Two monks pass a man on motorbike as the sun goes down in Vientiane. Besides That Luang, the city is also home to That Dam, a stupa said to be the resting place of a seven-headed dragon that saved the city in 1828 during an invasion by Siam (Thailand).
Laos – Been There

What price do you put on a baguette?

Photo by David Sanger

Laos – Been There What price do you put on a baguette?

Laos and Thailand drive on opposite sides of the roads, so a feature of the Mekong bridges is a crossing-over point halfway where drivers make the switch. It is a useful reminder to those entering Laos that it is a very different world.

Julio Etchart
Julio Etchart

In the region, Laos remains a place apart. From the crumbling French colonial feel of the back streets of Pakse and Savannakhet, to the quiet charm of its people who are endlessly helpful and hospitable. Their kindness is manifest in touches like the free day I am offered when returning a motorbike, or the man who goes out of his way to lead me to a temple when I ask directions.

In Vientiane, the capital, the French colonial impression is heightened by the number of people I see carrying baguettes. “The British left a transport network and an education system in their old colonies,” says one hotel guest at breakfast. “But the French left good food and coffee. Who had the better deal?”

A bicycle ride takes me through back streets of more colonial-era villas, many now being converted into upmarket guest houses or bases for the NGOs which have flooded in during recent years. The Patuxai is an ornate Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe that was built as a memorial to those who died in pre-Revolution wars. From its seven-story summit, I can see a wide boulevard stretching away, lined with imposing embassies, banks and government buildings, as well as the inevitable shopping mall. At night, after a meal in an upmarket French-style restaurant, I stroll along the riverside boulevard. The lights of Thailand twinkle across the Mekong and I wonder how much change in Laos, like the links to China, is being driven from outside.

Bloomberg writes about how TRVL is turning travel enthousiasts into online agents. Read more.

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Laborers laying down a new road on the riverfront in Vientiane. For landlocked Laos, transport links are vital and infrastructure projects include a US$7 billion high-speed 421km rail link between the capital Vientiane and the Chinese border, as well as all-weather surfaces on major roads, many of which were previously cut during the heavy rains of the wet season. Photo by Brent Lewin / Getty Images

Brent Lewin

Brent Lewin

Canon EOS-1D IV

Agency
Getty Images
Aperture
ƒ/8
Exposure
1/500
ISO
200
Focal
16 mm

Laborers laying down a new road on the riverfront in Vientiane. For landlocked Laos, transport links are vital and infrastructure projects include a US$7 billion high-speed 421km rail link between the capital Vientiane and the Chinese border, as well as all-weather surfaces on major roads, many of which were previously cut during the heavy rains of the wet season.

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