Our route to the capital was much the same as that to Luang Prabang: green, mountainous, and winding. We passed through the beautiful Vang Vieng which, in recent times, has become known for the drunken and drug-induced escapades of youthful backpackers, unfortunately resulting in numerous injuries and deaths. Teresa and I knew what we were about in regards to this travel experience and we knew what we wished to avoid. A part of me kind of regrets not staying in Vang Vieng because despite the reputation it has gained over the past several years, there are likely always ways to avoid what one doesn’t wish to experience. Plus, the consensus was that the town is gorgeous, regardless of what your intentions are when you arrive. Nevertheless, we passed it by and ended up in Vientiane in the middle of the night.
The central riverside area was aglow with lights from hotels, restaurants, bars, and clubs; a vibrant energy underpinned everything. Even before we jumped off of the tuk-tuk that took us into town from the peripheral bus station (they’re always situated on the outside of the cities, giving tuk-tuk drivers the opportunity to usher in travelers for a nominal fee) we felt like this was the place to be. Vientiane is not a particularly large city, certainly not by Southeast Asian standards which boasts massive metropolises like Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, but it’s definitely the liveliest in all of Laos. It was especially noticeable after the slew of small towns and quiet villages we had been traveling through the past couple of weeks.
We spent an entire week here, and I’m not really sure where to begin, so I’ll start with the bugs we ate:
We’d heard about these delicacies before we ever came to Asia, but it wasn’t until we randomly wandered into a central bus station that we found these bad boys being served in large wicker baskets, having just been deep fried and seasoned with some salt and lemongrass. My only complaint is that they were a little too oily…other than that, crunchy and absolutely delicious. There were beetles, grasshoppers, and I think a certain kind of cockroach as well. It’s a funny feeling, having an insects leg caught in your teeth while you’re munching on a bag of its comrades. Later in our trip we would come across cooked tarantulas too, but we didn’t go for those as they looked kind of rubbery and not appetizing at all. It’s actually another regret of mine: who cares if I didn’t like them? The novelty would have been worth it. Oh well, next time.
Let’s talk about the look of the city itself. The French colonized a good chunk of Southeast Asia at one point; Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam were French Indochina and their influence still exists in many facets of life, including the cuisine and the architecture. Government buildings and historic cites bore these looks and underscored the city’s cultural and colonial heritage.
The view in the first pic is from atop the structure in the second one
To me, the World Peace Gong is symbol of the notion that the Laotians bear little or no ill will towards their former oppressors, and that they welcome people from around the world, regardless of where they call home, to experience their culture, their beautiful country, in a peaceful and positive way. We certainly felt this energy from the moment we crossed the Mekong River from Chiang Khong. Laos’s borders have not been open for very long, at least not to ordinary travelers such as Teresa and myself. Entry was much more restricted until a little over a decade ago. I feel extremely privileged to be allowed to enjoy Laos and Teresa still holds this country in very high esteem, considering it potentially her favourite country to have visited in the entire six months we were gone.
There’s much more to this bustling capital than what I’ve spoken of so far and I look forward to re-immersing myself in it in the articles to come. I have to say that reliving these experiences through this blog has a diverse emotional effect on me, from sheer joy to painful, longing melancholy. It’s a pain I can deal with, one I even allow my imagination and ambition to thrive off of. I miss this trip from the bottom of my heart. I yearn for more travel, to new and exotic places, and yes, I still dream beyond the Earth and the possibilities that exist in this infinite universe. This trip loosened the boundaries that my mind was once in the grip of and my writing has taken my present-day thoughts on a similar route. Until the next one.