Compared to the rest of its neighbour countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Vientiane is not highly seen as a cool capital city. Most people complain about how boring Vientiane is. I agree that it does not offer so much to do and to see. But as someone has told me: “It depends on how you make of it”. Certainly, 24 hours are enough to explore this city, but at the same time, it has been underestimated among travellers I reckon.
Arriving in Vientiane and I was very much surprised with how smooth everything went. From the airport to the city centre took me roughly 15 minutes. Roads are quite similar to what I have seen in most South East Asia’s countries, particularly Cambodia. Yes it was my first time in Laos, but it was quite easy to pick up the culture there. Their language sounds very much like Thai which helped me a bit to get around after picking up some Thai lesson before. It might be the first time but things seemed so familiar.
On my way to the hostel, it was one straight road from where the taxi dropped me off. Despite the gloomy weather, it was quite a cool day. Even though the walk was not long but it was hard not to notice many temples along the way. Roads were pretty dusty and the traffic seemed surprisingly idle. Crossing the road might be still a bit terrifying but people tended to stop for me. They smiled at me but probably they found me awkwardly crossing the road like a typical tourist.
Quickly dropped my bag, I went out and sought for a bicycle. Only 10,000 kip ($1.20) for a day rental, I got myself a decent bike. Traffic in Vientiane is not hectic like some other cities that I have ridden in. I hardly rode for 10 minutes, a small temple appeared to be quite touristy on the right of Rue Setthathilath. It is called Haw Phra Kaew (Hor Pha Keo), a former temple in Vientiane. As I overheard a guide speaking in German, the temple is now used as a museum of religious art. He also explained the meaning of each buddha placed in most temples – how their hands face to different directions has distinct meanings. The temple itself is small but gives you the first glance at the Lao temple’s architecture. It is somewhat similar to most Thai temples, in particular how the roof is designed and details are mainly in gold.
Got back on the bike and rode further in the direction to The Little House Cafe. I was not sure if I was on the right road but it was not a matter. Clouds seemed to clear out and the sun started to show up. Vientiane does need the sun to show people its charisma. Palm trees stood on both sides of the road which brought the feel of freshness, along with some great architectural buildings. I passed by the Vientiane City Pillar Shrine or known as Wat Si Muang, which appeared to me as a temple. From the outside, it looked absolutely beautiful with the layered roof and three dragon heads reaching outward from each staircase handle. Just less than two minutes cycle, I arrived at The Little House Cafe.
Having heard of The Little House Cafe for quite many times, it was quite a pleasant visit to try the taste of Lao coffee. The Japanese design inspired cafe is located in an alley in front of a temple. I learned that hand drip coffee is popular in Laos because people prefer drinking light coffee. The traditional Lao coffee is with condensed milk which is influenced by the Vietnamese coffee. At The Little House Cafe, I went for a black coffee to really get to know the flavour of Lao coffee beans. And I gotta say, it was a good choice. Being hand-dripped for about 10 minutes, the fruity but light savor got me hooked.
It took me almost an hour in the cafe because of its relaxing atmosphere but then cycled on again. I made a turn to Ave Lane Xang and found myself in front of the Patuxay Monument which is referred to the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane. With no doubt, it is a stunning monument with a great architecture. The sun was setting and it could not look any better. The golden light shone on the building and brought up the green colour of palm trees on both sides of the building.
Riding around for another hour and I found myself lost. The traffic got heavier than earlier but it was still easy to get through with my bicycle. I might have not known where I was at but it only took awhile until I got back to the main road to my hostel. But I was chasing the golden light I saw in front of me. It led me to the Mekong river and there I was, witnessing one spectacular sunset. The golden light shone above the water of the river, turned the sight into a gorgeous picture. I stood there and watched people trying to capture the scenery on their cameras. One couple was sitting there hand-in-hand calmly watching the sun going down. Oh well, you know what I had in mind – yea, if I would have someone to share this moment with.
I do wish that I had another day to stay in Vientiane to visit the Buddha Park but it was a well spent day in Vientiane. Being lost, hopping cafes, seeing temples and watching the sun go down, I had no complains. Vientiane has its own beauty that maybe you should let yourself wander and soak in it goodness.