The One With From Vientiane With Love Part 2

11th February 2011

0830hours : Breakfast. Our vacation package, this time, included free buffet breakfast at the hotel. I opined, anyone who wanted to vacation in Vientiane is worth to take the breakfast as the day here started as early as 5a.m. and ended the latest was 2a.m. So to Malaysians, do not expect 24hours Mamak or 24hours fast food outlets or nightlife as Phuket’s. To those who are Muslims, be sure to pay attention to the food as pork is widely eaten in Vientiane. The menu is more or less typical any other hotels buffet breakfast – toast with either butter or jam, white rice (the rice is high in glutton), fried vegetables, chicken eggs (either scrambled or sunny side up), sausages (normally pork) and not to be forgotten the yogurt. I am not a yogurt person, but the yogurts there are a must try. Seriously!!!

0930hours : We were off to Thalak Sao or the Morning Market. Souvenirs, Laos silk cloths, electronic gadgets, home appliances, local food delicacies (if you dare enough to try them!) and not forgetting 24K gold. The trick if you went to this Morning Market, is a good bargain and willingly to spend 3hours to 4hours scouting for cheaper Kip. It is a double story building with a lot of alleys. Yes, you might say, one could be lost in that Market. We detoured to a mini mart to do some grocery before heading back to the hotel. It has been awhile since I last eaten the golden chocolate coins. I, for one, prefer the chocolate taste in Vientiane compared to my own country. Reason being is simple, you could really taste the chocolate and the natural sweetness of chocolates rather than sugar sweet taste. Seriously, if I would want sugar sweet, I would have eaten packets and packets of sugar itself. It is not recommended to use the tap water, even if you already boiled it. 1500ML of mineral water costs around, rough conversion, RM2 per bottle. Before making our detour to the mini mart, My Baby suggested to buy a local SIM card. “It’s cheaper that data roaming”, he said. Though, EDGE is the fastest telecommunication line, to date, in Vientiane, I must say, for normal Facebooking, Twittering, GOOGLing or even that few minutes spent for Foursquare Check-Ins, the speed is better than MAXIS 3G. As always, he could not live in not having a local SIM card for himself. I guess that was his habit after years traveling abroad…I guess.

Snap shots of a typical convenient store

Clean water is essential. Do not be so stingy to pay couple of bucks for uncluttered H2O

Tigo SIM cards also come preloaded with 20,000kip of credit to get you started

1230hours : We went back to the hotel. The receptionist informed us the suite is ready. Horay!!!

Our old hotel room. A simple standard room with a queen sized bed for two

The only Suite in Lane Xang Princess Hotel. Spacious and clean. Thumbs up!!!

1400hours : All set to rumble!!! We walked to the Victory Gate. Victory Gate is a war monument in the centre of Vientiane, Laos; which was built between 1957 and 1968. It is dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. Ironically, it was built with cement donated by the United States of America for the construction of a new airport. That is why, this monument is also known as the vertical runway. In Laotian language, it is variously transliterated as Patuxai, Patuxay, Patousai and Patusai. Patuxai is a compound word where ‘patuu’ or ‘patu’ means “door” or “gateway” or “gate” and ‘xai’, a derivative of the Sanskrit word ‘Jaya’, which means “victory” has general resemblance to the Arch de Triomphe in Paris. However, it is typically Laotian in design, decorated with many Buddhist mythological figurines. Patuxai is strategically built at the end of the grand Lang Xang Avenue in the heart of the Vientiane city. The monument has five towers that represent the five principles of coexistence among nations of the world. They are also representative of the five Buddhist principles of thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honour and prosperity. Two concrete staircases wind up from inside the main structure, passing through each floor, right up to the top of the monument. Viewing galleries are provided on the upper floors. The first floor has mainly the offices of the management of the monument; the kiosks dealing with tourist paraphernalia (artefacts, souvenirs and refreshments) are also housed on this floor. The second floor is an important area where a museum is housed, displaying statues and pictures of the iconic heroes and heroines of the country. If the architecture does not grab your attention, the view certainly will, spanning many miles in each direction. Of course, there is an entrance fee of 3,000Kip for International tourists. It is opened from 8a.m. till 4.30p.m. from Mondays till Fridays and from 8a.m. till 5p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

I bought Matryoshka Dolls at one of the souvenirs stalls

Catching our breath at a nearby pond before continue walking to our next tourist spot – Pha Tat Luang.

