cycling

Video: Myanmar - Inle Lake & Ngapali Beach

Let us end with a grand finale of footage from our amazing trip to Myanmar. Our final destinations were the serene Inle Lake, just imagine Asia’s version of Venice but with motor boats! Lastly,  the most beautiful beach we’ve ever visited in Ngapali beach, named by a homesick Italian. Prepare for boat trips, artisan makers, cycling back streets and some time lapse sunsets to wet your appetite for your own adventure around this awesome country. 

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Video: Myanmar - Yangon & Bagan

Myanmar; we weren't ready for how beautiful, friendly and tasty you would be. I'm not sure we've visited a more video ready country so let us introduce our first of three travel videos that will give you an insight into this special place. First off we have the bustling capital Yangon and then our exploration in the ancient city of Bagan, get ready for some beautiful temples and maybe, just maybe, a few awesome hot air balloons...

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10 Epic Photos Of China

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China is an impressive country and one so varied it’s difficult to try and summarise it in only 10 photos.  But picking our favourites is one job in running a blog so here it is. You will quickly spot that most of our favourite snaps explore China’s expansive landscapes. From the snowy peaks of the Tibetan border to the neon clad temples of the modern cities, China is all about contrasts! Grab a cuppa, or a noodle soup, and observe our 10 epic photos of China...

 

1. Yubeng

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There is one spot that will forever be one of our favourite places in the world. Let us introduce Yubeng, a place where photographs don’t do justice. We entered in early December as the first snow was falling and there were only a few tourists who made it up to this sacred valley. Trekking Upper and Lower Yubeng got us as close to Tibet as we could afford and it’s only made us more excited about visiting the gated birth place of Buddhism. Without sounding like a classic traveller, it was really spiritual.


 

2. Huangshan Mountain

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Although the Yellow Mountains are one of the most well trodden national parks in China, it can’t be denied that if weather sides with you the peaks are truly stunning. We were told that Huangshan only gets 50 days of sunrises, sun and sunsets; raining the rest of year. So with that in mind we felt pretty privileged to have 4 days of complete sunshine, rises and sunsets. This photo was taken in the Huangshan Grand Canyon on our first night. Wow the colours were exceptionally deep in colour, changing every few minutes before the darkness fell. It didn’t matter that we were joined by 200 other people, that sunset was the best of the whole trip (so far.)


 

3. The Great Wall

 
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What would a trip to China be without a trek on the Great Wall? We set our sights on the deteriorating Jiankou section which, while crumbling away, did offer us access to 3 days on a vast unpopulated section of wall just north of Beijing. It’s one of the worlds wonders and being able to traverse the ancient stonework was very satisfying. Just look at it, a huge defensive structure that failed on the battlefield but left such an impact on the world through the sheer man power that built it. Remember, it can’t be seen from space as it’s smaller than most roads!


 

4. Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter 

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We love food, which is lucky because when you’re a long term traveller because it’s one of the only things we can afford to indulge in. I mean, a person's got to eat right? Enter Xi’an, a place with one of our favourite food streets in the world. The Muslim quarter is an area of Xi’an with mosques, restaurants and shops that continue a long lineage of Muslim culture dating back to the very start of the Silk Road. But let’s talk about the food, there’s so much variety in the ingredients, cooking processes and skill that you have to imagine hundreds of foods: artisans baking, bbq’ing, smashing, frying, freezing most of China’s indigenous ingredients on a bustling street, apparently UNESCO are in process of giving it extra some leverage too. Our favourite food? Milk and egg soup, sweet, salty and enhanced by some middle eastern magic, delicious.


 

5. Baisha

 
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This is not an obvious choice because only a few people would have heard of Baisha. It’s a small mountainside village that specialises in the craft of embroidery. Ali was in her element here as you can see from this photo as she wore a locals outfit proudly down the high street. We meant to stay in Baisha just a night but that quickly turned into a week, it was so relaxing and the people were so kind, it felt like home.


 

6. Feilai Si

 
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Little explanation needed here, you are looking at the Miancimu peak, the second highest mountain of the Meili Snow mountain range in north west Yunnan, Tibet can be found just behind it. We got up at 6am to watch the sun shine brightly on this peak and this was our favourite shot of the morning. If you ever travel to Yubeng make sure you see a sunrise in Feilai Si.


