The arrival of May in Vientiane brings [slightly] longer days, [slightly] more rain, and [slightly] fewer events and activities compared to the previous month. It’s a bridge month of sorts, between the festive Dry Season and the solemn and reserved Rains Retreat. Families and friends take every opportunity to cram parties and events into crazy schedules before the mass exodus of Summer Break and low-key introspection of Buddhist Lent.
In prior years, we’ve used May as an opportunity to get out of town. Heck, prior to 2019, we used every month as an excuse to get out of Vientiane. This year, with the tenuous vehicle situation and Riley at the age he’s at, it’s made more sense to stay put and spend that time relaxing in the neighborhood or with friends.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t find ways to entertain ourselves here in Vientiane this May. Here are the highlights.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Noe started the month with a new do. I love his shaggy look (and he does too), but it was getting to be too much to maintain in the extreme heat and humidity of the season. So, we paid our old friend Mister Barber a visit.
Mister Barber does a great job, and the price is right, but he just can’t compete with this guy in the signage department:
And the result?
Can barely tell them apart…
It’s pretty evident they can’t stand each other.
Vientiane International Jazz Festival
This is the Russian Circus. Rather, the rear of the Russian Circus. Nothing says love for your fellow comrade like a circus building. Now, whether or not Laos still hosts circuses here, I can’t say for certain. What I do know is that every year around this time, Laos hosts two days of live jazz from all over the world under this aging Big Top.
The Vientiane International Jazz Festival is one of the biggest international cultural events of the year, drawing a packed house. In association with the French Institute and funded in part by the EU, Vientiane residents soak up twelve hours of live jazz over two evenings, and an assortment of Belgian and local craft beer on tap.
Lori and I have wanted to attend the past couple of years, but this was the first year we made it happen. We kissed the boys goodnight, grabbed some empanadas at our favorite little Chilean place in town (the only Chilean place in town…), and headed to the Circus.
Vientiane may have a population of half a million, but within the international community, it often feels like a small town…sometimes a very small town. The crowd tonight is a good mix of Lao and foreigners, and among those in attendance we saw the director of our kid’s school, several close friends, a few neighbors, Lori’s coworkers, owners of a number of coffee shops, restaurants, and other local businesses we frequent, parents of Noe’s classmates, and various other people we’ve had regular interactions with over the years.
We also saw a large number of families with young children, which we didn’t necessarily expect at a late night event with an Oktoberfest atmosphere. But in Vientiane, this is far more the norm rather than the exception, and we would have brought our own boys if Riley was just a wee bit older. I know Noe would have loved it, but it was also nice to have a kid-free night out too.
Somebody woke up happy.
Death of the Stroll…and National Assembly
One particularly nice evening, we got the idea to head up to Laos’ most revered religious structure, That Luang, for a stroll.
When we lived on this side of town, we did this a lot more regularly. One thing we’ve missed about a lot of other hot-climate cultures is the collective evening stroll in city parks, squares, and plazas.
Outside of Latin America and Europe, we’ve encountered this across Africa and many other parts of Asia. Laotians, however, largely seem to shun the activity.
Sure, you’ve got teenagers hanging out in night markets or women doing Zumba at sunset, but not a sort of collective exhale together in a central part of the city after a long day.
The closest thing we’ve encountered is what happens at sunset around That Luang. Or should I say, what used to happen.
When we returned recently, we were saddened to see that they had opened the complex up to vehicle traffic, the small handicraft market was gone, and there just weren’t a lot of people around anymore.
We did a few loops around the parking lot and called it a day, but not before taking in the large construction site that used to be the National Assembly.
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Surprise doesn’t adequately put into words my reaction the day we drove by the Laos equivalent of Capitol Hill and noticed that they had demolished their largest and most important government building with little to no fanfare.
More than a year later, this is where we’re at with the new one.
Because shiny and new is always better in Laos. Don’t ask me where the government has been assembling in the meantime.
Food & Drink
For tacos, I usually do a sauteed or pulled chicken filling. This time around, I did wings in a lime/pepper/cumin/chili/beer marinade and grilled em up, then pulled the meat off the bone, more of like a pollo asada sort of thing, I guess. Turned out pretty tasty.
These days I frequently marinate my meat in beer. Apparently, it’s supposed to reduce the carcinogenic effects of grilling meat, and because everything tastes better with beer.
…except maybe ceviche. I don’t put beer in my ceviche. I serve it on the side instead. I know, crazy.
I’d like to think that those suspenders on my boy are purely functional, Lori…
Common Grounds Cafe put on their first coffee cupping event, and a close friend of ours helped facilitate it.
I always wanted to go to something like this when we lived in Portland, but could never bring myself to pay the outrageous entry fee.
This being CG’s inaugural Lao Specialty Coffee Experience, tickets were offered at a very reduced rate.
