On the Laos in Vientiane

There were two things I knew about Laos, aside from tour book descriptions of it as a land locked country in Southeast Asia: 1) That’s where the Hmong population, a large immigrant group in Wisconsin, is from  and 2)It holds a very pretty town, nay a UNESCO Heritage site, Luang Prabang in the northern province.  What I didn’t know about Laos and what I discovered in about the first five hours here is that it’s completely undersold as a tourist destination and it’s capital is about the chillest city I’ve been to.

J took some days off to join me on my Indochine Loop and we boarded an Air Asia flight to Udon Thani, a Thai town close to the Laos/Thailand friendship bridge and border. The flight didn’t bode too well on the budget airline as the plane body tugged right and left before we even took off. I looked at J and his eyes were closed, I upped the speed and urgency of my usual take-off prayers. All was fine forty minutes later when we landed, picked up our bags and got on a minibus to the border. We exited Thailand like pros and began to walk towards the Lao border. Jeff commented that it was his first land border crossing. It was my third and the two previous (Thailand/Cambodia and India/Nepal) involved walking between checkpoints. We were feeling pretty travel cocky until we noticed we were the only the walking.I entered the nearest building and a friendly border guard smiled and said, no walking and directed us back to where we came from.

With a little less spring in our step as we walked back to the Thai checkpost and then to the stand labeled “bus tickets” we picked up our Friendship Bridge Shuttle Bus tickets and were shutteld safely to the Lao border. There were some border formalities ($35 USD visa charge and some waiting) and then we got a taxi, which smelled like gasoline and were chauffeured 22 km to Vientiane.

Our driver dropped us at the Orchid Guesthouse and we napped a little before venturing out on the town. Or first impression of Vientiane was not positive. It looked like dusty small developing country town with bland buildings and crowded streets. But  when we walked through the central part of town that resides next to the Mekong River, Vientiane revealed itself to us. It has low buildings in French style with slight ornamentation. Asia is very present in the crowded telephone wires in front of the facades. Cool restaurants and shops mix with massage parlours and travel agencies.

J and I walked around until we felt a good vibe at an outdoor restaurant. We at some local lunch (me: Pork mince salad and Jeff: noodles) with some very delicious french fries. Crispy and freshly cooked, they were the perfect compliment to the several Beer Laos we finished.

As we walked back, we decided to stay here for two nights and that tomorrow would be our sightseeing day. That said, we found a massage parlour near our hotel where, for about 4 dollars each, we asked for and received an oil massage.  Tiny Laos women led us each into separate cubbies. I had to interrupt Jeff’s bliss to ask him if I go totally buff or use the sheet as a sarong (Note: use the sheet). My masseur was gentle in some area and in others treated me like a piece of meet. The tense energy left my body and I felt a glow of lightness when she was finished.P

J went back to the hotel after his massage and I went to one floor up for a facial ($3). The effects of the massage were negated as I tried to fit into the Laos-person-sized facial chair. It was way to small and either my head hung off the top or I was clenched in my pelvis area to keep me crouched in the crook of the chair. The facial process was a staggered process. My facialist put some nursing-home smelling oil on my face and left me for about 5 minutes. Then she came back and added a small scrub. Another five minutes and she came back and rinsed it all of.

In between applications she chatted and talked on her cell phone. I felt something very cold and think on my face and thought she was putting on a heavy clay mask, but the smell alerted me to what was now on my face: a layer of cold cucumber slices. I lay there thinking of salads for another five minutes. She peeled the cukes off and my face actually felt refreshed. The final step was a honey moisturizer. I left the chair a little cramped, but my face felt plump and fresh like baby’s skin.

At night we walked around more and had dinner at the same restaurant as earlier (both: pizza). I can’t excuse the redundancy only say that it’s tree-covered terrace strung with white lights, less expensive menu and overall ambiance won us over other restaurants in the area. We also discovered that Vientiane is not a party town. It was Friday night and we headed back to the hotel through a quiet city at about 9 p.m.

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