Monday, September 9, 2013


Night time on the Mekong riverfront
It's late evening in Vientiane, Laos, and I’ve left the lively bar called 'Bor Pennyang'. Stepping onto the Mekong River front, I hail a tuk-tuk, and follow the main road downriver. We pull into Don Chan Palace, though it isn’t much of a palace, it’s really more of an odd river front hotel. With 14 floors it’s among the tallest buildings in Laos, but for rustic Vientiane it looks rather gaudy. It does however, have the town's best disco.

It’s my first time here, and walking in I find the place dark and crowded, with music pumping. Peering across the crowd, I look for the dance floor. Not seeing one, I walk the entire length of the place. There's no dance floor to be found. This is a disco, but only in the conservative Asian style. Here the patrons dance only next to their tables!

I eventually find a friendly group to hang out with, a mixture of westerners and Laotians. Grabbing a beer, I join the dancing by their table. A Dane with them explains why there's no dance floor. “They don’t understand the concept of a discotheque,” he says. 

Unfotunately for those who enjoy night life, there are strange culture laws that restrict evening entertainment here. This gives Vientiane the reputation as one of the more boring capitals in Southeast Asia.

A recent story in the Vientiane Times, mentioned that the government was closing some discos down. The Director of the Vientiane Information and Culture Department was quoted as saying, “Each district (of the city) should have only one disco.”

The Don Chan 'Palace' in Vientiane
The fun squashing bureaucrat complained of the “overuse of imported music at the expense of local songs.” That ‘overuse’ is evident tonight, since I don’t hear any Laotian music at all. The selection here is mostly pop music from Thailand, with a smattering of western dance tunes. The bureaucrat also complained that according to law, discos must close by 11:30pm. Since I just arrived at Don Chan near to midnight and the party’s going strong, I see the law isn’t enforced here. Varied disco closing times are often connected to corruption.

Eyeing up the clientele, there is not a hint of Laotian attire; everyone wears western clothes for clubbing. Looking around, there are plenty of drunks. Some Asian men of smaller stature, seem to be intent on drinking as much as the larger bodied westerners present.

This is about as crazy as it gets in this town. The wild, ‘anything goes’ bars that Vientiane was known for during the war years, like the 'White Rose' and the 'Green Latrine', are long gone. The only remnant of that tradition here, are a few prostitutes trying to catch the attention of western men. Prostitution exists in Vientiane, but in the more subdued Asian manner. This isn't Thailand, there are no strip clubs in Laos.

I’m less worried about violence here since night life in Vientiane is known as the safest in Southeast Asia. Since Laos is landlocked and without ports, they don’t have to worry about drunken sailors going out looking for trouble. That’s not to say that bar fights don’t occasionally happen though. In between swigs of Beer Lao, an English teacher tells me about a bar fight here a couple weeks ago. “I turned around, and see a foreigner down on the floor,” he says. “This Laotian was beating him with a bottle.”

He stepped in to stop the beating, but not for long, as his Laotian girlfriend pulled him away. Fortunately for him, she recognized the bottle wielder as a Laotian involved in the drug trade, and wisely kept him out of the melee. When the rare beatdown does happen in a Vientiane night spot, it’s often drug related. Vientiane was once known as a place where opium was easier to get than a cold beer. That has flip-flopped, and the drug trade has gone underground. But it does occasionally rear it’s ugly head, such as in this case reported in the Vientiane Times.

Police arrested a Nigerian man on June 21 in Khualvang Village, Chanthabuly District, Vientiane, after finding him in possession of 900 grammes of heroin, according to the Khomsangoh (security) newspaper yesterday.

The story went on to report on another sensationalized case, that gained international attention. British national Samantha Orobator was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of possessing 600 grammes of heroin. Ms. Orobator was born in Nigeria, but is now a resident of the UK and has British citizenship.

A Tuk -Tuk, these are 'taxis' in Vientiane
The story neglected to mention that the young lady became pregnant while in prison. Whether she became pregnant intentionally or not, it helped her case. She was originally given the death penalty for drug trafficking, but pregnant women are exempt from this punishment. In the end, she was extradited to the UK to serve her sentence there.

I continue to dance and chat with my newfound friends, until closing time nears. Some wish to party on, but there are few options for Vientiane’s night owls when discos shut down. “If you want to drink after three a.m. you can only go to the bowling alley,” the knowing Dane tells me. “You can drink there until four or five a.m. It’s the only place open.”

I’m not the type to drink until dawn, so Don Chan is my last stop of the night. I leave the late night revelers, and head for the tuk-tuks.

1 comment:

  1. They streets are living at night. I had a lot fun bein there last year!