The two-hour workshop was informative, but better yet, we got to taste their primo stuff brewed using three different methods (cold brew, pour-over, and AeroPress, which is the method I primarily use at home).
Along with a proper cupping, of course…
Lori was nice enough to offer to watch the kids downstairs in the play area while I attended the workshop. It’s not as easy these days to do these sorts of extra-curriculars, so I’m grateful whenever I get the chance.
Afterwards, we met up with some friends who prepared an amazing spread of a dinner at their place.
We caught a tuk-tuk back home — our first in a long time. With the two boys, we’ve been utilizing the services of our taxi friend on the many days we don’t have a car.
Lately, however, we’ve been getting back into the tuk-tuk thing, particularly from downtown because we can flag a tuk-tuk almost immediately. In Vientiane, taxis do not cruise the streets picking up passengers like in other cities. That’s what tuk-tuks are for.
We also had my bike, so a tuk tuk (more specifically, a Jumbo) made the most sense. Noe was quite tired, but he still enjoyed the ride.
Riley…not crawling yet, but potentially contemplating it.
This was the product of a torrential downpour, about 30 minutes into the storm. Despite not having a moat like our previous house had, the water always seems to disappear freakishly fast. Our backyard swamp here was bone dry in about two hours.
One of a few resident Tokay lizards we’ve got around the house. One lives in one of the exterior walls of our bedroom.
If you’ve ever heard a Tokay lizard’s bark, you know they are obscenely loud and do most of their barking at night. Fortunately, one 30-second call will satisfy them for the night.
I’d like to think the one above hasn’t been taking up residence in my shoes. Yet another reason to shake out your shoes in the tropics before you put them on.
This place popped up out of nowhere a few weeks ago. You don’t see the words “buttermilk biscuit” and “Bloody Mary” in this town, so we knew we had to give it a try.
Bistro DeeBee is run by a very friendly Korean guy who lived in the American South for a while. Hence, the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits and gravy were tasty, but the muesli was exceptional. I don’t even like muesli, but this muesli was hearty and delicious.
And I had to go for the Bloody Mary. I can’t remember the last time I had one. DeeBee’s Bloody Mary is AWESOME. Perfect flavor, perfect amount of alcohol, and perfect amount of heat to start your Saturday. And a freakin’ bacon slice! Bloody Mary’s don’t get any better than this, my friends.
Riley…still not yet crawling, but seeming quite fixated on the toy across the room.
Lori and I had been talking for a long time that we’d like to do more double dates with friends. The stars finally aligned and we found some takers. Lori always being on the prowl for new and interesting places to try out somehow caught wind of this Chinese Dim Sum-fusion place, “Feast of the East,” and we decided to try it with our friends.
Not your typical Hong Kong-style dim sum (I guess that’s where the fusion comes in) but delicious, nonetheless. The interior of the restaurant is also unique for Vientiane — sort of a retro-fied exposed brick and plaster, accented with lightly-stained hardware furniture.
We do love our Indian food, and are always excited to try a new Indian restaurant when they pop up. Rashmi’s Indian Fusion brings the total in town to over a dozen. We got a meat thali and veg thali to split amongst us. And of course a couple of masala (chai) teas.
Rashmi’s is halaal and was recommended to Lori by a coworker of hers who is currently observing Ramadan. Her family had come here last Saturday to break fast, and we saw them here tonight as well. The restaurant was empty when we first arrived but as soon as the sun went down, the entire place filled up almost immediately with folks breaking fast.
Riley enjoyed watching the world go by on this busy road. Though I have to say I think his days doing this without protest are numbered.
Odds & Ends
Following the sad demise of our inherited swimming pool, and some time to let the grieving process run its course, I was finally ready to break out the ol’ splash pad again. While the boys are frolicking, we’ll frequently kill two birds with one stone and give them both a quick bath as well.
While barbecuing one night with Lori out on our front stoop, I saw this guy out of the corner of my eye staring at us.
On the Move
Tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and…
When HI’s vehicle fleet was drastically reduced at the end of March, the powers that be got the idea to go “green,” which included this lovely Chinese-made electric tuk-tuk that speaks to you in Mandarin and seats exactly four large cats.
I will say it certainly makes a statement around town. We’ll just leave it at that.
Our littlest guy finds himself playing all around the house, but he hasn’t been getting there on his own yet.
At this age, Noe was climbing out of corrals and getting himself into trouble. Riley, on the other hand, has been content to stave off learning how to crawl. At nearly eight months, he’s enjoyed swiveling around on his belly and flapping his arms, but not going anywhere.
As part of the rental agreement with the house, we asked that a baby gate be put in at the top of the stairs. You can’t buy baby gates here, and stairs aren’t made to easily accommodate removable ones even if you could.
It only took five months, but we finally got a custom-welded baby gate installed in the last week of May.
As it so happens, on that very evening Riley deemed the house safe and…
…decided to start crawling.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
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