After a very good night's sleep in our massive bed we went down to the restaurant for our free breakfast - another rarity for us! We'd read some really good reviews about the breakfast here and soon saw why. We were handed a menu with 6 different breakfast options - I went for the 'light European' breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt, croissant, butter and Laos jam, while Dave went for the 'American' of fried egg, bacon beans and toast (isn't that a full English not a full American?). On top of that we had a choice of hot drink and cold drink, plus water! Our table soon filled up with all the delicious food and I wished I'd brought the camera down - tomorrow!
After breakfast we headed out into the big 'city'' to do our own walking tour, based on the cycling tour in the Lonely Planet (I didn't fancy cycling on the roads - the boardwalk in LA is my limit!). Our first stop was meant to be the Nam Phu fountain, which the Lonely Planet describes as 'underwhelming'. Well, the Laos people must have taken this to heart as it was closed off for redevelopment! Moving on, we headed along the road to the Presidential Palace which was originally built to house the French Colonial govenor but it these days mainly used on ceremonial occasions. You couldn't go past the gates so we just took a photo. Over the road we visited Wat Sisaket temple and looked at its thousands of Buddha figures - we saw a lot of Buddhas in Thailand, but not as many in one place!
By this time it as approaching midday, and a lot of places seem to close between 12:00 and 13:00, so we wandered up the road hoping to find somewhere to have a drink. What we did find after about 10 minutes was a shopping mall - hurray! Although, once inside we found that it was mysteriously half empty - only a handful of shops / stalls seemed to be open and we don't quite know why. We managed to find a little drinks stall and bought some cold drinks to cool us down. I should mention here that today was one of the hottest days we've had so far and we'd been walking around in the sun all morning so we must have looked a right state (we washed all of the clothes we'd been wearing when we got back to the hotel). The stall holder must have felt sorry for us as she came over with a whole packet of serviettes for us!
Next stop Laos' version of the Arc de Triomphe, the Patuxai. It is Vientiane's most prominent monument and was built with US-purchased cement that was supposed to be used for the construction of a new airport - who needs airports anyway?? The Laos really know how to sell it - on a sign inside, one line reads 'from a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete'! We paid our entrance fee and walked up the steps to the viewing area, passing a massive souvenir market on the way up! Maybe the Eiffel Tower should follow suit! There were some amazing views of the city from the top and Dave took a few panoramic photos.
By this point we were very hot and absolutely exhausted, as it was a long walk to this monument. Unfortunately it was a long walk back too, so we set off and stopped for some cold water on the way. We spent the rest of the afternoon in our air con heaven of a room, before heading out for the traditional Laos dinner and dance show we'd bought tickets for.
When we bought the tickets that morning we were told that the show starts at 7:30 but most people get there for 7pm. When we got there at 7pm on the dot, we were the first, and were shown into the massive dining room/theatre - we had to take our shoes off and when we were shown to our table it looked like we would have to sit on cross-legged on the floor as the tables were so low. However, the tables are cleverly sunken into the floor, so that you sit with your legs dangling down, and everyone gets a good view of the stage. We ordered some beers and were then asked if we wanted our food straight away - yes please! We were starting to wonder where everyone else was as there were 6 other tables set up, but thought they were probably on their way. We'd just tucked into our food when a huge Chinese tour group arrived en masse and occupied all the other tables.
Now onto the food…it was a traditional Lao feast of (are you ready for this…?) soup, beef salad, steamed rice, a bamboo pot of sticky rice each, chicken wings, chicken curry, sweat and sour dumplings, spicy sausage, mixed vegetables, fish wrapped in a bamboo leaf and fresh fruit for dessert! There was so much food we couldn't finish it, and we couldn't help wondering if they'd given us western portions! It was all delicious though and well worth the money for the opportunity to try all these dishes at once. While we were devouring our feast, the show started on stage. There was an orchestra made up of about 6 Laos men at the side playing traditional instruments, plus 4 main dancers on stage. There was an announcement before each mini 'show' to explain what it was. It was all going so well, until the huge tour group all got up and left (they must have been on a tight schedule), which left us as the only 2 people in the audience…awkward!! I felt really bad that they all had to continue the show for only us, but then again we had paid for it!
One of the mini shows straight after was an old man making bird noises…seriously! It didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the show, so I imagined that he'd begged to be allowed on stage - you never know! I think he had something in his mouth that made the noises (I'm sure I've seen them sold on the shopping streets in York) and he just kept pointing behind us as if he'd seen a bird…strange! Anyway, they made it to the end of the show with their audience of 2, although I have a suspicion that it may have been cut short. Just before the tour group left we'd ordered 2 more beers, so at the end we were left sitting there with an almost full drink each, and all the staff waiting patiently around the edge of the room. After a few minutes one brought over our bill - ok then! I got the money ready and put it inside the folder thing, although we sill had lots of beer left! Then a bit later another waiter came to take the money and bring our change. We eventually finished our drinks, which was hard to do quickly after eating all that food, and took our tickets back to collect our shoes. One of the funniest sights of the night was seeing our shoes sat on the counter - the bloke running it hadn't even bothered to wait for us to bring our tickets!
What a surreal evening! We laughed all the way back to the hotel!