Vientiane – a Little Piece of France in South East Asia
To end off our travels in Laos, we landed in Vientiane, our last port of call before flying back to Singapore. Although we felt we had seen so many wonderful and awe inspiring things on this trip, we were nevertheless ready for more.
Vientiane is actually the Frenchified name of the city, a more accurate pronounciation in English would be Viangchan. The French romanised it this way because they had problems pronouncing the name in Lao.
In Vientiane, you feel the colonial history of the city – French influence is pretty strong, and you can see it in the architecture and, more prominently, the bakeries, which all stock piles and piles of freshly baked baguettes.
The architecture is really interesting. Here you feel like its a special mix of East and West. Many houses and apartments are done in the French style, complete with tiny little balconies, shuttered windows that stretch from floor to ceiling, and decorated columns. But yet, there’s something unmistakably Asian about them. It’s really a mix of the South East Asian shophouse style (useful for rainy climates since they have large awnings), combined with French details.
The thing to see there of course is the Patuxai Monument, or the Arc de Triomph of Vientiane. This monument, similar to the one in Paris, is a victory gate built in the 50’s and 60’s, in memory of those who died in the struggle for independence from the French.
It resembles the monument in France in terms of its overralll structure and symmetry, but is of Laotian design on closer look. You’ll notice the “roofs” take their inspiration of Buddhist temples, and that its walls and ceilings are detailed with mythological creatures from Laotian folklore. One of them is the kinnari, a Laotian version of the Harpy – half female, half bird.
Since this was the end of the trip, we weren’t up for anything particularly adventurous. We were quite happy to walk around the city and explore what it had to offer, which was quite a lot! The Laotians have a rich culinary history of their own, combined with many years of French influence, and the food scene in Laos is pretty great. The food here had the best of both worlds – the freshness and flavours of South East Asia with the attention to detail that you find often in French cuisine.
When we were there, the city was quite quiet. We only met a couple of buses of tourists by the Patuxai monument and occassionally ran into the odd expatriate living in South East Asia. Not a lot of backpackers, from what I could recall – this was in late January.
It was a little surreal walking the wide boulevards of the city, with so few other people on it. We quite enjoyed it, having this beautiful city to ourselves.
It was a lovely end to our little Laotian adventure. Here we got to rest (the hotels are beautiful and cheap), have our final tastes of authentic Lao cuisine and experience, one last time, the hospitality and friendliness of the Lao people.