Thursday, May 7, 2009

A day in Vientaine

We played tourist in Vientiane today.
Breakfast was served in the lobby area. This hotel not only used charming rattan furnishing in the room but also in the lobby restaurant. Breakfast was included in the room charge. We had a selection of Western and Chinese porridge. Neo Chian decided on pork porridge because he thought the chicken porridge would be too much for him because the menu showed a whole chicken next to the porridge.

At breakfast, we discussed about how to tour the city of Vientaine. We wanted to follow the Monument to Mekong walking tour described in the Lonely Planet. One bright idea came up. Instead of walking, why don't we charter a "Tuk Tuk" to take us around all the points of interest along the route. So, we asked the hotel manager to help us arrange for a "Tuk Tuk". The manager went out of the hotel and negotiated for a 9 to 5 charter. The driver quoted 300,000 Kips (about SGD50). We offered 250,000Kips but he didn't want to go. As a point of reference, a waiter earned about 700,000Kips per month. We thought 250,000Kips was reasonable price to offer, apparently not. By then, we had decided to walk as the hotel was right in the middle of the route.

It took us 15 minutes to arrive at the starting point, the Patuxai. Patuxai was the most prominent momument of Vientaine. From a distance, Patuxai looked much like its French source of inspriration. But from a closer look, it wasn't impressive as it lacked finishing touches. The bear concrete structure was not properly maintained. There was a stair leading to the top of the building.The entrance fee was 3,000 Kips per person. On the 4th and 5th floors, there were shops selling T-shirts and souvenirs. There were more than 200 steps to the top level. You could see most of the Vientiane from here. Looking down, you could see Lan Xang Avenue, the street sometimes generously described as the "Champd Elysees of the East". The last stairway leading to the top was dirty, full of litter, even though I saw cleaners sweeping the lower floors. I wondered about the purpose of the entrance fee.
We spent about half hour at Patuxai. Then we went to the Laos Tourist Board to find out more about what we could do in the next four days We confrimed that there was a crossing from Huay Xai into Thailand. On our return leg, we will go to Huay Xai instead of back tracking to Vientiane, saving us at least 200 Km of traveling.

The next destination was Talat Sao, the Morning Market place. This was like our People's Park in the '70s, selling shoes, bags, textiles, etc.

However, on the first floor, one section was designated for selling gold. The number of shops and its gold display was unbelievable. In Singapore, goldsmith shops are scattered. But not in Laos, there were so many shops. People in Laos must really love their gold.

By now, we were hungry. Opposite Salat Sao, we found a nice restaurant called L'estaminet on Lang Xang Avenue. It was hot but not so humid in Laos. Once we stepped into their outdoor dining area,which is shaded by trees, it was quite pleasant. The waiter brought out a fan and put it near our table and that was so nice. We ordered Lao cuisine called Laap Pork, steamed fish from Mekong river and pumpkin soup. We washed it down with cold beer. It was so good.

Next we went to the That Dam, one of the Vientaine's oldest stupas. This black stupas was once coated with gold. We got lost trying to find our way to That Dam. We found Day Inn Hotel. We knew That Dam was one block away from our hotel. Finally, we arrived at the stupas by a longer way. At the stupas, it was only for a photo session. As we approached, it was really huge. I wonder how much gold was needed to coat the whole stupas.

Short walk from That Dam, we walked past at the Presidential Palace, no visitor were allowed. These days it is used mainly for ceremonial occasions.

Opposite the Palace was Wat Si Saket, home to the thousand Buddhas, entrance fee 4,000Kips per persons.

The weather in Vientiane is hotter than in Singapore but less humid. Next destination was Wat Mixai, one Km away from Wat Si Saket,one Km away from Wat Si Saket. As we have seen enough temples, we opted for a more enjoyable activity - body massage. We headed for Nam Phu and had 90 minutes massage for USD10. Yes, we paid in USD.

An interesting point to note in Laos, yourbill is preented in three different denomiation vulues, so you can then decide to pay either in Kips,

For dinner, we followed the recommendation of the hotel manager for Lao cuisine at KuaLao. KauLao Restaurant was only 10 minutes walking distance from Day Inn Hotel. In Laos cuisine, “Laap” is a way of cooking and you chose your main item like chicken, beef, pork or fish. We ordered Laap Beef, Spring roll, Morning Glory and a must-have soup, Bamboo soup. The food was delicious and the soup had a unique mint taste. We were entertained by Laos traditional dance while we ate.

We wanted to have a drink as it was too early for bed. Neo Chian was in Vientiane before and he leaded me Khop Chai Deu Restaurant Bar at Nam Phu. It was crowded. The other places we saw before we got to Phoumy INTHAXNE were hardly any customer. This place had the right atmosphere for a drink. Definitely this was a worthwhile visit.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog and you are clearly enjoying posting the stories very much.
    I've sent an e-mail to NC regarding the last section of your journey.
    Pls read, Tks.