Together with 3 good friends, I visited Laos for 10 days. Our entry point was Wattay International Airport, Vientiane and it was just 2.5 hours’ flight away from Kuala Lumpur. Immigration took slightly longer than expected as the officers took time to check the visa documents and passports. We were met by our driver sent from our hotel in Vientiane which costs us USD9 for the transfer. The distance from the airport to our hotel took merely 15 minutes.
Our family room for 4 guests costs us USD65 per night including breakfast. Unfortunately for us, the air conditioner in the room is not working very well and therefore the room was stuffy throughout our stay. The staff came to fix it but there was no improvement. We were not the only occupants in the room as hungry mosquitoes were flying around vigourously. Thank God we had lemon grass insect repellent and was not bitten by them but their presence were still irritating.
Vientiane is a small city and tourists are able to cover many places of attractions on foot. The receptionist gave us a photostated blurry map of Vientiane and we were shown several places to visit. Thus begun our self walking tour of Vientiane. As we were on the way out of our hotel, we noticed another hostel just right in front of it. We went in to enquire about the accommodation and the family room they shown to us were very clean and the air conditioner were spewing out cold air. It was cheaper too at USD40 per night including breakfast. We quickly gave a deposit to secure the room for two nights as it was during the Lao New Year, we want to ensure that we have a place to stay when we come back from Luang Prabang.
Our first mission was to change some USD into Laos kips. As we were heading towards the Mekong riverside, we stopped by a convenience shop to ask where we could exchange our money. As English is not widely spoken, the salesgirl pointed next door. Well.. next door was just a small grocery shop and two doors from it, there was a ATM machine. Anyhow, I went to ask a man who was sitting behind a desk in the shop and he answered, “Exchange here ok”. How on earth anyone would know that one could change money in this simple shop and the rates were not too bad.
As the Laos New Year falls from 14 to 16 April, we decided to go into a travel agency to check out the bus tickets. It was run by a husband and wife team. We booked our bus tickets from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. We were advised to buy our bus tickets from Luang Prabang to Vientiane (as we are flying home from here) due to the New Year season. This is what we paid for our bus tickets based on VIP bus :- Vientiane to Vang Vieng 50,000 kips, Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang 130,000 kips and from Luang Prabang to Vientiane 230,000 kips. Pick-up services from our hostels to the bus station are included but not from the bus stations to our hostels. Sounds a tad confusing ya. But booking through the agency was gonna bit us back when we found out how much we were overcharged!!!! Will elaborate on that later.
It was sweltering hot day and walking around Vientiane was melting us fast. Time for lunch and my friends went to the restaurant recommended by Ano, the tour agent (while I finalised the booking of the bus tickets at the agency).
The Laos food at this restaurant was authentic and very tasty. The tam mak-hung (spicy green papaya salad) had a right degree of spiciness, sweetness with a tinge of sourness. The sticky rice and the laap (spicy minced meat salad) was the perfect marriage of texture and taste. The Lao beer was a refreshing accompaniment to our meal as the sun continued to share its heat mercilessly. After our tummy had been filled and our energy restored, it was time for us to kick off our walking tour of Ventiane.
Our mission of looking for a currency exchange kiosk, booking our bus tickets and eating at the first recommended restaurant by our tour agent had landed us a place which we had no idea which part of Vientiane it is. There were several tour agencies and we entered into one and asked for directions. They equipped us with a beautiful map of Vientiane and showed us our current location on the map. With this map, our walking tour took on a different level. We knew exactly where to go and what to see as all the tourist attractions were marked on the map. We were actually on Rue Setthathirath, one of the main streets in Vientiane. Our hostel was located at the west end of the street and many attractions were located at the opposite end such as Nam Phou Fountains, Presidential Palace, Wat Sisaket, etc.
As were were walking towards the Presidential Palace, we passed by some street food stalls. One thing I must say about Vientiane is that its cleanliness surpassed my expectations as even the food stalls were clean and the food looked appetising. Streets were not littered and it was pleasant not to accidentally stepped on unidentified substances.
There were wats wherever we turned and all of them are stupendously decorated. There were no activities in the wat and we were not sure whether some of them were opened or not. We heard that there were be festivities and prayers ritual in all the wats during the new year. Since we will be back in Vientiane from 14 to 16 April, we will leave the best for last.
The scorching sun continues to shine mercilessly and we were feeling dehydrated. On our way Patuxai Victory Monument, we decided to nip into the only mall in Vientiane, Talat Sao Shopping Mall. Talat Sao is the only air-conditioned shopping mall in Laos. It combines two very different shopping experiences in a central location where old and new Vientiane come together in an interesting melting pot. One can buy clothings, bags, electronics, sports equipment and jewellery. Don’t expect to find the latest fashion here but if you are looking for some local trinkets, mass-produced silks, cheap T-shirts and souvenirs to bring home, the morning market which is not air-conditioned is the place.
There were a few cafes on the first floor of the mall and we just plonked down randomly on one of the many sets of beautiful wooden chairs. Our freezing cold coconut and lime drinks tasted so so good and we spent some time catching up on our social medias and games. We were indeed grateful for the free wifi.
As the day was getting late and had cooled down significantly, we left our air-conditioned refuge to see the last attraction of the day, Patuxay Victory Monument.
When I read the signboard of Patuxay, I was suprised that the description of this supposedly popular tourist attraction is so honestly unflattering. But the garden and the fountains made the whole area looks quite pleasant and a good place to chill and take some photographs.
We were told that we could climb up the monument to get a panoramic view but alas, we could not find any entrance to do so. They might have closed the entrance because we reached there after 5 pm. Well.. that called for a bit of goofing around and take some fun photographs.
From there, we decided to walk back to our hostel which took us about 30 minutes. Mid-way we were caught in a nasty dust storm. Thank God we brought some masks and that prevented the ferocious flyaway dust from getting into our noses and mouths.
This is the account of our first day in Vientiane whereby we managed to accomplish much. It’s onwards to Vang Vieng the next day. Read about our adventure in my Vang Vieng post.