It is one month to the day (and hour!) since I arrived in Vientiane. Time has flown by and I still can't quite believe how much has happened during that time.
Patuxay Monument - 3 mins from my flat
Vientiane is such an amazing city; curious and full of contradictions everywhere you turn. In some ways it's very Westernised, but this doesn't seem to dominate the local culture. French restaurants and Swedish bakeries stand alongside very local dining spots where a decent main course Lao meal and a large Beer Lao (the local brew) can be purchased for little more than $2 or $3. Echoes of the Champs Elysees can be seen in the magnificent Lan Xang Avenue - a straight, tree-lined 8-lane boulevard between the President's Palace and the impressive "Patuxay" (a large monument reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe). Yet only a few minutes away from this area are more "shanty" style corrugated-iron single story buildings. The French influence lingers on in the fabulous cafes and restaurants, some boulevards and architecture, but the presence of other nations - China, South Korea, Thailand and the English-speaking world - is certainly more tangible. In any case, I have the feeling that there is more to Vientiane than meets the eye at first, and certainly a lot more than the 72 hour backpacker gets to see and understand before their overnight trip to the next destination.
Lost in Translation
Hopefully the next few entries - which will be much more frequent, I promise (!) - will give a bit more insight into what has happened so far. Definite highlights include moving into an amazing new apartment (sharing with the other IrishAid UNV, Nancy), settling in at work (it's great so far!), buying a motorbike, exploring lots of different restaurants (I have yet to cook a meal the entire time I've been here...) and meeting lots of new people. The only lowlight was having my bag stolen last Sunday afternoon from my bicycle basket; the thief didn't get much cash or anything valuable, but he now does own a lovely new red sin (traditional Lao skirt - more on that later...) which I'd just picked up from the tailor only 2 hours beforehand.... :) I'll also try to post any amusing photos of "interesting" English formations - I found the one to the right on the first night in the hotel where Nancy and I stayed before we found our flat: I'll leave the interpretation to your imagination...