Vientiane – Last Days

For our last full day in Vientiane Sue and I had breakfast at our guesthouse and then walked a few blocks to where Sue was going to join a weaving and fabric dying workshop for the morning. I left her there (she’s going to post her own page on the workshop) and headed over to the Morning Market, a huge two story building jam packed with all sorts of products.

fabric aisle at Morning Market, Vientiane, Laos
A Morning Market Fabric Aisle

Built in a large U shape the market contained stalls selling fabrics, jewelry, antiques, appliances, CD/DVDs, knickknacks, foods and clothing. Despite swearing I was going to buy no more stuff in Laos I came out of there with another bag of goodies. I looked at T-shirts but it was hard to find my size (yes, I’m still an XXXLG!). I did spot some interesting misspellings…

T-shirt at Morning Market, Vientiane, Laos

I spent an hour or so exploring the market, resisted one very insistent T-shirt seller and spent the last of my Laos kip on a couple of ball caps (after bartering the price down the buyer took the little money I had left in my wallet, leaving me to wonder what bargain I may have missed if I’d bartered harder). Back on the street I went in search of an ATM and found the main offices for one of Laos mobile phone service providers. I’d seen their Seagames stickers plastered on cars so asked if I could get some. They were out but instead gave me some small flags on sticks with the Laos flag on one side and Go Laos Go on the other. I stuck them in my backpack with the flags waving out of the top. That was probably the best PR move I’ve ever made. I had so many people smiling, waving, greeting me and saying “Go Laos!”. Even the policemen on corners smiled and waved at me. Of course I did have to hide them away upon our return to Hanoi.

Although it was difficult to find information and tickets for the Seagames there were lots of signs around town welcoming players and spectators to the games. I developed a weak spot for Chumba and Chumbi, the two elephant mascots. If we’d room I’d probably had made off with one of these standup signs.

Seagame signs, Vientiane, Laos
Chumba and Chumbi

Or perhaps one of the Stop signs…

stop sign, Vientiane, Laos
Stop Sign

Or if I could somehow get a tuk tuk back to Pender (I don’t think they’d let me put one on the road though)…

tuk tuk, Vientiane, Laos
Tuk Tuk

I met Sue after her workshop and we went to Joma, a North American styled coffee emporium, for lunch. We’d discovered that the Laos coffee wasn’t quite as good as that in Vietnam but Joma and a couple of other shops served the best in town. Sue laughed at my purchases, but I could tell she wanted to go to the Morning Market. Maybe the next day before we flew out. In the meantime we returned to the guesthouse for a siesta and freshening up. Later we returned to the streets and headed for a recommended riverside grill to watch the sunset. On the walk there we found yet another incredible temple.

temple roofs, Vientiane, Laos
Temple Decor

I could spend days, months, admiring the temples. There’s something about the architectural intricacies and use of colour that makes them so special. Especially when compared to some of the Soviet style buildings in Vientiane.

soviet style building, Vientiane, Laos
Soviet Architecture

Although this building looked dilapidated and deserted builders were adding an extension on the far end. The building sat on a corner of the paved riverfront road, which here swings to the right, and a dirt road which continued along the riverfront. We continued walking along the dirt road and discovered some an even quieter side of Vientiane. Along the way, however, we also discovered an organization which deals with one of the tragic reminders of the American/Vietnam War: the MAG, Mines Advisory Group.

MAG, Mines Advisory Group, Vientiane, Laos
MAG Sign

Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, the office was closed so we couldn’t get any info from them. The statistics for the amount of ordnance dropped on Laos during the war is frightening: (quote from MAG) “Lao PDR is the most bombed country in the world per capita. More than 1.3 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on the country between 1964 and 1973. Up to 30 per cent of some types of ordnance did not detonate. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) still contaminates the ground, affecting a quarter of all villages.” We had heard from our kayak guide that it was not safe to wander off the path when trekking in the mountains. Locals, those lucky enough not to accidently set a mine or UXO off, flag devices they find but there are still many undiscovered explosives. A grim thought in such a beautiful, now peaceful, country.

We walked to the end of the dirt road and found our destination just in time as the sun was setting.

Sun Set bar, Vientiane, Laos
Sue at SunSet

This was one of the funkiest bars I’ve ever been in. The building hung out over the riverbank, providing spectacular view across and along the Mekong. It was small, and most of the tables were occupied by tourists. A small grill provided snacks but we just had a beer each and enjoyed the ambiance.

fishing in the Mekong, Vientiane, Laos
Fishing at Sunset

Sunset photos are so cliched but I couldn’t resist…

sunset over the Mekong River and Thailand shore, Vientiane, Laos
Sunset Over Thailand

Meanwhile Sue made a new friend.

new friend at SunSet bar, Vientiane, Laos
Sue and Small Friend

After our beers and numerous photos we set off back to town. We had decided not to go to the stadium to watch football as it was 18km out of town but we did want to see the game. The SunSet did not have a TV: our mission was to find a place to eat with a TV and a bunch of enthusiastic locals. And as we walked down the street I spotted the back of a TV at one of the riverside grills. Sure enough when we walked over we found the owner adjusting the signal from his jury-rigged antennae to this modern flat screen TV set up to face a small crowd gathered for dinner and football.

watching football on outdoor TV, Vientiane, Laos
Sunday Evening Dinner

The owner eventually got a good picture. We ordered our dinner while the crowd roared at every goal and close shot. Sue looked over towards the grill and hoped that we would not see one of the frogs, kept alive in a tub by the grill, being cooked (fortunately never happened).

riverside grill, Vientiane, Laos
Grill with Tub of Frogs

Although we weren’t in the stadium enjoying the game live this was perfect. My “Go Laos Go” flags still poked from the backpack, ensuring we were popular guests at the grill. The owner was very happy and friendly as were his staff.

after the Seagames football match, Vientiane, Laos
After the Tie Game

The owner was kinda happy about the tie game but may have been happier if Laos had won. Or maybe it was the camera flash… And here’s one of the employees, wearing another of those odd SE Asian T-shirts….

riverside grill employee, Vientiane, Laos
Fashion Statement

I started posing with all kinds of people on the street.

good old St. Nick in Vientiane, Laos
St. Nick and I

Yep, there in balmy Laos was St. Nick. All the way from Belgium he said. A night to be remembered!

The next morning we breakfasted, packed our bags and then went to the Morning Market so Sue could see it. She discovered that fabric prices were very reasonable but held off buying for the moment. Then back to our guesthouse to get our bags and off on a tuk tuk to the airport. We found that even in the airport handicraft prices were moderate and Sue picked up a few last more wood items. After such in good time in Laos we were both sad to be leaving and said our goodbyes to Chumba on the way to our plane.

Chumba waves Bon Voyage, Vientiane, Laos
Chumba Waves Bon Voyage

Back in Hanoi we were greeted by the resounding beep beeps, honk honks and the grey, polluted skies. However, we now know what a wonderful country Laos is and are inspired to get out of Hanoi more often. I started back to teaching the next night and was given more classes to sub in over the Christmas season, as other teachers headed home. But I still have time on weekends and after the holidays so we’re going try to get out and about more often.

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