 

7. Xi’an 

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You couldn’t visit China and not witness a traditional temple. Unfortunately the cultural revolution of the 60s meant that many of China’s stunning temples and monasteries were destroyed. This was an authentic temple modernised with neon lights that make the structure even more dramatic. It’s the iconic Chinese image and one you will see again and again in pictures. It’s so much more breathtaking in real life. We hope this photo does it some justice.


 

8. Dali 

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This photograph symbolises adventuring off the beaten track with the best way being by bicycle or moped. All across China we rented bikes to get out of the cities and towns and explore rural China. Here is Mark on a lane connecting Dali and Lake Erhai, the third largest lake in the country. It’s always good to get away from China’s tourism and renting a bike is the best way to do that.


 

 9. Zhangjiajie

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Although Zhangjiajie was our biggest disappointment after we fought monkeys, flu and fog, we did get this photograph of Ali’s glowing locks against the monolithic Zhangjiajie canyon in the mist. In a way the drab weather we faced made it even more memorable for its sombre tones rather than the brash glowing yellow rocks you’ll see on the internet. We would love to go back and see this national park with better weather but until then we will have funny memories of this place.


 

10. Upper Yubeng 

 
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On day two of our trip in Yubeng we ventured up to a frozen lake found at 4km above sea level. It was cold, slippery but incredibly beautiful. A calm solemn place that is visited by Buddhist pilgrims who walk around the lake 3 times clockwise. If you wait long enough a small avalanches drifts from the glacier above and in that moment time stops as you watch.

 

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China: Top Things To Do In Dali

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Dali, the old hippy haven famous for its chilled out attitude and atmospheric beauty.  Set against the stunning backdrop of the ChanShan mountain range, the ancient city is surrounded by endless fields of growing produce and the mysterious ErHai lake. 

The stunning ChanShan mountains by Dali

The stunning ChanShan mountains by Dali

Although Dali has changed in recent years and is now well on the radar of the youthful Chinese tourists, there is still peace to be found in this little town and lots of back alleys to be explored besides of the main shopping strip.  On a visit to Dali six years ago, we fell in love with the place and have the fondest memories of relaxed cafe culture, fresh water streams running through the cobbled lanes, and the beautiful Bai-style architecture that runs throughout the city.  

Lots of its mountain village charm still remains, but it is fast becoming a major hub for shopping for the Chinese and the prices do reflect the rise in tourism.  We still think it’s worth a visit though, and it’s arguably still more chilled out then the neighbouring Lijiang.  We have put together our recommendations from 6 days spent in Dali Ancient City...

 

Admire The Wood Workers Street

After visiting Dali in 2011, we were anxious that the ancient town would have changed beyond recognition like the rest of rapidly evolving China.  So the first place we headed for was the carpenters street we had admired such a long time ago.  Just south of the old town lies Wenxian Road, a strip of wood working studios where furniture is elaborately carved by Chinese masters.  We were elated to see that many of the studios still exist, and all manner of wooden items are still being carefully constructed from shutters to doors, and desks to cabinets.  Watching these guys work is a joy to see, many craftsmen and women are hand carving from hardwoods using a whole range of chisels and files to get the perfect finish.  The detailing is exquisite, and there is just so much of it.  We can’t help thinking that this must be a dying art form because it would take so much skill and time to do it.  This level of quality would never happen at home because it would be far too expensive! If you are into handicrafts and woodwork then we would thoroughly recommend a wonder down this street.  From the South Gate of Dali old town, take Wenxian Road and keep walking south for 5-10 minutes. 

Hand-carved wooden furniture in Dali

Hand-carved wooden furniture in Dali

 

Eat Authentic Rice Noodles 

We got a tip off from our hostel that this restaurant serves delicious rice noodle soup and charges tourists the same price as the locals.  For those backpackers on a budget, this is what we love to hear!  For the bargain price of 10 yuan (£1.12) for a large and 8 yuan (90p) for a small, you can get yourself a delicious bowl of homemade rice noodles in broth with pork, vegetables, spring onions, parsley, garlic oil, Sichuan pepper oil, soy, chilli, and chopped peanuts.  It’s fresh, it’s zingy, it’s spicy and you can top up your seasonings as much as you want! You pretty much won’t find a cheaper lunch or dinner in town.  The noodle shop is situated on Yu'er Road a couple of minutes walk west of Dongyu street, and is called 'Qing Shi Qiao'.

