The wonderful Vientiane, Laos. Perhaps the sleepiest capital city on the planet? – and I LOVE it!

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So here I am in Laos. It transpires that there are many fascinating countries to see here in Southeast Asia, and this is just another of those places I had never even considered visiting, yet here I am! Having been almost everywhere else I could not forgive myself for missing one out, so after a quick journey I am now sitting in a rustic little coffee and cake shop in the Vientiane town centre.

Well, what a town centre it just couldn’t be more different from any I have seen before. It runs with the urgency of a one-man rural village, it is half asleep, virtually no traffic aside from the occasional tuc tuc, the driver invariably perched behind his vehicle, asleep on a hammock. With tourists being few and far between it is locals I see everywhere, sitting in street side restaurants on tiny plastic chairs, similar to those in Vietnam, rolling balls of sticky rice, the traditional Lao accompaniment to all meals. Everyone seems to be sipping on giant bottles of Lao beer – a source of national pride. I can’t blame them, at less than a dollar a bottle, this is the life. I watch as a young child in front of me is making ripples in puddles with a long narrow twig She is it hitting the water, laughing as it comes up to splash her. Running from one puddle to the next with a beautiful smile on her face I can’t help but watch her. Most children back home spend hours on their ipads, ipods, or their iphones – this young girl is quite content playing with a stick and a puddle.

The locals here are not as overtly smiley and friendly as I found in Myanmar. I find myself being refused pictures quite often which is unusual compared to how open everyone else has been, but to be fair, this place is not as set up for tourists as other parts of Southeast Asia. Indeed this is the beauty of it all. Vientiane is separated from Thailand only by a lazy section of the Mekong River which divides the two. It flows between them both with not much traffic, looking serene and calm. The place is so very close yet so extremely different. No Western chains have raped the place yet, no golden ‘M’ McDonald’s arches, no Starbucks or Costa, just pure and simple local specialties. This is what I crave from my travel experience. The French influence is prevalent in the colorful architecture, with many boulangeries and French restaurants but for me it’s all about the little noodle bars, pad thai and sticky rice. I like to seek out the tiny ones down the dusty side roads, these are always the best ones. Simple and delicious. With a large beer in my hand I am off to find one of these marvels.

Surprisingly, my hotel is not cheap here in Vientiane, I suspect I have to pay extra for the ants and mosquitoes – apparently this is a Boutique Hotel! With just one glance inside I have to change my room, it is literally crawling with spiders too and after all the money I have just shelled out I refuse to stay in it. I have been spoilt all across Asia so far. As I present my angry, and actually slightly amused, face to reception I stand next to a man who is already in conversation with the receptionist. He is an American trying to ask a simple question. I understood his English under all that twang…just.

“Excuse me, is there a mall here?” (He means a shopping centre).


“Oh good, and is it still open?”

I check my watch, the time is just after six in the evening.

“No, it close at five.” comes the short reply.

“Oh, shoot” he says, “Well, is there perhaps another one? I need to buy some things and I fly in the morning.”

“Airport open.”

“I know, but I want the shopping mall.”

“Shopping mall open.”

“…But you just said it closed at five?”


The American and I exchange a glance of total bewilderment…What? We both laugh and he turns back to the receptionist. “So, is there another one?”


“Okay, and is that open?”


“Really? Great, it is open after six?”

“No, closed.”

He lets out an exasperated sigh and shakes his head at me completely flummoxed, poor guy, I really feel for him. Even if there is one open, he won’t find out!

“Anything else I can do for you?” the receptionist asks with a blank face. The poor man claps both his hands on his head in despair and exits the hotel. The receptionist turns to me with the same blank look. “Can I help you?”

I smile at her, resigned to the fact I that am going to spend the night in the spider infested room and say, “No, don’t worry.” and I am out of there in a flash.