On our way To Pha Tat Luang, we came across Embassy of Malaysia

Pha Tat Luang is a gold-covered large Buddhist Stupa in the heart of Vientiane. It is generally regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and a national symbol. We were in a bit of bad luck as the main gate was closed when we got there. It was pretty late in the evening when we reached the location. Nonetheless, seeing the golden stupa from afar was really breath taking. I am easily fascinated with golden and olden era of architectures.

A Buddhist temple near Pha Tat Luang

“Let’s try Tuk-Tuk to go back to the hotel”‘ I said.

Nothing beats the smell of fresh Baguettes

2100hours : We walked to the tourists’ area and dined at Dao Fa Restaurant. I can say walking in Vientiane is safe enough. Though there were occasions of feisty stray dogs at alleys, but overall walking is safe. However, precautions are advised at all times.

Upon walking back to hotel, we could not believe what we saw…a BUICK!!!

2300hours : Good night…

12th February 2011

0900hours : Breakfast. The menu was the same as yesterday. Well, you could not demand too much. As long as your tummy is full for the time being, and you have enough energy to go sightseeing is more than abundant. However, if you were a typical asian people who must have rice, it is high in carbohydrate. After all, glutinous rice is definitely the staple food for the people of Laos.

1000hours : After breakfast, we went again to the Morning Market. This time, it was for shopping, and man, the Morning Market was like a Disneyland for us, erm, maybe just me ;). Morning Market carries an extensive selection of crafts and Lao silk. The stores offer the finest 100% hand woven silk and exotic wood products from throughout Laos with every item painstakingly hand made in Laos, by Lao people, from Lao materials, and using only natural dyes. Many carry antique as well as modern fabrics, plus utilitarian items such as shoulder bags (some artfully constructed around squares of antique fabric) cushions and pillows. Lao silk is admired for its colourful intricate designs and quality of workmanship. Despite the cloths were exquisitely hand made, the price is not at all astronomical. It depends on the materials of the cloth and the delicate of the designs. For simple design cotton cloths, they can be as low as USD3 per cloth. Where as, for the more complex woven Lao silk cloths, the price is ranging between USD40 to USD70 per piece. The most important criteria while you are purchasing for souvenirs is the art of bargaining. Besides cloths, we also bought aprons; hand made aprons with cross stitch designs of local people work in a farm. The handbags displayed drove me insane. I bought one for myself, and I was very satisfied with the purchase. As for souvenirs, we bought a deck of cards made from bones of buffalos. The box that came too was made from buffalo bones. The price was only USD15. Moreover, we bought two handcrafted stone mementos – a dragon and the three wise monkeys. You would not believe if I told you the price for each – USD7. Other than that, the usual buy – local remembrance T-shirts and key chains. We also bought a three deck letter holder and a Loa pants. Seriously, I need to have a very firm heart if I ever went to Talat Sao again. The Morning Market opens daily from 7a.m. till 4p.m.

Deck of cards made from Buffalo bones

Hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil

Third quarter of the first floor of the Morning Market is occupied with Goldsmiths selling 24K

Located just outside the Morning Market is a centre where they process the gold

I spotted a HUMMER!!!

Our shopping spree

1200hours : We went back to hotel – needed to unload all the shopping spree. Thank you My Baby for all the stuffs. While he was eating bread with peanut butter and watching Star Movie, I thought of taking shower. Unfortunately, there was no water. The front desk informed me there was water disruption. Thank God for the cooling air conditioner.

1400hours : The weather was cloudy and scattered drizzles. It was hot, sunny and humid on Thursday and Friday. Nonetheless, the fine rain did not stop us from walk seeing Vientiane. First stop was That Dam. That Dam hides in a short alley in front of the US Embassy in Vientiane. It is very close to the Namphou Fountain, the Lane Xang Avenue and to all the other main attractions in downtown Vientiane. It occupies the center of a roundabout and can thus be visited at all times. It is one of the oldest structures in Vientiane, dating back to the 15th century. It is a classical Buddhist Stuppa, and its significance and strength are augmented by its humble size. Legend has it, a seven-headed Naga or King Cobra is said to live in a cave beneath the stupa. The Naga exits it every time the inhabitants face a serious danger. It is said the Naga saved the inhabitants’ lives during the Siam invasion in 1828. In the past, this stupa was covered with gold. After Siam invaded Vientiane, the gold was burned away, and then the stupa turned to black. That is why, it is also know as the Black Stupa.