Delicious hand-made rice noodles 

Delicious hand-made rice noodles 

 

Eat Baba Sweet Bread

After spending 2 whole months in China, this culinary discovery was our ultimate favourite.  Imagine a freshly made buttery and doughy flat bread charred on a smokey bbq with a gooey jam and rose petal sugar centre? Mmm......! If you’re salivating as much as we are then you are going to LOVE this delightful sweet bread. Bite into a lightly crunchy outside to find a soft doughy centre oozing with sugary goodness.  It’s really naughty, but probably one of the most delicious baked goods we have ever eaten, ever.  After tasting this bread, we’re not sure how we’re going to live a life without it.  To find them, look amongst the street foods on the main strip (Remin Road) in Dali Ancient City for a round flat bread in a display case. Take note that some are sweet and some are savoury, so with meat.  If you are heading to Xizhou then you are likely to find one there in the centre of town, and it’s bbq’ed to perfection!  It’s totally worth a visit just to taste this bread.

Baba sweet bread after being cooked on the fire

Baba sweet bread after being cooked on the fire

 

Stroll Along The Mountain Pass

Looking for a scenic stroll around the Dali area? Well look no further then the mountain pass that connects Zhonghe Temple with Gantong Temple.  The stretch is flat and paved for 11km which makes it a very leisurely stroll, and winds nicely around the edge of the CangShan mountain range.  From there you can see a hazy view of ErHai lake, Dali old town and the surrounding villages that scatter the large valley.   Getting up to the route from Dali ancient city is relatively straight forward, just exit out of the West Gate and make your way up to Zhonghe Temple, following the route on maps me or google maps.  The path can be a bit steep in places although it is still very manageable.  Keep walking on past the temple and onto a flat paved path, take a left when you get there and follow the signs towards Gantong cablecar and continue on until you get to Qingbi stream. From there, there is a path all the way down to Gantong temple and Gantong mountain gate, where you can either take a cab back to Dali old town, or get to the main road and either walk back or flag down one of the buses.  We paid 10 yuan each for a cab share back to the old town.  The whole walk took us only the morning and we were back by 1pm.

The view on the walk from Zhonghe Temple to Gangton Temple

The view on the walk from Zhonghe Temple to Gangton Temple

 

Cycle To Erhai Lake

Dali has become somewhat of a tourist trap in recent years, and although that’s ok for some of the time, it’s nice to leave the town and head into the countryside around it.  The second biggest lake in China can be found only kilometres away from Dali, and scattered around it in the valley is a mixture of old villages, crops fields and minority cultures.  Locals smile as you cycle past as they continue on with their daily lives.  A nice cycling route would be to head east out of East Gate and keep on going until you reach the town of Caicun by the water.  From there you can do a windy route north along the back roads following the signs for ‘west ring road’ all the way up to Jinguisi where you can then head west to the town of Xizhou.  The ring road is quite developed in places, and locals set up their stalls along the way hoping to sell a trinket or two to the tourists that pass.  A day on the bike can be really fun, and as you cycle along the sometimes bumpy gravel paths, you see many Chinese tourists riding along on rented scooters with plastic flowers in their hair looking all ‘hippy’, or hippy in a contrived ASOS kind of way.  There are hilarious sections by the water that have been set up for photo shoots and selfies (which has gone down a treat with the Chinese tourists), look out for the clear plastic bubble chairs and red heart props.  After you escape these weird built up sections there can be nothing but dirt tracks, little villages and the peace that surrounds ErHai lake.  If you make time to break away from the ring road, there is a lot of nature to be seen here, including many species of bird, plants and the stunning CangShan mountain range.  There are many places to rent bikes in Dali, expect to pay around 20-30 yuan (£2.25-£3.38) for a days hire.

Cycling in one of the ancient villages around ErHai Lake

Cycling in one of the ancient villages around ErHai Lake

 

Eat Treats From The Local Bakery

All backpackers on a budget know that the best way to get a good deal on tasty food is to watch where the locals go.  Well that’s exactly what we did in Dali and found ourselves an amazing bakery at really low prices.  The display shelves are stacked with tons of tasty baked goods from cookies to cakes, bread rolls to pastries.  We have somewhat been impressed with China’s baking skills, and nearly everything we tried over 2 months of being there was delicious and freshly made that day.  This bakery was the same, and the most brilliant thing about it is that the price is done by weight.  So just fill up your bag with the light stuff and pay peanuts! We opted for a sponge cake (which was honestly about the size of a small birthday cake), a large custard pastry and about 4 small cookies to munch on later, and all of that came to 7 yuan (79p)! What a bargain.  The bakery is situated near the Yincang Rd and Bo’ed Rd crossover.

