Perspectives Abroad

politics, culture, language – south east asia

vientiane nights


as my time in vientiane winds down you can expect a flurry of posts. things that i’ve finally digested. things that are no longer novelties or annoyances (yes i have made my peace with the neighborhood dogs and their nightly chorus),  but that have become part of my daily fabric. of the routines and places that will come to symbolize my time here. the first  centres around my nightly pilgrimage from ‘downtown’ to my little wicker hut on the outskirts of vientiane.

full disclosure: my camera became possessed at some point in hanoi and now has a mind all its own, hence i’ve been forced to pilfer most of the images in this post. none the less they are all places i pass daily.

click here for some musical accompaniment on our nite bike ride through VTE.

novotel_vientiane-exterior_view-mainpost-work finds us biking down rue samsenthai, banana shake in hand, to the novotel for our poolside workout. put your favorite cd in the stereo and hop on the treadmill. aging europeans will be flaunting and fanning themselves in speedos while downing lao lao with tonic.


post-novotel you’ll probably find yourself eating dinner somewhere along rue fa ngum and seeing something like this. those trees on the other side are thailand. you will have ample opportunity to observe the social habits of the backpacker in action. getting into and out of long haul tuk tuks. hunting down the dodgiest of guesthouses. single, usually female ones, sitting on the ground surrounded by the packs of her fellow travellers. we shall call her pack rat, and i believe her function is to guard the packs while her brethren search out accomodation. while they themselves are transient, liminal creatures their combined prescence amounts to something of an institution. a leviathan of thriftiness that contirubtes a very substantial portion of lao GDP. saving money never made so much cents.

you will see other things too. some that u didnt want to see. old men, young girls. amputees. fake amputees. midgets. people who should have left long ago but didnt. geriatric japanese hippies who are stuck in time and have been reduced to begging and perpetual confusion. hummers (at 100% tax on all vehicles that is a very very very expensive machine for an LDC). and mostly teenage lao racing past in pairs on their honda waves, yaking at each other as they weave through the street.

adia_2007_05_17_dsc_3159_pregnant_lady_working_as_a_vendor_in_night_market_lamp_laos_luang_prabang_cringelcomacross the street, on the banks of the mekong, mini-stands are being set up to sell  fabric for sins – the ubiqutous lao skirt. enterprising vendors also roam and you may be offered to buy a large net (?) or bootleg viagra while finishing off your laap – spicy minced meat salad with basil, chillies, and mint leaves.

IH214282back on samsenthai and heading out of town, the buildings begin to show some wear and tear. with dust thick in the air, the street lights mark out a blurred haze on the road ahead. people lament that the thai treat vientiane as an outpost, a frontier town before heading out to the lush beauty of the countryside in their oversized SUVs.

img_9114make a right on rue chao anou and stop off at the night market to pick up pomelos and pistachios for a late evening snack. if its friday grab some limes and tonic to go with your korean jinlu. nine times out of ten a couple of  feral dogs will get into a vicious scrap in the middle of the alley, while little kids throw their shoes at them – either in encouragement or protest i’m never really sure.


1 Comment»

  dad wrote @

Sounds much idyllic than I remember it but then again downtown big city anywhere has limited appeal to me. I appreciate your ability to romanitize the “other”.and see past the surface squalor.
Great desciption of the backpack crowd.
PS. Had to look up liminal!

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