In and around Vientiane
Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
86Trip End Apr 01, 2012
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We head for dinner at a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet as best Laos food, however it would seem that since starring in the guide they have increased the prices and so the food wouldn’t be the best value. Still very local if you want to eat cows tongue, intestines and all other miscellaneous parts of animals – we went for grilled fish! Despite finally being in a city, we fail to find any bars with any sort of life and it’s an early night for us.
We spoil ourselves to breakfast at a nice French place the next morning of croissants and a good coffee for Jonny to start our tour of the city. The centre isn’t particularly pleasant, it has a few nice buildings – the palace for example – but most the buildings take on a 70s quality of just being practical. I’m sure the city has seen it’s share of war though so not many old buildings remain. We walk around the local markets and up to the Laos version of Arc de Triomphe which is impressive. We stop off for lunch at a little hole in the wall place – what attracted us in was the bbq out front and the menu clearly written by American - ‘Ray’s Grill’
We ended our day in Vientiane with some very good bbq food and wine (it’s been a while since we’ve seen wine!).
Overnight it rains and rains and thunders, and there is lightning and then it rains some more. In the morning it is still raining and keeps raining. We eventually get bored enough to wade through the streets and find breakfast. And so it was back to yesterday’s place for more croissants and to wait until the rains stops. Finally mid-morning it does and we make our way out to Riverside Eco Lodge by shared tuk tuk. It’s 30km from Vientiane, it stops and drops people off at their houses so at least we get a tour of the local villages. We get to Riverside around lunch time and are greeted by the owner Barnaby, a friendly English guy who shows us around. We have a bungalow overlooking the river and the restaurant is a floating restaurant and actually sits on the river.
For the next couple days we are very lazy, mostly spending time reading by the river. But we managed to fit a few activities in – tried some kayaking but quickly realised I don’t have the arm strength to paddle up stream so left the hard work to Jonny. We also had a chat with a monk that comes to the lodge to practice his English with whoever is around. Conversation was a bit of a struggle as we weren’t sure the structure of his practice normally but we did manage to learn that he gets up at 4am to pray, then after the collecting of alms he teaches English to school children for the rest of the day
We took a trip across the river to see the local village and let some of the staff practice their English as the owner is quite keen to help them practice English. It’s a small village but good to see authentic Laos, the local temple and the Japanese funded school. Laos village life seems stuck between traditional and modern. They still live in very basic wooden houses on stilts with little modern furnishings apart from their big tv and sound system to blare music through the village. We had been hearing music blaring across the river for the past 24 hours and presumed a wedding was going on. When we saw four guys sitting around their massive speakers, we realised that there were no celebrations, this was the daily activity for these guys. The women are mostly in traditional dress but then the teenagers ride about on their own mopeds and dress smartly in jeans and shirts. On Sunday quite a few local families spend time around the restaurant and pool area, they come in for dinner well dressed but then have no problem jumping into the river fully clothed as they would do as children. It’s very interesting to see how the modern and traditional lifestyles seem to work together – makes for a very relaxing lifestyle. When we were walking back to the boat after our 20 minutes walk around town, our guide asks us ‘Are you tired?’ We looked a bit confused and said no
For our last night we were planning on going to the floating restaurant for fresh fish as we had watched the staff catch the fish during the day. They hold the fish in nets in the river until they need to use the fish. But that plan was scuppered when Barnaby announces that they are going to close the restaurant tonight to take the staff to a gig. A well known Thai band was playing in a stadium just outside Vientiane and given that events like this don’t happen every day in Laos, he wanted to take the staff out. We declined the offer to join them and went to the Thai restaurant next door.
We’re glad we went to the lodge despite it being a bit quiet as Barnaby seems to have worked hard planning the bungalows so they’re not too visible from the river and don’t disrupt the trees and plants. Plus he offers his staff a well paid job and perks like concerts, something they would never afford to do themselves.