The baked goods in question....

The baked goods in question....

 

Get A Massage

You can’t come to the laid-back town of Dali without treating yourself to a massage.  Dali has been known for some time as the hippy expat capital of Yunnan and travellers have been coming here for decades to soak up the chilled out lifestyle of bars, cafes and the incredible natural scenery.  How better to relax into this culture other than to get a massage in one of the local salons.  The cheapest one we found was 88 yuan (£9.90) for 1 hour 20 mins which included a foot soak, an oil foot massage and a full body local massage (through clothes).  It was actually pretty good, although we always find that many environments in China aren’t particularly relaxing, what with a kid running round hitting the massagers as they were trying to work! Be prepared for some firm hands also, particularly with the cheaper local massages.  You probably get what you pay for.  There are many massage parlours on Bo’ed Road in Dali ancient city.

Mark waiting for his massage in one of the local parlours.  You can see the kid in the background waiting for his moment to strike!

Mark waiting for his massage in one of the local parlours.  You can see the kid in the background waiting for his moment to strike!

 

Drink The Cheapest Beer On Remin Road

This is the main strip in Dali and tourists flock here to shop, sip coffee in fancy coffee shops and drink cocktails in bars.  Well we love a cheeky drink every now and again too, but what with being budget travellers sometimes touristy bars are totally out of our price range.  A small beer in one of the bars here would normally set you back around 20 yuan (£2.25) for the cheapest one, but we figured out a way to drink on the main strip without paying more than 6 yuan (70p) for a large beer.  Just head to one of the cheap cafe style eateries, they are the open front Chinese rice kitchens with basic decor inside, grab a cheap beer from the fridge and sit out front and watch the world go by.  This is a great way of soaking up the atmosphere, and the sun, without breaking the budget.  We did this several times on our visit!

Grab a cheap beer on the main strip that is Remin Road

Grab a cheap beer on the main strip that is Remin Road

 

Eat A Serendipity Burger

It’s not often that we eat western food on the road, and as we have discovered it is nearly always overpriced compared to the local alternative which is mostly very tasty.  Western food can be very hit and miss (mostly a miss to be honest), and to make sure we were picking a well reviewed burger place we decided to look on the loved/hated Trip Advisor.  Out of 7 burger joints in Dali, Serendipity has made it to no. 1 and we can easily see why.  Each burger is made using good quality beef, cooked medium rare, with a homemade sweet brioche bun and whatever topping you choose.  Each comes with a pickle and handful of fries.  Not the biggest portion but definitely the biggest treat!  We would recommend heading on down for a laid-back dinner in the diner style restaurant or on one of the tables outside.  A burger will set you back 55 yuan (£6.20), a little steep but we think worth the splash out.  You can find Serendipity at 53 Guangwu Lu.

A Serendipity burger

A Serendipity burger

 

Stay At A Rooftop Hostel

One of the coolest things about the accommodation in Dali is that loads of the hostels and guesthouses have rooftop spaces.  From there you can glimpse the impending CangShan mountain range and the beautiful Bai-style oriental architecture of the surrounding buildings.  You may just spot a few other lucky ones doing the same thing.  Being up so high makes you feel detached from the Dali below, the busyness fades away and you are left with the tranquility of the sun gleaming on the plant-lined terraces.  We stayed in the Meet Inn Hostel for the bargain price of 98 yuan (£11) per night, and the hostel itself was well decorated and had a nice relaxed feel to it.  Catching a sunrise or sunset on the terrace is a must, and maybe a few hours spent chilling reading a book is a great way to unwind from China’s tourist hotspots.  

