Life has been a bit of a whirlwind for us the past few months. In mid-September, we finalized packing, said goodbye to family and friends and flew to Belgium for four days. We landed in Vientiane on a Thursday morning, moved into our apartment a few hours later and Lori reported to work at 9am the next morning. Three weeks later, we were in Northern Thailand for a week for Lori’s work, then moved into our house the day after we returned. Throw in learning a new language, still waiting for 3/4 of our stuff in freight, learning how to drive in a motorbike-swamped, traffic-laws-optional major city (Lori), re-acclimating to the heat and humidity, and — a baby — and you’ve got yourselves a party!
Despite the last several weeks, we’re feeling more settled every day and the house is slooooooowly coming along (such is life in the LPDR). That doesn’t mean we’ll being staying put anytime soon. Lori’s got a site visit next week up north to Luang Prabang, and then one out to Phonsavan the following week, and of course Noe and I will be tagging along, because that’s what we do. Noe needs his mommy, and right now, I need his mommy too.
Here’s a recap of the last 10 days of October.
Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR, is a city of contrasts, and our area is no exception. In less than a mile radius, you have bustling street scenes (like above), quickly giving way to canals, farms and rice paddies.
You’ve got temples wedged between mansions and shacks…
And brand new Chinese shopping malls…
With vacant high-rise condominiums overlooking a giant waterpark…
You’ve also got a diversity of food offerings, from falang friendly coffeeshops (which are generally packed with far more Asians than Europeans) to small, family-run local food eateries. Prices for a tasty and filling meat-based entree can run anywhere from US$1.50 to $40+, but we generally stick to the cheaper end of the scale.
This is one of our recent discoveries and new favorites, The Koki Korean BBQ.
Exceptionally delicious and all this (including a generous portion of BBQ spareribs (not pictured) and mussels) for about US$7. But then again, you could head over to the Hard Rock Cafe and pay US$30 for a steak, if that’s your thing.
Noe’s been settling-in nicely to his new home, though his new room is very sunlit and wakes him up very early (he’s got a big set of windows facing east and a huge set facing south, perfect for fully harnessing the wrath of the tropical sun).
One of our many missions has been finding him reasonably-priced room-darkening curtains. We’ve found a number of places that will make them for next-to-nothing, but the curtain material we’re after is quite expensive. In the meantime, Lori’s breathable sleep sack has helped soften the blow.
Like a baby…
However, times like these (below) beg the question why he can’t just fall asleep anywhere all the time. He’s very selective about where he chooses to perform this feat and likes to keep us on our toes.
This was one of our favorites (he’s even still holding on to his ball!)
So, yeah. Lots of adjustments, lots of creativity, lots and lots of patience.
In the midst of all of this, we’ve been spending a lot of time exploring our neighborhood, which is, in fact, the same neighborhood we were living in, just a bit farther south (but strangely in an entirely different district!).
We spend a lot of time out and about in the evenings because we don’t really cook yet. We haven’t cooked a single dinner since we’ve been in Laos, for two reasons: 1) we’re still waiting for our freight containing most of our cookware, and 2) the food is awesome and cheaper than buying the ingredients yourself! Plus, it gets us out and exploring when the temperature is pleasant in the evenings.
When we first arrived in Laos, Noe had a tough time tolerating being out in the evening, and would take up to two hours to go down for the night. But now that he’s done it so much, he’s become much more tolerant of our evening routine and generally goes down without a fuss (and sleeps until 6 or 7am), no matter how late we stay out. It’s pretty amazing, actually. We’re enjoying it until he decides to change it up again.
Despite all the differences, apparently some things don’t change no matter where you go, unfortunately…
I shouldn’t judge. That could totally be us. Just replace the devices in their hands with beer bottles.
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I’ve been looking for a set of wheels for myself, but I’m quickly learning it ain’t so easy in Vientiane. Most vehicles are late model and very expensive. Give me a 2000 quad-cap pickup and I’d be a happy camper, but something like that is virtually impossible to find. However, if you’re in the market for a 2008 Korean-made SUV for US$25,000, take your pick.
