Laos: A Vegan's and Sportslover's Paradise
We spent a month chilling out in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The place is fabulous if you don´t long for any activities. There is nothing special to do except enjoy the laid-back Lao lifestyle.
A visit to Laos doesn’t ruin your budget. You can get nice double rooms with fan or AC and wifi starting from 70 000 kip (6 €). Eating out costs you 1-2 €. We had a rare luxury of finding three all-you-can-eat vegan buffet restaurants 20 000 kip/person (1,7 €) each. Considering how small Vientiane is, the offer was abundant. As Laos is a former French colony, there is also plenty of baguette and red wine available.
The city is charming. You can clearly see the colonial past in boulevards and attractive green areas. There is only a little traffic and pollution compared to other South-East Asian capitals and the only annoyance—if you can call the timid approaches that—are the constant solicitations of tuk-tuk -drivers.
Open-Air Gym and an International Film Festival
Along the Mekong river there is an excellent possibility for jogging and training in an open-air gym for free. It is popular among locals early in the morning, but there is always room for a few more people.
We happened to be in the city at the time of the Second Vientiane International Film Festival. We went to see a series a Burmese short films and participated in the discussion about the difficulties of Burmese film makers. None of the films shown had been aired in Myanmar because of censorship. According to the directors, the country lacks the concept of documentary. The festival was free of charge, but in the theatre there was plenty of seats left.
Expensive Withdrawals and Short Visas
There are plenty of ATMs in Vientiane, but it is good to note that every withdrawal will cost you an extra 40 000 kip (3,5 €) on top of exchange losses and charges of your own bank. Also the maximum withdrawal is quite small, two million kip, so if you are staying a long time, it is a good idea to take cash with you and exchange it. The best currency to bring in is Thailand Baht. Kip cannot be exchanged outside Laos.
The downside of Laos is that you can only get a one month visa. After that, you have to exit the country and buy another visa, or extend it in the immigration office, which is slightly more expensive. The way to Thailand is not long, only some 20 kilometres (5000 kip or 0,4 € by bus), but the whole idea of a visa-run doesn´t make much sense. In Laos you can do it as many times as you want. Despite of that it is still a short-sighted business model that drives tourists away, especially when the nearby countries Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, offer visa-free stay.
There has been some progress in Laos visa policy, however. We considered visiting the country five years ago but at the time there were only two-week visas available with the same price (US 35 $), which was too much for us. We are glad that now we came for a visit, and it is also quite possible that we will return later after the rainy season is over. It is hard to imagine a better environment for writing a book or relaxing.