At the altar, incense sticks burn a familiar scent into the air. I recognize it as one that my dad has burned several times in our living room- a scent I often found overwhelming. In this temple, thousands of miles away from our living room, I still feel overwhelmed; though not by the scent itself, only the resulting nostalgia.
–at Pha That Luang.
For the rest of my weekend in Vientiane, I change my remaining USD to Lao Kip and set out on a combined culinary + sight-seeing experience curated via a combination of Google searches, outdoor restaurant menus, and friendly questions asked to Vientiane residents.
My reconnaissance mission leads me to Patouxay monument, Pha That Luang temple, and the spiciest bowl of salad I’ve ever burnt off a layer of my tongue eating.
Patouxay Monument – “Patouxay” in Lao literally translates to “victory gate”. The structure is often likened to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris; for obvious reasons.Under the monument, a smiling face approaches me, her fingers make a square in what I think is the universal sign for a photograph. I smile and nod, permitting her to come closer with her phone. She hands it to her friend and wraps an arm around my waist, we pose. I walk a few feet ahead to try to take some photos of my own but this time a couple stops me; I smile and pose again.
*I don’t mind the photos, as long as they’re not taken of me and/or without permission. However, I do have a limit and know I would not have been comfortable with several people trying to take photos with me. Pha That Luang – This gilded temple sits picturesquely in Vientiane. Walled on all sides by a low fence, you can see the golden structure without walking in. Inside, I notice people buy and light incense sticks to leave at the altar. I watch, hesitant to approach the altar myself. I decide not to, content to observe. The scent of incense transports me home.Tom Yum Coconut Soup & Lao Papaya Salad – “How spicy? regular, medium or hot”? the waitress asks. “Hot” I respond, confident in my tolerance. “Sure?” I hesitate, then nod while I ask myself how hot it can possibly be. A few moments later I find that I have not learned to tolerate “Hot”. Not Laotian hot. I eat as much as I can -both dishes piquant- before putting the unfinished food aside to place a cold bottle of water against my lips.Sunset over The Mekong River – Later, at an outdoor bar facing the street, I drink a cocktail, it’s something pink and delicious, like a Cosmopolitan but more flavorful. From the bar, I watch the city pass by. Calm describes Vientiane. Cars drive on unmarked roads without honking, tuk-tuk drivers perch under the shade of their vehicles barely soliciting rides, maybe they were content just to rest a while. People stroll past languidly, without hurry. As the sky begins to take on streaks of orange, I leave the bar to watch the sunset over the Mekong river.
On a return trip, I want to travel around Laos, maybe visit the nearby towns of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, or even cross the border into Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam!
thanks for reading!
All photos shot on iPhone 8+
Edited with VSCO Cam
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Same Footprints, Different Sands