The capital of Laos, with a population of about 150,000 is really just an overgrown village, and not nearly as charming as Luang Prabang. After our 2 1/2 ride from Vang Vieng we arrived in Vientiane around 5pm. It turns out that many of the good guesthouse fill up earlier than that so we had a bit of a time finding a place to stay. We were glad that we had run into Rebecca and Justin who had arrived 2 days before us and they helped us find someplace. Since the next day was our one year wedding anniversary we decided to splurge on a $12 room with a bathroom with hot water, a mini fridge and a TV with CNN and HBO. Trust me, that was living large!
When we blissful tied the knot a year ago we couldn't have guessed that a year later our anniversary dinner would be beef burritos with a distinct soy sauce taste (Snow's dinner) and pumpkin soup with fermented fish sauce in it (my dinner—certainly not one of our best in Laos). While our dinner didn't really live up to any expectations, our first year of marriage has in spades. We feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to spend so much time together to explore the world and share the ups and downs of life on the road.
Vientiane was an anticlimactic tourist destination after 5 gloriously relaxing days in Luang Prabang. We decided that we only needed one full day there which we spent buying our airline tickets to Singapore, dodging a few raindrops, and exploring the Morning Market. While we've been traveling through Laos I've been reading Another Quiet American, by Brett Dakin. In 1997 Brett, having just graduated from Princeton, took a 2 year contract, paid by Princeton, to work as a consultant in the National Tourism Association in Vientiane, Laos. The book is a very well written, sometimes funny (maybe more for us since we experienced many of the idiosyncrasies of Laos he talks about in the book), very inquisitive look at the development of the backwater country. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Laos, or just looking for a good, non-fiction read. And, although I didn't love Vientiane, it was fun to be reading about Brett doing something at some location in Vientiane and then picking up our Lonely Planet (which he humorously kind of slams in his book) and seeing where in Vientiane he was.
WOW!! That's all I could say upon arriving to this amazing, modern, clean, functional, beautiful city! We loved Laos and are so glad we chose to fit it in to this trip. But, there are not many more extreme changes than going from undeveloped Laos to first-world modern Singapore. We were in shock. It never occurred to me that I would love Singapore. I always imagined it to be very a stuffy and impersonal huge city. It is actually very accessible, friendly, and well, just plain user-friendly. Everything starts on time and runs efficiently. We are envious of their clean, quick Mass Rapid Transit system. We also appreciated suggestions from our friend Lisa Swaya Wilmer who took a re-con trip to Singapore for us (her company actually thought it was a business trip) last spring and sent us an email of all the things we should do. Thanks, Lisa!
While we've thoroughly enjoyed our 4 days here exploring the ins and outs of a fully developed country that is so similar to home isn't nearly as interesting as our adventures in the backwater of Laos.
A few highlights:
Successfully took care of all of our camera needs—new lens, developed film, and had it digitized for our entry.
Took in a movie—our first in a movie theater since arriving in Asia. But this wasn't just any movie theater, it was the Gold Class Theater. It was equipped with about 30 fully reclining La-Z-Boy chairs in sets of two with a table in between. Before the movie started we ordered food and drinks at the lounge and about 10 minutes after the show started they delivered it to our seats where we were curled up under the provided blankets. We were in heaven! Oh, the movie was Bourne Supremacy—good flick.
The Singapore Zoo and Night Safari—Even after seeing many of the animals in the wild throughout our trip it was fun to visit the zoo. They had a very nice display and had a chance to see the elusive white rhino close up. We only saw a black rhino from about 500 meters away. The Night Safari was very cool. Next to the zoo, but with different animals, after dark you can take a 45 min tram ride to watch the nocturnal animals.
Enjoying yummy food and taking in the sights of the city in Chinatown, along the Singapore River quays, Orchard Road— carefully avoiding the urge to jaywalk, chew gum, spit, and curse