Feb 17, 2013

The Start of All Girls Adventure in Laos: Vientiane

Vientiane, Laos' capital city, was our real first stop in the trip traveled in April 2012. 

This is a post about my trip to Laos and Thailand. It happened almost a year ago but only now that I have enough time (and dedication) to write about it. So happy just to start it :D

This was one of my favorite trips because, well, I love Indochine in general, and I experienced so many kinds of things in this trip, from the laid back and heartwarming to the eye-opening and yet not so sober. Hahaha.. here we go..!


Vindhya, Mumun and I took an evening flight by Air Asia then transit for a night at the LCCT Tune Hotel, only 15 minutes walk by these short legs from the LCCT airport. Uci joined us at midnight, having just taken a bus from Penang. The next day, very early morning, we flew to Vientianne, also by Air Asia.

The tight schedule didn’t allow us to do much more than peeling Vindhya’s sun-burned skin from her previous trip.. LOL.

* We got the Air Asia tickets with super cheap deal, IDR 35,000/pax for the Jakarta – KL flight and MYR 103/pax for the KL – Vientiane flight. However, the tix were purchased almost a year in advance, on promo! So I suggest you watch for them airline promos if you’re on tight budget.

VIENTIANE, the capital city of LAOS

The first thing we did when arriving at Vientiane’s Wattay Airport was: exchange money and send postcards. It’s pretty hard to find moneychangers outside of Laos that has kip.

*For info on the exchange rate, usually I go to http://www.xe.com/

*Laotian money is LAK (Laotian Kip) or simply ‘kip’.

Intercity Hotel, Vientiane

We walked a pretty long way to get out of the airport and find a tuktuk to take us to our booked Intercity Hotel on Fa Ngum Road.

*Tuktuk ride from airport to Intercity Hotel cost us LAK 30,000.

I was awed with how thoroughly the hotel’s lobby was decorated. Statues, carvings, all in the style of the intricate Laotian art, embellish the whole reception and lobby area. Our rooms were ready and we immediately checked in.

*The rooms cost USD 35 / room / 2 pax.

The rooms were nice and clean enough. Considering the hotel’s location is pretty strategic (it’s not really in the middle of the city, but it’s across the Me Kong River and night market, only short walks away from eateries, convenience store, temples and tuktuks), the rooms are well maintained and the whole common area is well decorated, I think it’s a pretty good deal. It just doesn’t look very pretty on the fa├žade. Don't they know the strategy of marketing? :P

Breakfast is served in the restaurant next door, which is connected to the hotel and has got the similar style of decoration. Hm, it’s funny that I don’t have any photo of the restaurant and the food.. I must had been still sleep-eating... Lucky that Vindhya does :D

Photo courtesy of Vindhya

Sightseeing in Vientiane

We started by walking around the Intercity Hotel. We saw shops, schools, temples and restaurants. The Western Union bank really caught my attention. It has chairs lined up outside of the building, and that’s the waiting area! Hihi.. What if it rained? You’d get your obligation paper or whatever banking letters wet! But I guess it would be a good place to get tan in the summer. Uh huh.

That Dam Stupa

At one of the intersections we saw this big black pyramid-looking thing from afar and decided to take a close look. Turns out, it’s the famous That Dam (translates to Black Stupa). I love saying it, “Its that dam stupa!” hahaha..

Anyways, the stupa is erected in a traffic circle, surrounded by a restaurant, the US Embassy, and what seem to be houses or some buildings, located on Chantha Khoumane Road. It’s a nice neighborhood, and there are benches around the stupa where we rested for a bit.

I read that the Laotians believe in some kind of mystical creature living in the stupa, protecting the people from the Siamese attack in the 19th century. The legend also says that the stupa used to be coated in gold, which was stolen by the Siamese in the war. But all I see now is just a big stupa made of red bricks that have turned dark and not very well maintained. There are scraps of candle wax on the edges of the stupa, which I guess left by the candles people used for praying. Please correct me if I’m wrong :)

Would I recommend That Dam to you? Well, only if you have much time to kill in Vientiane, or if you have to pass it by on the way to other sites anyway, or if you really really love stupas and perhaps collect pictures of stupa. If else, nah…

Patuxai monument

From That Dam, we continued walking to the Patuxai in the middle of Vientiane. Patuxai means the gate of triumph, and it resembles France’s Arc de Triomphe, which has the same meaning, but ornamented with Laotion style. Ironically though, the Patuxai was built around 1962 as a remembrance of those who fought for Laos’ independence from France.

There wasn’t much to do around Patuxai except taking pictures. We took pictures like any other tourist, including the decoration at the ceiling of the monument that depicts the gods.

