In April 2013 my 2 youngest brothers (Mr Noodle and Ba Boon) were spoiled with a planned family trip to Thailand and Laos. Since my sister-in-law’s Thai, she was in charge of our trip in Thailand and I planned the rest of the trip to Laos. This is what it originally looked like: I was fortunate enough to have been to Laos 6 times already. The very first time we went there in 1993, our dad had to sit us down and lecture us because the things that are “normal” in our everyday life, is seen as pure luxury over there: the squat toilet was a hole in the ground and we took showers with rainwater that was kept in a basin.
And that’s how my brohams remembered Laos. What they wouldn’t expect is how much the country has developed in 10 years: there are normal showers and seating toilets (which I see as a porcelain throne now), the roads are paved, the streets are lit at night, there are more cars then bikes, there’s wifi everywhere and we weren’t the only tourists anymore.
Before heading to my family’s native land, we always stop in Thailand first because there is no direct flight to Laos from Belgium. The first thing I always do when I get there, is go to the most chaotic place in Bangkok: Pratunam. It marks the spot for one of the city’s all-time favourite pursuits: shopping! Here are some of the places you’d see me wandering to fill my almost empty suitcase:
- Pantip Plaza: the Mecca of electronics
- Platinum Fashion Mall: one of Thailand’s largest shopping malls and there’s a food court with a good variety of food (I usually spend about €1 on a meal with a drink)
- Food stands that are everywhere in the streets
- MK restaurant: Thailand’s franchised Suki restaurant and also my family’s favourite
Once my suitcase filled, it was time to head to Laos. We took Nok Air which is the Thai version of Ryanair (a.k.a. cheap). We flew from Bangkok to Udon Thani and then got to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai by coach. Once there, you are required to clear both Thai and Lao immigration process before continuing on another coach that awaits to take you to downtown Vientiane.
We didn’t stay at a fancy hotel in Vientiane since we have family still living there. We stayed at my dad’s brother’s place who lives near Pha That Luang, Laos’ most important national monument which is also the first monument we went to see.
On day 2 after a heavy breakfast, I had to book a minivan with driver and buy plane tickets for the rest of the trip. I’ve paid €100 for the van (Vientiane – Vang Vieng) knowing there are 9 tourists total. The plane tickets (Luang Prabang – Vientiane) cost €90/person. Once that was done, I went with the rest of the family to Wat Si Muang. It’s not the most beautiful temple and yet it’s the only temple that our family goes to in Vientiane.
According to local legend, when the temple was being built in 1563 a young pregnant woman named Si Muang volunteered to sacrifice herself to appease the angry spirits and she threw herself into a hole in the ground where the building’s central pillar was to be placed. She was crushed when the massive pillar was lowered into position. This central pillar also formed the centre of the town that was springing up around Wat Si Muang, which to this day is revered as the ‘mother temple’ of Vientiane. It is commonly thought that if you pray for something there your wish will be granted. I guess you can see it as the “Lourdes” of Vientiane with a bit of a rougher background story.
That same day, we headed out to Talat Sao. The morning market consists of many small shops, restaurants and vegetables vendors outside. Inside, there are shops for purchasing gold, jewelry, silk and clothing (modern and traditional), wooden crafts, electronics, CDs and DVDs/VCDs and general grocery items. If you’re going there, make sure you stop by the food court on the top floor.
To cap off the day, we went to Vientiane’s riverside night market. The market is aimed primarily towards tourists with merchandise that make great souvenirs. For bargain hunters, it’s worth mentioning that everything on offer here can be found at a slightly cheaper price at other markets. The traders seem to have whittled down all the best-sellers from the Talat Sao and set them up in a more attractive and convenient surroundings. It is however a lovely stroll next to the Mekong river.
As you can tell, we hadn’t followed the original plan at all cause circumstances always changes everything. As for my brothers, as long as they get to eat 5 times a day, take showers 3 times a day and they’re allowed to take pictures anywhere, they’re happy troopers.
And so the next day, my posse and I left early and you can read it in the next post for Vang Vieng.