Angry in Asia: The Hidden Costs of Vientiane’s “Cheapest” Motorcycle

A motorcycle looks wistfully at the ocean, never the twain shall meet

“Give me my passport or I call the police. Your choice.”

Momentarily taken aback, the 70-year old Laotian woman across from me paused her tirade and sized me up, trying to decide if I was serious.

I was and then some. Having politely but firmly been asking for my passport for nearly half an hour, my patience was at the breaking point. Steph had looked up the number for the tourist police earlier, just in case the situation devolved as it so clearly had. This was not a bluff—I was ready to go nuclear.

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What & Where to Eat in Vientiane

Tony in Buddha Park, Vientiane, Laos

Open wide!

Just as we did in Savannakhet, part of the reason we stayed as long as we did in Vientiane is because of the food. Six days in this city is probably unthinkable to most people, but when we weren’t trying to better ourselves through the MANY historical/spiritual buildings on offer, we were trying to do so through food.

As I’ve said before, prior to arriving in Laos, we had not heard very encouraging things about the local food. I have reached a point in our travels where I have not just accepted that I am a food traveler, but I’ve really embraced the fact that exploring places through the local cuisine is one of the things that excites me most about traveling and never fails to bring me pleasure. To that end, I made a promise to myself that one area I would definitely not skimp on our budget—for the remainder of our trip, but especially in Laos—was on food; if street food wasn’t widely available or not especially appealing and we needed to pay a little more in order to experience Lao cooking through slightly more upscale restaurants aimed at educating tourists, so be it.

Reports from fellow travelers assured us that we would get our fill of western food in the form of baguettes/pizzas/burgers during our travels through the country, and although I was certainly looking forward to a few international indulgences, I really hoped that the capital city of the country would also advance our Laotian food education.

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Vientiane: A Capital City Like No Other

Patuxay, Vientiane

We had been warned MANY times that Vientiane was a capital city like no other, but some of my Western biases run deep, and I just can’t seem to shake my preconceived notions about what a capital city will be like. Immediately my imagination conjures up visions of shiny skyscrapers, flashing neon lights, honking horns, pavement as far as the eye can see, snarls of traffic and a frantic pace of life. Merely pondering the electrifying energy of big cities makes my pulse quicken in anticipation. I expect an urban carnival of light and sound, with monuments of modernity standing proud on every corner.

Vientiane, of course, lives up to its reputation and—following the pattern established by our two previous stops in Laos—has none of these things. To be perfectly honest with you, were it not for a modest uptick in the number of tuk tuk offers we received while walking around town (though rumors of the Laotian laissez-faire sales pitch, in which a single “no” will suffice to preclude additional offers, are indeed true!) and a similarly slight increase in grumpy locals encountered (apparently the one universal hallmark of all capital cities…), we would never in a million years have guessed this was Laos’ biggest, most bustling city.

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Loop De Loop in Thakhek, Part 2

Kong Lor area scenery

This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one if you haven’t already. Stay tuned for part three: my tips and tricks regarding finding the right bike, riding safely and happily, and all the information I can fit into one post concerning Loop specifics for your journey, plus super bonus photos!

It was the second morning of our journey around the Thakhek Loop. The sun was barely up, my belly was full of delicious mini French toasts (how something so delightful could be prepared by our most definitely not-delightful hostess remains a mystery) and the road was calling. Thanks to our relaxing surroundings, we were decidedly hesitant to answer, however we worked up the strength to tear ourselves out of the hammock one last time and ventured out onto the dusty road heading north.

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Loop De Loop in Thakhek, Part 1

Steph and Tony on the Thakhek Loop

This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two nextStay tuned for part three: my tips and tricks regarding finding the right bike, riding safely and happily, and all the information I can fit into one post concerning Loop specifics for your journey, plus super bonus photos!

I’ve always loved motorcycles, motorbikes, scooters… pretty much any motorized, two-wheeled transport. When we were planning our trip years before we ever left the comfort of our home for the first time, I always imagined what it would be like to ride through the exotic S.E. Asian countryside on a motorcycle halfway around the world. In those days of fevered imagination, I read about the people who rode through southern and central Laos (for one) and couldn’t begin to imagine myself behind the handlebars in such a foreign land.

Several years and 14 Asian countries later I finally found myself staring one of the fabled Laos motorcycle journeys in the face. We were in Thakhek, the epitome of a backwater Laos town and the base for a trip simply known as “The Loop.” For 450km the Loop runs around karsts, past caves and over hills. Thanks to its exceptional scenery, it has gained a fair amount of notoriety amongst the backpacker set; normally we’re contrarians, avoiding things that we think are too popular for their own good, but once a motorcycle is involved our scruples tend to get a bit more flexible. The siren song of the Loop drew us like moths to a flame.

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