Sunday 22 March 2015

The Journey Continues! Vegan in Vientiane, Laos.

Well, I finally left Thailand! I wrote this whilst I was in Laos and now I'm hitting publish from Vietnam. Phew! Apologies for getting a little behind with the blogging from the road thang but terrible wifi connections followed by a bad cold and a two day long migraine killed my blogging mojo. I think having to get a flight from Luang Prabang to Hanoi with a migraine might just have been my worst travel experience ever. Bright airport lights, dealing with people, the worst turbulence I've ever felt... it wasn't a great day. Back to the fun side of my travels though, let's talk Laos!

Rather than choosing the (probably sensible) option of travelling from Chiang Mai via bus and slow boat to Luang Prabang Nick and I decided to get one overnight train to Bangkok and then another overnight train (that same night) to Vientiane. Well to Nong Khai really where we changed to a train bound for Thanalang where we grabbed a tuk tuk to Vientiane. So many steps in that journey! A whole lot of things played into this decision, firstly I get incredibly bus sick so I wanted to minimise the amount of bus travel I had to deal with and secondly we were planning on going from Luang Prabang onto Hanoi so going from Luang Prabang down to Vientiane and back again just seemed silly. Lastly the idea of spending two days on the deck of a slow boat when it was hitting 40˚C most days just didn't sound all that fun. I get that travel is sometimes all about the journey and from all accounts the slow boat is a great way to see the countryside but I know myself well enough to know when I'm just going to be putting myself through 48 hours of hating everything.

What probably tipped this idea over the edge from a thought to a full blown plan is that I loooove taking the train, it's always so much fun and these journeys were no exception. Apparently I'm like some kinda human tourist attraction over here, everywhere I go people stop me and ask to have their picture taken with me... it felt awkward at first especially as when it first happened I tried to take the ladies' camera off of her to take a picture of her when what she wanted was a picture of me. Ooops! Anyway, now I'm just rolling with it and Nick's trying to take pictures of all of the people taking pictures with me. So meta. Even these law enforcement dudes got in on the action!

Nick's blinking was kinda ruining this already outs focus picture so I've starred him out. I'm ruthless like that! Oh and he wants me to let y'all know that he didn't ask me to do that!

One of the main places Nick and I were interested in visiting during our stay in Vientiane was the COPE Visitor Centre. COPE are an organisation who help people with disabilities by providing them with prosthetics and orthotics as well as physical and occupational therapy. 

We learnt a lot about the UXO (unexploded ordnance) problem in rural Laos during our morning at the museum. I knew a little bit about it already from reading Nick's sister's friend Ant's book A Short Ride in the Jungle last year but I hadn't realised the full extent of the problem or delved into the effects on real people like those I read about in the exhibits at the museum. A lot of the people hurt by UXO are children as they are often used to seeing parts of bombs in their day to day lives, perhaps repurposed as a kitchen implement or other household item, so when they see them whilst they're working or playing they can often pick them up resulting in horrific injuries. One of the things COPE is committed to is educating kids in rural areas about the dangers of UXO with their outreach and education programme. They also help to support MAG (the Mines Advisory Group) who travel all over the country carrying out controlled explosions on unexploded cluster bombs.

If you'd like to Stand Up For COPE with me you can help by writing to your government and asking them to sign the Convention of Cluster Munitions to ban cluster bombs (if they haven't already, the UK has), by donating via the website (or even buying a leg), or by visiting COPE whilst you're in Vientiane and then spreading the word once you're home or via social media. I know that a lot of people believe that charitable giving should be some silent behind-closed-doors thing but often getting the word out about a charity or an issue is as important as whatever donation you can make. I know that I've discovered so many great causes through blogs and via the people I follow on social media.

To keep myself going on my adventures around Vientiane I, of course, sought out some delicious vegan eats. I actually got a little obsessed with Reunion Cafe and ended up eating there at least once a day. This friendly little spot is definitely one of those vegan gems that takes you a little off of the well worn tourist path which is a bonus. The first thing I had to try was the Pad See Ew, which, if you've been reading about the trip so far, shouldn't be a big surprise.

