La vie est faite de petits bonheurs.  Forgive me if I am feeling a bit inspired with French right now. I just came back from Vientiane, Laos. The capital city of Laos is, perhaps, the most French you can get in the Far East.

Some of you may say that Vietnam is the French ambassador of the Far East. Arguably, that is true. The French did colonize and occupy Vietnam for a really long time. They were there for about 67 years.  They constructed French style buildings. They influenced the food by introducing French pastries, coffee, and pâté. They made Western clothing like neckties and business suits trendy.  You could say that the French influenced Indochina as much as the Spanish influenced the Philippines.

All this about the French and Vietnam is true. However, the French did also rule Laos for almost as long a period of time. The introduced French cuisine to Laos. They influenced the architecture. They influenced the dress.  And most distinctively, they influenced the building of the Far East version of the Arc De Triomphe.

In the center of Vientiane is the Patuxai war monument. It is smaller in scale than the famous Arc De Triomphe war monument in Paris but it is unmistakably French inspired. In real life, it looks pretty cool. You won’t find such a monument in Vietnam. But more on that later. First I will need to show you how to get around in Vientiane.

If you arrived by air, Wattay International Airport is about 20 minutes from the center of town where all the main attractions are. If you arrived by train, Thanaleng train station is a bit further out. I arrived by overnight train from Bangkok. The minivan from the Thanaleng train station to downtown Vientiane took about 25 minutes. It is about 20 kilometers away. By the way, this railway station is also called Dongphosy train station.

If you can, try and stay close to downtown. That way, you can walk to most of the major attractions. There are tuk tuks, but sometimes walking may be the best way to see, hear and feel all the happenings in the city.

New Rose Boutique Hotel

I stayed at the New Rose Boutique Hotel, 339 Pangkham Road off of Samsenthai Road. It is around the corner from That Dam.  The New Rose is centrally located and walkable to almost everywhere around downtown.  It is close to the sights, restaurants, massage shops, and even Patuxai.

As a note, you will see the word “road” interchanged with “rue” on maps and street signs. The word “rue” is French for “road”. The Laotian word for road is “thanon”.  Of course they don’t spell it that way. They just pronounce it as “thanon”.

After your journey, the best way to ease yourself into the city of Vientiane is to have a drink. I recommend checking into your hotel, leave your luggage in the room, and head out to a cafe nearby.  You will have plenty of choices.

The coffee is really good thanks to the French. And the fruit smoothies are great too thanks to the availability of fresh tropical fruits in this part of the world.

It will most likely be hot or even very hot when you arrive in Vientiane. So I recommend availing yourself of a nice cool fruit shake.  The best place that I know for a freshly made fruit shake is called House of Fruit Shakes. It is only a block away from the New Rose Hotel.

BCEL Currency Exchange

If you haven’t exchanged currency yet to Laos Kip, head to the money changer. There is one near the hotel on on Rue Pangkham called BCEL.  To get there, turn left after you exit the hotel and walk south on Rue Pangkham for about 7 minutes. You will cross Rue Samsenthai and  Rue Setthathirath.  If you don’t mind a lower exchange rate, the M-Point Mart right around the corner from the hotel on Rue Samsenthai and Rue Pangkham.

House of Fruit Shakes and Manivanh Sandwich Shop

After you get some Laos Kip, head to House of Fruit Shakes located at 128 Rue Samsenthai at Rue Chanthakhoumane.  You will see a booth with hanging fruits out front as you approach the House of Fruit Shakes. There is a menu out front with all your choices of juices and shakes. They have everything from fruit juices to detox style drinks.  The prices are in Kip.

I tried the Avocado shake on one visit. And I tried the Lime Mint on another visit. Both were AAA perfect. Very refreshing and very healthy.

If you want a bite to eat, head next door to the Manivanh Sandwich Shop.  Experience for yourself what a really good baguette tastes like. Remember that Laos was a French colony. There are many downsides to being a colony. The upside, though, was learning how to make excellent baked goods. The Laotians have mastered this to the nth degree.

I ordered the baguette with butter, pâté, and pork salad.  One bite into this exquisite combo and you will be hooked. It is that good. Combine this with my shake and I was completely satisfied.

The total bill was 28,000 Kip.  18,000 Kip for the Avocado shake and 10,000 Kip for the half baguette.  That’s about 172 Philippine Pesos (PHP) or $3.40 USD.

After my stomach was full, it was time to plan my time in Vientiane. I want to visit the capital, then head north to Vang Vieng for some outdoor adventures, and then to Luang Prabang for some traditional culture.

There are two ways to do this. One is to fly and the other is to take a bus or a van.  I chose to take the van because there are no flights to Vang Vieng.

Van Ticket to Van Vieng

Since I wanted to secure my seat, I walked over to a travel agency on Rue Samsenthai.  Scenic Travel Co. is directly across the street from House of Fruit Shakes. The van ticket to Vang Vieng cost 50,000 Kip which is 307 PHP or $6 USD.  The van company will pick me up from my hotel and take me to the main van.

After that was out of the way, it was back to planning my tour of Vientiane. I definitely wanted to see the Buddhist temples, the Night Market, the Shopping Mall, and Patuxai war monument. Vientiane is very hot during the day, so you will not be able to see too many places without a lot of rest stops in order to avoid heat exhaustion.

