Best Kind of Lost

Best Kind of Lost

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Vientiane, STAT!

by Noelle
October 29 – November 1

 

One of the few “knowns” during our itinerary planning has been our dates for Vientiane, due to the lucky circumstance that our friends Nicole and Ryan would be spending time in the Laos capital for some volunteer work at a local hospital at the end of October. It didn’t hurt that we’d heard wonderful things about the small French Colonial-reminiscent city perched on the Mekong River just over the border from Thailand.

So, we left India and spent the next 18 hours making our way east, by way of Bangkok (where we spent a lovely few hours sleeping at the airport before catching a shuttle to the smaller Don Muang airport across the city, hopping a plane to Udon Thani, Thailand where we then caught a van to the border and crossed into Laos). Potentially our most creative transportation schedule yet. Just trust us, the savings were worth it.  (EDITOR’S NOTE: To all you future employers reading this, that booking required creativity, research skills and budget savvy. Like what you see? Please send any and all job offers through our contact page on this blog.)

Catching a couple Z's before  our shuttle between Thailand airports.

Catching a couple Z’s before our shuttle between Thailand airports.

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Don Muang airport in Thailand. We’re not in Kansas anymore…

Happy Dave in the visa line at the Laos border. Ah the joys of overland travel.

Happy Dave in the visa line at the Laos border. Ah the joys of overland travel.

Upon weary arrival, we found a cozy little guesthouse in the center of the city, dumped our bags and followed through on the promise we’d repeated to ourselves for the last three weeks. We went for a run (the small, congested streets of India gave us a perfect excuse to avoid exercise). While the “running” was short-lived, our hour or so of winding up and down the main streets and along the (unexpectedly) muddy brown waters of the Mekong, gave us a good sense of the city.

papa-papa-paparazzi

Papa-papa-paparazzi

The Black Stupa...one of the more appealing sights in the city (if you've tired of wats, as we have).

The Black Stupa (That Dam)…one of the more appealing sights in the city (if you’ve tired of wats, as we have).

The next day, we tagged along with Ryan and Nicole to the hospital, where the doctor they’d traveled with let us check out a surgery. Like, really check it out. Ah, the lax Laotian laws…

Executing the required 5-minute scrub-in hand wash. Hands up.

Executing the required 5-minute scrub-in wash. Hands up.

Paging Doctor Bauer. Don't mind the open spine behind me.

Paging Doctor Bauer. Don’t mind the open spine behind me. I’m clearly not.

Scrubbing into the spinal surgery (the patient had extreme tuberculosis in her spine, and after removing some vertebra, screws were put in to keep her spine straight…yep, apparently about as painful as it sounds…) was an experience I’ll never forget (although I’m pretty sure Dave would pay good money to). New respect for all the nurses, techs and doctors out there. Mental images permanently burned into my brain aside, the opportunity to explore a local Laotian hospital was super interesting…and at times, depressing. Post-surgery, many patients (who can’t afford the $8/night private rooms) are rolled into the hallways to recover. There are groaning, bandaged patients at every turn, and your heart breaks as you watch their kids on a blanket underneath the rolling beds. A highlight was passing out candy to all the kiddos…seeing them smile while experiencing something scary made us feel like we were actually DOING something, versus feeling helpless.

Ryan and Dave in front of Laos's Mittaphab Hospital.

Ryan and Dave in front of Laos’s Mittaphab Hospital.

A reunion halfway around the world.

A reunion halfway around the world.

Nicole and I looking the part.

Nicole and I looking the part.

Little ones waiting around for mom.

Little ones waiting around for mom.

This is the doctor’s 22nd trip to Laos, and I hope he continues his incredible work for as long as humanly possible. Talk about making a life-changing difference for a lot of people. Incredible.

Photo opp with the rockstar mission team.

Photo opp with the rockstar mission team.

Anyway, we also took advantage of some of Nicole and Ryan’s free time, grabbing dinner and drinks with them during our overlapping stay. Ryan, a friend for over 15 years, is one of the funniest people I know, and he married his match in sense of humor. We spent several hours trading stories and laughing over the ever-popular Beerlao. Know it. Love it. Because it’s everywhere.

Bauers and Newmans

Bauers. Newmans. Beerlao.

The karaoke bar offered an authentic peek at Vientiane nightlife. Terribly loud, off-key singing by Laos natives, and more Beerlao than one could ever dream.

