Lazy Days, Leisurely Strolls, and Laab in Vientiane

You’ll likely read about it in guidebooks ahead of time, hear it spoken from fellow travelers, and see it printed out on brochures and travel ads before embarking, but as soon as you touch down in Laos, you’ll realize that the idea behind what seems like the National motto — “LPDR: Lao, Please Don’t Rush” — will begin to rise beyond the mere cleverness of the phrase and seem to invade every aspect of daily life.  It is a marvelous mindset on how to live one’s life, a perspective that seems as though it should only be reserved for sleepy beach towns and tropical islands, but somehow it still shines through in landlocked-Laos.

Of course, for those of us who are accustomed to letting our watches dictate our lives, this laissez-faire attitude towards the passage of time can be more than frustrating at times (for example, if your bus leaves within an hour of the time stamped on your ticket, consider yourself lucky).  Getting into the flow of things is easier than it seems at first however, so feel free to take an extra hour leisurely strolling through the French Colonial facades, read a few extra chapters of your book while sitting in that cafe, and stick around on that park bench to watch the sunset disappear over the mountains — you’ll be glad you did.

As an intro to my Lao adventure, I first started in the capital city of Vientiane: a city that won’t win any architectural awards nor will it command your attention with jaw-dropping sights, but isn’t yet without its own charms.  It is a perfect city to start practicing the “Please Don’t Rush” philosophy, with its many luxurious hotels and guesthouses, European-style cafes and bakeries, far less traffic than many of the other capital cities in the region, enough Wats to keep the history buffs busy, and a seemingly endless riverfront walk along the Mekong River.

The streets of Vientiane (notice the absence of the motorbike parade that you find in many other nearby cities – you can finally cross the street without triggering a heart attack or having to change your underwear!)

The River Walk along the Mekong River

Pha That Luang – the National symbol of Laos

Buddha images lining the walls of Wat Sisaket

Each of the thousands of small niches along the walls also contain several smaller Buddha images

Beaded Bracelets for sale

Patuxai, also known as the Victory Arch, commemorating the Lao who died in pre-revolutionary wars

You can climb to the top, too, and get a great view back over the city (also see my opening picture for another angle)

Looking back down over the streets of Vientiane

The colorful entranced to Wat Inpeng

The daily Night Market along the River Front

Given that Vientiane marked an additional new country for me (Laos), it was time again for me to dive into another new cuisine.  And as has been the theme with my last few food posts around Southeast Asia, the Lao cuisine has many similarities with its neighboring countries — most specifically, the Issan region of Thailand, though many influences can also be found in Vietnam and Cambodia.  For example, the typical breakfast food is known as Foe, which is yet another version of noodles served in a chicken or beef broth (a la Vietnamese Pho or Khmer Kyteow)

One characteristic of Lao food that differentiates it from its neighbors is that most dishes are served with significantly fewer liquid components (such as coconut milk in curries), as each dish is accompanied with a bamboo container of sticky rice and is intended to be eaten with the hands (thus, less liquid equals less of a mess).  The most distinctive dish in the Lao repertoire is that of Laab, which is a salad-like main dish of minced meat (chicken, fish, beef, and pork are most common) mixed with a plentiful portion of chilies, lime juice, shallots, and mint.  Here are a few of the dishes I was able to try:

Foe, seen here with crispy pork and rice noodles

The Foe broth is deliberately served mild, as each diner is expected to adjust the flavor to suit their own tastes using any and/or all of the MANY condiments that are available

Beef Laab

Laab Xong Kheuang, or Laab made with Duck meat

Baan Lao Fried Noodles

If there is a Night Market selling food, it’s likely where you’ll find me

And finally, to wash it all down, the cool and refreshing beverage of choice in Laos: Beerlao

With the few days I had available now leisurely spent in Vientiane, I’m next off to take in the beautiful scenery of Vang Vieng with Luang Prabang on deck.  Though I’m heading into the mountains with both locations, I’m still pretty sure that the slow pace of life is still going to be present, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  Until then, Jook from Vientiane!

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

8 Responses to “Lazy Days, Leisurely Strolls, and Laab in Vientiane”

  1. I’m in love with the first photo. And it’s true, time seems to stop in Laos. I also visited this country 3 years back and made me realize that when we don’t rush, we often notice the beauty around us.
    And you were able to go to the top of the Victory Arch! 🙂 It was a nice view you got there. I wasn’t able to do the same.
    Have you also noticed that Beer Lao is too big? Have you tried the carrot salad?
    Eager to read your post about Luang Prabang. Have safe travels!

    • The big bottles of Beer Lao are definitely a bit unnecessary. I always found it pretty humorous that whenver I’d eat at one of the outdoor-open-air-grille places, they’d just automatically set down an large, open bottle before I even had time to say no. Oh well.

      And I’m glad you mentioned the carrot salad. I haven’t yet tried it (I’ve had the many other varieties: papaya, cucumber, etc.), but I’m now on a mission — I’ll let you know how it is!

  2. As I am interested in beads and beading, I wonder–what kind of beads were those? Some of them looked very pearly, but were huge!

    • They were actually wooden beads that had been painted over with a clear coating, giving them the almost translucent look. I’ve seen these several times at the markets since I’ve arrived in Laos, but I haven’t been able to figure out their significance yet (perhaps a specialty craft of one of the local hill tribes?). If I see them again, I’ll be sure to ask and let you know, as I’m curious now myself.

  3. I’m going to Laos next month so this post of yours is definitely what I need to read before leaving. I’m looking forward to reading more posts on Laos!

    • I’ll admit that I knew very little about Laos before setting foot in the country, but it has quickly become one of my favorites of my whole trip so far. I know I don’t haven’t gotten the post up yet, but I’d highly recommend stopping in the Luang Prabang Province, as the Mekong River cutting a path through the mountiains makes for some absolutely beautiful vistas. I’ve got at least two more posts to go in Laos, but regardless, I wish you the best on your trip!

      • Andrew, I just returned from a great week in Laos and I’m glad I took some notes of the local dishes that you mentioned in this post. I love Lao foods very much! Thanks for that!

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