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Sandwiched between Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, Laos is a destination often overlooked by tourists. Marko and Alex are uncovering the hidden gem of Vientiane, the capital city, to see what goes on in this sleepy town beside the Mekong River.

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- ♪ Drink a little rum ♪ ♪ Sip a little Beerlao ♪ ♪ Get down tonight ♪ ♪ Get down tonight ♪ - I'm Marko. - I'm Alex. - [Both] And we're the Vagabrothers. - We love traveling and a little brotherly competition. - So, we're crossing the globe and putting our local trivia skills to the test. - To see who's spending 24 hours livin' like a baller - And who's pinching pennies. - [Both] This is Basic Versus Baller. - Welcome to Laos, one of the coolest countries in Southeast Asia and definitely one of the cheapest. - Sandwiched between Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos is often overlooked by tourists, but it's a hidden gem. - In this episode, we'll be exploring Vientiane, the capital city located on the mellow Mekong river, which really does set the pace of life here. - You don't need a lot of money to live like a king in Laos, but to find out which of us is on a budget and which of us is balling, it's time for some competition. - Wow, we are in Laos. - Sabaidee, brother. How are you? - Sabaidee. Good. - Welcome to Vientiane. This is an awesome city. - I am roasting, steaming, sweltering, poaching. It is so hot, but I am stoked to be here. I've never been here before. I've heard good things from you. - Yeah, I was here nine years ago as a budget backpacker, and I'm hoping that this time I might win a higher budget to experience another side of the country. - But in order to do that, we have to have a little bit of friendly brotherly competition. - Let's get into it. How many miles long is the Mekong River? How confident do you feel about this? - Pretty confident. Relatively confident. Actually, I'm not really that confident at all, but I'm pretending to be. - You look it. - Thank you. - Okay, okay, okay. Congratulations. I hope you enjoy all the splendor of Laos, and hopefully we'll catch up for a beer sometime. - Definitely, man. - Alright. - I hope you have a good time as well. I know that you know your way around this city and you know your way around a budget and a backpack, so catch you on the flip side. - See you soon. - For a ballin' budget, 600 bucks may not seem high, but for Vientiane, it'll feel luxurious. I mean, I'm in a vintage British taxi cab on the way to my French Colonial hotel. Thank you very much. - [All] Sabaidee. - Sabaidee. - Welcome to Settha Palace Hotel. - Thank you. - May I give you the . - Oh, wow, this smells amazing. - This is our national flower we call champa. - It's pretty awesome. Right when you come in, they hit you with a pretty amazing spread. This is a beautiful building. It's from the 1930s, and back in the 1930s, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were all part of French Indochina. So, this building has been around for a while, and I am so excited to stay here. Oh, this is regal. This executive suite has hosted many a international dignitary. Let's take a look at the bedroom. Oh, master bedroom. This is so beautiful. It's like traveling back in time. Look at this armoire. Palm trees, check. Pool, check. Yes, I'm gonna get in that pool. - Alright, well, the ominous rain clouds have arrived. The annual monsoon has just started dumping on the country. It's raining like cats and dogs. I'm in a tuk tuk, which is the primary form of cheap transportation around Southeast Asia. I'm really interested in seeing how Vientiane has changed in the last 10 years, and hopefully I've learned something in the last decade of travel. Sabaidee. - Sabaidee. - Hello, my name is Marko. - I'm Anna. Nice to meet you. - Nice to meet you. I have a reservation. - Marko for two nights. - That's it. - Okay, we have free breakfast every morning, and we have also happy hour with free whiskey. - Free whiskey? - Yeah. - No way. - And free beer also. - Free beer and free whiskey? - Yeah. - I love it. That's awesome. Should we go to the room? - Yeah. I'll show you the room. - Thank you. Okay. - This is the bed number. - Okay, perfect. Thank you very much. - Okay. - Alright. - See you later. - Thank you. - Khop jai. - Khop jai lai lai. Okay, so pretty basic, but a simple four-bed dorm room. You can tell from the light fixtures on the walls that this originally had eight beds in here. So, it's a little bit more private. I have stayed in a 10-bed dorm room last time I was here in Vientiane, so this is basically luxury. And at eight bucks a night, it really opens up my budget to do a lot more exploring, and there's a locker for my belongings. So, I think it's time to throw my bag underneath the locker and go check out Vientiane. But first things first, free beer. Nice to meet you guys. How do you say cheers in Lao? - Yeah. - That's the most important word to learn in any language. - Or the other one that's acceptable too is sok dee, which is good luck. - Okay, nice. So, how long have you guys been in Laos for? - A week. - Yeah? What do you think so far? - I like it, very nice. - It's very relaxed. - Yeah. - How long have you been in Laos? - 11 years. - 11 years? - Yeah. - [Marko] What do you like the most? - The people. - Yeah? - The people, the people are genuine, they're happy. - So, do you have any tips on where I should go check out right now? - Generally, the night market at night, but during the day, basically explore. - Sounds good. Thank you, man. Cheers. - My pleasure, cheers. - How do you say cheers? - Oh, Southeast Asia is the land of the affordable massage, but when you're ballin, you gotta take it up a notch. It's time to get the rub down. After achieving total relaxation, I'm in a giving mood. - Yo, dude. - Hey. - Nice place. - I know. Take a seat, hungry? - Yeah, and this place is sick. - Noi, the chef, grew up in a small community off grid in the south of the country. All of the recipes are from her grandma. They're all committed to memory. She goes to the market every morning, gets all the ingredients fresh, and I ordered a lot of food. - I'm into it. - Yeah. - [Marko] Let the feast begin. - [Alex] Oh, wow. - So, what have you ordered here? This looks amazing. - Alright, to start off, we're gonna have some lemongrass. They've basically twisted it and stuffed it with pork and glass noodles. But then this, it's a river weed. Dig in. - Awesome, let's do it. I think I'm gonna