I’ve long-dreamed of owning a tuk-tuk and thought that living in Laos would afford the perfect opportunity. Tuk-tuks are generally cheap, and really all you need for getting around Vientiane. You might imagine my excitement when I spotted this beauty parked up the street from our house for US$800.
A rarity in Laos, with its front-facing passenger seating and reserved color scheme (generally they’re pimped out with crazy colors). Alas, it was not to be, as it appears you need a special license in Laos to drive a tuk-tuk. And of course, the class required to obtain said license is taught exclusively in Lao (the language, that is). So, I pass the vehicle on a daily basis and continue to dream. Maybe one day my Lao skills will be such that I, too, can have the privilege of driving my family around in such a beautiful vehicle.
When we aren’t walking around, eating, and drooling over tuk-tuks, we’re slowly working our way through our To-Do and To-Buy lists for the house, which has posed some fun challenges. Here are a couple of fun items we’ve come across on the quest:
Undoubtedly an indispensable gadget: “The strong dint absorb wall to keep a thing.”
If it isn’t clear to you what this is, the description helps immensely.
We found this awesome play mat at D-Mart — I think it’s a lot more fun to drool on than a wood floor (and more comfortable to play on, too).
e went on a long walk on Friday up to the That Luang area, just as the sun was setting. We had heard that people gather there every evening to exercise and relax. They have a very nice plaza in front of the giant stupa that I imagined families sitting around, very much like you’d see across Latin America. When we got there, however, the plaza was completely dark (despite an abundance of ornate street lamps that were turned off). All of the activity was happening in the gigantic and characterless parking lot adjacent to the temple complex. People were indeed together, strolling, doing aerobics (and there was even a Zumba stage), but it was not the picturesque setting I imagined.
So…we headed down the street to dinner. Tonight, excellent Pakistani food at Urdu Cafe.
Urdur is a new restaurant in a new and quaint tree-lined commercial area. There isn’t much here yet, but a lot of people are looking forward to when things are up and running. When that will be, who knows.
The restaurant was essentially the converted front room of a friendly Pakistani couple who has a son of their own and instantly took a liking to Noe. While we were waiting for our food, a couple other Pakistanis sat down to have dinner, so we knew the place had to be fairly legit. They even had authentic Chai. And the food was really tasty. Plus, it was nice to have a conversation with an English-speaking family. One thing I’ve always loved about living overseas (particularly in non-English-speaking countries) is how much English can form an instant and common bond. We simply don’t appreciate this in the States, when we encounter an English-speaking person who’s family is originally from another country. Sitting on the subway or bus, it’s easy to look at the person next to you, who might be originally from Egypt or Kenya or Pakistan and think, I have nothing in common with this person. We all have much more in common than we think. It’s incredibly unfortunate that more and more Americans and Europeans are choosing to believe the opposite.
In other news, Lori finally got her Lao license and is cleared to drive. Yay!
Which means the return of…
…Noe’s carseat! Yep, the same carseat we lugged from Portland to Brussels to Vientiane, all to see it put in storage for the next six weeks. I’m not sure the Mister was very pleased about seeing the return of the contraption, but he’s slowly coming back around.
Now, why they don’t do takeaway iced coffees like this in the States is beyond me.
On Sunday, we made a trip to the northern part of the city to visit an upscale supermarket to see if we could check anything off our move-in list. Afterwards, we ate at this nearby local place, where you sit in private huts around a large pond.
Finally, we leave with some lovely sunset views of the Mighty Mekong.
Ok, not the Mekong yet, but this building was on the way and I thought it was worth a photo. These sorts of structures are a dime a dozen in Mozambique and India (and would be packed with families living in them), but you don’t see too many in Vientiane now. Something about urban decay and neglect at sunset is very picturesque to me.
Down the street, is the well known falang hang-out, Spirit House (which we visited later that evening). Across the street (on the riverside) was a string of local drinking places with a better view. Naturally, we skipped the crowded Spirit House for the near-empty local place with the much better view!
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