I landed in Bangkok ahead of schedule (just after 11pm instead of midnight) and despite being in the back of the plane, the line at immigration wasn’t too bad. I had booked a hotel room near the airport that included airport transfer, but was dismayed to learn that the only way they’d coordinate it was for me to call them after I was ready to go. I wound up having to ask a woman nearby to call, as my phone wasn’t working. Eventually, the right van came by, and I made it to my room. In the morning, it was back on the shuttle van to the airport, back thru customs, breakfast at the airport, and on to Vientiane!
On our short Thai Smile flight, they served everyone a box lunch including papaya salad and chicken. Pretty tasty, and very efficiently delivered!
In Vientiane, the line for immigration was short but slow. Turns out I really didn’t need to have brought a passport photo despite what the internet said about visas on arrival. The Americans in front of me who hadn’t brought photos didn’t have to pay any more than I did. And yet, the official told me he needed one.
Vientiane airport is pretty small, and after getting my bag, I stopped by an ATM, picked up a local SIM card, and got a taxi to my hotel. I’m not sure if the girl who set up my SIM card clicked something she shouldn’t have, or if the dual SIM stuff in my new iPhone doesn’t work the way I thought it would, but iMessage doesn’t have my US number associated with it, anymore. Hopefully when I get home, the eSIM will work normally.
Anyway – enough about the logistics!
Vientiane is pretty mellow. The internet and people I’ve talked to say Vientiane has somewhere between 500-800,000 residents. Between building restrictions and regulations prohibiting multiple owners within one building, it’s low and sprawling more than tall and dense. There are a handful of taller hotels and office buildings, but most of the structures are just 2-4 stories tall. It also feels sleepy compared to the other cities I’ve visited in Southeast Asia. Yes, crossing the street can occasionally be daunting, but by 7:30-8pm, there’s very little traffic.
My first afternoon, I just walked around a bit. Saw a stupa near the center of town, and wound up checking out the COPE center, which had information on unexploded ordinance and prosthetics. Appreciative of my ability to walk, I tried to work up an appetite ahead of my scheduled evening street food tour. My AirBnB Experiences guide was really nice, internationally educated, and took me to places with good examples of local food: meatballs & hot dogs (flash fried, with a sweet sauce), pad Thai in the Lao style (more savory than sweet, and I tried a piece of the blood pudding/curd) a delicious soup with sticky noodles that were a mix of rice & tapioca flour, grilled chicken and sticky rice (eaten with our fingers), and a smoked coconut milkshake. Yum! We walked by 2-3 different large groups of people doing Zumba – some higher energy than others.
Tuesday morning, I decided to walk (rather than rent a bike) to take in some of the sights. At one point, I stopped in at a Cafe Amazon to cool off, and then kept on walking. Not long after that, some older gentlemen drinking tea at a sidewalk restaurant/stall invited me to join them. One spoke good English. At first, I protested (“I just had coffee at Amazon!”) but they seemed friendly and non-threatening, so what the heck? We chatted for about 20 minutes, before they had to leave for work. The guy who spoke English worked for Allianz insurance. They shared some tea, helped me order an iced coffee with milk (served in a bag with a straw) and taught me how to order it.
After they left, it was just me and the dog hanging out, in the shade. When I was done with my coffee, I headed on to Pha That Luang.
On my way back into town, I stopped at a small place for a sandwich, based primarily on the welcoming yellow lab.
Later, I spotted what looked like a shaded rooftop where I might pause for a cold beverage. I asked an older English guy walking by if he had been up there, and we fell into conversation – he’d been living in Laos for years, and had just gotten back from the doctor where he’d gotten some bad news. He wasn’t up for climbing to the rooftop, but we got some cold sodas from the refrigerator and sat and chatted for a bit on their ground floor. Seemed like he needed someone to talk to, and he wound up buying my Gatorade-like soda.
I basically spent the day walking and eating. Some delightful things (like a return to the smoked coconut milkshake place) and some disappointing (like the tourist-priced soup for dinner).
Next up: Vang Vieng!