What is the capital city of Laos?
- Chances are that you don’t know just as I didn’t.
- The capital city of Laos or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is Vientiane. Now we all know.
There is not too much to see in Vientiane. But it can serve as a damn good destination for a food pilgrimage. Let’s dig in.
The first morning rays were consuming the weakening moon when the Bangkok – Nong Khai train chugged through a Thai landscape of floodplains and bamboo plants. Its passengers heard a frightful growl at arrival in Nong Khai, the last train station before the Thai-Lao border. The train hit two stray dogs.
A short tuk-tuk ride brings you to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge where you can obtain a visa on arrival for US$30. Cross the bridge and hop on a local green bus with a large sticker “From the People of Japan”. Number 135 drives you to Vientiane, Laos’ sleeping capital.
Tourism in Vientiane is only nascent and this translates in incredibly bad English (forget about French, their colonial language) and above all, quietness. Yes, my first impression was definitely the calmness of Vientiane. No bustling chaos, no permanent gridlock, no… well, just nothing.
A little stroll through the city center indicates the strong preference for certain brands as Pepsi and Beeline. Beeline is a Russian telecommunications provider that entered Laos in 2011. Also Pepsi has been historically stronger in communist countries whereas Coca-Cola has been more reluctant working with communist states. I decided to have a Pepsi next to the Mekong river under a discolored sign claiming “Any Weather is Pepsi Weather”. River is also an overestimation, the rainy season had clearly not kicked in yet and the Mekong was reduced to only a little stream.
Travelers typically check off following sightseeing spots in Vientiane:
– A victory gate called Patuxai on which bees and wasps are happily building their nests,
– The oldest temple in Vientiane, Wat Si Saket, where you find hundreds of Buddha statues.
– A shiny, gold-covered stupa, Pha That Luang. More kitsch than Wat Si Saket.
– The Buddha Park or Sala Xieng Khuan next to the Mekong with various Hindu and Buddhist statues. You can witness everything from a reclining Buddha to a larger round structure that represents earth, hell and heaven. Dan Brown’s interpretation would be inferno, purgatorio and paradiso. Dante is well alive in Southeast Asia. You get there with the small, ramshackle public bus number 14 departing from the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
I think it’s all not super impressive after having seen Angkor Wat, for instance. My top picks would be Wat Si Saket and the Buddha Park. A couple of impressions below.
A clear relict of the French colonialism in Indochina is the baguette. And we should be very grateful for this.
Discovering the perfect baguette wasn’t exactly straightforward. But where there is a will, there is a baguette! Besides, everything that comes with brick walls around should be good, no?
As mentioned previously, the Laotians haven’t exactly mastered the English language and have long forgotten their colonial language, French. Finally, we found the restaurant, PVO. Now here is one thing: there are apparently two PVO restaurants in Vientiane, and only one serves the mystical baguettes. I believe it’s here.
I had previously sampled sensational sandwiches in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. They most often go under the name bánh mì with something added to it, typically meat. These sandwiches are hawked from little food stalls on every street corner and some even cater to the Omega-3 foodies.
Back at PVO, I scanned the menu.
It looked great.
The menu cited a sandwich with everything. And salad. Well, that’s exactly what I was in for.
I told the waitress, “I have traveled from far to sample your sandwich. Bring me the one with everything! Don’t forget anything.”
While anxiously attending the sandwich, I asked myself what defines the perfect sandwich?
I knew it.
One Word. Freshness.
The “Special Pork Sandwich with Everything and Salad” arrived.
I carefully examined the stuffing and spotted pâté, pork belly, fresh vegetables as cucumber, carrots, cilantro, and lemongrass.
I took a bite.
It tasted great.
A satisfying first bite! First came the crust, both crisp and crunchy. Then an explosion of tastes. Restaurant PVO has clearly understood the art of baking a perfect baguette and how to pack it with delicious ingredients.
I ordered a second sandwich as souvenir and afternoon snack. Also the fresh passion fruit juice and ice coffee are excellent additions to your meal. And did I mention it is all incredibly inexpensive? The sandwich goes for 18,000 Lao Kip or a little less than 2 euro. And trust me, the local currency, Lao Kip, is like monopoly money: useless outside the game (country). You better spend it on great sandwiches.
To every good trip (and baguette) comes an end. My crush for healthy, tasty sandwiches started when I discovered Taste in Sydney, Australia. But Vietnam and Laos set an entirely new culinary benchmark for sandwiches. And that’s exciting.
Laos goes under the official slogan “Laos, Simply Beautiful”. Let us rebrand it to “Laos, Simply Great Sandwiches”.