We visited Vansom, a wine shop located in Rue Samsenthai. It began with a small shop in Vientiane has blossomed into a nation-wide enterprise. Vansom offers selections of high-quality, high-value wines – Chile to Italy, from Spain to New Zealand. Of course, the classics, such as French grand crus from renowned chateaux. Not forgetting the vansom staffs. They are very generous with smiles and very friendly and helpful. Kudos.

We walked till I was feeling my legs were screaming for a nice foot massage. We stumbled upon a massage centre. We both took 2 hours of Lao traditional massage followed with an hour of foot massage. We were given each a loose trousers and a blouse. Yes, you read that right. My Baby refused to wear the blouse. LOL!

The Lao traditional body massage releases tension in the body muscles, by a combination of pressure applied to the limbs, back and head, in a soothing manner. This Lao-specific treatment uses well-tested tested techniques that have been developed over centuries. The massage is very effective in rejuvenating the body by releasing tension built up especially after a long day travelling. The massage uses mixed herbs oil, particularly effective in relieving muscle tightness. The foot massage, on the other hand, applying pressure to the feet is considered a beneficial effect on many other parts of the body. The calming sensation and feeling of well-being and relaxation after having the feet massaged is a good enough reason to spend some time in the good hands of the masseur. Herbal cream, such as lemongrass and peppermint is used. I was soak in the splendor for that 180 minutes.

I think this is the cutest letter box I have ever seen. If I could, I would bring it back home :)

Having a foot massage after a tiring walk along Vientiane city

2100hours : We had dinner at L’Adresse de Tinay in the New Lao Paris Hotel. It is purely French. It is owned by a super hunky Lao man who can speak fluently in French and English. Hearing him speaks French to the table next to ours, “So sexy”, I whispered to My Baby. At the special board park just outside the restaurant, It was written French Chef. Thus made My Baby wanted to try the food. The verdict…drum roll please… From appetizer to entrees to desserts finished with a cup of black coffee and some sweets to top it all, everything was excellent. The ambience was spectacled. The staffs were magnificent in fulfilling each and every little detail of the customer’s needs. The wine, well, it is French. Hands down. The Iced Lemon Tea was an average, though. But, the appetizer, the entrees and the desserts were just simply magnificent. I have never tasted a well done steak the way I did in that restaurant. Simply dazzling. The Crepes Suzette was just sensational. Overall, it was utterly theatrical dining experience.

Valentine’s Day menu set

0100hours : Lights off

13th February 2011

0900hours : Breakfast; as the Nutritional experts have referred is the most important meal of the day.

1000hours : I decided to give cycling a try. Furthermore, it was Sunday, so the traffic was less congested with vehicles on the road. And writing about vehicles, for information, automobiles in Vientiane are left hand drive. We went to a shop nearby our lodging. The rent rate is 15,000Kip per day per bicycle for a person. One may either collateral a passport or pay a deposit of 650,000Kip for each rented bicycles. We opted to monetary deposit my passport as we thought to pay 1,300,000Kip for the assurance was a little bit absurd. I was a bit skeptical in cycling as I did not cycle in ages. The last I cycled was when we were on a holiday to Penang in Bukit Bendera. Surprisingly, I still have the cycling skills. Not to shabby for a rusty old maid like me. Yay! So, our bicycles journey in Vientiane began…

As we had only couple of days to spare, we sent our dirty clothes to a nearby laundry shop. For Wash and dry cost 7,000kip per Kg and for wash, dry and iron cost 15,000kip per Kg. If the dirty laundry was sent before afternoon, you may get your fresh clean clothes back in the evening the next day.

