itchy feet cravings

Charming Vientiane

It’s a sweet November. Sweet because my birthday prayer was answered. That is to travel once again. Though this latest trip was not a destination I prayed for, I grabbed this travel opportunity.

Laos is a member -nation in the ASEAN region, and I was here from Nov. 2-7. I’ve heard about it from friends who have ventured into traveling within the Indochina region, but based from their experience I figured this nation would be far from my bucket list. However, I think God has a different plan.

When I celebrated my birthday last October, I prayed for more travel experiences. I prayed to go to Australia to visit my aunt, to go to a Western country for a change. It wasn’t until I was told by my editor that I would be covering the 2012 Asian-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Laos that I realize that’s not about to happen (at least for now).

So of I went with a team of Filipino journalists and some of the President’s men. When we arrived at the Wattay International Airport via Thai Airways (we stopped over Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok from Manila), we were really flabbergasted.

We were then debating whether its appropriate to call this nation by what we know which is Laos or if Lao PDR (Peoples Democratic Republic) is the most accepted. The latter won–we call this former French colony, a landlocked country bordered by powerful China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Cambodia–as Lao PDR.

We arrived in Vientiane late in the evening. It’s a good thing our hotel, Sengphachan Boutique hotel, is situated near the Patuxay Park. At night, the city lights gave off a charming view of the street. It was quiet. Not the typical scene one would usually expect from Asian megacities. We immediately settled in our given room and took advantage of the time to unpack and prepare for the next day.

It was a sunny Saturday and we had the whole day to scour Vientiane. Good thing the team rented a van which we used for the duration of our 5-day sojourn in Laos. What I found amazing about Vientiane is its simplicity. The food, the place, the people. I took snapshots of some of the nice things we saw and of course, street life.

We headed to a shop that sells foreign brand items at cheaper prices located near the Mekong River. There were souvenir items here but I didn’t buy any. I was eager to get a glimpse of the Mekong River. I went out of the shop and was about to cross the street when I caught sight of a Buddhist ‘wat’ or temple just a few steps away from the shop. I entered its premises as soon as I saw the entrance. I don’t know the name of the temple but I saw some Westerners inside mingling with a teenage Buddhist monk.

We spent most of the time taking pictures of this place here that I forgot my original intent to venture near the Mekong River. That’s a letdown, really. I was excited to see it, but we were suddenly in a hurry. Because its past lunch time, we immediately went to a Lao restaurant.

One of the things that impressed me about Laotian people and their culture is their love for fresh and healthy food. It was a bit of a shock to us actually to find that their main fare here are vegetables–and raw, at that. [story on Lao food coming soon]. I just couldn’t forget what my friend told me (she and her husband are based in Laos) how Lao people actually eat their famous sticky rice.

There are actually plenty of things one can do while in Laos. Take walk around Vientiane and savor the quietness and laid back atmosphere. Just like what we did late in the afternoon at Patuxay Park: Lao’s version of the French’s Arc De Triomphe. Patuxay or Patuxai literally means “victory gate” or “gate of triumph.”

We walked some more and found another interesting item at the end of the park, the World Peace Gong…

There are government buildings around but we didn’t have time to check out what those stand for. It’s so picturesque…

Late in the evening, we went back to where we shopped near the Mekong River for a chance to visit the night market and buy souvenir items. It’s also a good chance to look at traditional Lao handicrafts.

Lao street food. Try the awesome pumpkin chips–vegans will absolutely love it

Alas, I was able to get to the Mekong River, but I didn’t get a good photo of the place because it was already too dark. Still I made an attempt just to justify that I got to this famous river somehow even though all I got is a hazy shot…

the Mekong River at night

Now I understand why some backpackers have started to take interest in Laos. It is simply beautiful.

Some may think life in Laos is dull. Yeah, maybe for those resigned to life in bustling cities and mega-cities, one may not like the idea of spending a vacation here at all. But for those who want a respite from a fast-paced environment and live a leisure life for a moment, commune with nature and bask in delight in living a simple, stress-free schedule, then I suggest you visit Vientiane.

I’m sure you’ll be charmed. 🙂

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