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Vientiane New House

Now into our sixth month of living in the “new” house in Laos, we thought it might finally be time for a virtual tour.

I admit it, I’ve been dragging my feet on this one. House posts aren’t like our normal Laos Life posts where I basically get to take a look at what Lori and I have shot over the past few weeks and write a post around it. Rather, it’s the other way around.

To do a virtual house tour right, it’s generally a good idea to have photos of most of the rooms in the house. Even of a few of the rooms is a good start. With two little ones, it’s taken me longer than usual, but it’s finally here. And I think you’ll agree that it was worth the wait.

Lori and I have been fortunate to have some pretty cool roofs over our heads, but this one is definitely at the top of that list. It’s certainly the nicest property Lori and I have resided in together. And given our lifestyle choices, it might just stay that way long after we’ve moved on.

Background

Housing is provided by Lori’s current employer as part of her international staff package, and a number of factors go into determining the rent ceiling for each individual, such as current market rates and number of dependents. Interestly, the housing allowance stayed the same with Noe, but increased a fair amount after we had Riley.

The house itself is very nice, but the location was what really stood out for us. Our old house was a 15-20 minute drive to/from Noe’s nursery school, whereas this house is a five-minute WALK. And…a 7-10 minute walk to Riley’s nursery school. Rent for this house was a bit above Lori’s housing allowance, but the proximity to both schools justified the US$100/month we have to chip in.

When we left Laos on maternity leave last August, we moved all of our things out of our previous home of nearly two years across town in Phontan Village. Lori’s employer wasn’t too keen on paying rent on an empty house for almost five months and we were ready for a change anyway.

We started looking at rental properties online last fall while we were still in the U.S., but found it impossible to find a broker who would divulge the exact location of houses. My assumption is that it has something to do with the fear that potential tenants might cut out the middleman and contact the landlord directly, I don’t know. But can you imagine looking at U.S. properties online and having no address or geographic clues to go off of other than it’s “near the Chinese Embassy” or “near the Mekong”?

Initially, the plan was to stay in an apartment for a month while we house hunted. Given that we had already done this once before in Laos in September-October 2016 and had no desire to do it again, it was really important to find a place before returning in January.

Then, one day Lori got a message from a friend informing her that the current tenants of this house were leaving the country soon and needed to find someone to take over the remainder of their rental contract. We were put in touch with the tenant (an NGO worker, herself, with a spouse and two kids), who was able to give us the low down on the house, including a bunch of pictures, and most importantly…THE LOCATION.

The house was all but perfect for our needs, with the exception of the rent, which exceeded our allowance. Worse, the landlord was looking to raise the rent even more. We weren’t able to negotiate a rent below our housing allowance, but were able to freeze the rate at what the previous tenant was paying, which is more than fair for the market, in our opinion.

Vientiane rents have skyrocketed in the past few years, and landlords have begun demanding a full year’s rent up front! I’m not sure how other renters who don’t have their employer footing the bill manage, to be honest, but that is the way of the moment.

To make matters worse, the law of supply and demand doesn’t really seem to apply here, as most of these houses are built on customary family land with laughably low property taxes. Supply FAR exceeds demand and there are countless houses like this across the city that remain vacant for months or even years because the landlords would rather sit on an empty house with the expectation that someone at some point will pay the insanely high rent they are asking, than lower the rent to fill the house.

So now you know everything you never wanted to know about the Vientiane housing market.

If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane before we begin, read about our previous housing experiences together living overseas:

Phontan House (Vientiane, Laos)
The New House (Punta Gorda, Belize)
Ode to the Homestead (Punta Gorda, Belize)

Manspace

Thought I’d start outside with a quiet evening in dry season.

One of this house’s best attributes is the yard, or “garden” as they call it here. Our previous house didn’t have much of a garden. It did, however, have a LOT of concrete. We’re happy to have a lot more greenery all the way around this house, with two large patches of grass for playing.

This is the front porch looking towards the front door. There’s a door into the house through the carport, so this entrance doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, making it a perfect space for setting up my grill and hammock.

 

In addition to a variety of ornamental trees and bushes, we’ve got banana and jackfruit trees (pictured), and a large mango tree on the other side of the yard.

It’s customary in Laos for properties to be entirely enclosed by a wall, with a gate to the road. In many places, this is for safety, but in Laos it’s more for privacy. Lao people are intensely private people.

We’ve got a two-meter (6-foot) concrete wall topped with another 1.5m aluminum/bamboo fence, all the way around the property. We have several neighbors’ houses that abut the property but would hardly know it because of the wall.

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First Level

Living Room / Dining Room

There’s one large room that dominates much of the first floor. We moved the existing furniture around a bit to section it off. We were excited to see that this house came with couches! Our last house had two very uncomfortable sandalwood settees, but no couches. We haven’t lived many places with couches so have really been enjoying that.

The majority of rentals in Vientiane come furnished, and it is also a requirement of Lori’s employer to find a furnished house. We’ve added a bit of flair from our two years here, namely throw pillows, wall hangings, and the floor cushions.

