The Horizontal Capital
Vientiane Travel Blog› entry 78 of 115 › view all entries
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.
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.
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 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"My experience is so much better for being guide book free - I'm a real traveller whereas you're simply a slave to an out-of-date book.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.
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.