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  • Writer's pictureDonna Kitchen

Time for a new country - hello Laos

  • a quick note - I have jumped ahead in our blog as I am so far behind. I will catch up on the other days in Vietnam in time.

What a contrast from the bustling city of Hanoi and this is the capital city of Laos.  Laos’ population is approximately 7.5million. Compared to Vietnam’s 2023 estimated population of 100million. As of 1 May 2023, Australia's population is 26.3 million.

The air was clearer, in fact we saw the blue sky

for the first time in over two weeks.  Vientiane was also much quieter without the continuous horn honking and people themselves were much more quieter.

Another noticeable difference was  that housing and buildings weren’t as close together nor as tall.  The layout reminded me more like Indonesia.  Within the city the roads we clean but probably due to lack of rubbish bins, there was a lot of rubbish on the roadside.

Laos is predominantly Buddhist in its beliefs so we are now seeing ornate and colourful temples, reminding us of our time in Thailand 27 years ago.  The temples in Vietnam were less colourful, Taoist is style.  Vietnamese temples are quite elaborate inside, probably similar to that of Buddhist temples but with the exterior gold detailing, they appeal aesthetically to me.

Let’s talk about the temperature. It’s the end of April and it’s HOT With maximum temperatures sitting between 35-41 not to mention the ‘feel’s like temperature.  We had no choice but to slow ourselves down, the heat was so debilitating.

This is a time where we were grateful for choosing a hotel with a swimming pool and I must say, this is the best hotel pool so far.

The swimming pool at Le Charme Hotel, Vientiane

At the airport we firstly passed through customs, nervously queuing to apply for our VOA (visa on arrival). The system was very regimented and serious passing our passports over to an official who completed one part of the process, then you move to the next window where the next official takes your USD40, then to the next window where you also stood to attention to have your photo taken, the final step of the process then to receive you passport back with a VOA sticker applied to a page.  This all took less than 10 minutes. Collecting our bags we went through the exit ‘nothing to declare’ even though there were no officials to check either way.

New country new SIM card for the phone, ?USD for 30days fully installed and ready to use.  New currency, this time KIP or USD. Laotian KIP is a closed currency that has zero value outside of the country so on leaving Laos you need to change any remaining KIP  to a currency, most likely USD.   The same as Vietnam, you become an instant millionaire with lots of zeros in the value amount.

We also organised a taxi at the airport which was USD7.  It seems this is the only taxi service available.  I had already downloaded the LOCA App which is the same as Grab in Vietnam or Uber in Australia.  You can either add money to you LOCA wallet, enter a credit card number or, as we did, pay cash.  Not sure if you can use this service at airport arrivals though.  I will try when we return to Vientiane in a week’s time.

With ‘housekeeping’ complete and hotel checked into, it was time to checkout the streets.  It was so weird to be able to walk or cross the street without fear of being run over.   There were heaps of restaurant choices in our street but most had western food and we were diligently sticking to local food, still.  Finally found a place to eat that was air conditioned and had cold beer.  New country, new beer, Bia Lao and new cuisine.  OMG, we both loved the freshness and tastes of Vietnamese food but now we were heading into spicier food, stir fries and curries. Lao has its own flavours but there is a very large Thai Influence which we will love.

Chicken Laab

Laab, or sometimes called Larb in Thailand is essentially a salad made from ground meat (chicken, pork, beef or duck) and herbs, laced with fish sauce and lime juice and topped with a powder made from dry ground rice. The flavours are so fresh and and zesty with the lime juice.

There were a few places we wanted to visit in Vientiane and being so hot we chose the COPE visitor Centre. I did some prior research and knew this would be another tough place to visit and it sure was.

During the Vietnam War, American carried out more than 580,000 bombing missions, that is there was one bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years. That is phenomenal! More than 270 million bombies were dropped over Laos with a failure of detonation rate of 30%. 80 million bombs remained unexploded after the war mainly throughout villages. 17 provinces of Laos contain UXO (unexploded ordnances) and these are the most poorest in the country.

The red dots indicate 1 of the 580,000 bombing missing by the US.

20,000 people have been killed or injured since completion of the war, 40% children. 100 new casualties still occurred annually.

Donated homemade prosthetics from victims.

The COPE centre is fully self funded from donations. These donations help families access totally free, prosthetics, rehabilitation, accommodation and meals. while visiting one of the 4 centers throughout Laos. This is not a once off occurrence as prosthetics only last a number of years and and more frequently for childhood who are still growing.

The COPE Visitors Centre has been created by the foundation, it doesn't have world class displays but does an amazing job at depicting the horrors of war and the toll it takes on civilian life. Highly recommend a visit if ever in Vientiane.

Yes, it's still hot so using the LOCA app we booked a taxi for our return to our hotel for a much needed swim.

Eager to eat more Laotian food, we found this very rustic restaurant down a small street. The menu was extensive with an abundance of local food and a promise of cold Bia Laos. Phakhoa Lao Restaurant is a family run eatery with old mum and dad watching on as the daughters work in the restaurant. Except for one of the lovely ladies, none of them spoke English but the one that did, did so perfectly recommending some dishes for us. We were so grateful for her suggestions as the dishes were delicious.

With tummies full of the amazing food, a few Bia Laos and an early start this morning, we were ready to say goodnight to our first day in Laos.

We are excited for our Laotian adventure.


Donna & Kevin

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