Tag Archives: Vientiane

22. Home Ideal and DMart

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When falang first arrive, they envision strolling confidently through the local market, greeting the vendors by name, and knowing exactly which obscure stall sells vegetable peelers.  But they need a few Lao lessons first.  So falang inevitably soften the blow of culture shock by picking up their essentials at the closest places to a Walmart or Tesco that they can find: Home Ideal and D-Mart.  The wide, perplexingly organized, air-conditioned aisles and fixed prices soothe frazzled falang nerves. Just like when it comes to food shopping, they would much rather pay higher, clearly marked prices for everything, than figure out all 15 stalls they would have to visit to get everything on their shopping list.  Where else would they find nails, soap, dishtowels, and a new trashcan (all guaranteed to last less than two months) in time for their housewarming party?

That’s not to say that a trip to D-Mart or Home Ideal is a walk in the park.  Falang spend countless hours wandering the aisles of these establishments looking for that one randomly placed item on their shopping list. They don’t know how to ask for it in Lao and even if they did, the 20 staff on duty always look like they couldn’t be more unenthusiastic to help find sponges anyways.  This hunt inevitably involves walking from one expansive, perpetually unfinished corner to another, or even glancing with trepidation up the escalators to nowhere.  On the bright side, this can occasionally spark an exciting discovery of some unexpected imported item. Falang will then excitedly spread this news to everyone they know—Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Doritos at DMart!

If you are friends with a falang working for an NGO supporting eco-friendly, fair trade, or locally-sourced products, be sure to avoid mentioning their hypocrisy in frequenting Home Ideal.  This would certainly only serve to get you uninvited to said falang’s next happy hour gathering. The same goes for your falang friend who constantly complains about “China taking over” but is often spotted with DMart bags hanging from their motorbike. These falang will often try to deflect judgment in advance by saying “I hate that place, but I just had to get…”.  Nod sympathetically at how difficult it is to find coat hangers here, while refraining from pointing out the family owned minimart selling them across the street.

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20. Senglao

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Falang may scorn corruption but pirating of DVDs is one illegal activity that they enthusiastically condone. It allows them to keep up with the Oscar nominees and their guilty pleasure shows from back home while trapped in a country with internet too slow for streaming.  When the Hollywood dubbed in Thai becomes too much to bear, falang turn to Senglao for their primetime fix. Senglao is one of the essential first stops on the Vientiane tour for newly-arrived falang, and seasoned falang love to show new arrivals the folders and databases filled with movies and TV shows, for little more than a dollar per disc.  Falang greedily sweep up whole series of shows at a time, as cheap entertainment to make up for there being “nothing to do” in town. Some will spend their entire tenure in Laos not knowing its real name, and simply referring to it as “the DVD shop.”

By the end of their time in Laos, many falang own their own veritable DVD shops in the form of unmarked discs and plastic sleeves littering their living rooms. Cheap falang may try to pawn off these heaps at a discounted rate during going away parties, preying on new arrivals who will inevitably inherit piles of mismatched discs. Others try to bring home their collections as gifts–conversations about how many DVDs falang have managed to take through Australian customs is a staple happy hour conversation.

The DVD shop is safe small talk material among falang who often ask one another what’s new there, or speculate about how long it is until the latest blockbuster becomes available.  Experienced falang can be overheard complaining about how much longer it takes to get TV series than in the good old days.

Looking for some new falang acquaintances?  Head to the DVD shop on a Saturday or Sunday after brunch at Kung’s and they’ll probably be there, thumbing through folder 112 for some weekend entertainment.

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13. Stickys

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Perhaps one of the most iconic falang institutions of Vientiane, Sticky Fingers (or more affectionately, Stickys), is the place everyone hates to love.  Stickys represents every cliché that all falang seeking a “cultural experience” desperately try to avoid, yet its gravitational pull still manages to drag them in every Wednesday and Friday.

The siren call of half price cocktails is irresistible to all falang above (or somewhat below) the drinking age, be they WIG members, NGO “volunteers,” or international school students staff.  It’s the place to see and be seen…or see the people you’ve been trying to avoid.  It’s difficult to reconcile a love of Tom Yum Martinis with a desire not to make small talk with every falang you’ve ever been introduced to at an awkward house party.

On Fridays, arrive early or risk being relegated to the second floor, or to a blue plastic chair on the fringes of the patio.  Once your spot is secured, order a round of jugs.  It’s a great opportunity to “practice” Lao ordering skills with forgiving staff who will completely understand your Lao-glish.   Sit back, and enjoy identifying backpackers by their need to look at the menu on the roadside.  Occasionally, the wrong kind of falang will infiltrate Stickys but they are generally (thankfully) kept at bay by the sheer multitudes of cocktail-crazed falang.

Despite the clichés, it’s hard not to love Stickys.  Inevitably in a post-Vientiane life, falang will look back fondly on memories of times spent at this dimly lit, orange-walled hangout with nostalgia.  Or at least what they can still remember of it after three jugs of Passionfruit Margaritas.

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5. Phimphone and Simuang

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Between seeing people you would rather avoid at Joma and crafting your next happy hour tale of cultural misadventure, expat life in Vientiane can be downright demanding. At the end of a long workweek, the last thing falang want to do is navigate the abrasive sights and smells of the local market looking for dinner. Thankfully, a Western culinary oasis exists in the form of Phimphone and Simuang. Looking for fair-trade unbleached hand-milled buckwheat flour for your next dinner party dessert? If it exists in this town, you’re sure to find it at one of these two locations. Be sure to check out the noticeboards on your way in the door to find out the date of the WIG Bazaar or snag that perfect sectional sofa. If you’ve been to the field this week, or had a particularly stressful meeting with the Ministry of Energy and Mines, you should treat yourself to the imported, hermetically-sealed filet mignon. (You totally deserve it!)

Some incredibly advanced falang actually frequent the local markets for produce (but never meat). If you are one of these exemplary people, be sure not to mention it to other falang. It will just make them feel bad. Definitely do not mention the fact that you can buy a kilo of avocadoes in the street for the same price as a single one at Simuang. Some things are better kept to yourself…

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1. Joma

The perfect start to a falang day.

The perfect start to a falang day.

Although trendy falang hangouts are numerous these days, Joma will forever epitomize the falang lifestyle in Laos, and is an important core location in every falang’s introduction to expat life.  Falang love Joma for many reasons.  Coffee, pastries, and falang food are available on an English-only menu, which makes them feel at home.  Sometimes the food is even holiday-themed.  They are guaranteed to run into an acquaintance at Joma, which allows them to remark “what a small town!” and pat themselves on the back for being so well-connected.  There is wi-fi, which is essential for falang existence; this way they can post photos of their soy chai lattes, or the holiday-themed food to show friends at home what a novelty it is to celebrate common Western holidays in their new, exotic locale.  Joma is also socially-conscious, which allows falang to feel less guilty about spending the same amount on their coffee and snack that could be spent on days’ worth of food from the local market.  Can’t find your falang friend at Joma 2?  You should consider checking Common Grounds, Cafe Nomad, or Naked Espresso, and you’ll be almost guaranteed to spot them.

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