Following a fraut arrival in Vientiane we were keen to chill out and head down to the river for some food. We were hoping to score some super cheap (~10,000 kip) plates of buffet food like we had become accustomed to in Luang Prabang. Unfortuanatly it seems that was pretty optimistic, the best we found was a bbq place on the river front offering a selection of stuff for reasonable ish prices. We had a good meal of stir fried veg, spring rolls, fried chicken noodles and a Mekong Fish (still very tasty) and paid pretty much what we paid for our amazing restaurant meal in Khmu, Lunag Prabang. We were happy to have full stomachs though and pretty tired so we wondered back to our guest house and keeled over.
Following a deep sleep we went on a hunt for some breakfast. We settled on a french bakery offering a set menu including pancakes and bacon. It was pretty good but the pancakes pretty much cold scotch pancakes which wasnt what we were hoping for, and no maple syrup! Still, feeling revived we set about moving guest houses. The one from last night was stop gap measure as we really wanted to stay next door. We moved into the Mixay Paradise which offers very tidy rooms, clean bathrooms and breakfast for 100,000 kip a night for a room. Happy with this we were ready to explore the city!
Having got a badly photocopied map from the receptionist we set off towards the major sights of Vientiane. First stop the Nam Phu fountain, it had no water in it so not very impressive. Not put off we plunged deeper and found the Talat Sao mall, full of shops selling the usual including a massive array of pirate dvds. It did however have a massive food court (we shall return here!). We then took a wonder out to the Patuxai, this is a very cool building in the style of the arch du triomph. For 50 pence we took the climb up to the top and looked out over the city, very scenic! We then decided to check out the most famous attraction in Laos, Pha That Luang, a massive gold painted Stupa, which was surrounded by a few other wats. One looked surprisingly new, or maybe just renovated, making it look like something out a Disney movie.
The rain in Lao persisted and we gave in a bought a brolly...weather has been slightly better since! But we were glad of it when the heavens opened properly and following some shrew negotiations we got a tuk tuk back into town. Had lunch in the Talat Soa mall food court, as it seemed to be full of locals and fairly well priced. Tom decided he wanted a taste of home and ordered a turkish kebab, which was put to shame by my massive Korean style Bento box for about £1.50 (which I reluctantly shared).
We then went to so some more wat-spotting, but didnt fancy paying all the entrance fees so just admired them from afar and continued to wander around the city heading to Mekong. We chilled out in a nice park area, making use of their FREE outdoor gym equipment! In all our enthusiasm, we didnt even notice the sky blacken, and we ended up dashing off for refuge at "House of Fruit Shake". As the name suggests...we had a couple of rounds of fruit shakes, definitely the best in Asia so far!
Seeing a brief opportunity, we nipped back to the hotel for a quick change before setting off for the night food market we had seen on the map. We were expecting a similar deal to Luang Prabang where they had tables and buffets for people to eat at. Not the case, this was definately where the locals buy their take out to eat at home. All the amazing looking food was ladelled into plastic bags for transport, unfortunately we were not prepared for this and couldn't eat anything. Being so hungry we bought a bbq'ed rice stick and a few doughnuts and back tracked to street restaurant we had seen earlier that was full of locals. We ordered a Pork soup noodle dish and a hard fried noodle dish with prawns. They were both amazing, really really tasty and a good portion size. We took a wonder back to the Mekong to have a beer before bed.
Next morning we took a local bus to check out the nearby Budda garden. This was a fairly interesting trip as the suspension on the bus was rock hard and the tarmac ran out just outside the city. Tom also rekons he was sat next to a off duty ladyboy (do they even have Ladyboy's in Laos?). The budda garden was really surreal its exactly what it says on the tin a garden full of budda statues, as well as other statues of what looked like Hindu and even pagan gods and mythological creature. It was interesting to wonder round, although there was something a little creepy about the place - especially as this one huge monument (which allowed you to go inside and climb stairs to the top) was full full of old and broken statues covered in cobwebs. it might have beeen something out of Narnia.
We caught a bus back to the city and had lunch at House of Fruit shake before heading over to the Lao national museaum. Not quite what we were expecting, lots of rooms with broken pots and budda relics. They did have some interesting stuff from the wars with the French and Americans though. All the American weapons were labelled "Weapon brought by Imperialist Americans for use by their puppets" which was informative.
That night we wondered round trying to find an alternative to where we had dinner the night before but couldn't find another place that actually had a menu in english. We had some more noodle dishes and afterwards decided to order some more flavoured Soya milk. Having had a good experience with Purple last night we tried Pink and Yellow, really horrible tasting! Will stick to Beer Lao in future! We took a wonder to a large store that sold lots of fake stuff, some of it was actually pretty convincing, especially with the highish prices! (I was seriously considering a £200 Hermes Birkin, but then thought better of it). Tom tried on a few £4.50 Ralph Lauren shirts but they didn't fit quite right. Ended up with Charlie picking up a nice skirt and cardigan from a lady at the night market.
Final full day in Vientiene we decided to chill out. We paid the admission fee for a wat, but was a little disappointed, maybe we are just too used to seeing them now. We spent some time wondering and looked for a new t shirt to replace one of Toms that went missing in one the laundry services. Failing miserably, only finding massively overpriced fake polo shirts, we went off for not one, but two lunches! (They were just one small dish though). We also got a lao coffee (with "sweet milk", thats Carnation Milk) from a little old lady at the side of the road, and it was "hands down" the best coffee we had ever had! wanted more but feared that we would be buzzing! (I do wonder how everthing is so chilled out in Lao when they drink all that coffee!).
We met up with Ollie in the evening and decided to try the hot pot that we'd seen several times at restaurants along the Mekong waterfront. It actually turned out to be just like the Japanese place in Chang Mai. They give you a ceramic pot on some coals full of soup. You then add meat, veg, noodles and eggs and cook it. Was really tasty we also ordered the traditional papaya salad (spicy!) and had another prawn fried noodle dish. We took a wonder to show Ollie our favourite places to eat in Vientaine and grabbed some donuts. Tom picked up a few t shirts from the market to replenish his dwindleing stock, succoming to the inevitable trend of a "beerlao" and a "same same" t shirt.
Final morning was pretty chilled. Following breakfast at the hotel we headed to swap Charlie's finished Amber Spyglass for a book for Tom to read at a nearby coffee shop. Then checked out of our guesthouse, the mixay paradise is probably the best place we've stayed in. They even gave us cake when we payed for our last nights stay. Vientiane airport is much like Lao itself and very laidback. The signs in the toilet advise you to "Keep it Clean". Next stop Hanoi! (on the smallest plane ever! eeeeek!)
Tom and Charlie xxxx