Around the World Trip: Vientiane, Laos!

*By Whitney*

This was the seventh country we visited on our trip, and the second country in the Southeast Asian portion of our trip!

If you haven’t already, check out my posts on our other stops: 

Timeline for Vientiane: September 23rd-27th

We flew to Vientiane, in southern Laos, from Luang Prabang, in northern Laos. We almost skipped Vientiane, because I cared the most about Luang Prabang, and I originally read that the only way to get from one to the other was by a sketchy bus. After reading several horror stories about the buses, and knowing I have a slight history of car sickness, I was not adventurous enough to try it out. But we figured out that you could in fact fly between the two, so it got added to the itinerary. Unfortunately, flying meant skipping the “classic” backpacker stop over in Vang Vieng. Maybe next time!

Vientiane was a much bigger city than Luang Prabang and a little less touristy, but it certainly wasn’t a “big” city. We were happy that it had a little more going on, meaning more choices in restaurants, cafes, street food, gyms, etc. We also found the prices were a little bit cheaper since it wasn’t so touristy. We stayed in a nice Guest House through Airbnb that was just a block from the night market and the riverfront. The Airbnb was great and had everything we needed: a nice private room and private bathroom; a mini fridge; a hot water kettle for coffee; plenty of space to put our bags including a wardrobe and a desk. I mention these things because I think we had taken them for granted at the time, because after Vientiane we had a series of a few less than perfect Airbnb homes!

Room

What We Did in Vientiane

I think we were quite lazy in Vientiane. We slept late lots of times and wasted a lot of the day! We spent some time at cafes working on the websites (continuing to get Travel Therapy Mentor off the ground). We went to two different gyms, one much nicer than the other. We enjoyed several sunsets over the Mekong river which was an awesome sight! We visited their local mall which was a big complex like we had seen in Chiang Mai, but unfortunately we didn’t go to any cheap movies because their movie theater didn’t have as many showings in English!

 

As far as sightseeing, we visited many beautiful Lao temples, one museum inside a temple, and the Patuxai war monument.

 

We also visited the “COPE” (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) visitor center which was a really neat experience! The COPE center offers rehabilitation, orthotic and prosthetic services to disabled individuals all over Laos. Many of the disabled people they help are due to injuries and amputations sustained from UXOs (unexploded ordinances aka bombs that didn’t go off when they landed during the American-Vietnam war). We had read a little about these before our trip, but the visitors center gave us a lot of education on this. Apparently many of them go off due to farm work or digging, due to fires lit over top of the ground where a UXO is buried causing an explosion, or due to the local people searching for scrap metal to sell or use and accidentally disturbing a bomb. It was astonishing to learn more about how many bombs were dropped by the US over southeast Asia, including over Laos. The UXOs have resulted in over 70,000 casualties in Laos since 1964. They estimate 15,000 survivors currently in need of support. While there, I inquired about observing during a rehabilitation session, but they said that this was not open to visitors. I also inquired about volunteers needed since Jared and I are both PT’s, however they said that generally they only accept long-term volunteers of at least 3 months. I would really love to help out, but I also know that Jared and I don’t have a lot of experience or expertise in working with amputees and O&P. I think in the future we will consider doing something of this nature, although it would probably be better as an organized mission trip with a group of PTs.

 

On our last evening, we were able to meet up with some friends we had met previously in Luang Prabang. We went to a cool rooftop restaurant and bar with them, played some pool, and caught another beautiful sunset over the Mekong River from the rooftop view!

 

Heading Back to Thailand

When we left home in July, we had our trip planned out from July-September including all of our Europe stops, Morocco, and our month in Chiang Mai. We also had a little bit of the last part of the trip planned from November to December, including our flight home and working backwards a couple stops in southern Thailand. We had September-November wide open to be planned later, knowing we wanted to go to a few places in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. While in Chiang Mai, we realized we also wanted to visit Chiang Rai which we had heard great things about. It was a really close to Chiang Mai, however we didn’t want to overstay our 30 days in Thailand and have to get a visa, so we decided to leave Thailand to go to Laos, then return to Thailand. So our next stop after Laos was back to Thailand to the lovely city of Chiang Rai!

Next Stop: Chiang Rai, Thailand!

 

Insider Tips on Vientiane, Laos:

  • For tips on hygiene and sanitation, check out the insider tips section at the bottom of my Chiang Mai post! Most of it applies for all of Southeast Asia!
  • Unlike Thailand, they don’t have the ultra convenient 7-Eleven stores that we knew and loved as Westerners. But they do have convenience stores by other names!
  • The currency in Laos is the “kip” which is has HUGE denominations compared to the dollar, and we found the bills quite confusing! The conversion is roughly 8500 kip to one dollar.
  • In Vientiane, you can find tuktuks or local taxis to drive you places. Grab doesn’t work there.
  • We had a fairly easy time getting around with most people speaking some English.
  • There’s a good selection of “Western” restaurants, bars, cafes, coffee shops and other amenities in Vientiane.
  • “Beer Lao” their local beer is pretty good and also pretty cheap!
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