? I've been dying to get this picture for a long time. I did finally, while we were on our way to Qua Din Market for our week's food supply. To top it, right across the road, one of the yummiest paos (asado or bola-bola?) are being cooked and sold right in the street.
Barely 10 minutes away is the Swedish Pizza. It's a runaway favorite. Next to that heavenly curry-flavored thin-crust pizza I ate in Chennai, India - this one could convince you to eat pizza forever. Having friends who knows where the right places for food is, sometimes (careful...being lynched by friends is not a good thing), not an advantage to your healthy diet. Resisting the urge is a sweet torture. Then, you give in. I guess, that's why food was invented. You learn the art of failed resistance.
Floral offerings make Vientiane's streets really eye-popping. Watch out during Pimai (Lao New Year) and there's a rowdy display of colors, sizes and shapes. Imagine them side-by-side with the walking monks in their orange robes, just perfect for a Nikon stop.
The Lao's take their creativity and ingenuity seriously even on the smallest of details. These boat-shaped Buddhist offerings come in amazing colors and designs along with the candles. They dot the homes and shops during celebrations and boat-racing festivities.
Forgetting where we were and that the acronym in Lao PDR could stand for "please don't rush", we went very early to witness the boat-racing festival along the Mekong. We've been waiting for it for months! Well, at 6:30am, the streets are deserted. Except for few rowing boats that were being spruced up, nothing seems to be moving. So, we got worried the race was over. We assumed foolishly that it will be done very early. We found out in stinted hand language that they do it in the afternoon. Ahhh...we're way too early. We ambled around shops and busied ourselves watching crowds at the temples. Then, we got back terribly late - in time for the race to call it a day and the boats were rowing away. We ended watching the sun set. At least it was breath-taking...an unexpected solace.
Then, there's this shopping street along the Mekong. Shops and street cafes compete for your attention. But the night market would always be the winner. It is fun to bargain with the shop ladies. They're too nice to get upset when you crumple all the merchandise - and ready to laugh away the language barrier.
Here goes your limousine. The tuktuk is a runaway (literally) choice when doing an authentic tour around Vientiane. Taxis are few and far between...and pricey, if I may add. Just be ready to zoom in and out of traffic. It is safer to shut your mouth and have fun. Scared stiff? Hold on to your seat! "Baw pen yang"!
How can stop yourself from keep coming back? Kob Chai Deu Restaurant's ambiance is as unforgettable as its food. A plateful of spring rolls is a must, make it two if you want. A watering hole of many falangs (foreigners), its lunchtime eat-all-you can will keep you wanting for more.
Then, there's Swensen. Well, we know of a dirty ice cream shop down the road that tastes even more exciting. But if you're thinking of a slow day chatting with a friend over a delightful cup strawberry ice cream, then this is your place. It's nice to people-watch as Lao Plaza, one of the biggest hotels in town, is just around the corner. Don't miss Rashmi's bread at the corner. I am not a regular but get to go when I am bullied by my kids to empty my wallet.
Gosh, "phet" (spicy and hot)! There's no other way to eat the Lao papaya salad but hot. Minced tomatoes, fish sauce, shredded papaya, condiments and a load of chili. I hate spicy food but when it comes to this and tom yum soup, I endure and persevere. Some things you accept you cannot change without ruining what they were on earth for. It's worth the sweat and tears. Sugar and cold water, please!
Rice cakes being dried on the streets of Vientiane. Delectable, I should say. Don't let it cross your mind that flying dusts from passing vehicles could add more to flavor and taste. The last time I checked the local papers, nobody got to the hospital eating rice cakes. I am still contemplating but one of these days, I will.
Right on the left of Vientiane's Cultural Hall, so grandiose you can't miss this building, is a small unassuming food shop selling grilled fish and other local food. It doesn't even have a name. But one curiouser would not fail to notice that it is crowded at lunch time. From bank employees to sales girls to tourists. The shop's secret is no secret at all. They whip up the best iced-coffee in town! Hold your breath...one order is a pitcher-full of native coffee and condensed milk with lots of crushed ice. Don't ever try it if caffeine keeps you away at night. This one could keep you awake for a week - your boss will be happy you worked 24-hours without stopping. I am exaggerating, of course. I just don't know how to describe that the experience is mind-blowing. Regardless of the repercussions, this is a not-to-be-missed treat. But don't tell me I never warned you.
Lest you accuse me of trying to play chef, I am veering away from all that diet-wrenching stuff. I think I gained 10 pounds just writing about them. The splendid Mekong River overlooking Thailand on the other side at dusk. Now that view decks have been built, the park is drawing a long line of gawkers. Just don't wonder how those exercisers ended up as children swings, I have no answer. But if they make the children feel good, why not let them?
These are sight for sore eyes. The magnificent Prime Minister's Office, in its white splendor - and the Friendship Gong of Nations in Pathuxay Park - will always get you to take a step back.
There's more to Vientiane than meet's the eye. I'd say a bursting package in one small box. There's even more to keep those bulges stretching forever.