I walked out the door of my Berkeley apartment the morning of May 31 and finally arrived in Vientiane in the late afternoon of June 5th, concluding a convoluted travel itinerary plagued by flight cancellations and the joy that is COVID travel (the gory details to come in a later post).

It was eerie how quiet Vientiane felt after I had experienced the bustle of Bangkok for two days with an MDP classmate and professor. A few motorbikes passed my taxi from the airport to the guesthouse but there weren’t more than a handful of people out on the streets during the midday heat. After checking in to my room, which was clean but old (and with an American Standard toilet elevated on a 1-foot-high platform), I immediately felt very alone. The only sounds were from the birds outside. But at around 4 PM, I ventured out and started walking toward the Vientiane night market on the road that ran parallel to the Mekong River.

Before coming, people told me that Laos felt like Thailand 30 years ago. I walked on the sidewalk toward the center of town, the Mekong off to the distance on the right. It was further off in the distance than I thought it would be since the Airbnb had advertised itself as “riverside”. Perhaps the water was just low but I’m beginning to suspect that description was a generous one.

There were hotels, ATMs, restaurants, bars on my left. None of the buildings were particularly fancy, the more spartan ones sporting bare concrete and missing windowpanes. Vientiane really did have a time capsule-like quality, that was only amplified by the orange sun.

As I got closer to the night market and the air cooled, I started to see more and more people walking along the footpath. There were more cars and scooters on the street. The river, still distant, widened and came more into view. The increasing signs of life made my eyes teary as I fully comprehended just how lucky I was to be here for the next two-and-a-half months. I had to hold in a small sob as I continued walking toward the market and felt an overwhelming wave emotion to finally be in Laos.

Here’s the Google Photos album of some interesting things I’ve seen so far. I will be updating this album frequently!