As soon as I heard AirAsia was flying into Vientiane, Laos, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I booked my flight to the city. Having travelled widely in Southeast Asia, Laos was the only country I hadn’t yet visited. Understandably, I was excited to embark on the trip.
My flight took about three hours, and upon arriving at Wattay International Airport, I headed straight for my hotel that was located in downtown Vientiane, and just four kilometres from the airport. Since I arrived on a morning flight, I decided to explore the city directly after checking in, and so, I hailed a taxi and began my city tour.
As my taxi driver navigated the streets of the country’s capital and largest city, the first thing I noticed was how laid-back Vientiane was. To my delight, the former French outpost on the banks of the Mekong was not too crowded and traffic was a breeze. The downtown area was dotted with cafés, boulangeries, and restaurants; feeling peckish, I settled on one establishment for a brunch of eggs on toast washed down with a cup of cappuccino.
Later in the afternoon, I walked along the Mekong riverfront, a popular spot for picnics, friendly soccer matches, and leisurely strolls. Here, ladies on bicycles offered manicure and pedicure services, and just before sunset, locals outfitted in sports gear thronged the riverfront to participate in aerobic exercises – which I later learnt was free for all!
I ended the day by visiting a nearby night market, where I dined on a traditional meal of larb and sticky rice. Considered the national dish of Laos, larb is a salad made from minced meat and fresh herbs, and topped with a drizzling of fish sauce and lime juice. The combination of flavours – salty, sour, and spicy – tantalised my taste buds. I savoured every bite of the salad with handfuls of sticky rice, another Lao staple, and returned to my hotel with a full tummy and a smile on my face.
The next morning, I rented a bicycle and pedalled around the city. The city’s most popular attractions are located close to one another, so it was easy to move from one place to the other on bicycle. Though it was a really hot day, the searing temperatures did not discourage me from exploring the city.
My first stop was Wat Si Saket, a Buddhist temple built in 1818. Across the wat is Haw Phra Kaew, which once housed the famous Emerald Buddha before it was relocated to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. I was transfixed by the beauty of these ornate Lao temples, with their intricate carvings and beautiful paintings.
Next on my list was Patuxai or Victory Gate, which is located in the city centre. This monument is dedicated to those who lost their lives fighting for the country’s independence from France, and the country’s earlier occupiers – Siam (now Thailand) and Japan. Visitors who climb to the top of the monument will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. The monument is encircled by Patuxai Park – beautifully landscaped grounds that are ideal for a spot of rest and relaxation.
After a brief break to recharge at Patuxai Park, I continued my bicycle tour of the city with a visit to Pha That Luang, a magnificent Buddhist temple adorned with a golden stupa. A symbol of the city, this revered place of worship is said to contain a relic of Lord Buddha.
I also visited COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise)’s National Rehabilitation Centre, which has an excellent visitor centre that showcases informative displays on prosthetics, and unexploded ordnance (UXO) – an unfortunate legacy of the Vietnam (American) War.
My short sojourn to Vientiane was capped with a tour of Vieng Khuan, also known as Buddha Park. This sculpture park was established in 1958 by a monk who studied both Buddhist and Hindu philosophies, which explains the park’s interesting statues. Among the impressive displays are a reclining statue of Lord Buddha, and characters from both Buddhist and Hindu mythologies.
Vientiane was a pleasure to discover, and now that I’ve visited all the countries in Southeast Asia, I’m looking forward to spreading my wings even farther… with AirAsia’s help, of course. East and South Asia – here I come!
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