The Lao capital city of Vientiane may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not as charming as Luang Prabang or as adventurous as Vang Vieng. But it’s my kind of town with a special allure all of its own. On the surface not much appears to happen in Vientiane. The pace of life is slow. The term Lao PDR – Lao please don’t rush – was bestowed for a reason. Indeed, for a capital city, with an estimated population of 783,000, it is unusually quiet and laid-back. But scratch at that sleepy surface and you will find a fiercely beating life pulse. A life that revolves around the Vientiane Mekong.
The “Mother of Waters”
The Mekong River is a loose translation of the Lao/Thai Mae Nam Khong meaning “Mother of Waters”. And Lao do indeed view the Mekong River, like a mother; as a lifegiver. The river dominates life throughout the nation and although not obvious in the capital of Vientiane, it is still there. The Mekong is an important social gathering place in Vientiane. Head down to the Vientiane Mekong Riverfront any evening to see groups walking, exercising, shopping and just hanging around. Friends chat noisily, happily taking sunset selfies, while children hope for a treat from a streetside vendor.
Life along the Vientiane Mekong
2018 has been one of the wettest rainy seasons in Vientiane in years. Heavy rains have led to rising rivers and flooding in many provinces such as Attapeu. The Vientiane Mekong has been slowly transforming from a meandering stream to a massive waterway highly befitting of its “Mighty Mekong” name. The muddy river now laps at the night market foundations and the promenade stairs. The recent rains have attracted many fishermen and onlookers to the shallows of the Mekong in central Vientiane. The perfect time to get out there with a camera and experience life along the Vientiane Mekong.
Take a walk along Vientiane’s Mekong River during rainy season when the river is high. The river attracts many locals who come to fish using traditional Lao lift nets called gadung. Using a large bamboo frame, the lift nets are submerged in shallow waters. Small fish and shrimp are trapped in the net as it is lifted out. Nets are usually operated by women who stand along the riverbank and in the shallows. Men tend to favour fishing traps and throw nets and will often be seen motoring long boats around the deeper waters. Catches are usually small fish, river shrimp, river snails and the occasional larger fish such as catfish (bpaa-duk). Fish are often taken straight out of the river and up to the street to be sold at pop-up wet markets. You can’t get much fresher than that!
The Mekong River still influences life in a capital city the way it has in generations past. I hope that the following images will inspire you to spend some time in the languid capital of Laos, looking at life along the Vientiane Mekong.
There are so many everyday opportunities to see life along the Vientiane Mekong. So pack your camera and get ready to enjoy Vientiane a little differently.
Where is the Vientiane Mekong located?
You really can’t miss it! Follow Fa Ngum road to Chao Anouvong Park for the central promenade.
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