The main cities (or towns really) of Laos are often described as “sleepy” and immediately upon arriving, we could understand why. There was no need for drivers to weave through traffic because there was only a couple of other cars in sight. The roads and sidewalks were wide, but they were almost empty. Coming from “megacities” like Delhi and Bangkok, the scarcity of people was striking. But it’s easy to understand why—there’s just not that many people. In all of Laos there are about as many people as living in all of Laos than in Bangkok alone (6 million).
And while I’m sure there are stressed out people in a hurry somewhere in Laos, we sure didn’t see any. The construction workers we saw always seemed to be on a tea break. The tents of the night market, laid out on the banks of the Mekong, were spread wide apart and the owners chatted jovially among themselves rather than haranguing tourists—a quiet reflection of those hectic events in Thailand. In an effort to realize my dream of owning a huge rip-off DVD collection I bought a rip of the Hunger Games. It didn’t work. At least that is constant throughout Southeast Asia.
To be honest, Vientiane did not make much of an impression on me (us?). It was quiet, for a city, and sprawling, with lots of new construction. To be good sports, wefollowed most of the walking tour laid out in the LP guide and saw many temples and the main monuments. The Buddhist temples were old and impressively decorated and the Pha That Luang (big gold stupa) was very impressive. But Laos is in a state of change and expansion, figuring out where it belongs in the Southeast Asian ecosystem and the world. signs of an ancient culture in flux. The Patuxai monument, modeled after the Arc de Triomphe but covered in Buddhist mythological creatures, is a strange thing to see amongst the majestic temples built 400 years earlier (it was started in 1957 as a dedication to those who fought in the independence war with France). Construction sites also dotted the city, promising modernity, even if the country isn’t quite sure what to do with it yet.
I must also mention that it was very hot, a constant theme throughout our travels this summer. I learned quickly that if I kept explaining to Jason what I thought of the weather (it was hot) with the urgency with which I felt it (it was hot all the time) then we would talk of nothing else. So I tried to bear it in silence. Somewhat successfully.