I rearranged the furniture to give Noe a little play space of his own. We wanted some way of keeping Noe’s toys away from Riley once he started crawling. So far, it’s worked as intended, but sometimes Noe likes to bring everything out to show people if we have friends over.

 

The house did come with a TV, but it’s not connected to anything. I hoped that we could watch movies from a thumb drive, but it does not have that capability. I really should just put the thing in storage, but don’t know what I’d put in its place to balance out the room.

We generally don’t watch TV and cable was an additional cost in the house. It took several visits from the cable company before they stopped asking for payment and disconnected the cable. The guy seemed to have a tough time believing that we didn’t watch TV.

This house is much more energy efficient than the last house. It’s a bit larger, and the ceiling is a bit higher, but, this house has lots of floor-to-ceiling windows with screens AND ceiling fans! Our old house was a concrete bunker with not a single ceiling fan in the entire house. Well, there was one in the rear storage room that didn’t do us much good. This house has got 12 of them!

We didn’t even have to fire up the air conditioner on the first floor until well into our fourth month living here. Then the hot season came and the air has been running ever since. But we look forward to sub-hundred degree days where we can open the house back up again.

The dining room opens up to the carport.

You may have noticed by now the beautiful hardwood plank ceilings. It might not surprise you that the first-level ceiling doubles as the second-level flooring. What may surprise you is that these boards were hand-hewn, and as such, have tiny gaps between each board.

Functionally and cosmetically, not a big deal at all. However, it means that sound goes right through the ceiling/floor. I can hear every word of Lori and Noe talking to each other before bedtime while sitting downstairs on the sofa. Riley’s room is directly above the kitchen, which makes things a bit stressful for me cooking after he’s gone off to bed (or if he’s having a tough time going down while I’m in the kitchen).

This is the only thing we don’t like about the house, and in the whole scheme of things, it is pretty minor. It’s just taken some getting used to after living two years in a concrete bunker where you couldn’t hear anyone or anything.

Oddly enough, we still have to use a baby monitor at night because we can’t hear the kids at all when we are upstairs in our room due to the thick concrete walls and ceiling upstairs, even though our room is right across the hall from their rooms. We can’t leave our doors open because of mosquitoes and air conditioning, so a baby monitor is still a critical piece of gadgetry for us at the moment.

And no, the baby does not sleep in our room and hasn’t since we moved to Laos. I know that other parents choose to do things differently, but that’s just the way we roll.

Guest Bedroom/Bathroom

Though it was negotiated when we moved in, it took the landlord nearly four months to get a bed in here. It’s a beautiful bed, yes, but we would have been happy with anything in here to make it functional.

There are four bedrooms AND four bathrooms in this house. International staff at Lori’s work are required to keep a spare room available for hosting visiting staff from HQ in France/Belgium. We certainly don’t need four bathrooms, which is definitely overkill. But, again, it’s customary in Lao houses this size to have one bathroom for every bedroom, as you’ll often have multigenerational families living in a house like this.

You’ll also often have a live-in housekeeper (we do not…), and there is actually a fifth room AND fifth bathroom out back just for him/her, but we’ll get to that.

 

The guest bedroom is right off of the dining room, and has its own door into the main downstairs bathroom, which is also Noe’s handwashing station.

 

Kitchen

By Lao house standards, our previous kitchen was exceptional. Lao kitchens are often outside or somehow otherwise funky. I’ve seen more houses here than I care to remember with the refrigerator 10 meters outside the kitchen in the living room. This kitchen is more than exceptional. Yes, there are brand new luxury condos in this town that have crazy kitchens, but as far as your run-of-the-mill houses this is certainly on the nicer end.

The gas oven didn’t really work when we moved in, so the landlord provided an electric convection oven (black thing on the counter). It works really well and requires no pre-heating, but uses a ton of electricity, which isn’t cheap in Vientiane (though it should be given all the hydropower dams they’re building and how much energy they export to neighboring countries).

 

 

Utility Room/Area

Out the back door from the kitchen is the open-air covered utility area. When we first moved in, I had the good sense to do a cleaning cycle on the washing machine before putting clothes in it. That little activity resulted in a washer full of mud and a number of calls to the landlord. A week later, we got a new machine — one of them fancy new-fangled water-saving front loaders. I’m happy to report that this machine has not yet filled up with mud, though I guess there’s still time for that.

The utility sink is a huge bonus with two little ones and their various clothing accidents. The partially-blocked door between the sink and the washer leads into bathroom #5. It’s a room with a manual flush squatty potty and just kind of smelly and creepy…so we don’t go in there.

Second Level

Up the stairs!

Family Room/Loft

At the top of the stairs is a loft that doubles as a family room of sorts (and the main hallway for the three bedrooms up here). This room got a lot more use when we first moved in (in the cool/dry season), but doesn’t get a lot of use currently in the hot season due to the lack of an A/C unit. Believe me, you do not want to be “chillin'” on that couch in April. I took a temp reading at midday about a month ago and it was well over 100 degrees, with 85% humidity.

