After closing up my balcony at the Avalon and spending about a half an hour clapping mosquitoes (about 32 last count), I decided to take an evening stroll around Vientiane. I had expected it to be rolled up and tucked away for the night, and though it wasn’t exactly crazy town with thumping discos, the streets were buzzing with Lao and travelers out for some sidewalk shopping and food and drink. The street food was a bit like scenery in The Flintstones or Scoobie Doo when they are driving down the road. Rock, hill, tree; rock, hill, tree; rock, hill, tree. Roti, noodles, juice; roti, noodles, juice. Well, you get the picture. As I turn at each block I start to wonder if I have gone in circles.
Down along the Mekong, a massive sand moving project is under way along the low river water (I am told a park is being developed on what looks to me like flood plain, but what do I know? Nothing.) At night the barbeques come out and it is one long collection of plastic tables and chairs with a series of vendors competing to sell seafood dinners. The sidewalk has the usual assortment of t-shirts, souvenirs and trinkets. But everything is so laid back. A few halfhearted pitches from tuktuk drivers and little more. Even the foot massage girls don’t call out in chorus like they do in Bangkok. And at night the air has been deliciously cool.
I debated a late-night caffeine buzz at a coffeeshop. I am loving the Lao coffee and was just thinking this morning that the flavor reminds me of Turkish coffee. So call it kismet when I took a random turn down Rue Francois Ngin and found Istanbul Restaurant (021-218320). I skimmed the menu on the stand at the street and looked inside toward the back. The man there was definitely Turkish. So I walked in and whipped out some greetings and menu questions. They never see that coming.
So I am in Laos and eating eggplant salad and pide bread and washing it down with the salty yogurt drink ayran. This mom and pop restaurant is a pleasant surprise for me and the Turan family has been in Vientiane since 2008. Their son Cem speaks English and with my occasional Turkish phrase or two we had a nice chat reminiscing food and music (especially my favorite Sertab Erener, the most amazing voice I think). Lentil soup (mercimek corba), kebap, lahamacun, doner – it’s all there. I don’t get to pull a celebrity card often in life—er, in fact, never—so I had to make them Google my less-than-15-minutes on CNN Turk.com and tell them about my book. Cem was pretty excited about that and so he had his father take our picture together. They go back to visit later this year and will look for the book. After some Turkish tea I bid them goodnight and headed back to the Avalon after a long day of walking all over with two cameras slung around my neck. A good day. Coming next will be a photo gallery for Vientiane. Tomorrow I journey back to Bangkok…