Laos is a very good country to cycle. Cycling is Vientiane was really an adventure to me. Never had I imagined I would, one day, cycle in Laos. Albeit it was just a city cycling, but I never realized how much I missed biking. The road condition is mediocre. As norm, there were some potholes of yesterday’s rain. Cycling in Vientiane, I would say, quite safe. The vehicles normally would give ways to bicycles. However, as always, precautions are advisable at all times. The only tricky business while cycling in Vientiane was when you were on the crossroads and needed to change the lane. Mind you, the rue (French word for street) of this city runs like the French way! Confusing, especially when you are so familiar with right hand drive roads. than that, cycling in Vientiane is the enjoyable money can not buy memories.

We cycled to Top Cycle Zone shop – the place to go if you wanted to buy a decent western style bicycle – or spare parts for one. Mountain bike is priced starting from USD350; depending on the specifications. The owner is a French guy who had cycled most of the places and entered jamboress. He even cycled in Pahang Darul Makmur. We spent in that shop for few minutes. My Baby, as always, busy asking and scouting mountain bicycles. We continue cycling on the city’s flat terrains for hours. What is the best way to explore the city area other than, well, bicycles, of course.

We made a pit stop at Lao Garden Pub & Restaurant. That pit stop was a good idea since I sat too long on the saddle and made my bottom asleep :P.

We continue cycling aimlessly – enjoying every little bit and pieces of Vientiane. Then, we saw a massage billboard and decided to try out. Once I parked my bicycle, I could sense…how shall I put this in no disrespectful manner, dogginess in that parlour. I decided to brush off my stereotype ideas that were playing in my brain. “Maybe because this massage centre located outskirt a bit from the city area”, trying to console myself. I decided to try one hour foot massage, and for him one hour body massage. I had a little friendly chit chat with the masseur before dozing off. While I was sipping a hot cup of ginger tea at the outside lobby, My Baby came through the main door with one kind of a face. A face that I always can detect if something was a miss. My hunch was right. The  massage centre that we went was not a decent massage shop (if you knew what I meant). “Baby, I did not request for it. I think it came with the massage package (you meant massage package for a guy). While she was rubbing my body, and I was relaxing my eyes, suddenly she handed me. I did not even have to pay extra for that “service”. It was too late for me to say anything (yeah, it is always too late for you to say no for that, right :P). I am not advertising this massage centre. Of course, I am against this sort of  activities. But let us face the reality. As much as we hate prostitutions, child molestations and other ill activities, they do happen in real life society. And so does this “massages”. I am treating A Good Life readers as adults who can differentiate on your own what is right from he wrongs. Like we Malays like to say, tepuk dada, tanya selera.

To end our day cycle journey, we made  a stop at the Mekhong River. Mekhong River is the 10th longest river in the world and the 7th longest river in asia. Besides Laos, this river runs through China’s Yunnan Province, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Lao consider Mekhong River as the Great River and the mother of water. There are many demands made on the river – to provide water for industrial and agricultural development, to sustain subsistence fishing, for transport, to maintain delicate ecological and hydrological balances. There is a legend regarding this river. The legend that has been passed down from through generations. The legend of the Naga is a strong and sacred belief held by Lao people living along the Mekhong River. Many pay their respects to the river because they believe the Naga still rule in it, and locals hold an annual sacrifice for the Naga. Each ceremony depends on how an individual village earns its living from the Mekong River – for instance, through fishing or transport. Local residents believe that the Naga can protect them from danger, so they are likely to make a sacrifice to Naga before taking a boat trip along the Mekhong River.

From the Mekhong River, we made a short detour to the Presidential Palace before cycling back to the hotel. At the base of Lane Xang street is the Beaux Arts styled Presidential Palace. It was originally built to house the French colonial governors, and also served as a royal residence during the brief reign of the monarchy after independence. Since the royal family was banished in the 1970s, it is now mainly used for formal ceremonies. The Presidential Palace is not open to the public.

2030hours : We had dinner at Sabai Eli. Before it was elegantly renovated into a charming restaurant and wine bar, it was a former French colonial home. I specifically love the courtyard area, where comfortable cushions perfect for lounging and relaxation. Even so my personal dining pleasure said the food was not to die for, but the live music, nice ambience and quality service are the key factors if anyone wants to come again to this place.

