#Vientiane #Laos PDR (Please Don’t Rush)

Sllepy Sunday in Vientiane

Sleepy Sunday in Vientiane

If Laos is a ramshackle village, then Viangchan (Vientiane) is its ramshackle capital. Only problem is that it ain’t so ramshackle any more. First the backpackers discovered it, then the developers moved in. There goes the neighborhood. Too bad backpackers don’t get stipends from their development initiatives and their ballsy forays into the mystic, to make up for the general derision with which they are treated in the countries they’ve helped bring into the golden age of mass tourism, like Thailand across the river, awash in tourism and prostitution and consumerist friendsy…

Colonial building in Vientiane, Laos

Colonial building in Vientiane, Laos

Twenty years ago there was nothing in Viengchan, just some faded buildings from the Soviet era, fired in the flames of international socialism and burnished in the brand of Communist insurrection, rapidly falling down around their collective FTSE’s and laid out to dry on rocks in the river, the hangers-on too broke for even hangers, when Papa Bear got stung in the hornet’s nest of international capitalism, so try them shoes on for size, seems they like it, especially the Mafia…

Vientiane's Arc de Triomphe: Patuxay

Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe: Patuxay

That’s the way I found it twenty years ago, Viengchan forgotten capital of a forgotten kingdom in a forgotten world on the mighty Mekong, badly beaten and bleeding profusely, lost and left for dead, then ten years ago the boom kicked in, backpackers’ stocks selling briskly in the futures market, when a single pub was then multiplied ten-fold and a single sidewalk cafe soon had a dozen imitators, not just for the hip internationals, but up-and-at-’em locals, too, full of pretense and pretensions and ready to rock, making up for lost time and ready for a rise in the value of common stock…

Fishing in the Mekong near Vientiane, Laos

Fishing in the Mekong near Vientiane, Laos

Now there are Pizza Company and Swensen’s and Ibis and a few dozen others, mostly operating out of Thailand, Black Canyon Coffee and the like, charging more for coffee than any US coffee house, if not Europe (no, I’m not talking about Amsterdam, not that kind of ‘coffee’, though Laos has long been known for putting the fresh green herb in noodle soup, if not lungs… noodle soup’s good BTW), replacing a previous generation’s handful of patisseries and boulangeries, r.i.p…

Gold Trade in the Old Vientiane Market

Gold Trade in the Old Vientiane Market

When you’ve been traveling for forty years, then almost all travel is time travel, same place different time, so that you’re not seeing new places all the time as much as watching old places change and grow up; that’s what it’s like for me in Viangchan having been here at least a dozen times mostly ten to twenty years ago on stopovers from Hanoi, time travel the best kind for any proud uncle, and the good news is that if you look really hard then you can still find the old dilapidated run-down Viangchan that you knew and loved, so bring lots of film and stock up…

Vientiane Central Bus Station

Vientiane Central Bus Station

And there are other benefits to being a tourist destination, too, for travelers, especially, for, in addition to the increased level of amenities, you might just run into someone you know, or find yourself on a similar trajectory, anyway. That’s what happened with me and my friend Elizabeth. When we found we would be in SE Asia at the same time, we decided to meet up in Laos, and share this blog. Her impressions should be entirely different, since she’s never been here before.  Next destination is Luang Prabang.  Stay tuned…

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