The view from our rooftop hostel at the Meet Inn

The view from our rooftop hostel at the Meet Inn

 

All You Can Eat At The Vegetarian Buffet

Most dishes in China involve some sort of meat, whether that be pork in a noodle broth or a meaty stir fry with seasoning, and so when we found this vegetarian restaurant serving an all you can eat buffet for lunch and dinner we were very excited.  For the unbelievable price of 20 yuan (£2.25) per person, you can munch your way through a whole range of speciality vegetarian dishes: from 5 different types of tofu to slow cooked aubergine, and steamed Chinese buns to seasoned fried rice.  There are about 20 different dishes to choose from and they change on a daily basis.  We ate there for lunch 2 days in a row and it actually worked out cheaper than most of our meals in local rice kitchens and you also get a whole lot more variety on your plate.  If you are looking for some fresh and tasty vegetarian food then this is the place for you. The restaurant is called Lovely Lotus Delicious Vegetarian and can be found at B2-1 Jiulongju, Fuxing Rd.

All you can eat vegetarian buffet at Lovely Lotus Delicious Vegetarian

All you can eat vegetarian buffet at Lovely Lotus Delicious Vegetarian

 

Get Into Dali Life

This is by no means a complete list of everything you can do in Dali but they are the things that we enjoyed the most.  All are suited to those backpacking on a budget.  There is also the famous Three Pagodas that you can visit by bike or foot and many popular bars on the main strip, but for us the bars were a bit out of our price range for both food and drink.  We enjoyed dining in the rice and noodle kitchens on the side roads where the locals were eating, and at the end of our trip to China these were some of our fondest memories. 

 

Transport

You can reach Dali by train or bus from Kunming and Lijiang. It’s worth noting that the old town is called Dali Ancient City and that Dali is the modern part of the city just south of there where most of the transport links go to.  If you do get a train into Dali then it will drop you off in the modern city and you will have to get a bus into the old town.  If travelling from Lijiang by bus, you can ask to be dropped off in the old town.

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We hope you found this helpful! If there is anything you enjoyed doing on your trip to Dali then let us know, we would love to hear about it.

 

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China - Top Things To Do In Dali, by Studio Mali
 

 

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Laos: Top Things To Do In Vientiane

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Laos capital city Vientiane is known for its chilled out pace and cafe culture, sitting itself next to the Mekong river.  The size of it makes it feel more like a town rather than a city, and can be explored in a couple of days by foot or bike.  

That Luang Tai Temple

That Luang Tai Temple

A Grey Start

After a wonderful month spent in China’s scenic Yunnan Province with only a handful of tourists in sight, arriving in Vientiane was a huge culture shock for us.  We were unfortunate to visit when the weather was dull, the sky was grey and the mood felt a bit flat.  The city feels unloved in places; litter scatters the banks of the Mekong River and even though it's not very busy there is a constant stream of cars.  What surprised us most was the sheer number of tourists!  For the first ten minutes we didn’t see a single local, only foreigners strolling the streets.  We couldn’t believe it!  We know that Laos has been on the tourist trail for quite some time, but it was honestly like visiting a holiday destination in Europe.  As a result, the streets are full of western-style restaurants, French bakeries and English signs everywhere.  We would have to search a bit harder to see the Laotian culture we were hoping for.  

Our first view of the 'scenic' Mekong River.  Surely things can only get better than this!

Our first view of the 'scenic' Mekong River.  Surely things can only get better than this!

Top Picks

Below is a list of things we did enjoy during our time in Vientiane.  If you are into temples then there are plenty to visit for free, and of course the plethora of cafes and restaurants to dine in.  If you have a bit of extra time and cash then there are lots of places to explore in the surrounding area such as caves, treks, river trips and more.  Here are our top picks:

 

Get A Bike

As far as capital cities go, Vientiane isn’t actually that big but if you want easy access to exploring what the city has to offer then cycling is the way to go.  With a bike you can visit all of the temples in one day: Wat Sisaket, Way Ho Phra Kaew and Wat Sokpaluang, and then onto the famous That Luang golden stupe.  You can cycle to some of the many markets: Talat Sao in the morning, followed by the Mekong riverside Night Market or the Ban Anou Night Food Market.  We would recommend stopping off in one or two of the many French-style cafes as you go, munching on a croissant or some freshly baked goods, and then continuing onto the Mekong River for a quick snap.  With a bike, it is also possible to cycle out of town to the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre For Women where you can learn to weave and dye silks, or if you are feeling fit then head out 25km to the unique Buddha Park Xieng Khuan.  Bike rental is really cheap and hire for the day starts from 7000 kip (63p).