 

Riley’s Room

Fortunately, this room does have A/C. It wasn’t working so great at the beginning of the hot season, so naturally, we got it serviced, which suddenly resulted in an insanely frigid room and a swimming pool. A week later, the company fixed the leak they had made, and we managed to tame the arctic beast.

On the left is Riley’s bathroom (easily the least-used bathroom in the house…I can’t imagine why), and his changing station in the closet.

Inside “Riley”‘s bathroom.

This is actually my favorite shower in the whole house. The one in our bedroom is funky, and you kind of have to bend over backwards to wash your hair. Yet, Riley’s is largely off limits to me in the morning, lest I wake the sleeping dragon.

 

Noe’s Bedroom

Noe’s bedroom, and his “big boy bed.” Lao beds come in one size: HUGE. We’ve got three king-size beds in this house. Again, that goes back to large houses like these being multi-generational dwellings, housing large families. A room like this may house a family of four or more.

Obviously, we feel very fortunate that we are in a position where the four of us don’t have to share one bed in one room.

It is pretty insane that this is a bed for a two-year-old, but it is what came with the house and didn’t make sense for us to go out and by a smaller bed. We put bolsters pillows on the sides so Noe wouldn’t fall off during the night, and in the five months he’s been sleeping in here, Noe hasn’t once tried to get off the bed without us in there (even though he most certainly can if he wanted to).

 

Noe’s bathroom…

Master Bedroom

Our bedroom doubles as my office. And this is the view from my desk…

Like in our previous house, we love the built-in storage in the bedrooms. None of our rooms in Belize or Portland had closets, dressers, or armoirs, so we’re very appreciative of that aspect of our houses in Laos.

 

Master bathroom. And our quirky bathtub/shower.

 

Three of the rooms upstairs open out onto a large, partially-covered veranda.

This area is awesome in the cooler months, but gets pretty hot and buggy in the warmer months. In January and February, Lori and I would come out here to have an afternoon snack while the babes were napping. I imagine we’d use these outdoor seating areas more if we didn’t have two little ones, but we still manage to use them a fair share. We’ve even had Sunday brunch with the boys up here a time or two, and I’ll still bring my laptop out from time to time when it’s cooler and not raining.

 

 

Around the House

Back downstairs, here’s the front porch during the day, with hammock below.

 

 

Some plants around the yard.

 

 

The bare spot is where the previous tenants’ trampoline went. We’ve been trying to get the spot re-seeded, but such things take time in Laos…

It always bothered me in our previous house that we didn’t have a Spirit House. I wanted to get one but we never made it happen. Fortunately, this house came with one! And our gardener seems to keep up with spirit maintenance, in addition to garden maintenance.

So, yes, we have a gardener. We did not have a regular gardener at the last place, only a guy we hired through Lori’s work every few months as needed. We planned on doing the same here, until we found out that the gardener was a non-negotiable part of the contract (he’s a close family friend of the landlord).

So, we inherited the gardener who is a neighbor and has been maintaining the grounds since the house was built. It’s an added expense, but admittedly, this yard is a heck of a lot to maintain. At least, maintain well. When the hot season rolled around, I was particularly grateful to have someone else watering the plants and cutting the grass than myself.

That’s our front gate. We do miss the remote-controlled electric gate at our previous house in Vientiane, but get by just fine with this one. Our old house was on a very busy road, making the electric gate more of a necessity. Being that we are on a quiet little dirt road here, we have plenty of time to get out of the car and unlock/open the gate. It does very much suck having to do so in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Now, walking around the house to the back.

The rear of the house is dominated by the covered utility area, which could honestly be a house in itself.

Attached to the utility area is a room intended for a live-in housekeeper (maeban) or guard. Like the tenants before us, we use it as added storage.

 

Like our old house, this house faces east as well. The south side of the house is shaded by dense vegetation, which actually makes it the coolest side of the house.

 

 

 

And that’s about it. Five months on and we’re really enjoying our current home in Laos. What’s not to enjoy?

We love our new neighborhood and neighbors, both of which are far more relaxed (and quieter!) than our previous situation in Phontan Village. We’ve got a nice mix of Lao and foreign neighbors, and while the Lao neighbors, in particular, tend to keep to themselves, they’re always very friendly and courteous when we do cross paths.

I’ve also been enjoying having ready access to better biking and jogging routes, particularly along the Mekong, and of course, walking Noe to and from school on a daily basis.

The plan, for now, is for us to be in this house through the rest of Lori’s current contract, which ends in December. After that, who knows!

We feel incredibly fortunate to have found this particular house in this particular area that more than suits our needs. Being able to have this sort of living arrangement with two kids is obviously a huge perk of living in Vientiane. Needless to say, our living arrangement and lifestyle would be far different in the U.S., and will likely be very different wherever we find ourselves next.

As with every place we call home, we’re making the most of our time here, but we’ll be ready to move on to the next adventure when the time comes.

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Ann Robertson
Ann Robertson

Looks lovely, spacious and comfortable!

Lori
Lori

Thanks! David loves making maps!

Lori
Lori

Haha, not this time!

Gramps
Gramps

Thanks for the tour of your home, very comfortable!

Gramps