The Horizontal Capital

Vientiane Travel Blog

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Shot from the top of the concrete thingo whose name escapes me. I like this one y'know.

There's something strangely provincial about Vientiane. Strolling the tranquil city centre streets, even during the rush hour, is far from the "smoking 40 fags simultaneously" experience you are treated to in the other capitals of South East Asia. Vientiane rolls along at a relaxed, genial pace that typifies the Lao attitude to life. Having said that, there's not a whole lot to do here but wander around the main sites, temples and what have you, hire a bike, oh and enjoy the food and Beer Lao (obviously).   

I took on the walking tour included in the Laos Lonely Planet: (one of the best guide books I've used incidentally - you could do a lot worse*) Down near the river, stodgy walls of sandbags were still piled high as a reminder of the flooding that had swept through the city a week before my arrival.

The front step of the Presidential palace complete with random bloke having a kip on the top steps. Sheer Laos - I love it.
 Close by, the Presidential Palace is a mini white house affair; when I passed by the gates were closed and there was a bloke lying asleep on the steps leading to the front doors. Dunno if it was the president but it says it all about Laos really.

Unfortunately, being a habitual late riser (i.e. a lazy bugger) I pitched up too late to get into Pha That Luang, the most important temple in the city. From a distance the place looks rather like a massive golden missile array. However, when you get a litle closer and notice the peeling paintwork and kids playing football around its walls - it's a whole lot less fearsome-looking and rather more Lao-looking.     

That evening I had a very English experience.

The golden missile array with kids chasing a football around in foreground.
I took a bar stool to watch my first football of the new season (Liverpool v Sunderland) in an English-themed pub run by a pleasant, mustachioed bloke from Portsmouth and his young Indonesian wife. I fancied a bit of English fare and tried the chicken and chips with home-made gravy. It wasn't all that but I said it was delicious anyway, just to be polite - it's the English (and Lao) way after all.

At half time I chatted to two English girls, students at the Uni of Edinborough, also attracted by the football.  The three of us agreed that Vientiane is worth a day or two, but don't come here expecting to be wowed - it aint that kind of place. Relax into it though, and it has a different set of rewards as, for its size, the most laid back horizontal capital I've visited.

"Just Say No" indeed. Good to see that the Grange Hill Kids' 80s message is alive and well in noughties Laos.


* Just a word in your shell-like on the Lonely Planet issue: I've met quite a few people who are pretty snobbish about the LP and its competitors. They lift their noses firmly into the air if someone dares to mention that a place has been recommended in a guide book. There's a simple explanation for this: travel snobbery. It's people saying: "My experience is so much better for being guide book free - I'm a real traveller whereas you're simply a slave to an out-of-date book. By the way did I tell you about the time I took part in a guide book burning ceremony with Kazakhstani goat herders? No? Really? Well we used a mixture of dried yak dung and tropical strength mosquito repellant as kindling.

Anyone know a decent Orthodontist?

Like most things in life, the guide book debate is a shades of grey exercise. If you don't want to use a guide book, then don't - get your info from locals, other travellers and the net. Just please, please do so without letting me know how much better a traveller it makes you. Obviously I'm not recommending that anyone treat their guide book as a bible. The key word here is Guide not Gospel: like any human tour guide, you can choose to follow a guide's piece of info or not.

Let's just say, as a lone traveller, I've been thankful to my guide books more than once for maps and info that have saved me money and helped me to avoid pitfalls. That doesn't mean I don't use my initiative or judgement as well. Hem... rant over. 

Saladin79 says:
Me - rant? Surely not...
Posted on: Oct 06, 2008
cmgervais says:
I totally agree re: your guidebook rant. Guidebooks make for an informed (not inferior) traveler.
Posted on: Oct 05, 2008
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Shot from the top of the concrete …
Shot from the top of the concrete…
The front step of the Presidential…
The front step of the Presidentia…
The golden missile array with kids…
The golden missile array with kid…
Just Say No indeed. Good to see …
"Just Say No" indeed. Good to see…
Anyone know a decent Orthodontist?
Anyone know a decent Orthodontist?
Also shot from the top of the conc…
Also shot from the top of the con…
George - Buddhas pet turtle.
George - Buddha's pet turtle.
photo by: skydiver