It’s the weekend here in Vientiane and that means fun time with the boys. We’ve been more limited than before with our evening movements outside the house owing mostly to the importance of sleep in Noe’s routine. Noe gets absolutely exhausted after a full day of running around and doing activities at his nursery school. At this age, he’s just kind of a wreck if we don’t get him fed quickly and down to sleep at around 7pm. The difference between well-rested Noe and sleep-deprived Noe is like night and day, so while we’re not big fans of routines, we’ve learned to respect the nap/bedtime routine, for sanity’s sake.
What that means for us in practical terms is that we don’t get to go out and enjoy the amazing January weather here in the evenings as much as we used to when Noe was younger. If Noe had a good day and school and seems in good spirits, we take a little walk around the neighborhood, maybe grab a beer, then go home, feed and put the boys down, then I would cook dinner for the two of us.
So Fridays and Saturdays have become our designated fun-evenings out, knowing that if we push Noe’s bedtime a little on these days he can make up for it the next day. We especially like to use these evenings as a chance to head downtown and catch a sunset and sundowner.
This Saturday evening, we decided to visit Vientiane New World Walking Street. These “walking streets” have sprung up like weeds since we moved here in 2016. They all try to be unique and hip, with non-sensical names like “December 88” and “Thug Life,” though in reality they all just seem to be a variation on the same theme: BeerLao and Lao-Thai-Vietnamese-Chinese fast-food.
We’re here tonight because one of our favorite international restaurants, Ban Gai House of Chicken, Mexican and Curry House, vacated their previous location in our new neighborhood (weeks before we moved in, to our disappointment) and relocated down here. Sadly, Ban Gai is no longer a house of chicken, Mexican food, or curry, and appears just to serve the usual Laotian fare. Don’t get me wrong, we have absolutely NOTHING against Lao-Thai-Vietnamese-Chinese food. We love all of it. But there are soooooo many places to get that, and so few places to get, well, Mexican food. With the exit of Ban Gai, it really leaves only one legitimate place in town: Gringo’s, and Gringo’s does not do enchiladas or big stuffed burritos.
All of these walking streets are always mostly empty, at least when we’re there. It’s highly likely they pick up significantly after our boys are already in bed, but we wouldn’t know. We’ve recently learned that these walking streets are a huge draw for young people from Thailand on the weekends, which mystifies us, given that the idea was most certainly taken from the many similar complexes we’ve seen in Thailand, and most restaurants and bars in Thailand are cheaper! But Laos is exotic, I guess…
We’re splitting a beer and watching the sunset at the aptly named Little Monkey, this evening. You can tell the boys are thrilled about it.
Honestly, Riley enjoyed his time (he loves outings), but Noe was a bit off. Such is the life of a toddler.
He did enjoy getting in a little bar dancing before we headed home.
We were tipped off by a friend about a new grocery store opening in town. We decided to check it out the next morning and were surprised to find this!
Noe was blown away by the forklift. He could have watched that thing all day. Bazaar Cash & Carry doesn’t necessarily have anything that other places don’t, but it has a very distinct Costco-esque feel to it (though, ironically, most of what they sell isn’t packaged in bulk but rather in smaller packages for local ma and pa vendors to sell, which means more packaging rather than less — makes sense for individual resale, but not for stocking up at home). However, their prices are very competitive, particularly on Belgian beer, toilet paper, and diapers. Only thing is, you have to cash out separately in every individual section of the store. Guess that’s where the “cash and carry” comes in.
It hasn’t really been hot enough lately for any outdoor water activities (at least not hot enough for us). We like to do water activities at home when we have some shade to work with, which means not in the heat of the day. Toward the end of the month, we finally got a little bit of a heat wave, and out the splash pad came. We had some friends of ours over (with their little boy who’s Noe’s age) and enjoyed the golden hour after the heat of the day and before the mosquitos attack.
We like Bangkok Noi restaurant for multiple reasons, but mostly because they’ve got something for everyone. Beverages and perhaps the best Panang curry in town for ma and pa, and…
…for the kids.
Can you spot Noe?
First time back to one of our old favorites, Kung’s Cafe, for some mango pancakes and coconut ice coffees.
In other news, we devoted one Saturday to following up on some leads for bikes, and I finally found one I liked at CCR Sport Bike on Rue Phonxay in Vientiane (near Lao LED). Very impressed with the quality for US$120, particularly considering I couldn’t find anything half as nice being sold by other expats for the same price. I did ended up coming back a week later and buying an upgraded cushy bike seat as the stock one had zero padding. I recommend doing the same if you get one of these there.
I never really considered a bike in our last neighborhood because it was just too far out from the city center and too much trouble to get anywhere on bike, dodging motorbikes and everything else. Our new house, however, is just a short distance from the riverfront drive that goes all the way downtown and beyond, which is much more conducive to bike riding.
And no, I didn’t get the Bell Shell child seat here. We muled that beauty out from the U.S. this last trip. I used it a handful of times in the U.S. before we left and would recommend it, if your bike has the clearance over the rear wheel.
