06.12.2008 30 °C
As capitals go, Vientane doesn't come close to the hell-hole of Harare or the madness of Mogadishu, but it wouldn't take much to push it over the edge.
The shiny veneer of French colonial sophistication and savoir-faire is spread thinner than the foam on a cappuccino - though they can still bake a mean croissant.
Hotels line the sweeping bay and dozens of restaurants jam the sandy Mekong shoreline - reminiscent of Cannes or Nice. But this is no Cotes d'Azur - here there is no Carlton or Negresco charging a thousand bucks a night. Here are only backpackers' hovels and down-at-heal auberges that wouldn't warrant a black mark in the Michelin Guide.
The shore-side restaurants, (for want of a more apt description), sit on stilts above garbage heaps of their own making and offer an unimaginable array of dust encrusted delicacies including escargot that look big enough to bite back.
Readers of "The Dave Bliss Quintet," will discover here a dozen Chateaux Roger being swallowed by the concrete castles of modernity and assaulted by the abrasive air.
One bright spot in this murky backwater is the Palais de la Culture - a glittering palace with soaring ceilings and a spectacular theatre where we spent two evenings watching the Ho Chi Minh Orchestra, Ballet and Choir. Why two evenings - you ask? Answer later.
We are now off to Vietnam. Goodbye Laos - we have enjoyed the experience. We'd love to stay longer and help you, but wouldn't know where to begin.
Before the 2009 ASEAN games come here next year, someone needs to take a vacuum cleaner to the place.