Vientiane: Where is everybody?


We ended up in Vientiane over New Year’s Eve. This has got to be one of the strangest capital city I’ve ever been to. For a start it is tiny. It’s about twice the size of the town I grew up in with a population of only c.210,000 people. We couldn’t really find a central hub of activity. All the places that looked nice around the square with a fountain were practically deserted. Given that it was the festive season we had expected the place to be a bit busier with tourists like us. The only really busy place we saw was another square that was playing incredibly loud dance music rammed with locals bopping away in the open air late at night. I was glad we weren’t staying in the immediate vicinity as it was very, very loud.

The highlight for our stay was a visit to the COPE centre. Here people are kited out with prosthetic limbs and given rehabilitation treatment such as physiotherapy. For a country that is littered still with UXO’s their work is vital to help those who have been unfortunate enough to suffer such an injury. It was incredibly sad reading and watching the accounts of people’s lives which had been devastated, the story of Han we watched on video was particularly moving. He was only 8 when he was killed by a UXO and the interview with his parents about what happened was very sad to watch. The centre is free to visit although you can leave a donation, which we did, to help support the work that they do. We also had one of their delicious ice cream shakes, all for a good cause of course as the profits help fund their work too.

COPE centre

Other than that we were at a bit of a loose end in Vientiane. Still suffering from Buddha and temple fatigue we skipped over the numerous temples on offer in the city. We did occupy ourselves for a few hours with ten pin bowling. There was hardly anyone else there while we played. We had 6 games in total all for the princely sum of around £8.50 for both of us. I’m not sure that would even get you one game for one person at home! The bowling alley was a throwback from an earlier era with its dated equipment and cheesy 80’s music playing. It was great!

We spent our second day lazing by the rooftop pool of a hotel. Apart from us there was only three other people briefly there. Where was everyone?!?

Deserted swimming pool in Vientiane

New Years Eve evening we spent on a rooftop bar by the Mekong. It was hardly busy by standards back home but it was at least a little busier than other places we had seen.

In all we found Vientiane to be a slightly strange place. It wasn’t unlikeable but there wasn’t an awful lot going on there. It was possible to get very good food and reasonably priced wine which was a nice touch for our New Year’s Eve celebrations, but on the whole it was definitely lacking a buzz about it. It certainly didn’t feel like a capital city!

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