The Missus has a way of trying to maximize our "experiences" when it comes to vacations, and this last afternoon and evening in Vientiane was no exception. The day had started with a visit to Khou Din Market, at noon we had lunch at Nang Kham Bang Restaurant, and now, after an all too short nap, we hit the road again. There was a restaurant I was interested in, and being about 3-4 kilometers away, getting a tuk-tuk seemed like a good idea. The Missus had other plans, though! There was (yet another) Wat She wanted to visit, and it just so happened to be on the way.... by foot.
We started off, down the now well-worn (by us) riverfront street of Fa Ngoum, passing the back of the Presidential Palace and Mahosot Hospital. A few blocks down, in the courtyard of one of the Wats we spied a young man tossing a metal ball in the air:
He was playing a popular game called "Petang" in Laos. Otherwise known as Pétanque, a remnant from the days of French Colonialism.
The Young Man, was very nice, and much to our surprise spoke excellent English. He explained the game to us; the objective is to get your boule (metal ball) as close to the cochonnet (wooden ball) as possible. He even had the Missus give it a try, showing Her a few of the techniques, as well.
It is harder than it looks!
We really enjoyed talking to this young man, and during the course of our conversation, we found out much about him. For the sake of the post, let's call him Mr"A". Mr A, is currently a student, in the final stages of attaining a very high level degree. Coming from a very poor family in Savannaket Province, he has no means by which to support his education. Because he was very involved in the community back in his hometown, he was referred to this Wat. And now is one of 4 non-Monks who live on the grounds of the Wat.
We were slowly coming to realize how important these Wats were to the fabric of the community. We enjoyed chatting with MrA, and decided to invite him along for dinner. He accepted, and asked us if we would wait a few minutes, he returned a short time later, clothes changed, and nicely groomed for dinner. He looked much better than I did!
We asked MrA if he would grant us a favor.... we wanted to visit Wat Si Muang before settling in for dinner. MrA was more than happy to walk with us to Wat Si Muang, and was even happier to teach us a bit about the history and various ceremonies regarding Buddhism inLaos. Wat Si Muang was a busy, and bustling place, even at this time of the day. Being home of the Guardian Spirit of Vientiane, Si Muang is one of the more important Wats in Vientiane.
The home of the Guardian, the City Pillar is wrapped in sacred cloth.
Within the Sim, MrA took us to make offerings, and receive blessings, and also took us to the rather odd looking artifact to the right. During the Siamese-Lao War of 1828, Wat Si Muang was razed. The stone figure sitting on the pillow is of a Seated Buddha which survived, albeit a bit melted, the inferno. It is believed that this Buddha has the power to grant wishes. In order to do this, from a kneeling position, you must raise the Buddha up over your head three times while making your wish. I could tell by how hard the Missus was shaking while trying to raise the artifact, that one of the wishes crossing Her mind was, "I wish this thing were lighter". In my mind, I was wishing and hoping that the Missus didn't drop the Buddha, thereby destroying a sacred relic... how many years of bad luck would that be??? To my relief, the Missus completed
Her seated clean and jerk raising the Buddha the required number of times, took one of the slips from the wooden box, and had the Monk recite Her "fortune". What it is, She's not telling.... I think it's something between Her and Buddha!
Leaving Si Muang, MrA, never having heard of our destination Bounmala Restaurant, flagged down a tuk-tuk, and asked directions. He was told it is far away, and costs 40,000 Kip (about $4.50/US). So we piled in, and drove about 2 blocks, and was let off! MrA was flummoxed.....he had been taken for a ride, so to speak. I couldn't stop laughing! For some reason, the fact that the tuk-tuk driver would take advantage of a local made me feel better. It's not only tourists that get scammed......
But at least we had arrived at our destination, Bounmala Restaurant.
This looked more like a pub than a restaurant, with mini-watercooler beer dispensers on the tables of several groups of locals having a good time, along with a few "Beer Girls" to help the House sell liquid refreshment. And I'd have been a bit hesitant about eating here if not for the wonderful scents surrounding the whole area!
Now here's where I need to apologize...... night falls like a big dark curtain in SEA. And the following will be some of the worst photos I took all trip. I can understand if you want to leave, and perhaps return another day. I had thoughts of not doing this post. But this was by far the best meal we had in Vientiane.
We started with the Papaya Salad (Tam Mak Hung):
Best papaya salad we had during the whole trip. The spiciness was countered with a balanced refreshing citrus kick. The addition of the perfect amount of Padek (Lao fermented fish sauce) gave this dish an added savory component, making it a bit richer. Wonderful stuff for 10,000 Kip (just over $1/US).
Bamboo Shoot Soup:
A very thick, dark, and almost potage like soup, full of various herbs. The soup had a pronounced bitterness to it; it was our first significant encounter with the bitter flavors that the Lao seem to enjoy, and lace many of their dishes with. Not my favorite dish in the world, but I'm glad I tried it.
That embarrassing photo to the right is of Ping Pet (Grilled Duck), one of the best items we had during our trip. Grilled to perfection, the duck meat was more on the chewy side, but oh the flavors!A chili garlic sauce was provided, but really wasn't needed for this dish. MrA kept apologizing for the tuk-tuk incident, and now the cost of the grilled duck - 40,000 Kip (approx $4.50/US). But we explained to MrA that we're on holiday, and this for us is a wonderful treat. Plus, the conversation was priceless!
Our conversations ranged far and wide. From questions that we were asked constantly during the trip; "ok, you are Americans.... but what are you REALLY?" To queries about our work, and everyday life. Forgetting that even though the 'D' in Laos PDR stands for Democratic, it is still a Communist Country, the Missus asked about corruption and government fraud. MrA gracefully answered; "oh, I cannot say...." After an evening of unforgettable food and discussion, we walked MrA back to the Wat, and made our way (by foot) back to the hotel, for a night of blissful, food induced sleep.
We awoke the next morning, raring to go, we would be heading for Luang Prabang. We decided to take one final stroll around Vientiane....
And stopped by the Scandinavian Bakery for a quick breakfast.
This was the most tourists we recalled seeing in Vientiane.
Soon after returning to the hotel, we packed. Having just 7 kilos of stuff a piece meant pretty quick packing. Wattay International Airport is tiny. After going through the first security check and through the ticket counter, you wait sitting on plastic seats in the run down, "naturally air-conditioned" main lobby. You don't want to be going to the restroom here; take my word for it!
It is best to wait until being called through to the second security check point, and to the departure gate area.
There is only 1 gate at this airport and the area is air conditioned. The Missus even found the best Soy Milk She's had in years in the one shop in the gate area. The restrooms here are clean and well maintained. But that doesn't mean you won't find anything interesting.....
The Missus snapped this photo in the ladies room:
For some reason She found it particularly funny!
When your flight is called, you walk out onto the tarmac. We were flying Lao Airlines. Even though we heard folks expressing a bit of concern about Lao Airlines, we felt perfectly safe....
And Luang Prabang lay ahead of us........
Our posts on Vientiane: