Actually, the title is a rather cheap joke. There is probably less chaos in Laos than elsewhere in Asia. Vientiane must be the sleepiest and most laidback capital city you will ever find in this part of the world.
Getting there was a bit exhausting, however. Trondheim – Vientiane is three legs of air travel, the longest being the 10 hours between Oslo and Bangkok. That means three airports to wait in, three boarding lines to stand in while our feet ache, three sets of benches and chairs that you cannot sleep on. With the last stopover being the longest, we had to spend six hours in Bangkok on a very late Sunday night that actually was a Monday morning. We spent half that time in the airport pub, not really knowing if the beers we had were the last drinks of the weekend or the first ones of the coming week. It did not really matter, we were too tired to care. It was all about staying awake and not missing our last plane.
In a rather washed out state we arrived at our Vientiane hotel after 28 hours on the go. The best part off arriving was being reunited with The Daughter, who we had not seen since she left to work as a UN volunteer in Vientiane almost a year ago. Apart from the fact that seeing family is always good, having her as a local guide in a city and a country we knew very little about is very practical.
Luckily, Vientiane is very much the place to be if the idea is to recover from stress. Our new home (# 7 since leaving Bariswil) is situated by what probably is the only four-lane street in town, but two blocks away we are into the network of slow streets and low houses that characterize most of it. Yes, there are cars here, but the city center is mostly about mopeds and bikes.
And not to forget, local road traffic is about the workhorse # 1 in Asian public transport, the tuc tuc. The design and the name of this little vehicle is the same wherever you go. You take the front wheel, the handlebar and the engine of a small motorcycle, and behind it two more wheels and a covered platform where two big people (like us) or four (or more) small people (like the locals) can squeeze in more or less comfortably. You shake and rattle a bit, but you also roll and you do get to your destination. And since Vientiane city center is not very big, you do not need to cope with your awkwardly bent knees or the smell of leaking gasoline for very long.
Did I say small city? Geographically, Vientiane is rather large, Wikipedia gives it as 4000 square kilometers, four times that of Oslo. The population is some 800.000, but with all that space the city does not get very crowded. The only time you feel crammed is when you have to leave the sidewalk and step into the street because somebody blocks the entire walkway by parking on it. This on the other hand happens quite often, let us say once every 40 meters, because the city is not designed to take in even the relatively limited amount of cars that actually are here. And if it is not a car that forces you to stop and look for an opening, then a herd of motorbikes will do it instead. There are rumors going around that the police gives out fines for unruly parking, but nobody believes in them and nobody really cares.
What else is there to see? Temples of course, some beautiful and some a bit worn, but for a stupid tourist with no knowledge of local tradition and religion they all look disneyish and alike. We also see the most impressive electrical cablespaghetti that we have ever laid our eyes on, heaps as thick as tree trunks hanging on flimsy poles that look like they should have broken down years ago. We also see a few other tourists, more than we thought we would meet in a country that not really is considered the center of the universe. They are easy to identify because they do, like us, walk. The expats do not walk about; they use their little motorbikes like the locals do.
A very big plus is that we get excellent food at very reasonable prices, and that we are spared all the high street chains that litter the sidewalks everywhere else. No Burger Kings, no Starbucks, no MacDonald’s. Laos simply isn’t on the Big Mac Index! As if we miss it. We eat sticky rice and laab and we say our Hallelujahs!