We’ve purposefully been trying to keep the three weeks between our Thailand trip and big Annual Leave trip back to the U.S. pretty low key — which is not difficult to do in Vientiane in mid-July. It’s summer break and expats and Laotians alike have fled, en masse, back to their familial homes, rendering the city a virtual ghost town.
And it’s easy to see why.
It’s no coincidence that the rainy season in Southeast Asia coincides with Buddhist Lent. The monsoon was recognized by Buddha, himself, as the perfect time of year for introspection and meditation, because after all, what else are you going to do when the world around you is a dark, dank, soupy, soppy mess. Walking around town evokes a grey, post-apocalyptic backdrop of rotting concrete and wood, and empty thoroughfares, under a perpetually oppressive sky. Our one solace is that we’ll soon be headed to bask in the brilliance of the Pacific Northwest in high summer. No matter how far away we travel, we don’t think we’ll ever be able to top summertime weather in Cascadia. If only it lasted for more than a couple of months each year.
After a fun, but long trip in Thailand with Noe-the-wonder-one-year-old, we figured it was time for a date night, and called upon our favorite Cambodian babysitter to watch her favorite falang noi for a few hours. First stop? Our monthly Lao massages!
We headed over to our usual place, Manee Spa, but it was full on this particular rainy Saturday afternoon, so we decided to branch out and try some place new: Tangerine Garden. Located in the center of town, the spa is in a beautiful old colonial building, and the massage was good, but the prices were a bit high for what you get compared to Manee, and nothing in town beats the ambience at Manee.
Afterwards, we had a couple of happy hour glasses of wine and a delicious cheese plate at L’Adresse, then tried out the newly renovated ATMO in Ban Haysoke. It seems we’ve manage to keep up the French restaurant theme on our date nights. We thought we’d run out of new French places to try a long time ago, but are still discovering new ones (new to us, at least) on a weekly basis.
After a restful evening, we headed back out the following morning, this time with Noe in tow, to hit one of our long time go-to breakfast places in our neighborhood: JOMA.
JOMA’s certainly nothing new, and our history with this North American transplant goes back about five years. But they recently revamped their menu and added new pastry offerings, which we’ve been wanting to try. The cinnamon bun is particularly delicious. And they’ve definitely stepped up their game with the ham and cheese croissant. What, months before, was more of a chewy hot pocket is now a flaky and delicious slice of heaven in every bite. And the donuts? Perhaps some of the biggest and best in town.
New places are constantly opening up around town, and our neighborhood is no exception. We often get a kick out of the signage around here.
Noe’s yelling: “Gimme back my summer!!!”
So what is there to do with a baby-toddler in Vientiane at the height of the rains? What, it’s not already obvious? EAT! And drink coffee. And beer. And wine. And EAT! One of these days the sun will return (along with half the population of the city), we’ll all dry out and look forward to the string of holidays and festive seasons from October through April.
While doing our weekly D-Mart grocery shopping run, Lori stumbled upon this miniature ironing board — perfect for little hands [hint, hint…Noe].
Spending some quality time with my laptop, a cup of coffee and a burger at Maison Coffee up in Ban Hongkae. I’ve visited this place close to a dozen times and nearly always order the same thing (Iced Americano). Given the dreary weather, I thought I’d change it up and get an Americano, which came with a cookie and a cup of tea. Score!
And yes, those are sweet potato fries, and yes, they are delicious. I’ll take this opportunity to say that Vientiane, surprisingly, has got some of the best burgers I’ve ever had outside of North America — which is saying a lot. Burgers here actually taste, well, burgers! I’ve only had one about every month or two here, but those I’ve had are mighty good. Sputnik burger (below Jazzy Brick) might just be the best.
Somebody found daddy’s socks…
The Mister has been obsessed with socks lately. He loves to take them off, then try and put them on. If he finds someone else’s he likes to try and put those on. But first and foremost, he has to sniff them. Every time. Because of this, I’ve had to redouble my efforts to get my socks in the clothes hamper as quickly as possible, lest they run off with Noe.
Perhaps the biggest news (and tragedy) in town these past few weeks has been the huge fire that completely destroyed one of the largest Chinese markets in Southeast Asia: Sang Jiang.
As we were driving into town for a dinner and dance show one night, I noticed this massive black column. Given the weather lately, my first thought was that it was some weird water spout or tornado. But no one else seemed to be concerned. On closer inspection, it was clear it was smoke from a devastating fire west of the city center.
