I have to admit that this is more of a recently rather than a just back review but the memories of my first trip to Laos are still reasonably fresh. We flew from Saigon with Vietnam air and arrived in Vientiane with very little idea of what to expect. The quick and easy baggage retrieval and customs/immigration were wonderful after previous experiences in Bali and Sydney airports. $30 and two passport photos were all that it took to get us into Laos and another $8 to get a taxi to our hotel - the Beau Rivage - right on the banks of the Mekong just in time to see a spectacular sunset.
Our hotel was excellent albeit a little idiosyncratic in its decor/colour scheme. Located an easy 10 minute walk from the markets, shops and restaurants, the Beau Rivage was a great place to stay. Its Australian owner, Gordon, was always helpful and informative and the breakfasts at the Spirit House restaurant were delicious. They could be eaten inside or at the tables and chairs next to the river though the mornings were generally so cold that al fresco breakfasts had us rugging up in polar fleeces and jackets.
Our first day consisted of hiring a tuk tuk and visiting the wats along Th Setthathirat which was really a waste of our money ($20) as most of what we saw was an easy walk from our hotel. We were also taken to the huge golden stupa near the national stadium and then to the Patuxai monument before being dropped off at the day markets.
The day market was hectic, hot and crowded. i had wanted to buy one of the gorgeous silk wall hangings that you see all over Laotian hotels and thought the market would be a good place to start if only to get an idea of prices. We also went to buy the books and pencils(recommended by Rufuscat) to go with the kids' clothes we had bought over to give to a local school. (This was organized by the hotel staff who took them to a school outside of Vientiane) We ended up getting a good idea of the range and prices but it was also our first experience of Laotian "capitalism" which is about as far from a hard sell as you can get. Used to the full on salespeople in Vietnam, China and Bali we were lucky if we could get the shop assistants to stop chatting to their friends/ watching Thai TV or put down their mobile phone/ bowl of noodles long enough to notice they had potential customers.
The rest of our time in the capital was spent walking along the wide quiet streets, stopping to visit the many temples and enjoying the many delicious places to eat. My favourite was the French restaurant Le Central but you would be very unlucky to find a bad restaurant. My only disappointment was that we had left going to Amphone until our last night which happened to be a Sunday and the only day it was closed! A special mention also for the Delight House of Fruit Shakes and the Beau Rivage hotel's Spirit House restaurant which seems to get the balance just right with Lao food for foreigners.
Some have complained about Vientiane being too boring but we found that it was a wonderful introduction to the laid back style of the Laotian people. Friendly, safe, relaxed and very civilized with numerous places to eat delicious food, drink imported wine and enjoy a cold local beerlao. Perhaps it helped that we broke up our 4 night stay there with a trip to Vang Vieng. What a contrast but that's for my next JBR. Thanks for reading .