After days of mountain roads and dusty towns, Vientiane poked out of the landscape like a haphazard vision of order and opulence.
As far as capital cities go Vientiane (“Vieng-chang”) is a tidy and serene place. It’s like that agreeable friend in the background, always ready with an amiable opinion. A serene place to have a slow beer by the riverside… there’s apparently a saying that in the Indochinese region that if the Vietnamese cut the grass, the Lao are the ones who watch the grass grow.
Vientiane in the May heat is slow and peaceable.
And yet, I wasn’t too sure what to feel about the rash of white backpackers, replete in their baggy harem pants and prawn-pink sunburns. The chic bistros advertising #artisanal coffees. The myriad bars yelling BEER SHOTS VODKA CHEAP CHEAP in English. Again and again and again. The scores of bearded, sunglassed, barechested Aryan demigods strutting around. Boasting about their drunken weekend in Bangkok or Hanoi.
So many farang in their dreadlocked clots, muttering and murmuring in English. And yet my smiles at them only earned a blank stare. Yet the only conversation I had all day was with a group of curious monk novices from Phongsali, eager to practice the English they had learned. They were here to look at the great temples of their capital, here to see the world beyond their town
Atop the Patuxai Monument, melting in the midday sun, I wondered what else we of the tourist horde had in store for this unwitting place, so determined to emulate the trajectory of other capitals already denuded by travellers intent on finding beer – I mean, themselves.