Friday, January 30, 2009

Le Capital

Bonjour. I'm in Vientiane- the capital of Laos. I took the cheapest mode of transportation from Vang Vieng- a pickup. A covered pickup with two benches on the side. It was crammed with locals and bags of rice and stopped frequently. But it was only 3.5 hours and was actually nice because of the steady breeze.

Vientiane is an interesting capital. It's very small and quiet. The French colonization is evident with the large governmental buildings and the signs in French. French restaurants line the streets. All of this means that Tegra loves it. Reading and speaking French feeds my soul. I met a French guy and he insisted that my French is perfect. I know this isn't so, but it feels so good that I haven't lost it completely.

The plan once here was to meet up with Carter- the guy I flew over with after meeting in the Seattle airport. He's heading into Laos as I'm heading out and we decided to meet up. Just as I was about to go find his hostel I ran into him on the street. We later ran into Owain and the three of us got a beer in a British pub. This really is a small town.

The next day Carter and I ventured out to see the city. We saw quite a bit of it on foot as we searched for the Thai embassy for Carter to get a visa. We passed the Arch- a large monument with a funny story. Apparently in the 60's the US gave Laos cement to build a new airport. They took that cement and built a monument modeled after the Arch de Triomphe in Paris. Some call it the vertical runway, I call it the f*ck you monument. Genius.
Anyway, once we reached the Thai embassy they told us to go to the Thai consulate a good distance away (typical French bureaucracy ;). We gave up because by this point we were starving. Finding food was not easy. You'd think that this huge tourist attraction (the Arch) and the "Champs d'Elysee of Southeast Asia" would be crawling with food stands and restaurants. There was nothing in sight. Once on a side street all we could find were expensive hotel restaurants or little Lao places with no menu. I understood that they pretty much just served traditional noodle soup, but there was no way to communicate that I didn't want meat in my soup. So we kept walking. After what must have almost been an hour we found a place with an English menu. After eating we headed to the large market- Talat Sao. It turned out to be a huge indoor, three story market mostly selling appliances, electronics, jewelry and trinkets.
Most of the shoppers where Lao and the place was bustling. We did find some really stuff including a old wood and stone compass. Not sure if it works, but it's beautiful. We bargained for two- which I've found works well. After seeing the same jewelry in every case, we'd had enough. Outside the market I saw this sign that reads, "Good people don't ruin their country and have manners not to litter thoughtlessly". So at least not everyone is okay with trash EVERYWHERE.
At this point we needed a refreshment. We wondered toward the Mekong River and found a little place with fruit shakes. It was the best pineapple fruit shake I've had yet. We watched some old men play boules (bocci ball) for hours while we read our books. Then we wandered some more. Around sunset we walked along the river and watched the locals play their version of volleyball. I'm not sure of the name of it, but they use a light bamboo ball and kick it or headbutt it over the net. It looks very difficult. A fair amount of people came down to sit and watch the sunset. Some girls blowing bubbles on the river bank:
The water level was really low and barely flowing, but a couple men were still out fishing with their nets. We found a bar right on the water (well, where there's water in wet season) and had a beerlao. (He's tall but also standing higher up than me!)

For dinner I considered splurging for French food. The menus looked delicious, but pricey. I tried to think about it in dollars, which meant $7 or 8 for a meal, but couldn't. I just couldn't pay 3 times as much as I would for Lao or Thai food. It was hard to walk away, but I told myself that there's good French food in Seattle. We tried the Vietnamese place that I'd eaten at the day before because it was so delicious, but it was closed. So we decided on pizza. It was still a splurge, costing a lot more than rice and veggies, but it was so good! And I got red wine! Such a luxury ;). We ran into Owain again at the restaurant and the three of us went in search of a bar. It wasn't easy. Everything closes at 11pm. We finally found "Martini" with outrageous prices, but good music. It's somewhat annoying that everything closes so early, but I'm also proud of Laos for not compromising their culture for tourists.

Today I cross back into Thailand. It will be hard to switch currencies and languages again. I'd just gotten used to kip. But tomorrow I'll fly South to Krabi to explore the beaches and "climber heaven". See you there!

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