The innocent bewilderment of Vientiane

Laotian naga from Wat Sisaket
Laotian naga from Wat Sisaket | Art by Todd Berman

We’re such wimps. Rather than hop on a cheap bus over the Vietnam-Laos border, Todd and I decide to fly. We’d heard enough grievous tales of 4 a.m. shakedowns for bribes, overnight rides inflated into 36 hour international incidents, and toilets of legendary filth to convince us to forgo the chance for border-crossing misadventures.

The “Little Capital City that Could,” it’s not clear what Vientiane could do even if it bothered to try. Tourism has grown faster than the infrastructure that supports it, and hotel staff in particular still seem stupefied by the appearance of visitors. Over and over again we take off our shoes, squeeze our backpacks through the front door, and walk across the lobby to the hotel’s front desk, only to be greeted by a person wearing an expression of innocent bewilderment; they seem unable to believe that we have come to their hotel to ask about a room. It would never occur to them to hang a “FULL” sign on their door and save us both the trouble.

But, taken with a dose of irony, Vientiane rewards the patient explorer. After a getting lost searching for elusive street eats, we find ourselves inside Morning Market Mall where, after a food court lunch of local food, we have a Debbie Gibson moment. In between runway struts by pale waifs showing off the latest in skin whitening creams, Laotian boy bands like B-Hero show off their karaoke and Dance-Dance Revolution skills to an adoring crowd of teens, monks, and us.

Photos from Vientiane, Laos

If you can’t see the photo slide show above, view the photo set on Flickr.