My journey took me on a bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Of course, I was sold a “VIP” bus that showed up with all the glass cracked and busted up. There was nothing VIP about it. The driver also seemed new, as he couldn’t really shift gears. We ended stalling a minimum of 25 times, including on mountain hills where we sort of fell back some. Instead of the quoted 9 hours, it took 15 hours and every bathroom stop cost me 2,000 KIP. Which… I don’t mind supporting local communities… but isn’t there… a more tasteful way? Luckily, the scenery was some of the most stunning landscape I had ever seen. The tall jagged limestone peaks pulled up from the ground like fingers, tickling the sky. The Mekong river would at times wind through the hills below, cat tails and palm trees flittering in the wind. Extensive little rows of germinating rice and other plants also dotted the landscape, bringing a rich diversity of green colors to the view. Exhausted and not surprised but frustrated, I found my way to my hostel (by learning to refuse to get off until you are exactly where they say they will take you) around 10:30 pm. The rough day seemed appeased by a hearty and amazing bowl of noodles from a local place nearby.
The next morning was good to me as I ignored the people yelling Took Took in my face and explored some stunning temples in the capital city by foot. I loved the murals painted on the temples and the attention to detail.
I really appreciated being able to freely roam the temple grounds and see what everyone is up to. The monks are fairly nice as well. I got to hear them chanting from within the temple in the morning and it was beautiful. Afterwords, I caught the Mekong river before it was too hot. Some people drove their small motorbikes down there to fish, others jogged, and some just wandered around like me.
Honestly, I don’t know how much there really is in Vientiane that is a meant to be a “tourist” attraction. There are some deteriorating signs here and there advertising tours for Buddha Park and sun worn Air Asia posters. Overall, it’s more of just a city meant for the most amount of commerce and trade than anywhere else in the country. I’m talking basic goods for post industrial nations. This was a bit of a culture shock for me. Also, the street names are still fashioned after French, per the colonial history. With time on my hands, I decided to spend the day just meandering the streets of the capital and taking photographs, trying to capture and better understand the daily life here.
Around sunset was best for me. I seemed to have approached the city in a shift change, catching people off guard and getting them to open up a bit more than usual. I also found myself at some distance from all the hotels and hostels. When I found there to be no more tourists, I also found people to be slightly more approachable. As a foreigner, I find Lao people to still be standoffish everywhere I have been and sometimes down right rude (many times actually). Although this fact, my window of time provided great insight. A wonderful moment that cheered me up was when I captured some kids giving each other a haircut. They playfully smiled and let me take their photograph, having been alarmed at first.
The setting sun really brought a beautiful glow to the city. With the trash, graffiti, orange soaked concrete, smog and palm trees… I couldn’t help but get a weird vibe I was back in Los Angeles. There was a nostalgia and beauty to the grime and chaos that I cherished. It felt really nice. I’ve been traveling awhile now, without a break, and the little things that remind me of home can be universal and beautiful.