Taking my own advice, I rested at the hotel until the evening. The staff at the New Rose Hotel is very warm and accommodating. You can tell it is a family oriented hotel because some of the staff members had their young children at work. That was okay by me because the Laotian people are very well mannered.  They are also easy going.

Night Market at Chao Anouvong Park

Stepping outside again after the sun goes down is a big relief temperature wise. It is still very warm but it is more tolerable. To get to the Night Market at Chao Anouvong Park, head south on Rue Pangkham all the way to the end. The Night Market is between Rue Fa Ngum and the Mekong River.

You will find many items for sale from souvenirs to clothing all at really low prices. You can also try local Laotian foods and snacks from the street vendors. One snack that I really like is khao lam. Basically, it is sticky rice and beans with coconut milk stuffed into a bamboo then grilled. The combination is delicious. You can taste the creaminess of the coconut milk and smell the aroma of grilled bamboo. It costs 10,000 Kip per bamboo stick.

You will find many items for sale from souvenirs to clothing all at really low prices. You can also try local Laotian foods and snacks from the street vendors. One snack that I really like is khao lam. Basically, it is sticky rice and beans with coconut milk stuffed into a bamboo then grilled. The combination is delicious. You can taste the creaminess of the coconut milk and smell the aroma of grilled bamboo. It costs 10,000 Kip per bamboo stick.

In terms of items for sale at the Night Market, the most interesting thing to me were the traditional Lao skirt called “sinh”.  I noticed that many Laotian women wore this skirt to work. It is very pretty and on the conservative side. Curious I tried one on. It was heavier than I thought.

That meant that it was rather hot to wear especially in this weather. I guess you get used to it. There were many colors and patterns to choose from. The vendor would alter it to fit perfectly. I decided to pass since I didn’t have any room in my small luggage. I am a light packer.

Across the street from Chao Anouvong Park, there are many places to eat. There is street food and many types of restaurants from Japanese to Western. I was already full from the baguette sandwich and khao lam so I only ate a small bowl of Laotian noodle soup.

On the morning of Day 2, I had breakfast at the hotel. The buffet style breakfast was included as part of the hotel price. There was a good mixture of Western and Laotian food. The coffee was decent.

Wat Sisaket

Then I was off to see the Buddhist temple. I wanted to get a good luck bracelet for my wrist. I was told that you can get one at the temple if you visit a real Buddhist monk.  Wat Sisaket was within walking distance so I headed there. It is located on Ave Lane Xang between Rue Samsenthai and Rue Setthathirath.  It costs 5,000 Kip to get in. For women, you will need to cover your legs so don’t wear shorts. If you do enter with revealing attire, they will loan you some conservative Laotian clothes to cover yourself.  I had to wear a sinh.

This is a relatively small temple. There are over 6,000 Buddha statues here but no monks so I couldn’t get my lucky bracelet. Maybe at the next temple stop..

Kualao Restaurant

Dinner on my second night in Vientiane would be at the famous Kualao Restaurant located on Rue Samsenthai. It is walking distance from the New Rose Hotel. The building looks like an expensive house rather than a restaurant. There is a cool retro Jaguar sedan parked out front.

I didn’t make reservations so getting a seat would be tough. Luckily they were able to accommodate me. However, my table was not close to the live music and traditional folk dancing show.

It was hard to make a choice from the menu. At last, I decided on larb which is a traditional Lao dish. I love the taste of herbs mixed with meat. You cannot normally get fresh herbs in the Philippines.

Dessert was banana flambé with ice cream. That was surely inspired by the French. Yummy it was.

Parisien Café

It was really hot on my last full day in the capital. Rather than risk getting heat stroke, I decided to sip some coffee and work at one of the local cafes. The Parisien Café on Rue Pangkham looked suitable so I popped in.

The place looked very Western. They had all sorts of pastries including macaroons and cheesecake. Choices, choices. I decided to try both. You only live once. The sweet goods went well with a cup of cappuccino.  

They offered free and reliable wifi so I was happy. The hotel’s wifi, by the way, was not as reliable.

Patuxai Monument

In the early afternoon, it was not as hot as midday. I decided to head out and see Talat Sao shopping mall, the Lao National History Museum, and Patuxai.

I headed to the museum first since it was only a block away. Unfortunately it was closed.

I then headed to the shopping mall. It was closed too. Being that there aren’t that many malls in Vientiane, I was out of luck. Oh well. I don’t think I missed much.

Luckily Patuxai Monument was further down on Ave Lane Xang. So I continued my walk down the avenue towards Patuxai.

The view as you approached the monument did not disappoint. It was especially picturesque with the early evening sun shining on it. For a capital city, there wasn’t that many cars on the avenue.

The monument looks like a small Arc de Triomphe. It sits in a property with a park and water fountain. It is a lovely area to spend the afternoon and watch the sun go down.

Indeed it was the perfect way to end the last day in Vientiane.

Tomorrow I will begin my journey to Vang Vieng for some outdoor travel adventure. Check back for my next article about Vang Vieng and follow me there.

About Maria

Maria Peña is people connector. She created Real Pinay to connect foreigners with authentic Filipinas for friendship, romance, and perhaps even marriage.

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