Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vientiane: Cocktails in the Capital

From Vang Vieng, it was a (relatively) short “VIP” bus ride to the nation’s capital: Vientiane.  For anyone wondering, VIP really just means that there are almost enough seats for everyone in an old double-decker bus.  Plus it’s a bit (50 cents) more expensive than the jam-packed minibuses so it was just tourists.

We’ve spent about 36 hours here in Vientiane, just enough to write a travel piece for the New York Times.  In fact, we followed a few of the Times’ suggestions from a 2012 piece to have great cocktails one evening (Jazzy Brick) and a fabulous French meal the second (L’adresse de Tinay).

However, the Times may have exaggerated the number of hours needed to tour this small city.  We’ve visited plenty of temples and had innumerable Beerlaos along the banks of the Mekong, so these activities perhaps didn’t hold the same draw as they would have at the beginning of our adventures in Southeast Asia. 

However, we did greatly enjoy wandering the streets of the city.  There are sidewalks everywhere (a rarity) and, since we were here over the weekend, the traffic was fairly calm.  The city center is home to sidewalk cafes, French bakeries, and even wine shops – all great places to escape the midday heat.  We also made our way up a long boulevard, which our guidebook attempted to compare to the Champs Elysée.  Although the comparison is a bit of a stretch, the tree-lined street provided glimpses of various government buildings, including the presidential palace, as well as Vientiane’s own version of the Arc d’Triomphe. 

Vientiane’s Patuxay, or Victory Arch, is quite an impressive structure from a distance.  Closer up, however, the cement is crumbling and even the city wasn’t incredibly impressed with its monument, at least according to the plaque it had erected.  However, we thought the most interesting thing about the arch was that it wasn’t supposed to be an arch at all – it was supposed to be an airport.  The US government had donated funding and cement for Laos to build a new airport, but the Laotians decided against this more practical use of the materials and erected the Patuxay instead.

At least there were great views from the top!

As the temperatures approached the low 90s, we decided it was time to take a break from wandering along the city’s sweltering sidewalks.  We determined that fancy bars almost always have air-conditioning, so stopped in for a cocktail or two at a new watering hole we had read about.  From there, we wanted to continue on to try a few other places we had researched.  That was when our afternoon started to head downhill.  The next trendy cocktail bar on the list had long since closed (thanks Travel + Leisure) and we simply couldn’t find the bar with allegedly great sunset views over the Mekong (thanks New York Times).  We thus decided to stop at a cute-looking wine bar we had passed instead.  We settled in to enjoy our drinks and watch the passersby; however, a homeless man appeared to interrupt our quiet afternoon.  He was not interested in Stephanie’s purse or our laptop, but was instead absolutely determined to steal Giorgio’s beer.  After he asked politely a few times, he simply took Giorgio’s glass and chugged the beer, also knocking over Stephanie’s wine.  At this point, we decided it was definitely time to head back to our hotel.   

After regrouping, our luck turned.  We thoroughly enjoyed the previously mentioned perfect French meal, followed by a nightcap at a "secret" cocktail bar we found down a dark alley.  After looking up the bar's name, we realized we were in some sort of Lao "Milk & Honey" where the bartender would create any concoction you desired for the sum of 50,000 kip.  We missed that memo, but still enjoyed a stiff gin and tonic and a full glass of scotch - also for only 50,000 kip each.

Today is our last day in Laos and we are about to catch our Thai Airways flight to Phuket, where we'll spend eight days at two different beach resorts on the Andaman Sea  It will certainly be a change of pace from backpacking through the rest of the region.  Onward to the "real" honeymoon!


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