We were yet to hear amazing things about Vientiane, but as it was on our way South, we stopped in for a few days. After the inevitable scenario of dropping us off forty minutes before the city and making us pay for a taxi (this time with speed bumps and potholes that my cracked ribs thoroughly enjoyed) we were finally at our hostel. We met our Irish mate Kevin, and headed out towards a restaurant we I wanted to visit. It was called Makphet. It is part of the Friends Group of restaurants that help disadvantaged children. However, that’s irrelevant, as no matter how long we looked for it, or who we asked, it didn’t exist. We instead opted for a small little restaurant where they served cold beer and a delicious, yet very spicy, Laap Salad. Basically, a minced pork salad, laced with chillies and a kick of vinegar. I love it but it wasn’t to Mrs Larko’s taste. It wasn’t long before the bus ride hit us and we were on our way to bed.
The following morning and we were on our way to be cultural. There was an errand to be made, Kevin needed some malaria tablets, so I took this opportunity to enquire with the pharmacist about a small bite on my torso that resembled a spider bite. Perhaps it was my accent, or maybe a cultural difference as to how/where other nationalities contract STD’s, but when I was offered the following cream for initial/recurrent genital herpes, we all agreed to search for a second opinion.
This time of the year, Pha That Luang is incredibly busy as it’s main festival, said to be the most important festival in Laos. Just do not ask anyone from Laos about it, as they do not seem to know. The main event, so to speak, is a procession of monks and pilgrims – quite a few thousand -on a specific day. We believe it to be the forth day, yet no one knew when it started. Either way, we were here on one of the days to soak up the atmosphere. We wandered amongst the worshipers, the monks, the hawkers selling fairy floss, and, er, other religious items. Due to our anatomy and attire, only Kevin and I were allowed to enter the walled area of Pha That Luang. There were hundreds of people, wandering clockwise against the stupa selling, we thought, cordial, snacks and water. When, after 5 minutes of walking around, we approached man selling water, he gave it to us for free, as it was an offering for Buddha. We looked around and saw buckets, Eskies and boxes full of food and drink, being given out to anyone who enquired.
We returned to Sarah on the outer walls to tell her about all the amazing things she missed. But, Mrs Larko shall have the last laugh. As we wandered across nearby Vat That Luang Tai to see ol’ mate Buddha relaxing in a state of Nirvana. Quite a site, but nowhere near as entertaining as watching smoking monks flirt with my wife. Yep, that’s plural. We stopped in the under covered area of Vat That Luang Tai, where a multitude of ladies were preparing meals for the awaiting monks.
We walked towards Wat Thatluang Neua Temple where we noticed a man cooking some pork sausages in a pot of spicy broth that looked promising. We bought some on the way back, stupidly not thinking that we saw him place them in the pot only 5 minutes earlier, yet they were now out on plate ready to eat. Needless to say, we bit into it to taste traces of vinegar against the still cold, raw meat. In five months, it was the worst thing we had put in our mouths.
From there we used our worldly language skills to get a tuk-tuk to COPE, a centre that is dedicated to supporting victims of cluster bombs, in the form of providing them with artificial limbs and rehabilitation assistance. After a slight detour to MOPE (whatever that stands for) we made it to COPE. The centre is quite good, with quite a lot of information and images. They provide a list of interesting documentaries that you can choose and watch in their cinema. We watched two that showed the impact of what cluster bombing has caused in Laos, and around the world. Lets just say, whoever ordered such horrific atrocities’ needed some better advisors.
We went from there towards the mighty Mekong, where we stopped by the statue of King Anouvong, where we all shared his gaze across the river to Thailand. After a quick stop for lunch, we stumbled upon the Makphet, the restaurant we had tried to eat at the night before. As we had already eaten, we decided to eat there that evening for dinner. We wandered back to our respected hostels, and met that evening for said dinner, and walked back to Makphet. Makhpet was closed that evening. We ran into an alternate restaurant as the rain began to fall. With no end in sight, we opted to stay for a couple more beers. We began chatting to two businessmen, and eventually discovered they were the owners of the European Franchise of the Indian restaurant Saravana Bavan, where we had eaten the famous Ghee Masala Onion Rava Dosa, in Munnar. They had originally arrived in a very fancy car to find dinner, but after a few minutes with us, they left in the back of a tuk tuk with plastic bags as hats. We almost convinced them come bowling with us, but they eventually declined so dropped us off and we said our goodbyes.
Bowling in Laos is somewhat of a rite of passage. We had met Kevin the day after he went bowling in Luang Prabang, and we thought it fitting to spend our last night, before we parted ways, doing the same thing. Unlike Luang Prabang, where the tourists go bowling, Vientiane seemed to be locals hang out, as we were the only foreigners. We got a lane, some beers and started bowling – with various techniques. All of a sudden it was 2am. We do not have any good photos of the bowling evening, but this sums up the memory.
We had finally found out that the monks’ procession was the following morning at dawn. We all woke at dawn the following morning to exchange emails that we would not be going to the procession and went back to sleep. We eventually met up for one last meal and choose none other than Makhpet, that elusive restaurant. It was closed today for the festival. We ate a steak and left!