This past week, Myra and I journeyed to Vientiane, Laos for four days.  We’d heard and read so much (almost all good things) – about the tranquility and languid rhythm of life, the food, the smallness of the capital city, the warm-heartedness of its denizens.  We took our first stroll along Rue Setthathilath, as the sky dimmed and cars and motorcycles turned into headlights zooming by and the restaurants slowly served dinner:

The streets and buildings and night air felt comfortable and soft, no hard corners or angry cabs, no hustlers tugging at your sleeves or crammed spaces full of smells and sounds elbowing for room.  This tropical quietness was different than the Soviet-era decrepitude of Ulan Bataar, Mongolia’s capital city, where you have to watch out for missing manhole covers.  It reminded me more of the slow-blinking suburbs of the American South.  Vientiane the city nestles against you in the evening, lifted your mood without the heavy sedative effects – you just find yourself drifting into the same slow saunter as everybody else.

After dinner, we wandered around til we caught a broadcast of gongs and chants – evening prayers in one of the city’s many Buddhist temples:

In the night, the bright prayer halls, filled with families and monks in their glowing safron, cast shadows into the streets.  We caught a procession of candles that circled once around the temple, candles that went to honor the dead or to make wishes for the future.

We left the temple to head towards the riverbanks, where the night market sits.

Even with the glistening rows of vendors and sidewalks of families and couples, there was a different, more relaxed feeling I did not find in Thailand’s streetside stalls or China’s indoor fabric and knockoff markets.  We haggled for a few souvenirs, but my favorite part of the market was catching a pair of pottery painters:

Sleepy town, but quite a lot of character.