The sun was shining. The temperature was warm but not too hot. A nice breeze was flowing through the city. The day was perfect for our 24 hour tour of Vientiane.
Alan’s 30 days and my 60 days in Thailand were almost up, and we had to figure out our game plan for the rest of our stay in the country. Either we leave and fly back in getting another 30 days that could be extended to 60, or we leave and hit up a Thai Embassy in one of the bordering countries to get a tourist Visa.
We chose the latter option.
I didn’t want to risk not getting the extension, and a tourist Visa from the embassy would actually cost less.
It was settled. Alan and I were heading to Laos, and since we were already paying to get there, we figured why not make the most of it and explore a bit.
The Thai Embassy is in Laos’s capital Vientiane, so we booked a mini bus from Chiang Mai to get there. Terrible idea, but I’ll tell you more about that some other time.
Our first day there was pretty much used up getting across the border and dealing with the embassy. By the time we got to our hotel, we were both so tired that we crashed. All we did that first night was go out for dinner and then back to the hotel for more sleep.
Our 24 hour tour of Vientiane begins!
The next morning we were rested up and ready to explore the city before leaving for Luang Prabang the next day.
We decided the best way to see Vientiane was by renting bikes and cycling around the city. We found a bike rental/laundry place near the corner of Rue Nokeokoummane and Yonnet Rd. The bikes are pretty old school, but the rental price for 24 hours was only 10,000 kip ($1.23 US)! Can’t beat that!
Our extended Visas would be ready at 1:30pm that day, so we had to plan our stops around it.
Before we began our cycling tour, we filled up on smoothies and fruit from Fruit Heaven. I saw the small eatery the day before when we were walking to our hotel and was intrigued. Well, for me, the thought was better than the fruit. The smoothies were simply gritty pureed fruit. They didn’t even add ice!
After our disappointing smoothies, we started our tour by hitting up one of the most famous sites in Vientiane, Pha That Luang (pictured in the title). This golden beauty has been an important Laos symbol for hundreds of years. Pha That Luang was originally built as a Hindu temple back in the 3rd century, but has undergone many renovations due to foreign invasions. It is also believed that the breastbone of Buddha was placed inside the golden stupa.
I enjoyed seeing the beautiful temple, but the surrounding grounds captured my attention even more. I especially liked the reclining Buddha with its hand placed under its head. I hadn’t seen a reclining Buddha in this position before.
Once we had our fill walking around, we hopped on our bikes to ride back to the Patuxai.
Patuxai is the Laos version of Paris’ Arc du Triumphe. It might seem strange for Laos to have such a monument, but the French influence is still very strong in the city.
Some call Patuxai a monstrosity made of concrete, but personally I thought it was quite beautiful. The colorful pictures of gods, goddesses, and elephants covering the ceilings of the arc were gorgeous. The best part about Patuxai is the easy climb to the top. You can see almost the whole city from up there, and if it’s a clear day, you might even be able to see across the Mekong river to Thailand.
It was almost time for us to pick up our Visas, so we left Patuxai and started making our way to the Thai Embassy.
Thankfully it didn’t take too terribly long because we were both starving before we even got there!
I had read great things about a Vietnamese restaurant called PVO, and lucky for us it wasn’t too far from the Embassy, so we hopped on our bikes and made our way to grub.
I don’t think we could have made a better decision for lunch. The food at PVO is soooooooo good! No it’s better than good….it’s amazing! I still think about the bun bo xao, and you can order pretty much anything without meat (sorry I didn’t take a pic before devouring my food).
We stuffed our faces and sat around drinking cold passion fruit juice before continuing on our tour.
Our last stop before heading back to our hotel was at That Dam, or the black stupa. This was probably my favorite is of the day. This worn down stupa sits directly in the middle of a roundabout. No gates or walls protecting it. Weeds were growing out through the cracks in the bricks, however, the small amount of landscaping around the stupa was well maintained.
That Dam is considered to be the guardian spirit of Laos. It is believed that a large 7 headed serpent lived inside the stupa and protected Laos from the invading Siamese. I found this forgotten relic fascinating!
The afternoon was almost over, and we still needed to return our bikes and clean up before heading to the river for sunset drinks.
The weather was so good all day I didn’t even think about rain, but low and behold, here comes a thick rain cloud covering the city. We thought maybe we could make it to the river before the rain started, but we soon aborted that idea and just went to dinner.
Another restaurant I had heard great things about was Lao Kitchen, and like lunch, I don’t think we could have picked a better spot to eat. Their wild mushroom laab was spot on and the fried river weed was super tasty as well.
Apparently we thought that stuffing ourselves only 2 times during the day wasn’t enough, so after dinner, we stopped off at a wine and crepe restaurant. I’m not a huge crepe fan, but the banana caramel crepe was pretty darn good. It went down real smooth with a nice glass of red wine.
We called it a night after that. The next morning was going to be an early one with a long journey to Luang Prabang ahead, so we wanted to make sure we were rested and ready.
Our time in Vientiane went by way too fast, but we still had a blast riding bikes around the city and looking at all the interesting sites for a day.
Have you been to Vientiane? What did you think of the city?