Two Capitol Cities in One Week
I entered Vientiane a mere 4 days after leaving Phnom Pehn, allowing me to easily compare the similarities and differences between the two SE Asian capitol cities. Since I only spent about 40 hours in each city, I left both with an equal first impression.
The main sites to see in Phnom Pehn are quite somber and painful as they are dedicated to educating the world about the horrors of the Pol Pot regime and remembering the thousands of lives lost. I chose to only go to the S21 museum (former high school converted into torture prison) and not go out to the Killing Fields as I felt that was maybe too much for one day. While extremely hard to walk through, look at all the pictures and read the short stories, I left with a much better understanding of things. The rest of my brief stay in Phnom Pehn was more pleasant and was spent walking around, enjoying the riverside area and the energy of the city.
In contrast, my visit to Vientiane was much lighter…with no torture chambers to visit. I did the temple circuit, mostly to have a little aim in my wanderings and enjoyed the riverside as well as many cafes and shops where I could pass the time and sit, read and people watch.
Comments and thoughts to highlight a few aspects of the visit:
Phnom Pehn seems to be much more polluted than Vientiane because my throat and eyes were burning and agitated the whole time I was in PP.
PP was more into the Chinese New Year than Vientiane…Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit was happening everywhere you looked while in PP, whereas in Vientiane not really.
Vientiane – the former French colony welcomed me with excellent Lao coffee and fresh bread. Such a delight!
Everything for a cause: In Phnom Pehn this was found much more so than in Vientiane but in both cities you could make your dollars go quite far because in addition to whatever you were buying, you were almost always supporting a certain cause as every restaurant and fair trade shop was supporting various groups. I already talked about Friends International restaurants in a previous post, and in Phnom Pehn there was another place I really liked called Veiyo Tonle. There slogan “it tastes better than it looks” is a little odd since everything looked great but one of my favorite simple meals was enjoyed there – crispy rice cakes with coconut cream and minced pork and a pot of ginger tea!
Vientiane is quite cozy and small and things seem to have stayed the same over the years whereas Phnom Pehn is vibrant and you get the sense that there is a lot of change happening there. Phnom Pehn had a dark edge though, as it felt considerably more dangerous than in Vientiane where I felt just fine walking around by myself.
Enjoying a glass of wine along the Mekong in PP was just as delightful as enjoying a beer along the Mekong in Vientiane.
Phnom Pehn was more expensive than Vientiane, in terms of both food and lodging.
Where I’d rather live: Vientiane