The karaoke bar offered an authentic peek at Vientiane nightlife. Terribly loud, off-key singing by Lao natives, and more Beerlao than one could ever dream.

Ah the technological advances of camera self-timers. Toasting loudly among the din of butchered karaoke.

Ah the technological advances of camera self-timers. Toasting loudly among the din of butchered karaoke.

Halloween also happened to fall during our stay here, and my fear of one of my favorite holidays passing without ceremony was quickly laid to rest. WHO KNEW that Laos would celebrate in style?

Ghastly ghoul in front of the popular happy hour spot, Khop Chai Deu.

Ghastly ghoul in front of the popular happy hour spot, Khop Chai Deu.

If I would have KNOWN, I would have brought my COSTUME.

If I would have KNOWN, I would have brought a COSTUME.

After our friends headed out for a post-work celebratory stop in the Chinese islands, Dave and I continued to explore the city, hitting up several of the French bakeries for breakfast and tucking into local Lao food for dinner. What does that look like you ask?

Spicy pork noodle soup in the back, tasty chicken laap in the front.

Spicy pork noodle soup in the back, tasty chicken laap (covered in an egg…because what ISN’T better covered with egg?) in the front.

Local cuisine is heavily influenced by Chinese flavors as that is where the Lao people originally migrated from, so it makes sense to see the remnants of that influence in many restaurants. But I still found the food to be distinctive from what I’d expect from a Chinese restaurant menu. In a good way. Also, as I mentioned, there is a heavy French influence from the time the country spent under French rule. This means baguettes are sold on street corners everywhere, and you can find a delicious, authentic French meal in most cities.

But back to what seems to be authentically their own…Laap, a spicy mixture of marinated meat and/or fish is on every menu, usually served with sticky rice (ALL HAIL THE STICKY RICE. I HEARBY DECLARE RICE PREPARATION FOREVER CHANGED!).  Eaten by hand, sticky rice is balled up and used as a vehicle for whatever else you’re eating to make it’s way to your mouth. Lemongrass and fish sauce are important ingredients and papaya salad, fish, chicken curries and noodle soups are found everywhere.

Even the standard sticky rice container rocks my world.

Even the standard sticky rice containers rock my world. Luckily for restaurants everywhere, my backpack is completely full, or several of these would have made their way into my purse during our stay.

The small night market provided a better glimpse into the local cuisine, with rows of grilled meats laid out for purchase. While our rule of “no sketchy looking street food” held firm here, it was fun to walk the lines of vendor carts and get a feeling for all the offering of Lao cuisine in one spot.

Sights from the Night Market

Sights from the Night Market

Overall, a comfortable place to spend a few days. After our “city” stay, we were excited to head next to Vang Vieng to kick our feet up and pass some lazy days before heading north to Luang Prabang.

What do you think?

Please keep your comments polite and on-topic.


5 + = 7

comments

Love your posts. So, I’m hearing no med school, right?

lynn

December 1, 2013

2 notes

  1. We’ve Got Friends in Laos Places… | Best Kind of Lost reblogged this and added:

    […] the leisurely pace we carried through Vientiane while catching up with friends from home, and an even slower experience in Vang Vieng, we were […]

  2. Going Tubeless in Vang Vieng | Best Kind of Lost reblogged this and added:

    […] These days, the streets are clogged with rebel travelers bucking the corporate system or European youngsters on holiday, all wearing tank tops touting their favorite foreign beer, or the tubing company they used to cruise down the river (EDITOR’S NOTE: Which is super convenient for all those times when I was about to ask “Where’d you tube, brah?” and I could just look at the tank top and be like. “Ah, in Vang Vieng,I see. Chill tank.”). Tubing in Vang Vieng is a source of controversy among the locals, due to the conflict between appreciation for the business it brings to the local economy and the unwanted “party-town” image it has unwillingly inherited. There are several deaths each year, due largely in part to over-imbibing then hitting the river with only a piece of plastic to keep you afloat, or disregard for “shallow water” signs near rope swing platforms. I read an article that interviewed a local doctor who said they see 13-15 cases a day of cuts, broken bones, and sometimes worse. They’re not equipped to deal with much more than scrapes and bruises, so the unfortunate patients with more severe injuries find themselves on a 4 – 5 hour painfully bumpy bus ride to Vientiane (EDITOR’S NOTE: Where they will then cross their fingers that if their injury requires surgery there won’t be anyone like Noelle and I allowed in the operating room…). […]