(A more detailed story about Siem Reap and visiting the temples will follow at the latest from from Paris, if not before. The connection was so bad in Siem Reap that I could not do any writing and uploading).
After five full days it felt like it was time to move forward from Siem Reap. We had seen the main temples and even hired a car for a day to visit the sites further away. We appreciated the temples and the transformation they had made from Hinduism to Buddhism. We also loved having a morning coffee in the center of Siem Reap at Le Grand Cafe, but in the evening the center became a Western Drinking Factory and this is not why we came to Asia… We had looked into Siem Reap – Vientiane airplane tickets from Paris and the price seemed stable: around 200USD per person one way. On Saturday afternoon we visited one of the Siem Reap travel agencies (www.europe-asiatours.com) and found out that we could buy a one-way ticket for 157USD including taxes and all fees (payment only in cash). Unfortunately the flight was full for the next day, Sunday, so we returned to the hotel to do some googling hoping to find something for Sunday. On http://www.lastminute.com we found a bit more expensive tickets for the next day, and the decision was quickly made: it is time to leave Cambodia for Laos.
During the flight from Siem Reap to Pakse we met a lovely couple from Finland (if Pirjo & Teuvo from Jyväskylä are reading this, all our best greetings to you and thanks for those nice discussions!). In Pakse, where everyone had to go through the visa and passport control, we were supposed to wait for two hours for the connecting flight, but as soon as we arrived we asked if there is a possibility to get onto the next flight, leaving in just 30 minutes. After some waiting around they said yes, and without any extra payment we checked onto Pakse – Vientiane flight. Our first contact to Lao people was very sweet. They seemed shy and reserved, but a smile was never very far away. We also found out that they like sweets: during the flight we were served two different types of cakes, one of them in the picture with some green filling… (not bad!).
Upon arrival in Vientiane we shared a taxi with Pirjo and Teuvo (7USD a car to the center). Our stop, Vayakorn House, was full but eventually we found something near by and closer to the Mekong River, Douang Deuane Hotel (25USD). Later on the day we read some reviews on http://www.tripadvisor.com and agreed with them: our fifth-floor room was very clean, the bed was comfortable, and we even had a small balcony looking over temple roofs on the right and the Mekong River on the left. The quality of the bathroom was slightly inferior to the room, but it was still clean.
After checking in at the hotel it was time for a late lunch. Our dear friend who had been to Vientiane last year had recommended Tintin-inspired Chokdee Cafe (http://www.chokdeecafe.com), which turned out to be around the corner from our hotel. I do have to admit that I can be quite reluctant about the touristy bars and restaurants, but I immediately fell in love with this restaurant that has a huge selection of Belgium beers (and even mussels on the weekend!!) and Western as well as Lao dishes. Chokdee Cafe is not your usual touristy bar, it is an expat hang out place where you are sure to meet very interesting people. During our first visit we talked to a European man learning Lao language and explaining the pronunciation difficulties to us, while we overheard a discussion on how to invest in Laos. All this happened while a nice Dutchman (in the picture) was singing old French and English songs, and some songs composed by himself about living an expat life and going to Embassy parties… During our second visit we met an Englishman who had just bought an apartment in Thailand and his new Scottish friend, met on a Luang Prabang-Vientiane bus.
The food at Chokdee Cafe was delicious, too. Papaya salad was a bit too spicy and it is rare we cannot finish a dish… However, my favorite was the Laap Phet: the minced duck breast mixed with mint leaves and chili. DELICIOUS!!! (As I am writing this, it is the best Laap I have had in Laos so far!).
We could have stayed an entire evening at Chokdee Cafe but once our mouths were burning from the chillies and stomachs full from excellent BeerLao we headed back to the streets. Walking by the Mekong is walking on a border: Thailand is just on the other side of the river and this is why you get messages “welcome to Thailand” on your cellular phone. (However, if you curious about crossing the border by the river on your own, do not try. A local guide told us that the Thai soldiers/customs officers are quite corrupted and will fine you very heftily should they catch you…). We also realized that the Lao people are very sportive: there were many skate boarding and jogging along the river, and we even saw an outdoor gym by the river.
Eventually the sun set, but we continued walking. The temples looked very different from the ones we had seen in the center of Siem Reap and against the dark sky they for sure held special magical power.
The Lao people dine early and many places close at 9pm. In addition there is this sort of unofficial curfew at 11pm, so the dining hours have nothing to do with the Mediterranean way of life… The restaurant (Makphet) where we had wanted to go was closed but we found a food court on Th Chao Anou Street.
My husband had some pork sausage (I don’t eat pork) and he said it was a bit sweet but good and interesting. Together we shared grilled squid and a grilled fish (see the photo) that they call “panin” (at least this is what it sounded like to me). They stick a lemongrass inside the fish but if you do not know what it is, you may mistake it for a big spider or something! Panin was clearly a river fish, but the meat was consistent and tasted good.
I think the next time I visit our summer house in Finland I will catch local lake fish and serve it stuffed with lemongrass!! A great barbeque idea.