It was delicious, I really don't think you can go wrong with Pad See Ew. The Duck Teriyaki became one of both mine and Nick's favourite dishes at the cafe and we ordered it over and over again. Saucy delicious mock meat over rice. What more could you want?!

I also branched out on our final day in the city and tried the Tofu in Special Sauce and I totally wished I'd ordered it sooner, it was delicious and tofu is my faaaave.

Fried sides were another must at Reunion and and I tried both the Deep Fried Fish and the Grilled Chicken.

If you're a mock meat fan one thing you have to order at Reunion Cafe is the Grilled Chicken. My photo doesn't really do it justice but this stuff is creepily real right down to the "skin". If reading that grossed you out you definitely shouldn't order it! The reminiscence to the chicken my parents used to barbecue for my brother and I on summer weekends was eerie. I loved it!

Oh and if you want something bland and crunchy to snack on (which I often do!) then this place has you covered. These crispy things, that's totally their real name (it isn't!), are yummy. My guess would be that they're a vegan take on pork scratchings but way less disgusting.

There was plenty to see on our whirlwind tour of the city from the Victory Gate, which was built with American funds and cement donated to Laos to help them build a new airport hence it's nickname "The Vertical Runway", to the many wats dotted about the place.

It was definitely an interesting city to explore mainly because it was so incredibly different from anywhere else I'd ever been. As well as exploring I did some chores whilst I was in town, that's one of the big differences between a short trip and this travel thing just being my life now - I need to try to fit in things like exercise and cutting and dying my hair alongside the fun times. Nick and I sorted out our Vietnamese visas because it takes 24(ish) hours in Vientiane compared to three days in Luang Prabang, we went to the gym (I loved the brand new machines and the large rooftop pool at Sengdara Fitness) and payed a visit to the local swimming pool which was a wonderful peek into life in Vientiane.

It was hot, hot, hot in the city and this is clearly where all of the local kids come to cool off. The place was rammed. Aside from a mixed group of kids from a French Korean school who were attempting a swimming class we were definitely the only westerners taking a dip. I kept the majority of my clothes on as I would have felt super out of place even in my pretty modest one piece. I didn't get any lengths in but it was fun nonetheless, watching kids dive-bombing and splashing about in hoodies and jeans was pretty cool.

Another decent spot for vegan eats in the city is Noy's Fruit Heaven. Their mango shakes were a favourite of ours and I can't resist sharing this picture that Nick photobombed. He does this a lot whilst I'm taking food pictures!

The falafel sandwich was our go-to order because their pita bread was oh so fresh and delicious and I hadn't eaten chips for a while. I've heard that the fresh spring rolls are good too but you need to remember to order them without the egg.

Joma was another regular stop because they had the holy trifecta of air con, wifi and soya milk. Perfect. I'm pretty sure that Joma is the most westernised coffee shop in all of Laos but as someone who can only handle a latte I needed to find somewhere with vegan soya milk.

I can't really comment on the quality of the coffee because this was my first time dipping my toe back into the caffeine pool since, oh, 2011? Caffeine hasn't always had the best effect on me but I wanted to give it another whirl as sitting in the window of a coffee shop watching the world go by seems like a nice way to pass time in a new city. I also think that my palate is becoming more sophisticated as I age because I didn't even need to add sugar!

This is the soya milk they use at Joma. Did you know that a lot of soya milk in Asia contains dairy? I didn't until I was researching my trip to Japan last year and it's the reason why I sometimes break my Starbucks boycott when I'm travelling here - they're one of the few places I trust to have vegan soya milk. Sadly none of the food at Joma is vegan but it's still an excellent place to stop, take a load off and, if you're also blogging from the road, write.

Snack wise Vientiane had us covered with a scattering of air conditioned marts. I found all of these goodies in Homeideal on Rue Hengboun I didn't pick any of these up because of my ever growing snack pile (coming up!) but they're all vegan and I am totally kicking myself for not buying the apple pie cookies, they're actually a UK import but I've never seen them there.

One treat I did grab was this pack of Oat Krunch cookies from M-Point Mart which have to be the most exciting accidentally vegan treat I've found in a while. I almost always pick up one wildcard item when I'm in a new store in a new country, city or town. That one thing I spot and think "Wouldn't it be so cool if these were vegan?". Quite often this ends in laughter at my own hopefulness as I read out the myriad non-vegan ingredients to Nick but sometimes, sometimes I hit the jackpot!

