Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
The area around Khua Din and adjacent Talat Sao markets is probably the busiest market area around Vientiane. With the city’s main bus terminal situated in between, it is a lively hub of non-stop commercial interchange of people and goods.
More famous of the two and catering to both tourists and locals is Talat Sao. Made up of several connecting multi-level buildings in a not so organized or visually pleasing way, it’s more modern sections can be entered from the city’s famous Lane Xang Avenue and around the corner on Khu Vieng Road. Once you walk through the modern mall-like section, you’ll find yourself navigating along narrower and narrower paths where stores begin to blend into crowed stalls with open gutters along your path and you’ll know that you’ve found yourself now in the original traditional market section of the labyrinth. But you’ll be pleased with the somewhat cheaper prices of silks, wood carvings and trinkets.
But if you’re looking for where the locals really shop and where prices are even lower still, exit the back side of Talat Sao, cross the wide but busy Nongbone Road over to Khua Din market. Part of the fun of going to Khua Din market is finding the hidden entrance into the dark caverness interior. If someone didn’t take me there, I would have missed it. Tucked in between two buildings, the entrance is a dark narrow alley just as jammed packed with people as the sidewalk leading to it so that if you didn’t know what to look for, it just becomes part of the chaos and you’ll walk right pass it.
What makes it even harder to find this entrance is the multitude of things you’re trying to take in and process in your mind: the scorching heat, the tones of a completely new language, the garbage you must step around, strange fruits and food – especially the huge bowls of larvae and brown cocoons next to oval purple fruit that look like rocks, and the people laughing, negotiating, peeling, selling, stacking, rushing, sleeping…
Through the alley passed the smoking grilled meats and innards, steaming pots of spicy soups and vegetables curiously followed by tables of silver jewelry vendors, the market opens into piles among piles of textiles. Cottons, wools, silks, weaved, embellished – it’s all here by the bolt. It’s dark and hot and if you’re squeamish about exposed cobwebbed ceilings revealing seemingly untenable cross beams precariously strewn with electrical wiring, then do.not.look.up!
The “drive-in” entrance to Khua Din is also off of Nongbone Street and can be just as difficult to find with all the cars, trucks, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and wooden push carts crowding around it’s opening. This is where I took the photos in my last post about Khua Din. Once you turn in, the road will appear to be just wide enough for one-way traffic but you’ll quickly learn that it is not because it is normal to pass very close to each other here and some how you will squeeze through (hopefully unscathed). To turn around, however, you just have to keep driving, take a right and loop around the parking lot to come back out.
I was really intimidated by Khua Din market the first several times I went there. The merchants are serious because I think they’re used to businesses coming through purchasing in bulk so they don’t have much time to haggle with my stumbling in Lao trying to nickel and dime them over one small item. But I think I have the hang of the place now to go back and just explore, to see more than the initial state of confusion permitted. I’ll still try to haggle but maybe just enough to joke around, get a smile, and permission for some more photos of the most vibrant areas in Vientiane.