“Special Post” Laos Part One

We have finally arrived in Laos yesterday, a 2 1/2 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane, capital city of Laos, with a population of 240,000. I have always wanted to visit Laos, as the only country left in the former colonial French Indochina that I have not visited. The other two countries are Vietnam and Cambodia. The reason why I chose Laos this time is to see the place especially Luang Prabang, the people, the food and the culture.

We arrived at Wattay International Airport flying Air Asia. On arrival, my partner like other non-ASEAN tourists have to apply for a visa. There were 3 different forms to complete; one for visa application, one for immigration arrival and departure card and one on personal health condition (I assume due to latest swine flu pandemic crisis). The visa application costs USD$30. Make sure you have USD and in the exact change on arrival. I had it easy having a Malaysian passport. The queue at the immigration was long. It took almost 40 minutes to go through the immigration. The good thing was our checked in luggage were there at the carousel, rather than the other way round! Our driver, from the hotel was waiting on arrival. We were taken to the hotel, Lao Orchid Hotel.

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It is a small boutique hotel, in a great location near Mekong River and within walking distance to shops, restaurants, cafes, art gallery. Actually Vientiane is a small city, very easy to get around. The staff are friendly. Great room with nice balcony view across a temple, Wat Chantabuli.

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After checked in at the hotel, I took to the streets and wander around. There were quite a few small construction sites but with little sound and noise. The traffic was quite heavy, but not as heavy as Hanoi’s streets in Vietnam. It was easy to walk around without fear of being hit by a motorbike. Quite a contrast from Vietnam and Cambodia.

There is quite a lot of similarity between Laos and Thailand due to the long history of two countries. The language is quite similar, so I have little difficulty communicating with Lao using Thai language. I found most of the people we spoke to can also communicate in fluent English.

I came to a corner restaurant at 158 Rue Heng Boun called Pho Dung. Before I reached the corner of the street, I could sense a beautiful aromatic smell in the air. Then I saw the backdoor of the kitchen before I realised it is a pho restaurant. The restaurant was quite busy with locals. I knew it has to be a good place so my partner and I got ourself a table.

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I love a good bowl of pho. It can be different from stall to stall. The way to differentiate a good pho is in the stock itself. Naturally all the other ingredients such as sliced raw beef, beef balls, tendons, herbs and sauces give pho an overall lift in its flavour, tastes and smell.  The ones sold at Cabramatta in Sydney and Richmond in Melbourne have a stronger stock flavour compared to most pho sold in Vietnam and this one in Vientiane. The stock here is delicate, subtle and aromatic. The herbs used here has a few variations – I assume most are local to Laos. Even the mint is quite different. One of the herb has a strong smell, almost woody. There are more sauces at the table, from chili sauce to fish sauce. There is another dipping sauce, sweet and quite nutty and pungent at the same time (probably from some fermented seafood paste).

This Pho is probably one of the best I had for a long time. It is different from the ones I had in Vietnam because of some of the unique herbs used in this restaurant.

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After a great bowl of pho, I continued with my walk around the streets of Vientiane. Along the way, I saw a street stall selling fresh pomelo, boiled sweet potatoes, Asian red skin groundnuts, a family house drying some hot bird eye chili, and an old colonial building turned into a silk weaving factory, and a run downed rusty volkswagen.

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17 responses to ““Special Post” Laos Part One

  1. LOVE the look of that condiment tray in the pho restaurant BTW. I am very envious of your holiday!

  2. What a holiday you’re having, this place I must go one day as well as Cambodia and Vietnam. In fact, I’ve never set foot in Thailand (yet) even though I’m a Malaysian too! Food looks great too!

  3. You should start an Asian food tourism business V.
    Fab post & tweets.

  4. Steve – thanks. Maybe when RVL is more settled down, you and your family should take a nice break in Asia. It is very affordable too.

    Emily – you should visit Laos first. It is still undeveloped and many years behind Vietnam and Cambodia. People are friendly and do not hassle you in the street. They don’t push or shuffle or cut the queue. They are polite and layback. I love it. Luang Prabang is so beautiful.

    Colette – oh, yes. That is in my radar. Hopefully I can realise the dream. 🙂

  5. wow, I like your story about my country alot.
    Thannk you very much for promote Laos to the world.
    I am looking forward to reading your part II in Laos

    • Hi Samakomlao – it is my pleasure to write about my experiences during my stay here in Laos.
      Luang Prabang is certainly a unique place and so beautiful. People here are lovely, gentle and calm.
      I wish the hotel has a better internet/WiFi connection.

  6. You write so beautifully Victor. That pho looks and sounds so delicious. I agree with Colette, and you should write a book too!

  7. I enjoy reading your article about Luang Prabang and looking forward toward reading the second part soon. Thanks a lot.

    • Thanks, Insight.
      I really hope the hotel WiFi can be as fast as my typing. Unfortunately, my writing and posting has been dramatically slow down a lot. I have so many more things to share, but can’t at the moment.

  8. I agree with the others Victor – your posts of your holiday are beautiful, and I can almost taste the pho.

    • Thanks, Rita. We are really loving it here at Luang Prabang. Just think about Chiang Mai village 30 years ago (lots of similarity to Thailand), or another tourist telling me that it is just like a village in France 50 years ago! We have been walking and cycling around the streets. Enjoying it.

  9. Hello, Victor!

    It looks like you had a great vacation. I went to Laos earlier this year and had stayed at Lao Orchid before traveling down to Pakse. Judging by the angle of the picture you took of the temple across the street, it looks like we might had the same room too.
    I love the friendliness of the staffs the customer service was excellent. Internet connection was a problem at Lao Orchid and other hotel I had stayed in as well.

    • Hi Dallas – true about the internet, but it was better than the other 2 hotels that I stayed. BTW, did you enjoy your time in Pakse?

      • Hello, Victor- Pakse is even smaller than Vientiane. It was a nice and quiet town. I was on a personal business and didn’t have time to go sight seeing. It was raining on and off during the few days I was there. I spend majority of the time just visiting relatives.

  10. Hi Victor

    I have stumbled on your blog, as one does, and find your comments and writing most interesting. I sometimes work at the Vientiane Times and I have several times complained to the managing editors that they should have a foodie column. But apart from some (white envelope) reviews they don’t have anyone or anything regular.

    Your perspectives I think are quite interesting as an outsider and given the upcoming SEA games I think you should offer to write them an article or two of your experiences. I am sure they would publish them.

    Anyhow, if you are interested contact me and I will talk to them for you.

    • Hi Ian – welcome and thank you so much for your comments. I will contact you via email re the articles. Much appreciated. Cheers!

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