To be honest, I got bored at the site. But it was nice to just sit at the park, watching people. A well maintained park surrounds the monument and it’s certainly a tourist magnet. The roads around it are kept clean and neat, but the traffic rules are pretty loose, judging from what I saw in this picture.. hihi.

* A tuktuk ride back to our hotel cost LAX 10,000 after a haggle session.

Pha That Luang

On the next morning we only had one thing on our agenda: visiting the Pha That Luang. It’s said to be one of the most important landmarks in Laos, along with the Patuxai. That Luang means ‘Great Stupa’. The stupa is golden, beautifully shaped, and was originally constructed in the 16th century. I read that That Luang was destroyed in the 19th century after the attack of the Chinese, Burmese and Siamese, but then renovated by the French in 1931.

Picture courtesy of Mumun

Picture courtesy of Mumun

To enter That Luang, one must be covered at least from the shoulders down to the knees. We had to borrow cloths at the gate to cover our exposed body parts (ooh!). I loved the cloths!! Too bad they weren’t for sale and we couldn’t find them anywhere else in Laos :(

There are holes in the shape of something that looks like a clover leaf on the walls encircling the temple. When we got out to the back area, we saw this reclining Buddha from outside. I’m not sure where in the building was it located.

Picture courtesy of Vindhya

To tell you the truth, as much as I love traveling in Indochine, I think I’ve had enough of wats (temples). They’re still amazing, but I’m just not that eager to take photos of them as I used to. Reading stories about them is much more interesting to me nowadays. If only I had enough time. That’s why I didn’t take enough pictures to show you guys, so I had to use Mumun’s and Vindhya’s pictures too. Teehee. 

SHOPPING in Ventiane

Night Market

Here comes the huge temptation. Shopping. We didn’t plan on shopping in Vientiane and didn’t know there would be a night market just across our hotel! Darn. We even almost skipped Vientiane because we thought it was much less interesting than Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, or other places, and we ended up spending a part of our shopping budget (that was planned to be used mostly in Bangkok) in Vientiane, on the first night of the trip! (KL doesn’t count cos we only transited there.) Hahaha.. Girls!

We were informed about the Night Market by the hotel staff. Turns out, the night market happens every night! Temporary stalls of various goods and food are built on a broad sidewalk that lies between our hotel block and the Mekong River. You can find just about everything in the market, like clothes, bags, colorful paper lanterns, books, souvenirs, meat and chili on skewers, sticky rice dishes, neon lit syrup bar, even children’s art workshop.

* Most of the prices of the goods weren’t negotiable, but they were already so cheap. If I’m not mistaken, I bought these t-shirts for about LAK 40,000-50,000 / piece.

I love the night market! It’s colorful, they have lots of cute knick knacks, affordable price range for budget travelers, and it’s outdoor and at night! A perfect fun for summertime. What I don’t love about it, is the confusion of having to choose so few out of the so many cute stuff! Aarrgh!

Eating & Drinking

As we are not really picky when it comes to eating, we didn’t have much difficulty in choosing food and beverages. A lot of the food looked much like ours in Indonesia, like the ones in these following pics. I’m not sure if these are the original Lao cooking or not, but they do have influences from the northern part that later became a part of Southern China, as we Indonesians are also influenced by the Chinese in many things. 

We chose random eateries, whichever looked good enough and not so costly. Our minor problem was only that the Laotian diet contains pork in many of the menus, and that the English translation of the menu sometimes don’t make sense or sometimes there’s no translation at all. You know the morning glory vegetable? One of the restaurants translated is as ‘moninggoli’ and it took us a while to find out what it actually was.. LOL.

When strolling down the streets of Vientiane, we stopped by some street vendors to have a taste on their snacks. Banana grilled with the inside much softer than the outside (I have no idea how they do it) and the ice cream that ripped me off by LAK 1500. I was so dumb for not reading the price written on the cart. *palmface* But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a fraud!

Via Via in Vientiane

I was surprised to find Via Via restaurant quite near from Intercity Hotel. Why? Because Via Via is my favorite restaurant back in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I've written about Via Via in Yogyakarta (patiently scroll down). And then I remember having seen several clocks on the wall of Yogyakarta's Via Via, each one showing the time of a different city around the world. I remember one of them was a place I had never heard of and didn't know where it was. It was Vientiane. *big grin*

Via Via in Vientiane is located on Nokeokoummane street (good luck reading and spelling that!). Their special menus are pizza, pasta and steak, but also provide local dishes.

Time to Leave VIENTIANE for…. VANG VIENG..!!! WOOHOO..!!

Not that I didn’t like Vientiane, as a matter of fact it was much better than I thought. But we had been really excited to see what Vang Vieng is really like. We had read quite a number of blogs about it and we wanted to have a piece of Vang Vieng ourselves.

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