Thursday, March 22, 2007

Laos--Vientiane, March 3 & 4, 2006

Last year, we traveled to Southeast Asia. Since we have fallen a bit behind in posting our trip, and before it disappears completely from our "rearview mirror," we wanted to post some pictures and report on some of the highlights that we failed to get to when we returned last Spring .

Among our most memorable experiences was the capital city of Laos, Vientiane. Laos is a socialist republic in Southeast Asia bordered by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and Thailand. In its more recent history, it gained independence from France in 1949, but civil war continued until the Communist party took over the country in 1975. Private and foreign enterprise started in 1987, but the country is still among the poorest in Asia.

Located along the banks of the Mekong River, the old colonial city of Vientiane is the capital of Laos. With dusty streets and crumbling sidewalks, it feels as if it has been in a sort of suspended animation since the early '70's. Yet, it has a distinctive charm about it because of its rusticity and lack of urbanity. It can easily be covered by foot (or better by bicycle) in a day.

One of our first stops was Pha That Luang, the Great Stupa, the national symbol of Laos. The construction of the stupa is known to be started in 1566 on the site of former Khmer temple. A Thai invasion followed by a Chinese invasion in 19th century severely destroyed the temple until France took the control of Laos in 1893. With the help of France, in 1930 the temple was rebuilt.

We rented bicycles for a day for 20,000 Kip, approximately $2 ($1=10,600kip) to visit temples and shops. Since the climate was very hot and humid, we kept our sightseeing activities to a minimum during the midday hours and took the opportunity to rest at a cafe, eat, and drink some of the delicious freshly squeezed local fruit juice.

We found a wonderful sandwich shop, Nampou Coffee near our hotel. During breakfast hours, local people were eating a noodle dish like Vietnamese Pho, which we decided to give a try. We also found that in Laos people eat Vietnamese Banh Mi like sandwich as well. The sandwich was filled with pork, cucumber, and sauteed onion and carrots with mayo and was perfectly matched with Beer Lao. We tried three different sandwich shop, and concluded that Namphou Coffee's sandwich was the best.

For dinner, one evening we feasted at a small family run place, Vilayluc, which we found via a Japanese guidebook. It looked like someone's home turned into a restaurant. The proprietor was very friendly, and we ordered her recommendation of laap (like laab in Thai), spicy curry and a dish she called "waterfall beef" (also similar to aThai dish). Since their history is so intertwined it is no surprise that Lao food resembles Thai, though like Vietnamese food, not as spicy. Lao dishes are filled with herbs and fresh vegetables, and you eat them with sticky rice. Khao Niaw, as it is called , is eaten with your fingers, molded into a ball and used to mop up the juice of the dish. We still remember the dinner at Vilayluc as one of the best that we had in all of Southeast Asia.

Namphu Coffee
57 Pangkham Rd., near the corner of Samsenthai Rd.

behind Wat Ong Teu

Other Restaurants & Sandwich shops:

turn left on Samsenthai Rd. on the road to That Dam

344 Samsenthai Rod.

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