Before calling it a night, we night cycle to Patuxai. Admiring the panoramic night view of the building.

0100hours : Good night.

Valentine’s Day 2011

1000hours : We had breakfast at KFE. We decided to opt a different menu to start our last day in Vientiane. I would highly recommend their Chicken Cashew with White Rice and Vegetables Soup. If for some, that menu is too heavy, one can try their selections of sandwiches and pastries. For sweet lover tooth, Caramel is a must try in KFE besides cakes. However, Lao people pronounced Caramel as /ka-la-miu/. So, just go with the flow. You may sip a cup of hot local black coffee, or a cup of tea, or, as for me, I settled with a cold bottle of  San Pellegrino with a slice of lemon in the iced glass. My Baby…well, let me just write that 10a.am marked his happy hour :O

*Sigh*…I wish we had not need to fly back to LCCT.

1100hours : We cycled to Fa Wathana and Saigon Bijoux shops to see Jade stones. Those two shops located far to each other. We had earlier asked the front desk about shops that sell Jade, and she recommended those two shops. Both shops are selling gem quality jades from Laos. As for the Fa Wathana Goldsmith shop, they are selling USD30/gram. So, My Baby decided to buy at the Saigon Bijoux shop as they are selling per jade stone. Small sizes jades are priced USD50 each. My Baby bought two. He bought a locket jade stone sized for me at the price USD80. Unfortunately for us, time is not permitting for sending those jade stones to make bracelets and locket. In Saigon Bijoux, they offer handmade craftsmanship in a reasonable price. They require 5 days to complete the order.

1300hours : We stopped at a local shop for afternoon drinks. As we cycled around Vientiane, we decided to try foot massage at Nirvana Spa. My personal verdict, not as good as the first foot massage that I had in Vientiane. We continued cycling around Vientiane before returning the bicycles. After that, My Baby went for his last Laos massage, while I decided to take a nap at the hotel.

Malaysia’s Public Bank in the Vientiane City

2000hours : He came back to hotel room, and guess what, not with empty hands but with a large paper bag of a bottle of wine and a bottle of champagne; in which he bought from Vansom.

2130hours : Last night, we decided to try the food Khop Chai Deu Restaurant and Bar. Khop Chai Deu means thank you in Lao language. This restaurant and bar is superbly set in an old French Colonial villa that has been renovated to carefully preserve its charm and beauty. The food was edible, but the atmosphere was the wow factor . On top of that, it was Valentine’s day night, and the walkway was decorated with beautiful ballon arch for people to snap few pictures for remembrance.  Recommended menu in Khop Chai Deu Restaurant & Bar is Fried Crickets; those who like something crunchy and dare enough to try something out of ordinary. Since it was Valentine’s Day night, they are selling red roses to patrons. Each bud was priced at 5,000Kip which is equivalent to RM2.00. Yes, in Laos, there are nor price hike for red roses on Valentine’s Day. Money does not come easy (well, maybe for some it is), but my point is to spend for one red rose bud on that special day for lovers, in Kuala Lumpur – that is, one need to fork out around RM20 to RM30; which in total of a dozen red roses bouquet can easily priced at RM200.00 to RM400.00 is pretty ridiculous to my personal gauge. Seriously, do we really need that all in the name of pledging our love to the other half?… Well, the decisions are yours to make…

0100hours : Good night and sleep tight. Do not let the mosquitoes bite.

15th February 2011

E.T. phone home.

Duty free shop

Kip we had left

Dao Coffee for him

We had to pay excess baggage. LOL!!!

Overall, it was a really an eye opener vacation for us both. Lao people, like most asians, are warm, friendly and full of smiles on their faces. Yes, there were times when language is a barrier for us (most Lao do not speak or understand English; for some, they can talk and understand very limited English vocabularies and sentences), but do not forget to always smile (as a way of saying thank you for helping or at least for trying to help out). As tourists, it is very important to always respects their beliefs even we have our own.The wet season is from May till October and the dry season starts from November till April every year.

Insyaallah, we are planning to go again to Vientiane at the end of 2011. That time around, we are having an agenda of our own – cycling to the UNESCO Herritage site.

But there is a secret garden, she hides…

~Nani Mansor~

 

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