Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Vientiane is the dusty, funky capital city of Laos. Originally the capital of a Lao kingdom, Viang Chan (before the French mis-transliterated the name) was a tributary of the Siam kingdom to the west before becoming the capital of the united Lan Xang kingdom in 1560. Over the ages, the capital was looted, burned to the ground and made tributary by the Siamese, Vietnamese, and Burmese, leaving few remaining original structures. The city was remade in 1805 by Siamese-backed prince Chao Anou, then leveled again in 1828 when the prince rebelled. The French made it their quiet colonial capital when they forced the Siamese to hand over the area east of the Mekong in 1893, remaking the city again and adding some beautiful colonial buildings. When the country oriented toward the communist bloc after 1975, the several bad concrete block apartments and buildings were added. The result is interesting and strange, as you can see from these pictures. The city sort of has a feeling of a frontier town. In fact, before the communists cleaned things up, Vientiane was an epicenter of Cold War intrigue, where spies and journalists lived on the edge and opium, prostitution and gambling were rampant.

Vientiane is not a beautiful city, exactly, but it has a strange charm. It also has some great food.

Chicken green-curry. Thailand is right across the river from the city, so the cuisine is heavily influenced by Thai cuisine, even though the area of Thailand that borders Laos is mostly ethnically Lao.

My favorite meal was at this popular lunch spot.

A Lao version of Pho, but with pork instead of beef or chicken. Lots of fresh veggies (our no-locally washed vegetable rule had to go out the window if we wanted to enjoy the local cuisine) lime, chilies and salt.

The next day at a similar roadside home/restaurant, we had grilled chicken and a green-papaya salad, along with some sort of exotic bean I had never seen before.

Grill warrior ladies.

Vientiane is not all moldy 20th century buildings. However most of the older structures have been restored and remodeled extensively. Here is Pha That Luang, the country's most important stupa and a symbol of Lao sovereignty. The legend has it that a bone from Buddha himself was buried here, unlike most stupas in this region of the world. Stupas are meant to be reliquaries for parts or ash of the Buddha, but very few actually prove to be.

It is good luck to purchase a few sparrows (odd numbers are best) and set them free. No doubt so this lady can trap them again and repeat the cycle with the next tourist. We did it anyway.

Above is Haw Pha Kaeo, the former royal temple near the former royal palace (now the presidential palace). This temple was originally built in 1565 to house the famed emerald Buddha (actually made of jade). In 1779 the Siamese stole the emerald Buddha and in 1828 they razed the temple. The current version was restored by the French in the 1930's.

At nearby Wat Si Saket, hundreds of broken Buddha images are kept in a pile. Around the cloister that surrounds the Siam-style temple, are hundreds of non-damaged statues from various time periods, including some from the 15th and 16th centuries.


  1. mmm delicious yet again! that papaya salad looks amazing.

  2. What I would give to go back in time and experience that night in Luang Prabang with you guys. Just amazing and described in such a way that allows the reader to almost feel temporarily transformed.

  3. and by transformed I meant transported....