Our arrival in Vientiane went much more smoothly than anticipated. As seems typical with less assuming capital cities such as Vientiane, ours was the only plane on the tarmac — likely the only arrival of the hour, or several hours, for that matter. We were ferried to immigration, got our visas-on-arrival for the three of us after parting with US$35 each, and proceeded through immigration — some of the friendlier officials we’ve encountered but its hard to say whether that was due to having a cute little foreign baby in tow, or just Laos. From Lori and I remember, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was just Laos.
After immigration, we passed through a door and our baggage (all five pieces, including Noe’s stroller-carseat and travel crib) were waiting for us (if scattered about) on the other side. Staff from Lori’s work were there to meet us and help us load of the vehicle, and we were off to our new digs. All told, I’d say we spent no more than 20 minutes at the airport. A short while later, we were downtown, and soon after that, we arrived at the apartment complex that will be our home for the next 30 days.
For more on what takes us to Laos, read: Laos!
The apartment unit has an interesting funky layout. The bathroom and kitchen facilities are sort of spread out around the dining area. The pocket door on the left (above) is the shower (you step down about two feet into the tub). The room on the right looks like it once housed a spinner (there’s a communal spinner-style laundry machine downstairs), but now is a drying room, of sorts. The door to the right is where the toilet lives, complete with butt sprayer (though Western toilet, as is common in Vientiane).
To the right of the toilet is the bathroom sink, which is next to the kitchen sink (if separated by a half-wall). The overhead cabinets are very high — I can’t imagine any Laotian being able to access the second shelf without a ladder or high stool. Fridge is to the right (a full size fridge which is quite the luxury after the tiny little thing we had in Belize).
The bedrooms also have their own quirkiness. There are two in the center of the apartment unit that are connected by a door (which is great for us, having Noe in one room and us in the other). They are sort of an inner-sanctum within the apartment as the windows of the rooms look out into the kitchen and front room, respectively. Noe’s got the red room.
They can be sealed off when the air conditioning is in use (YES, we have A/C!), but if you want aircon, you have to be in one of the bedrooms, which is a fair trade-off in my opinion and probably cuts down on energy usage.
Also, I love the way the light fixtures are made to look like lamps teetering on the edge of a stand.
The first evening, we decided to venture out to find a nearby supermarket for stocking up. We were told to walk down the street until we ran into ITEC. I’m not sure what we were expecting but certainly not this.
ITECC is one of those brand new multi-floor, concrete overload, Chinese shopping centers that look mammoth from the road but never really have much in them (and never feel as big inside as they look outside). We found the supermarket in an older building (Tangerine) but it was apparent it had closed recently. Later, we learned that there was a new supermarket in the street-level of the new building, but didn’t find it on this trip. Regardless the shopping mall, water theme park — all of it — was a bit much to take in and certainly not reflective of the Vientiane we remembered, which was a little depressing. I’m all for human and community development, of course (it is my field after all), but the Chinese brand of development is something else, entirely.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Vientiane remains thoroughly Laotian, and this temple (and collection of power lines) on our street are a nice reminder.
So far today, we had been picked up at the airport, moved into a fairly nice apartment and just finished visiting a Chinese shopping mall and waterpark. After leaving ITECC, we couldn’t help but feel like something had been lost along the way.
When we moved to Belize, we loaded all of our worldly belongings onto a local bus headed for the most remote area of the country. We stocked up at a neighborhood market and spent our first night (and subsequent 29 days) in a hot, leaky, bat/scorpion/cockroach-infested cabana on a small farm at the edge of the jungle. It was hard, but it was an adventure and we have incredibly fond memories of those days and are better for the experience.
We knew things would be different this time around, and wanted them to be different to an extent. We’re both excited for Lori to be working for her dream organization that is such a respected force for positive change around the world. We’re excited to have a certain level of support with a young child. And yes, after spending years in the tropics without air-conditioning, we’re excited about the prospect of a little A/C as well. The challenge will by striking a balance between adventure/experience and practicality, particularly with a little one. If traveling and life, in general, has taught us anything, it’s that the experience is always — ALWAYS — richer and more meaningful with less. But richer and more meaningful in memory often translates to insanity in the moment, and we get enough of that with a three-month-old.
Regardless, the mood was much improved after stumbling upon a tiny one-table roadside drinking spot and splitting a cold bottle of BeerLao. It was a centering experience mirroring countless ones we’ve enjoyed in the past — many of the most memorable being in Laos, itself — with two minor differences: a child in tow, and we live here now.
Afterwards, we found a small, local Laotian restaurant and ordered up two huge Number Ones (Laotian pho, of course) from the friendly and soft-spoken proprietor. The night was warm and sticky, our hostess was characteristically gracious and smiley. We looked around at the small handful of others enjoying their meals. When our food arrived — along with the pile of fresh greens and the table full of condiments, we knew we were back — and in that fleeting instant remembered what we loved about this place so much, enough to work relentlessly for four years for an opportunity to return for longer.
As soon as Lori finished feeding Noe, the smiling woman came and signaled that she could hold the baby while we eat (common gesture in this part of the world). Noe slid into the warm embrace of his new best friend and Lori and I (with both hands free) leaped into the hot and steamy embrace of Dear Ol’ Uncle Pho. It’s been too long, my friend.
Friday afternoon, we made our first trip to the legendary D-Mart, where you can get just about everything you need (unlike ITECC, which is 10x larger and has little we’d really ever want or need). Electric kettle. Yes please!
Looking forward to my first Lao Massage, but I’d prefer to keep my neck in tact, thank-you.
Saturday night, we stumbled upon something very cool — Suke, outdoors with a Korean-style coal-fired stove on your table. Load it up with hot coals, throw some chunks of fat on the top and let them drip into the beef broth moat of goodness surrounding the stove. Drop your meat and veg on top, let simmer, and serve in a bowl of vermicelli noodle and bean curd paste! YUUUUUUMMMMM.
Add ice-cold BeerLao and your own personal fan and we’re talking about as closed to culinary Nirvana on Earth as it gets.
Pricey (particularly for Laos — $18 for the full meal we had, compared with the $3 pho for the two of us the night before) so not to be enjoyed every night. But mark my words, we will be back. Very soon.