It’s late December and we’re spending a Saturday downtown working on our To-Do list in preparation for Lori’s parents’ arrival in early January. I’ve been wanting an excuse to come back to the Coffee Bar for a while, but it’s downtown location made it impractical for a weekday trip. This Saturday, Noe and I were finally able to show mommy this crazy place.
Their coffee ain’t cheap, but the unique process and atmosphere, coupled with excellent coffee makes it a nice place to visit for a treat every couple of months.
Can you find Lori in the photo below? Look carefully!
Enough fun. It’s errands time!
While we’re walking to our first destination, Lori spots a sign for a particular bookshop she’s been wanting to check out. As we walk farther down the alleyway in the Ban Haysoke neighborhood we realized we’ve never really walked around this area of town. Suddenly, we started seeing places that we’ve only heard about and wondered about — restaurants, shops, and the mysterious Home Ideal — which, coincidentally, has more funky coffeemaking gadgetry than you can shake a stir stick at. Eat your heart out, PacNW.
I’ve been hearing of an old, dilapidated cinema in town, but hadn’t found it yet. Walking around Ban Haysoke we came across a particularly neglected building with unusual architecture. It had a small box office and remnants of a marquee and I’m sure this has to be it. It’s as if the owners closed up shop one day several decades ago and decided never to come back.
Ban Haysoke is interesting because of it’s narrow main streets lined with medium-density structures of an array of ages and styles, threaded together by Vientiane’s all-pervasive tangle of utility lines.
After checking a few things off our list, we shared a shawarma at a Lebanese restaurant with a French name. Not the best shawarma out there, certainly not for the price, but something different than the norm.
Noe enjoyed staring at the hookah pipes while we ate.
Next, we visited an array of village craft shops looking for a number of odds and ends on our list, to no avail. I’ve done a lot of work with alternative livelihoods and indigenous groups, and Lori and I like to support hard work and a livable wages when we can, but some of the prices in these places are just exorbitant — perhaps appropriate for European High streets, but not what you’d expect in downtown Vientiane.
Heck, Lori can pick up a couple meters of fabric at the Morning Market and take it to her favorite seamstress in our neighborhood who does excellent work for a tiny fraction of these village goods, even though our neighborhood seamstress’ overhead is so much higher here in the city! Of course, there are transport costs, but somehow they manage to transport bottles of whisky all the way from Luang Prabang for next to nothing.
I can’t help but think that these shops get away with the high prices because of the growing number of wealthy Laotians, Chinese, Thai and others who equate expensive with status and will gladly pay just about anything to be able to tell you the crazy amount they’re capable of shelling out on a totally unnecessary item.
I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from buying indigenous/village handicrafts and goods, but make sure you shop around a bit and be cognizant of the fact that at some of these boutiques you are likely paying a status premium that the village craftspeople may not actually ever see. You could try asking the shopkeeper what percentage of the profits make it back to the craftsperson, but being that we’re in Laos, I can already tell you what their answer would be — whatever they think you want to hear.
Lori, trying to recreate a photo she took of Noe and me in the same place three months prior.
I took a picture of this hostel wondering who on earth would stay here given the countless budget options in town. I looked it up on TripAdvisor expecting to be entertained by the reviews only to find that it is actually rated quite highly by numerous established reviewers. Still, I have to believe the ten story construction project next-door has to be making an impact on visitors. Looking at the condition of the place again, however, that might not phase the hostel’s target clientele.
Our new funky little drinking hole in downtown Vientiane is BanLao Beer Garden, a funky property with lots of unusual repurposed junk, some hammocks and even a rickety elevated platform for drinking and people-watching alongside tree branches and power lines.
Speaking of power lines, we tried our first Cafe Sinouk today as well, which is a bit surprising, given that they are the Laos equivalent of Starbucks, popping up in every neighborhood and shopping center. There Lao Iced Coffee was pretty darn good, and we particularly enjoyed the balcony overlooking the main road. Just don’t lean too far over the edge, unless you’re fixin’ to tangle with the tangle of power lines.
We planned on checking out the dancing, music and dinner at KuaLao in advance of Lori’s parents’ arrival to see if it was something we’d want to do with them. We had some time to kill beforehand and took a stroll through the local food night market. We had been wanting to do this for a long time, but never got the chance. I guess I expected a number of locals ambling about, buying food and eating. But it seemed that no one these days has any interest in walking through this places, particularly if they have a motorbike. Sadly, the land of Laos Please.Don’t.Rush (PDR) has gone and gotten itself into a big ol’ hurry.
Vientiane has surprisingly few (at least that we’ve found) places to sit and watch traditional dancing and music. KuaLao is one of the few we’ve encountered. Performances are free, but purchase of food and beverage is mandatory, and it ain’t cheap. But the food was delicious.
Again, we arrived thinking it would be a relaxed place where a smattering of tourists had come to enjoy the evening, like dozens of places like this we’ve visited in many countries. It was empty until about ten minutes before performance time. Then, all of a sudden, a steady stream of about forty — mostly Chinese — came rushing in behind their tour guides. Then, moments after the dancing wrapped up, all forty stood up in a frenzy and vacated the room as quickly as they came, leaving us alone with one other couple.
Lori and I agreed, we’ve seen enough of downtown for one day.