Stray Laos: Vientiane, the Capital
Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asian countries, Vientiane's deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you've done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to the riverside, relax with a cold Beerlao and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
After a few days in Vang Vegas, I was ready to move on, and so were the others. We all jumped on the next Stray bus for the ride down to Vientiane. Charlie, our Swedish tour guide that brought us to Vang Vieng a few days earlier was back with us and we will be staying together for the rest of the trip down south. The bus was the fullest yet with nineteen people. Others were able to grab a spot before I came down so I was stuck in the back seat - the worst place to be with the bumpy road ahead.
Our first stop was just outside of Vang Vieng to check out the Jang Cave, which I have already covered in Vang Vieng post. After that, it was a long ride to the capital city. I was still not feeling well and being in the back of the bus did not help things. Interestingly, at one of the stops I was really craving some Pepsi so I got a bottle but was afraid that it will make me even more bloated. Instead, it actually did help and I felt much better after it, go figure.
Vientiane City Tour
Stray includes a brief city tour of Vientiane as part of the package so that people that only stay for a night can enjoy the highlights in the afternoon. Unlike other cities, Vientiane is much bigger with things farther away and lots of traffic. Our first stop on the tour was Pha That Luang commissioned when the capital was moved from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Before getting to Pha That, one needs to walk through a huge concrete square which is apparently used for markets and parades, but looks very empty and out of place otherwise. Between the concrete square and Pha That, there were two green spaces, nicely landscaped and surrounded by benches that had corporate broadening all over them (communism meets capitalism?) We did not go into Pha That Luang, but instead walked around the area for a bit.
After Pha That Luang. we drove to Patuxai, the Lao take on Arc de Triomphe. The story goes that it was built out of concrete that was intended for building runways during the secret war. That did not seem very plausible as that much concrete would not be enough even for a shortest strip, but it sounds nice. There, we paid 2,000 kip/$0.25 to walk up to the top. Just before reaching the top, there were two floors filled with craft sellers - a mall inside the arc so to say. The view from the top was pretty nice and the ice cream at the bottom was just what the doctor ordered.
Riverwalk And Outdoor Gym
Since our hotel was located just a quick walk from the river walk area, Charlie and I decided to go for a quick jog and see if we can find an outdoor gym there. With the water level very low in Mekong, the river bed was mostly dry and unimpressive. We ran for a quite a bit without finding the gym before looping back to the street and then finally found it. It was a really basic gym with body weight chess press and pull down machines accompanied by a couple stretchers and walkers. That set up was repeated three times to make it look more impressive than it actually was. I was able to get creative with the machines to get a decent upper body work out in the evening and in the morning I added an arm workout using a couple cinder blocks from a pile laying around next to the river walk. The first work out in a month - I am sure I will feel it in a couple of days.