On February, 27th we boarded a plane in Nashville, Tennessee to begin our journey to Southeast Asia. After a gruelling thirty-six hour flight plan that took us from Tennessee to Laos with stops in Chicago, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, we finally arrived at the airport in the capital city of Laos: Vientiane. When we got off the plane, we made a quick trip through customs and grabbed a taxi to take us to our lodgings for the evening. The ride to our stay was quick and uneventful but afforded us our first impressions of the city. What we encountered was a dense, bustling cityscape buzzing with activity. The roads were packed with all manner of vehicles. Motorbikes, taxis, buses, cars, and more weaved about each other in a controlled chaos. As we rode through the busy streets away from the airport, the eclectic collection of structures forming the center of the city opened up before us. We passed large commercial buildings covered with advertisements, ornate temple compounds with gilded roofs, apartment buildings, hotels, shops, and restaurants with the occasional street food vendors dotting the sidewalk. The taxi driver dropped us off in front of the loft apartment building where we would be staying for the next two nights and we lugged our backpacks to our room. Our loft was a recently refurbished flat on the fourth floor. After spending the previous two days eating, sleeping, and existing in airplanes and airports, we were more than ready for a shower and a long rest. We were eager to ride out the jet lag in our quiet, air conditioned room.
After a lengthy and restorative sleep we awoke the next morning to a large thunderclap. Our plans for exploring the surrounding city would have to be put on hold while we waited out a rare dry-season thunderstorm. Instead we decided to brew some tea and take it to the covered roof of the building to look out over the city. Looking down from above gave us an interesting perspective of Vientiane. Unlike most major cities in the US, Vientiane had maximized the use of its space to a fault. The spaces in between the larger buildings had every manner of structure tucked between them. The houses, apartments, and other living structures were packed together so tightly that the only space to move between them was a labyrinth of slim alleyways and corridors that would not fit two people abreast. The town from above looked like a solid mass of structure separated only by the roads with a smattering of tall buildings accentuating.When the sun came out a few hours later we were finally free to explore the city. Our first stop was a cozy cafe across the street from our building to grab a traditional Lao coffee. From there, we made our way down to the Mekong River which separates Thailand from Laos. On our way we passed the Presidential Palace and the Morning Market, a collection of stalls where locals peddle souvenirs, foods, and other goods to tourists and townspeople alike. On our way back to our loft we grabbed lunch at a traditional Lao restaurant before heading back to rest before the evening.After a quick nap to combat our jet lag symptoms and restore our confused circadian rhythms, we headed back down to the river to check out the popular Riverside Night Market and Riverside Promenade. Everynight in Vientiane, a large portion of the road running parallel to the river is cordoned off and sellers set up matching red tents to sell their wares in the cooling air and fading light. Starting at one end, the individual stands are organized by trade. Clothing and cloth peddlers give way to art and trinkets and then eventually to food and drink. After the market we grabbed a small bite to eat for dinner and retired to our building for the evening.Our final day in Vientiane was spent packing and preparing for the next leg of our journey. We woke up early and made preparations for checkout and got bus tickets to our next desitnation. With time left to spare we grabbed some more coffee and wandered down to the corner mart to grab supplies and snacks as the travel time to our next destination was anywhere from four to six hours long. Before checkout we went to the roof of the building one last time to say our goodbyes to the big city. Vientiane was full of sights and activities and we truly enjoyed our experience there. However, we were very eager to get underway to our next stop. We were bound for the quaint river town of Vang Vieng surrounded by the jagged limestone mountains that we had heard so much about.
Written by: Matthew Mayer