While they were tuning up my new bike at the bike shop, the staff were kind enough to pump up Noe’s balls that we brought (deflated) from the States. Noe was beside himself.
Lori found an old (but functional) deck umbrella for US$10. A nice addition to our upstairs patio (though I did have to battle with the rusty umbrella for a good ten minutes first). Our new place is slowly coming together.
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Sharing Gaiwan black tea and a snack during the boys’ naps.
Another weekend, and another Saturday. What’s going on tonight you ask? Well, Noe and Lori are going to see a play in French at the French Institute (a take on Alice in Wonderland, I guess). Originally, I was slated to stay home with Riley, but where’s the fun in that? It’s Saturday night, after all? Us dudes are hitting the city.
The plan is…well, we don’t really have a plan. We’ve been left here at one of Vientiane’s most recognizable landmarks, Patuxay, with no milk, no diapers, and no agenda. It’s just ninety minutes and I have the keys to the car (where the supplies are) if needed. We don’t plan on venturing too far, but who knows.
My initial thought was to take my newest son up to the top of the Victory Monument to watch the sunset. Noe’s been up several times, but this would be Riley’s first. Unfortunately, they just locked everything up, so that’s not an option. So we’re going to meander and see what the tourists and Asia’s most laidback peddlers are up to.
It seems that this has sprung up in our absence. I’m not sure you can tell by the photo, but this — whatever it is — is made up entirely of teacups and saucers.
After twenty minutes of roaming around the Patuxay grounds, it became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to kill 90 minutes here, not easily anyway. So, we walked.
Ah, Phat Tich (Fat Itch, as I call it), always looking lovely in the evening sun.
After a short while, we find ourselves on Dongpalane, the home electronics district. I’ve got a few things on my list to get for the house, but most shops are closed already. It’s a pleasant evening and Riley’s asleep, so we keep going.
We come to the canal and I notice they’ve built a brand new road alongside it, one of the cut throughs from this neighborhood towards the Mekong. I decide to follow it and notice a tent city of sorts has cropped up where Lori and I used to frequently park for the Morning Market.
We follow the new road between Vientiane Center (mall), and the new World Trade Center, which appeared decidedly more functional six months ago before our Maternity Leave than it does currently. Not a huge surprise. It’s been a work-in-progress for the better part of a decade now.
And here we are, Vientiane Center. And Chinese (Lunar) New Year is just around the corner (yes, they celebrate Lao New Year (Pi Mai), Western/Gregorian New Year, AND Chinese/Lunar New Year here. Lot’s of drinking. Lot’s of days off. And most notably…lot’s of very loud (and very illegal) fireworks.
I decide to hit up one of the semi-interesting department stores in the mall, but alas…
…it is now Meat Plus restaurant.
We’ve still got forty minutes with not much else to do at the mall. Let’s head out back and see what’s up with those tents…
Oh my. It seems they’ve turned the little swampy pond back here into a park of sorts…with bumper boats and bubble boats.
Another food court walking street! I think that brings the current total in Vientiane to 1,652. But this one…this one, my friends, is on WATER (with an enchanting view of…the back of the mall).
Meanwhile, Lori and Noe…
With little else to do with a monkey in tow (and lots of walking), I’ve little choice but to take a load off, pond-side, with a cold beverage.
If you haven’t been around in Vientiane for a while, you may not know that BeerLao has branched out from their long-time standards of BeerLao, BeerLao Dark, and BeerLao Gold, to offer a new crafty-hipster line of beers as well, named Amber, White, and Hoppy (though none of the flavors really hit the mark with their respective monikers). Sometimes, I’m convinced Amber is the most palatable of the three, while other times, I’m convinced White is (Hoppy rarely makes the cut). But more often than not, I end up back at good ol’ BeerLao original or it’s Dark cousin, which are exceptional and make me question why I even bother with those others. Variety? Hope? Delusion? What do you think, Riley?
Ahh, cold beer, chill kid, serviceable view (Hey! It’s water front, baby!). Almost time for the rest of our team to meet us at the extraction zone. I text our current location to Lori.
Me: “Pickup please, when u r finished.”
Lori: “You have the keys to the car!”
Me: “Hmm… Craaaap.”
Alright, Riley, guess we’ve got a bit of a walk on our hands…
Riley and I manage to make it back to the car just as Noe and Lori arrive (thanks, in no part to Riley, who did NONE of the walking, whatsoever).
Onward to dinner at Qoo. Vientiane has several Japanese eateries, but this is where all the hip and in-the-know Japanese go, it seems. We walk in and look around. Hmm, nice sushi bar, but nothing special.
The host asks, “Would you like to sit upstairs?”
Lori’s been here briefly to drop something off and tells me I definitely want to sit up stairs. Moments later, I realize why.
I’ve heard of these types of Japanese restaurants, but never had the opportunity, myself, to eat in one. Never a dull moment in Vientiane, though this guy may beg to differ…
Noe doesn’t need to know about the play room…
Apart from the Play Room of Death, and that they were inexplicably out of sushi (who wants to eat sushi in a landlocked country, anyway?), it was still very much worth the visit, and appropriately capped another strange — yet fun — Saturday out in Vientiane.