Bike rental

Bike rental

Visit The COPE Museum 

Unknown to us any many others, we discovered that Laos is the most bombed country in the entire world.  A shocking 270 million bombies were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam war between 1964 and 1973, and 30% of those bombs are still unexploded today.  That means that the people of Laos are still living under these horrific conditions of having unexploded bombs on their doorsteps. The bombs were dropped by the American army to stop the Vietcong's supply route through Laos. Although much international aid has been given to Laos it has not been enough to remove all the unexploded bombs. 

COPE is a charity which helps those who have suffered injury relating to a UXO/landmine, by providing those in need of prosthetics and rehabilitation.  They have set up a museum in Vientiane which explains what happened during the Vietnam war, how people have been affected, and what their role is of supporting victims in need.  We would strongly recommend a trip to this museum, it's pretty tough going but it's important to raise awareness of the terrible situation Laos has suffered and is still suffering.  Entry is free, but after seeing the horrors for yourself you will be hard pressed to leave without putting a few notes in the donations box.

 
Red marks the places affected by US bomb strikes on Laos during the Vietnam war

Red marks the places affected by US bomb strikes on Laos during the Vietnam war

 

Taste Lao Coffee

Walk down any street in Vientiane and you will see tiny stalls stacked high with cans of condensed milk.  Why you might ask?  Well this is the sign of local Laos coffee, served with this intensely thick and sweetened milk.  A cup of this stuff is almost like having a pudding, or a hot chocolate... rich and moorish. Laos coffee is of an incredibly high quality and is one of the countries main exports.  Local farmers can make a far more sustainable living selling coffee beans  than grains and vegetables which are of lower retail value.  Laos produces two main types of coffee, Arabica and Robusta, and the one that is featured in this punch packing cup is the latter.  So grab a coffee, take a seat and watch the tourists go past.  Expect to pay around 5000-7000 kip (45p-63p) for a cup.  This coffee is sold anywhere in Laos and not just Vientiane.

Laos coffee

Laos coffee

Haggle At The Talat Sao Morning Market

This cavernous mall goes back for miles and here you can find anything from a fridge freezer to a tailored Laotian pencil skirt.  This is a proper locals market, shabby round the edges and packed to the ceiling with goods for sale.  Here you can pick up clothes, antiques, jewellery, electricals, souvenirs, silk scarfs and much more.  Most things are reasonably priced although expect to haggle as much as you can.  A good starting point is dropping to a third of the original price and then going up from there. Don’t expect to pay more than two thirds of the original price.  The Laotian people are very friendly so remember to haggle with a smile on your face.  The market is open from 7am - 4pm daily and is based at Lane Xang Avenue at Khu Vieng Street.

Talat Sao Morning Market

Talat Sao Morning Market

Marvel At The That Luang Golden Stupe

The gleaming golden roof of Vientiane’s biggest stupe stands at 48 meters high and is Laos most important sacred monument.  It is also the countries national symbol, being featured on the official seal.  This is one very important Buddhist stupe you might say, so visiting is a must! Entry for a closer view is a mere 5000 kip (45p), and once inside you get to see the handiwork up close: hand carved stone dragons on the bannisters, ancient stone buddhas, and bucket loads of gold paint.  Buddhist tradition says to walk clockwise around the stupe three times, so you had better get walking!  Next to the stupe is also a number of other temples you can go inside for free, just remember to take your shoes off outside and dress appropriately (that means long skirts and cover exposed shoulders for women).  To get there you can cycle or jump in a tuk tuk.  Open Tuesday to Sunday, 08.00-12.00 and 13.00-16.00. 

That Luang Golden Stupe

That Luang Golden Stupe

Eat Your Body Weight In Croissants

Who doesn’t love a buttery warm croissant; crunchy on the outside with a deliciously soft centre.... mmm yum! Well you will be very happy to hear that Vientiane has a plethora of bakeries and French-style cafes, all stocked with fresh bread, cakes and more drinks than you could choose from.  Lao was part of the French colony until the 1940s which might explain why the quality of the baked goods is so high.  Croissants are a particular highlight and are as good as the ones you will find in any European store.  For those of you who have been on the road for a long time, this is a little taste of home.  So grab a drink, take a seat and munch on a croissant or two.  We would recommend eating at Le Banneton.  