The growing presence of Chinese in Laos is becoming increasingly controversial, and it feels like there’s growing anti-Chinese sentiment here. There seemed to be quite a few Laotians on social media who seemed glad to see the thing go up. Granted, Chinese Big Business doesn’t seem to be winning over a lot of friends here in Laos for a variety of reasons, but Sang Jiang was packed largely with small business immigrants who came to Laos to make a better life for themselves. Many of these people had felt the economic explosion of the past two decades in China passed them by and saw a second chance for themselves and their families in Laos. It’s still not clear how the fire started, but what is clear is that the sprawling ten-year-old market is a total loss, which will obviously have far-reaching impacts for, not only the Chinese community, but the whole of Vientiane.
We returned to Kualao, our favorite (only?) dinner and dance venue in town with some of Lori’s coworkers visiting from Brussels. This is the fourth time we’ve been since moving moving to Laos, but the first that Noe has actually given a flip as to what the heck is going on. Before, he was focused on two things: feeding on mommy and sleeping. But this time, he was absolutely mesmerized. I’ve never seen a one-year-old so well behaved or so engaged for an hour+. But it’s not that difficult to see why. It combines three of his most favorite things: Music, food, and lovely ladies.
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We finally branched out from our favorites at Cafe Vanille in Ban Saphagmor and went for the ham, egg and mushroom crepe…and we may never go back after this. Awesome.
Noe’s so close to walking, it’s not even funny. A couple more weeks and this guy will literally be giving us a run for our money. First item of business back in the States. Getting him some good shoes that won’t slip off. But in the meantime, you gotta love them tiny little Crocs of his.
A trip back to the States also means it’s time for a visit to the barber. We’ve decided Noe won’t be far behind his old man.
Gotta get me one of them “Pet Things.”
The rain let up a bit one evening, and the bugs weren’t too bad, so we had ourselves a little happy hour — just the three of us — out under the carport.
The Nugget has been getting increasingly more cuddly and affectionate with us lately. He’ll seek us out wherever we are in the house with a book, snuggle up and thumb through the pages. Other times, he wants you to follow him so he can show you something, or trick you into playing hide-and-go-seek. He’s sly that way.
Noe’s still a one-year-old, and sometimes one-year-olds are just not a lot of fun to be around. It was on one such day that Lori came home to find:
In reality, Noe was due to go on an outing with mommy after work, giving daddy a break from baby for an hour, hence the packed bag. The “Free Baby!” was just a bonus.
We so wanted to be those carefree parents who just let the kid grow his hair out ’til he went off to college, but it just wasn’t us. It didn’t make it any easier that the kid’s hair was simply out of control.
No matter how clean and dry he was, he was starting to look like a wet rat in the tropical climate — not an ideal first impression for the grandparents after the better part of a year without seeing their grandson.
So, we headed to a place recommended by some friends of ours and got a little trim around the ears.
Noe was a champ — very serious and stoic, but also calm and patient, which is sort of Noe’s default in these situations.
The folks at Mr. Barber did a great job with Noe. It was evident they had a lot of experience with babies and kids.
Quite the dashing young man. Takes after his old man…
On our final weekend before leaving for a month, we tried out a place we’ve been wanting to for some time: Le Ranch.
Generous portions of delicious French food and oozing with old-world ambiance. Plus, Noe got to sit in the biggest high chair any of us have ever seen — a sheer boat of a high chair. He’s not a huge guy by any stretch, but looked particularly minuscule in this chair. It just devoured him!
And so it came to pass, that it was only fitting that we’d spend our final evening out in Vientiane where it all began on our first evening in town just ten short months ago: “Baby Lady”
It’s hard to believe that when we made the trip out here from the U.S. in September, we were packing a tiny and helpless little three-month-old who couldn’t even roll over or hold his own head up to save his life. The mother and daughter proprietors here have watched him through all the biggest milestones of the past year. They, along with our Lao, Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean neighbors, his part-time Lao nanny, Cambodian baby sitter, Laotian teachers and classmates at his daycare-school, and Lori’s Laotian and French coworkers (not to mention motorbikes, saffron-clad monks, 80% humidity) make up the world as he knows it. In a few short days, his world will be massively rocked, when a thirteen-month-old Mister returns to a homeland a world apart from all he’s known, seeing many of his closest relatives as if for the very first time.
And…after three long months, Lori and I will finally get to bask, once again, in the glory of that beautiful, big, bright ball in the sky, with family and friends, and love every wondrous minute.
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