Above all, Vientiane was a chill place to be and we never felt as though we were in a rush. For a capital city, it is fairly small and having a motorbike at our disposal on a daily basis gave us easy access to the entire city.
We partook in some of the best cuisine we’d ever eaten, with a noticeable Vietnamese influence that we would continue to see in many facets of Lao culture when we continued down to the southern tip of the country. Apparently, the country received an influx of Vietnamese nationals a few generations ago and their children and grandchildren retained some of the culture, as well as the language of their ancestors. Teresa was able to converse with several street vendors we came across, and surprisingly partook in some of the best pho she’d ever had, known to be one of the most, if not the most recognizably Vietnamese dish.
There was also an amazing chè, or Vietnamese jelly bowl, stall. With a wide variety of grass jellies, mashed roots like pumpkin and sweet potato, served over ice with some coconut milk on top, it’s fun to describe and probably a little difficult to picture. Luckily, I’ve already done just so!
Options on the left, finished product on the right
The jelly bowls were a sweet, exotic delicacy that I would’ve had a very difficult time interpreting without having seen it done like this. Each bowl was about 50 cents, and damn delicious.
Wandering around the streets, the heat can really get to you. It reflects off of the concrete in the most blaring of ways and it’s really easy to become dehydrated. We found this massive swimming pool not too far from where we were staying and wound up retreating there again and again. Sometimes, we’d bring a few bags of fruit to snack on under the blessed canopies when we weren’t swimming or actively attempted to tan. It was the perfect, juicy nourishment and available in sweet abundance throughout the old town’s rustic corridors.
Who gets excited talking about fruit? I do, I guess. I think there are few things in life better than the ripest, most tropical fruits in the world and I’m not ashamed to say it. They do nothing but good for the human body.
Vientiane has its quirks as well. I remember walking down this one particular street, adjacent to our guesthouse, and seeing a few prostitutes underneath the trees, in the shadows, or sitting up on their motorbikes putting lipstick on as they gazed in their rearview mirrors. It wasn’t until one called out to me that I received a gut-wrenching understanding of the masculinity behind that voice. Teresa looked awkwardly at me and we both had a good laugh, but the interesting times didn’t end there. There was this one European gentleman we saw a few times throughout our week there, walking the streets hand-in-hand, or sitting down to dine with one of the ladyboys who lined a street or two in the central district. We didn’t know what to make of it all. I mean, he looked like an ordinary guy, I suppose he just has his particular fancies. We asked the owner of our guesthouse about it, a really chill guy, conversational when he felt like it. He had a pretty vehement attitude about the very concept of the transsexual prostitutes that would often pass by the outside of his business. Before he even opened his mouth about it, he gave us one of the more disgusted looks I’ve ever seen on a human being. I have little opinionated commentary on the subject; this wasn’t my home, I wasn’t there to judge, nor ever will be, whether it be on the individuals who worked on the street or the reactions from some of the locals. Very interesting to observe nonetheless, and certainly memorable.
We had our sights set on the south, next. We were still playing it all by ear, with very few set places in mind that we had to visit. It was more like, we had to visit everywhere and then we’ll see how much of that we can realistically fit into our time frame. At this point, our only certain dedication was a flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and that was still about two months away. Two months to explore southern Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
We drove down to the bus station that we’d be going to a few days early, just to get an idea of where we’d need to be and what kind of prices we were looking at for certain destinations. We decided on Thahkek, a little down about halfway down between Vientiane and the southern border with Cambodia. I’m not sure what compelled us to choose this particular destination as our next, but it was the most short-lived decision we would make throughout our entire trip.
In the meantime, memories of Vientiane…