Croissants in Le Banneton

Croissants in Le Banneton

Watch The Sunset Over The Mekong

By day the Mekong River is unassuming, a wide expanse of flowing water where locals fish, long boats pass and not very much happens.  It is a bit shabby round the edges, lined with crumbling paths and sadly there is a fair bit of rubbish kicking around the banks.  At around dusk the light begins to change, more colour comes into the hazy sky and the gleaming sun lowers over the glistening waters below.  A Mekong sunset is a special one, slow, magical and full of life.  The reeds gently sway in front of the reddening sun, the long boats silhouette against the moving waters.  Thankfully as it gets dark, you can’t see all the rubbish only the beautiful sunset that appears before you.  So grab a Lao beer, take a seat on the grubby steps and watch the sun dissolve into the landscape.

Sunset by the Mekong River

Sunset by the Mekong River

Visit The Bustling Evening Market

Every day at around 5pm, sellers prepare for a busy evening ahead of selling, selling and you guessed it, more selling.  Red roofed stalls pop up, lining the pathways of the Mekong River, and the locals stock their tables with all manor of goods.  The market is aimed at tourists, and there are definitely enough of them to fill the enormous strip.  Here you can pick yourself up anything from cheap chinese socks to hand woven Laotian textiles.  There are loads of trinkets and small items perfect for sending home as gifts.  Same rules apply with haggling, start at a third of the price and work up.  If you are in the market for a tasty snack then why not pick up a donner kebab bap for a bargain 10,000 kip (90p), it was actually really good!

The Evening Market by the Mekong River

The Evening Market by the Mekong River

Learn To Weave And Hand-Dye Silks

Cycle 7km northeast of Vientiane centre and you will find The Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre For Women where you can see locals busy at work creating traditional Laotian textiles.  The school teaches women of all ages and backgrounds how to weave, make designs for weaving, ikat (a resistance dying method) and dip dying techniques for silk.  So far they have trained up 650 women with the intention of giving them the skills to command a higher living wage.  They also run short classes for tourists where you can either learn to weave on one of their looms, or you can dye up a silk scarf using natural dyes such as marigold and onion peel.  We spent a happy 2 hours weaving, alternating lines of colour and Ali learnt how to weave a pattern by hand.  Once having a go for yourself, you will really appreciate the time and skill that goes into crafting textiles.  The centre also has a wonderful shop where they sell high quality hand-made goods that are produced on site.  The centre is open Monday to Saturday and is closed for an hour over lunch time.  Weaving for a couple of hours with lunch included cost us 130,000 kip (£11.50) each, which is really reasonable considering you learn a new skill and get to keep your textiles.

Learning to weave at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre For Women

Learning to weave at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre For Women

Highlight

For us the highlight of Vientiane was the weaving workshop.  Ali gets really excited going to new countries and looking at all of their textiles, and it’s such a big part of the Lao culture that it’s worth understanding how it’s made.  Many women still wear Sinh, a traditional wrapped pencil skirt made from patterned woven textiles, which is why weaving plays such a big role in their handicrafts.

 

Did We Dig It?

After spending almost 3 full days there, we sadly decided it wasn’t for us.  We were searching for something more authentic of the Lao way of life.  We wanted to learn about local culture, to see how people live their lives, what they cook and how they spend their days.  For us, sitting in a nice cafe full of tourists is fine for a short while, but it wasn't going to show us the real Lao.  You can clearly enjoy yourself here if you are happy to hang out in cafes, nice bars and restaurants, but if you want something more then we would say there are better places to visit.  Luang Prabang is a similar city set on the Mekong River and is a lot more scenic, although again don't expect it to be free of tourists.  Perhaps we would have to head to the countryside to get a glimpse of real-life Lao we were searching for.

 

What Do You Say?

3 days in Vientiane was enough for us, we would be really interested to hear your thoughts too. Did we miss something?  Was there anything you enjoyed doing there?  Next stop for us is Luang Namtha to do some jungle trekking in the Nam Ha National Park, and then onto Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi for the mountain scenery.  Fingers crossed we can find some beautiful landscapes and meet more locals!

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VIDEO

Why not watch our travel video from Vientiane?

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Laos - Top Things To Do In Vientiane, by Studio Mali
 

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Video: Beijing

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We spent just over a week soaking up the food, history and culture of this ancient city. Watch us be fools in the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and cycling up and down the Hutong. it was our favourite big city in China so we hope you’ll be inspired come visit! Note that the best weather, least pollution, is mid October.

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