I decided to label Vientiane The Sleeping Beauty, but I may have as well called it The World’s Cutest Capital. This tiny capital is very quiet and traffic jams are unheard of. Instead you hear birds and see butterflies. You see monks wondering around the temples and some tourists, mainly independent it seemed, and you are pretty much without hassle while visiting the town. My first impression on Vientiane was “what a cute capital”!
My second impression was that the future and the past of Laos use Vientiane as a playground. It felt and looked very Chinese and Communist. At the same time the devoted monks were seen with iPhones and other devices for listening music. It also became obvious very soon that there is plenty of money in the capital (or was it remittances sent into Vientiane by Laotians living abroad?). We saw an abundance of expensive four wheels and white seemed to be the color à la mode. There was at least one white-colored four-wheeled Porsche and an Englishman we met said he had seen a yellow Lamborghini! Furthermore, Russian influence was present in the streets and a cellular phone operator Beeline seemed to be advertising everywhere. But Russia was not the only country present. France had left its legacy, too, and there are many lovely and good-valued cafes in Vientiane serving all types of coffees and croissants. An interesting battle field of influences I reckon!
After a cup of Lao coffee (filtered coffee mixed with condensed milk) we started our walking tour. The itinerary we did followed the Lonely Planet “Monument to Mekong Cycling Tour” except that we did it by walking and chose a different restaurant to eat lunch at. Note: If you are interested in visiting the temples, do remember that most of them close between midday and 1pm, and close again 4pm. Of all wats (temples) on this route, we liked particularly Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan and Wat Si Saket. Our lunch stop was Makphet, the famous non profit restaurant run by an NGO called Friends International (http://www.friends-international.org/) and where former street youth are trained to wait and cook.
We chose two main dishes: Lemongrass Spiced Chicken, Young Bamboo & Mushroom Stir Fry and Grilled Beef Salad with Apple Eggplant & Young Lemongrass. Both were excellent, but the beef salad was divine. I find it very interesting that they had added dill in it -dill is very much used in my home country Finland and also in the Eastern Europe and Russia, but I have not associated it with Asian dishes. Will need to do some research on the origin of dill once I get back home.
After the lunch we had two more important places to go to: we hired a tuc tuc to take us to Pha That Luang before its closing, also at 4pm. This is considered to be the most important monument in Laos and legends of the site’s origin vary (http://www.laos-guide-999.com/pha-that-luang.html). The second place we wanted to go to is Wat Si Muang (open until 7pm), where the spirit of Vientiane is supposed to reside. This temple felt very much alive and we could see people praying and asking for help. In fact there is a Buddha made of stone and locals believe that by lifting it three times from its pillow, while at the same time asking for something, your wish will come true. We saw an elderly woman doing this and the statue seemed very heavy. Outside the temple there were many stands where on could buy offerings –something you are supposed to do if your wish comes true.
For the dinner we could not resist the temptation and returned to Chokdee Cafe (read yesterday’s The Sleeping Beauty: Vientiane (part 1) to hear more about this restaurant). I still believe their duck breast laap is one of the best in the entire world! I keep looking for a better one, but in vain…
We spent two full days in Vientiane and could have stayed a bit longer. It really is a pleasant town and in my humble opinion much of its charm lies (in addition to dozens of sacred temples) in Chokdee Cafe and interesting stories you hear there (not forgetting their laap!)…