Welcome to Vientiane

Welcome to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. A land locked country in Southeast Asia, and home to the Lao, Khmer and Hmong people, among others.
Flying over the Mekong River into Laos

Flying over the Mekong River, the border between Thailand and Laos, above the Phou Phanang National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area

Flying in is easiest

I love to fly, and I especially love flying into a new destination.

Watching the landscape shift and change as we glide over gives so much insight, that you can not get from the ground.

From huge temples on hilltops that seem far from any town to the winding river, the farms, the forests and the mountain range…I love taking it all in.

Thankfully, the clouds cleared for the last 10 minutes of the flight into Laos, so I could also witness the shift from Thailand to Laos as we crossed the mighty Mekong, which marks the border.

Temple on the mountain top in Thailand

Temples on the remote mountain tops in Thailand

Google map showing Vientiane and the Laos-Thailand border.

Vientiane is right on the border

Logistically, it is also easiest. The Wattay International Airport was the designated entry point on my e-visa, which I had applied for a few weeks ago.

On arrival, I learned there is also an arrival card paper form you must fill out, even if you have your e-visa. Be sure to do that before you join the queue for immigration. Oh, and there is only one booth for people with an e-visa!

Learn to speak Lao in Laos

With over 50 unique languages and dialects spoken in Laos, it was a bit hard to know which one to attempt to learn ahead of my arrival in Vientiane.

Fortunately, Phuey was waiting for me at the airport and was delighted that I was keen to learn.

He even helped by writing some more phrases in Lao on my page. While Lao is not the only language, most people in the cities will understand it, even if they do not speak it themselves.

Paper with common words hand written in English and Lao

Writing the words as I hear them helps me remember. These words are in Lao and will be useful in the cities.

Exchange card for kip

Laos is a primarily a cash society. The kip is not tradeable, though I usually just get cash on arrival anyway, so that wasn’t an issue. The issue came when the ATM at the arrivals area wasn’t working.

Lucky for me, Phuey knew there was another ATM at the far end of the airport in the departure area, so we walked down there. The exchange rate is about 100,000 kip to AUD $7.

The machine will only dispense a maximum of 2,000,000 kip (about $160) at a time…but things here will be fairly cheap, so that should keep me going for a while!

Get connected is convenient

I usually rely on my own Australian SIM card for SMS and an eSim for mobile data when travelling. There are a few places, like Laos, where that just doesn’t work effectively.

The phone companies here make it extremely easy to get connected. For 45,000 kip (about AUD 3) I was set up with a new SIM for calls, SMS and 15GB of data that will last 30 days. It took all of about 5 minutes to get sorted.

After getting those essentials sorted, we jumped in a very comfortable minivan for the ride to my accommodation.

Lao telecom booth at the Vientiane airport

Lao Telecom booth at Wattay International Airport

A place to call home

I’d opted for a local style place, rather than a fancy hotel, and am very happy with my choice.

As I am travelling with more gear than I need for the next two weeks (no need for snow gloves and puffy jackets here), I sorted and repacked. I will be able to leave the unnecessary bags in Luang Prabang while I am trekking.

Then, after some sink laundry and a shower, I went out to explore.

Traditional style Lao house at Villa de Mekong, Vientiane

My Lao home for the night in Vientiane

A large bed inside a Lao style villa at Villa de Mekong in Vientiane

Rows and rows of food stalls at the night market in Vientiane

Sunset and stalls

I headed to the river to catch the last of the sunset, passing through the night market on the way.

This section of the market, which is at the end of my street, is mainly clothes, jewellery and electronics.

Between the park where the market is set up, and the river, is a wide promenade. 

People were walking and talking, cycling and pushing prams. It was wide and felt particularly calm compared to the market.

Across the river, I could see the lights of the buildings in Thailand. The river itself is not in full flow, being the dry season, but still nice enough to catch the fading light.

When you turn around though, there are more lights than you could imagine.

Night market on the riverside in Vientiane

The night market at the end of my street

Lao MeKong Spa Beauty and Salon

Sunset over the Mekong River in Vientiane, looking across to Thailand

There is an amusement park with rides for the kids. Jumping pillows, a giant slide, dodgem cars and merry-go-round.

The lights are bright and the music is loud, but it does look like a lot of fun is being had.

Further along the promenade, and down the stairs, is a long stretch of food stalls.

It is only just 6 pm so they are just getting started for the night, but the smells wafting up are definitely Asian. Ginger, lemongrass, chilli and frying oil.

There is even a water fountain playground to entertain the young at heart.

The kids carnival rides at the night market in Vientiane

Carnival rides for the kids at the night market in Vientiane

Rows and rows of food stalls at the night market in Vientiane

Rows and rows of food stalls at the night market in Vientiane

Time for a haircut

I spotted the rooftop of a temple from the market, so went for a closer look. It was open, but I wasn’t dressed appropriately, so I didn’t ask to go in.

The street was bustling with people and cats, and the delicious smell of skewered meats being cooked over coals in the footpath BBQs.

Venturing up a side street and found several restaurants, from French to Japanese to Texan…and a small sign offering haircuts!

That is what I needed, having not been able to allocate time while at home.

I was welcomed immediately at Lao MeKong Spa Beauty and Salon and shown to a comfy recliner to have my hair washed and a head massage (heavenly) by one of the girls, then moved to a chair for the cut, by a very stylish young man.

 

When he started to blowdry, one of the girls jumped in to help without being asked.

Within about 30 minutes, I was done, and my hair feels lovely, all for 100,000 kip. They even offered me a bottle of water and free wifi.

Feeling fabulous, I decided to go out for dinner, across the road, at the French-inspired cafe La Terrace for a house salad.

The server was friendly and agreed to photograph the back of my head. She even fixed my hair first, putting it in place.

Lao MeKong Spa Beauty and Salon

The Lao MeKong Spa Beauty and Salon in Vientiane

Lao MeKong Spa Beauty and Salon

Is that what my hair really looks like from the back?!?!

The food was fresh and delicious, and less than 100k.

As I started to make my way home, I passed a massage shop.

My lower legs swell up when I fly, and while it usually hurts, I know massage helps…so I went in for some torture!

I explained that one of my feet is already sore, so she pressed hard on it to gauge how sore…then started on the other foot.

Thirty minutes later, I left, wishing I had asked for an hour instead. I only had a 50k note left, but that easily covered the agreed price and a tip.

It looks like pampering, but it also painful, in a good way!

I wandered through another temple compound on my way back home, feeling fresh, feed and ready for bed.

All up, a fantastic first day…

Welcome to Laos!

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Joy Taylor

Joy Taylor

Joy has been working her way around the world with her kids, solo and with her partner for over 20 years. Her motto is ‘travel cheap, travel deep’. She built a green house and tries to live a green life. 35/196

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