Vientiane, Laos: How to Relax without Really Trying


Sorry Montevideo, but your reign as the most laid-back capital city has come to an end. Vientiane is so laid-back it could make the most hard-core, type-A, workaholic sort of person chill out within minutes.

I really do try to have no expectations when arriving somewhere, but come on, a capital city? You just can’t help but think of a bundle of buildings scraping the sky, swarms of vehicles vexing pedestrians, and packs of people passing with purpose. Vientiane was surprisingly none of that.

Our relatively short taxi ride from the airport to The New Lao Paris Hotel, took us past many tiendas selling things that make life go: bags of cement, re-bar, buckets, scooter tires, and beer. Okay, so they probably aren’t called “tiendas.” Sue me.

We never saw a single skyscraper and arriving in the center of the city was like wandering into some quaint little town in South Carolina or some such place. The buildings were only three or four stories with cute hotels and inviting restaurants everywhere.

Pork laab, Lao sausage and BeerLao. Yum!

Pork laab, Lao sausage, and BeerLao. Yum!

It was beer o’clock, so we dumped our bags in the room and followed our noses to a nearby restaurant. We had our first BeerLaos, laab, and Lao sausages. Yum, yum, and yum! Laab is a spicy ground meat, in this case, pork, with cilantro, mint, and other veggies. A very enjoyable heat punctuated the dish and the BeerLao did its job to cool our palates.  The Lao sausages were a tasty treat as well.

We overlooked one of the major streets, which is to say, not a very large street at all. Lots of Westerners… lots of Westerners our age and older.

The youngsters were present, too. In fact, a couple sat down near us and spoke at such a decibel level that we couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. 20-somethings I’d imagine. My god. She was from Europe somewhere and he was from the US. She aspired to be a museum manager. I don’t know for what, maybe nail-clippings of famous boy-bands.

Backpackers in Vientiane

Backpackers in Vientiane

He was a professional skateboarder, of mediocre talent by his own admission, who desperately needed to grow up (my assessment, not his). He wanted to travel, skateboard, get paid handsomely and, get this, knock up a high school girl. Who says that kind of thing, let alone just think it? I’m sure the young woman from Europe was impressed. He also threatened to commit suicide if he ever had to go work a “real job.” Well, let’s hope he finds a real job before a willing high school girl.

But, I digress. Morning and evening walks along the Mekong river were very pleasant. We saw a group of people exercising to bad ’80s rock, loads of people swatting a badminton birdie to and fro, joggers, walkers, vendors, and even a juggler.

Morning exercise along the Mekong river to the beat of awful '80s rock.

Morning exercise along the Mekong river to the beat of awful ’80s rock.

We liked Vientiane quite a bit and can totally understand why many Westerners were making it home if even for a short time. The dollar goes a long way here, the food is fabulous, and beers are cheap, big, and cold. It’s a mellow place. So mellow in fact it could probably put a hippie into a coma.

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