Friday, September 6, 2013


The 'No Problem' Bar in downtown Vientiane, one of the best in town
Bor Pennyang in Laotian language means, “no problem”. The saying is a reflection of the laid back Lao lifestyle. Expatriates who stay in Vientiane long term, tend to share the Laotians preference for quiet, stress free living. Like the Mekong, life here flows along slowly. 

Bor Pennyang also happens to be the name of one of the better restaurant bars in Vientiane, and it’s an expat favorite. I’m playing pool tonight, and luckily for me, playing pool here is free. Located on the top floor of a four story building, the necessity of climbing three flights of stairs keeps the lazy customers out. 

The establishment is open air, with a roof protecting patrons from the elements, but there are no walls. There are only railings, with catch nets beneath. The nets keep inebriated bar patrons from dropping their beer bottles onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. 
(I wonder how often that has happened.) When winds blow the monsoon rains inside, waitresses lower bamboo shades to keep the water out, rolling them up again when the skies clear. 

As far as a night spot goes, Bor Pennyang has the best night view of the Mekong River. Looking out over the railings I don’t  see Vientiane, I see… Thailand. Since the building is located on the river front thoroughfare, I’m getting an unobstructed view of the Mekong, with the riverbank homes of the ‘land of smiles’ beyond. It makes for a very romantic view when the Thai lights are lit up at night. For those who enjoy the nightlife, Bor Pennyang  is one of the few locales that make Vientiane worthwhile.

Looking down across the street onto the river front, the open grass lot atop the riverbank has been transformed. As night has fallen, enterprising cooks have hauled in gas stoves, coolers of food, and plastic tables and chairs. Extension cords have been strung up, with bare bulbs to light up the diners. Voila, an instant line of river front restaurants. 
Every night, instant restaurants pop up on the Mekong riverfront

The downtown riverfront is filled up every night with these mobile restaurants, popular with Laotians and visitors alike. I’ve enjoyed traditional Laotian dishes there, and they even have fresh seafood. One of the small restaurants keeps a huge bowl of live shrimp ready for cooking. With Laos landlocked, they must have been brought in from Thailand. 

Turning back from my view of the river front, I step up to the circular wooden bar, and order a cold Beer Lao. This is one of the few pub’s in the city that has the national beer on tap. I'm greeted by the manager, a friendly Aussie named Ian. He's the key to Bor Pennyang’s success; he runs a bar business that both locals and foreigners enjoy. A former chef, he has lived in Vientiane for years, enjoying the slow pace of life. Even among foreigners he stands out, with his odd choice of hairdo. Although balding, he still grows his grey hair long in the back, keeping it in a ponytail. Thankfully, he’s a much better bar manager than hairstylist. 

Tonight is a Friday night, and the crowd begins to roll in to play an early game of pool, or grab a late dinner. After a few games, I notice a Russian couple playing at the next table. Russians aren’t very common in Vientiane these days, there were far more of them here during the post-war years, when there the Soviets were in town working on infrastructure projects. 

“When I was young, the only foreigner I see was Russian,” I recall a Laotian woman telling me. “When I see them, I scared,” she said. “They have blue eyes.”

I take a break from pool, and strike up a conversation with these new Russians. They prove to be an interesting pair. Yuri and Olga are both funloving, outgoing, and young at heart. Yuri says he makes a living importing cars from the USA, shipping them to Russia. Olga is a part time interior designer, and mother to their two children. He’s 45 years old, fairly fit, and balding. She’s aged 29, thin, blonde and very attractive. Olga tells me that when Russians get married these days, age differences like theirs are very common. 

Stepping away from the pool tables, conversation shifts to their home in Moscow. I’m taken aback when out of the blue, Yuri mentions that Moscow has nude sunbathing, on the banks of the Volga River. I tell him that I didn’t know that was possible in Moscow. I didn’t think that it was hot enough there either. 
Interior of rooftop bar 'Bor Pennyang'

Yuri corrects me, “In Moscow, yes. In Siberia, no!”

I ask if he ever sunbathed nude. “Yes,” Yuri says in a matter of fact manner, “we are nudists.” 

While we are chatting, Olga is getting a lot of visual attention from others in the bar, since she’s wearing a very short skirt, and a tight shirt with no bra. Conservative Vientiane is no tourist beach town; she’s probably the only woman in the city showing so much skin in public. 

“She likes to go to strip clubs,” her husband tells me, confessing more personal information. As I continue chatting with Yuri, I eventually find out why the pair are so outgoing. 

They are both swingers. 

“We have alternative lifestyle.” Yuri explains. 

No kidding. After hearing that, I’m not surprised to learn that they are presently living in Pattaya, a beach town in Thailand with a seedy reputation. The only reason that they came to conservative Laos with their kids, was to make a visa run. This is their first trip to Vientiane, and they’re bored. They haven’t found any other couples in Laos who share their lifestyle, so they are disappointed with the city’s nightlife. 

It’s been an interesting conversation to be sure, but since I don’t share their lifestyle, I decide to move on to my next evening destination. I say goodbye to the Russian swingers, who continue their evening’s search for a like minded couple. 

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