Tuesday, May 18, 2010

24 hours in Vientiane (Vieng Chan), Laos

Break your fast with an the omelet special or a flaky pastry at the Scandinavian Bakery near the fountain in the center of town, taking in a week old Bangkok Post, or splash out for the latest Vientiane Times, available at the register. After you've had your fill, head to the morning market (Dalat Sao) for a spot of shopping. This is the best place to pick up a stunning Laos style sarong, a bottle of local liquor with a snake in it, or a bronze cast Buddha.

When the haggling wears you down, regain your serenity at the 16th century temple Haw Phra Kaow . If your nerves need additional calming (and you're not templed out), the nearby Wat Si Saket offers further sanctuary from the pushy tuk tuk drivers outside.

By now it's time for lunch, and in Vientiane you're spoiled for options. Take your pick from excellent (and cheap!) Indian, French, Italian, Laos, and Thai options everywhere you turn.

The weirdest and some would say most interesting sight in the vicinity is the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) some 24 km away from central Vientiane, past the friendship bridge. A grassy field strewn with surreal concrete Buddha's, this place is one of a kind and a definite must see. To get there rent a motorbike and drive yourself or get ready to put those bargaining skills to use with a tuk tuk driver.

Next, beat the afternoon heat and practice that butterfly stroke at the Vientiane Swimming Pool near the stadium. Entrance costs 10,000 kip (around $1.20).

As sunset approaches, treat your weary muscles to a super hot sauna and massage with the monks at Wat Sok Pa Luang. It might seem odd to have a sauna in such heat, but it relaxes.

By now it's time for dinner so head to Kop Chai Deu near the fountain for some tasty Laos food and Beer Laos on tap.

Laos nightlife is picking up these days, so head to Samlor Pub for a spot of mixing and dancing, or grab some pals and go for bowling at one of the popular venues. When you've bowled your last frame, head to Future Tech to mingle with a young Laos crowd, or to Don Chan Palace, popular with both Laos and foreigners and open until 4 AM on the weekends.


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