We had dedicated our first full day in Vientiane to one of our favorite activities of simply wandering around.
Our first stop was That Dam, also known as the Black Stupa. Legend has it that this structure was once covered in gold and inhabited by a naga, a seven-headed serpent, that tried to protect it during the Siamese-Laotian War in the early 19th century. Allegedly, all of the gold was taken by the Siamese Army during the attack on Vientiane. The structure isn’t really ‘used’ for anything anymore, other than a centerpiece for city festivals and events, but it is still regarded as a ‘guardian spirit’ of the city.
As we walked along the streets of Vientiane, we were careful to avoid the loose concrete slabs that line the sidewalks. Underneath is the sewage system and in some places there are large gaps where an unknowing passerby might find him/herself falling into grey water.
Our next stop was the Patuxai Arch, also known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane. The concrete used to construct Patuxai was actually donated to Laos by the United States for the purpose of building a new airport. The Laotian government had another idea in mind, which is how it got its nickname: the vertical runway. Patuxai is dedicated to the people who struggled for independence from France, so it is just slightly larger than the Arc de Triomphe, to trump its French counterpart.
We paid a small fee to climb the steps to the top where we got a beautiful view of Vientiane and the fountains below. Although it was clearly inspired by the Arc de Triomphe, it has a lot of traditional Laotian architecture and design as well.
For lunch we decided to try a local dish: papaya salad. It’s made with shredded, unripened papaya flavored with shrimp, crab, and fish paste giving it a very pungent flavor. It’s also quite spicy. Not terrible, but probably wouldn’t get it again.
After lunch, we wandered around Vientiane and stumbled upon some beautiful pagodas and other monuments. The city seems relatively empty most of the time and we really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.
Several times, we were enthusiastically approached by Chinese tourists insisting that we pose for pictures with them. Sometimes it would be a group of 20-something girls and sometimes it was middle-aged couples, but every time it included at least 5 different photos of us in different arrangements. It was really strange and without explanation, but we found it quite humorous.
We made our way back to city center for dinner at Lao Kitchen where we tried another local specialty: laap. Laap consists of minced meat (we went for duck) flavored with fish sauce, lime, mint, and chili along with an assortment of other spices and herbs. In contrast with the papaya salad we had tried earlier, we really enjoyed this dish and thought it was actually the best food we had tried since arriving in Southeast Asia.
We ended the night at Bor Pen Nyang, a local bar with a balcony overlooking the river. It was full of people but still really relaxed at the same time – a great end to our first day in Laos!
Breakfast: 70,000kip ($8.62 USD)
Patuxai: 6,000kip ($0.74 USD)
Water: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)
Sunscreen: 90,000kip ($11.08 USD)
Lunch: 60,000kip ($7.38 USD)
Dinner: 73,000kip ($8.98 USD)
Bor Pen Nyang: 60,000kip ($7.38 USD)
Water: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)
Accommodation: 70,000kip ($8.62 USD)
Total Spent: 439,000kip = ($54.03 USD)