Pha That Luang
It's hard to believe that a capital city can be so quiet. I'd expect High Wycombe on Christmas Day to be busier than this. Mind you, it has only got a population of around 500,000. It was actually a very welcome change from the pandemonium that is Hanoi, especially after the long bus journey.
The five of us that had checked into a dormitory together in a guesthouse overlooking the Mekong River got some food and sampled a few bottles of the infamous Beerlao. There isn't that much in the way of night life, but what was around definitely had a Western feel to it, with a mixture of backpackers, expats and what I would guess were 'sex tourists' frequenting the bars.
The following morning the guys that I had met set off for Vang Vieng, the backpacker haven a few hours further north.
I wanted to check out Vientiane for myself, even if I had been warned there isn't much to see. I was glad I did; I managed to easily fill a day sight-seeing. After some healthy bartering with a tuk-tuk driver over a fare, I was taken a few kilometres out of the city to the most famous temple in Laos, the magnificent golden Pha That Luang. On the way back, I asked my tuk-tuk driver to drop me off at Patuxai, a concrete building that resembles the Parisian Arc de Triomphes. Up top you get a good view of the city (even though there isn't much to see), but I was surprised that, even in a city monument, the insides had been converted into a shop catering for tourists.
I took a slight detour to the largest market in Vientiane, Talat Sao, where I sampled a local dish, laap sin (beef) and sticky rice.
It wasn't great, to be honest, which isn't really a surprise when you see the state of the cows over here. Best play it safe in future: stick to dog. I stopped off to take photos of a few wats - of which Haw Pha Kaew was my fave; it's been converted into a museum for religious objects. I finished my walk along the promenade, overlooking the Mekong, but it wasn't the most impressive of sights. Then I had the challenge of finding a cash machine to get some Laos kip. I had some dollars to use, but cash isn't easily accessible in Laos; cash machines have only been introduced over the last few years and are scarce, to say the least. I found one eventually, and could finally chill out on the riverfront with a mango shake.