Not only were these cookies delicious but they were also individually wrapped! Individually wrapped stuff is often a bit of a peeve at home as I hate the waste but when you're travelling individually packaged items are a major win. Mainly because you can stash them in every available space in your luggage rather than trying to find space for one large item.

This brand of crisps was another M-Point Mart find, crab shaped and seaweed flavoured these became a firm favourite pretty fast. Before my trip to Thailand I kept hearing about all of the vegan seaweed flavoured crisps (or chips!) I'd be finding on my travels but this is the first time I've seen any that had the seasonings broken down by ingredient. My trip to Japan taught me that with something seaweed flavoured the seasonings often contain fish bits, gross.

There is one small health food store in Vientiane if you're after snacks that hover at the healthy end of the spectrum or if, like me, you just want to support a small business. Agroasie is located at the end of Chao Anou Road right near the night market but I popped down one morning to check it out. The shelves aren't exactly heaving with product but they do have a decent selection of organic fruit and veg as well as skincare products (look out for beeswax) and snacks. I just grabbed these GrainNY bars which were a little too healthy tasting and low sugar to be a repeat purchase but they were okay.

I'll leave you with this street kitty and next time I'll be back with stories and pictures from my time in Vang Vieng. Spoiler alert - it might be billed as a party town but it's so much better than Pai


  1. Hi JoJo!! I am loving your travels so far, but I am especially interested in your tour of Vietnam.Two of my students workers studying here at my university are from Vietnam, so it is nice to see the vegan side of their country! See you in Austin! xoxo Becky :))))))

    1. Hi Rebekah! Great to hear from ya! I'm excited to hear that you're enjoying reading about my travels. I'm excited to get a blog post about Hanoi up asap! See ya at VVC! xo

  2. Wow it looks like you're having an awesome time :) really impressed with how you find all such good vegan food!

    PS the apple pie cookies are usually in the 99p store I think here in the uk. Not actually tried them but I've seen them.

    1. Haha, thanks Emma! I love to eat so I've gotten pretty good at hunting down delicious vegan food! Good to know the apple pie cookies can be found at the 99p store, I'll have to send my bff to have a look!

  3. Those apple pie cookies are right little globetrotters - I used to eat those in Botswana of all places! It's funny how some, seemingly random, products (accidentally vegan....) seem to end up in shops all over the world :)

    1. How interesting, I love the idea of globetrotting cookies!

  4. what a great post! I love that you two are doing neat things like going to this museum and helping out with the elephants in Thailand -- beyond just the basics of coconuts and tourism. Also, going to the public pool looks like an excellent travel adventure. I remember in India SO many people wanting to take their pictures with me. It was so funny. And I didn't even have purple hair!

    1. Thanks Amey! That's definitely one of our favourite things about having more time to explore each country - getting beyond the basics. It's also nice to hear I'm not the only one getting swamped with picture requests - Nick got one yesterday too, it was adorable!

  5. I'm familiar with MAG as they're based in Manchester, in fact in the next street to where I work. Another great post Jojo and I love the new hair. Those crunchy snacks look a bit like the Gathia we get from our local Indian café which we call vegan crack they are so moreish. I think they're made from gram flour and sesame. If you can't locate the apple pie cookies when you're back in the UK let me know and I'll get you some. They're always in our Home Bargains and are really nice.

    1. Are they?! I had no idea! Those snacky things are soooo moreish, I think it was probably a good thing that they were for sale in relatively small bags! And thanks for the apple cookie offer, I'm always a little jealous when I hear about the cool stuff at Home Bargains, why can't we have a location in the south?!

  6. It always really heartens me to see places that I want to go are vegan friendly. I've heard reports that the prevalence of fish sauce made eating a bit of nightmare, so I'm chuffed to find out that's not the case. Not sure I could go for the pork scratching-a-likes though. I always wonder who in their right mind would want to eat hairy crisps! Even a vegan version scares me a bit. I'd be all over the falafel and seaweed crisps though.

    1. Haha, yes I am very thankful that there weren't hairy. The real version totally grosses me out!


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