This report is to sum up some of the amazing things we have done in our free time. This is not to be mistaken for a list of Dos and Don’ts. Consequently, this list is not intended to be exhaustive.
Sauna and massage
There is nothing better after a hard day of teaching than going to the sauna. Accompanied by a massage it becomes a priceless treat. However, the Lao price is just 65,000 kip (approx. 7 €) in total! You can use the herbal sauna for as long as you wish at the maximum cost of 15,000 kip. But how should you imagine a Lao sauna?
Well, it is quite basic. There are two narrow cabins made of bricks, equipped with wooden benches on two sides. Thick (and unfortunately sometimes filthy) curtains over the cabins’ entrances keep the steam inside. The steam is produced in a giant boiler behind the sauna and carried into the cabins through hoses. At the end of each hose is a bucket full of lemon grass and other herbs, making the sauna a “herbal sauna”. The two cabins, as well as the rest rooms, are strictly separated, one for men and one for women. Men have to wear a towel or bathing trunks while women need a sarong (an Asian wraparound skirt). Hot tea and water are available for refuelling your body. After some rounds of sweating and relaxing you should be ready for a Lao massage. Some massage parlours offer a variety of massages, ranging from head and back massages to foot or oil massages. One 60-minute full body massage costs 50,000 kip (5.50 €). A Lao massage is somehow more rustic than what you might have experienced before. At some stages you literally hear your joints creak. Nevertheless, it is a very pleasant treat and you feel like a new person afterwards. Go for it as often as you can. Your body and soul will thank you!
Luckily, you do not have to search long for the nearest sauna as there is one (without massage, unfortunately) just around the corner of Sikeud (13,000 kip only/1.50 €). Just follow the road 13 towards Vang Vieng for less than 5 minutes and you will find a small sign on the left hand side leading into a narrow alley.
A very nice sauna plus massage parlour, a bit tricky to find, is situated in Vientiane. It is east of the city centre, next to the German Embassy and the Wat Sok Pa Luang (on Sok Pa Luang road). Their small sign leads into an even smaller alleyway. They speak English.
You might know that karaoke is popular throughout Asia. Laos is no exception here. Almost every restaurant is equipped with a karaoke machine. People enjoy their food and drinks and sing along, with the lyrics displayed on a screen. Once you get the hang of it, karaoke can be so much fun. Moreover, it is a nice way to get in touch with locals. They are always impressed by a “singing falang” (falang is Lao for “Westerner”). Oh, how many karaoke sessions have led to a big night out for us. However, not only the restaurants have these machines. A lot of Lao households have them, too – in your neighbourhood. And they really like to use them, especially on the weekends. The small ghetto blaster-like machines with microphones might probably become one of the main reasons for your sleepless nights.
Clubbing in Laos is an experience you should not miss out on. However, always remember that it is Laos, so be prepared to find something absolutely different to what you expected. First of all, the music in Lao clubs is loud. It is not only very loud, for us it is definitely too loud. We experienced a constant ringing in the ears in the afterhours. Popular club music is a rough and fast techno style with a focus on the bass drum. I guess this is not everyone’s cup of tea, either. The second curious thing about a Lao club is hilarious: there is NO dance floor. Just in case you are thinking you misread the last sentence: THERE IS NO DANCE FLOOR! Well, this is not entirely true. It is just that the whole dancefloor is furnished with round tables. All clubbers stand around those tables (mostly in groups), drink Beerlao (the local beer) and pretend to be dancing. If you want to dance, you need to make some space by pushing aside some tables. Unlike in other countries, parties end fairly early in Laos. We have not been out clubbing for longer than 3 a.m., which already is an exception to the usual closing time.
This ice coffee makes me want to live in a country where it is always hot. Find an open love letter to Lao ice coffee here.
Lao people are crazy about karaoke, their mobile phones, motorbikes, Lao food, football, volleyball, and Sepak takraw. But there is one thing they are even crazier about: Beerlao, the delicious and refreshing local beer.
And along with Beerlao they like to party (this is where karaoke comes into play, too). They do not need a particular reason to celebrate. Partying is the compensation for a hard day’s work, I guess. You will not find a Lao party without “gin bia” (Lao for drink beer)
and its superlative “gin bia lailai” (drink lots and lots of beer).
Beerlao is brewed by the Lao Brewery Company, based in the outskirts of Vientiane. It is said to be the best Southeast Asian beer and not only the Lao people love it. Mostly, Beerlao comes in big 660 ml bottles and is enjoyed with plenty of ice. The secret behind Beerlao is the master brewer, who received his training in Germany earlier on, and the usage of rice instead of barley. Furthermore, it is said that it turns non-beer-drinking travellers into beer-drinking ones after their return.
Sepak takraw is one of the favourite sports in Laos. It is a combination of volleyball and football tennis. It is played on a field 13 metres long and 6 metres wide, divided by a net of 1.5 metres height. Each team has three players who try to score. The ball can be played with every part of the body (mainly foot and head) except the arms, trying to put the ball over the net and into the opponent’s field. Three contacts are allowed and the plastic ball, approximately 40 cm wide, must not drop. It is a very fast, athletic game and quite addictive. From young to old you can see them play Sepak takraw at every corner, even in our school yards. Check out youtube to get an idea of this incredible sport.
Text and photos by T. Mayer