start with the river weed. - This is amazing. - I can dig it. Whoa, should we try the other one? - I'm not gonna lie, I saw this on the menu and I was like I need this in my life. - This is so good. Wow. - [Alex] Okay, these are these foraged mushrooms. - A fish soup here. - Fish soup. - Thank you. - Thank you very much. - I don't know if I'm sweating because of the weather or because of the spiciness of the food. - Probably both. - Yeah, it's a pretty brutal one, two punch, but it's totally worth it. - And it also means that I get to eat the rest of the food if you're just gonna be sitting there sweating... - Well, especially if you're just digging your paw in there. - You have to. - Come on, man. - That's how you do it, you do it with the hand. - It's the last time I buy you dinner. - I'll be alright. Yeah, last time I was here, the only mushrooms that were being served were on top of pizzas. They were called happy pizzas. If you had a slice of that in the middle of the day, it would seriously alter your afternoon. This is different. - Is it? - Bro, thank you so much. Awesome experience. I appreciate it. - Cheers, buddy. Hello, good morning. Oh my gosh, it smells amazing in here. And you have a flat white. Can I have a flat white, please? Thank you. I love this old school coffee roaster. Well, it is a super rainy morning here in Laos. We are here during the rainy season. There's a typhoon on the way, but there's no better way to start a rainy day than hunkering down in a beautiful little coffee shop. Oh, thank you. Khop jai. Oh my god. Thank you so much. Oh, it's a heart? That's really nice. That's how you know it's good. It doesn't get better than this. Sittin' around at a cafe staring at nothing in particular, wasting time, but enjoying every moment. - Ah, good morning. For my eight dollar a night room, breakfast is included, and Laos is part of what's called the banana pancake trail because there's a lot of foreign backpackers who eat bananas and pancakes together. It kinda makes you feel at home, and coffee's included. So, not a bad deal so far. But either way, I have a fun day planned. I'm gonna just go explore the city. I think one of the great things about Laos is that you don't have to do a specific activity to have fun. The whole thing here is just about going out exploring and just watching life pass by. - Khop jai. There's a famous site on the outskirts of town that requires a bit of a drive, but being the baller that I am, my chariot was ready and waiting. Hello, greetings. We're here at the Buddha Park, built in 1958 by a Buddhist monk named Bunleua. He also studied Hinduism, and when he built this place, he blended both Buddhist and Hindu gods into one giant open air museum full of really awesome statues. So, let's go check it out. One of the main attractions of the Buddha Park is the Buddha, but what I find to be the most interesting part of this park is not just the Buddha, but the rest of the Hindu gods who are here as well. There's Vishnu, there's Shiva, there's demons, there's humans, there's gods and animals alike. For me, one of the coolest parts about coming to the Buddha Park is the fact that for most Westerners, we really do associate Southeast Asia with Buddhism when, in fact, Buddhism originated in India with a Hindu prince named Siddhartha. So, before he was the Buddha, he was a Hindu. And it's really interesting to come here, to be able to kinda wander around, and to make a physical and visual connection between these two amazing religions. The main attraction at the Buddha Park is that giant pumpkin looking thing behind me, but it's not a pumpkin. It's a physical representation of the three levels of the world: hell, the Earth, and heaven. And the coolest part is that you can go inside. Let's go. - Like much of Southeast Asia, Laos has very very inexpensive massages. The foot massages, in particular, are really really good because you can sit back, read a book, even drink a beer, and they're only five bucks for an hour. That is if you can actually stand an hour of accupressure on your most sensitive part of the body. - Alright, it's lunchtime, and even though I'm balling, Southeast Asia has so much incredible affordable food. So, I have popped into a place called Kung's Cafe. So, I heard that the food is spectacular. Oh my gosh. The rice is a little heart. Thank you. Oh my gosh, this green curry looks stellar, and... - Coffee coconut. - Coffee and coconut. Oh, yes. Khop jai. - Khop jai. - Thank you. This looks so good. We got the stir fried pork with sweet basil and we have a bowl of beautiful green curry. Looks great. Minced up there there's some garlic in there, there's the sweet basil, maybe a carrot or two. Mmm. I think I could just move here. This is a great spot to be an ex-pat, but now for what I am most excited about, the green curry. Oh, wow, this looks and smells incredible. Look at that. Mmm. It's so simple. A little bit spicy, which is nice. Mm, and washing it all down with this coconut coffee combo? It does not get much better than this. - Okay, so right now I'm at Wat Sisaket. This is the oldest wat or Buddhist temple here in Vientiane. Wats are a great place for a budget traveler because, for the most part, they're entirely free. This is a place where Buddhist monks come to meditate, there are statues of the Buddha, and it's generally an open place for anybody who's interested in Buddhism. On a rainy day like this, simply sitting under the awnings, listening to the rain fall, staring at these beautiful sculptures of the Buddha, it's a great way to pass an afternoon. What I love about this part of the world is how all the wats have this crazy architecture with these upward sloping roofs. And they have these dragons on the corners. The dragons are basically river spirits. It's a really cool architectural style, the Buddhas are all plated in gold, and the monks walk around in these really bright orange robes with shaved heads. It's a really distinctive look, and it's something that you only really find in Southeast Asia. It's been one rainy trip so far, and I think we've both had enough of the rain. It's time for a different kind of friendly brotherly competition. I may have not won the trivia, but it's safe to say I kill it in the flare category. In any case, it's time to celebrate with a visit to the night market. Alright, so it's dinnertime here in Laos. There's a bunch of street vendors behind me. I'm gonna get a selection of foods, and I probably won't even spend five bucks. There's tons of local Laos dishes including larp. There's liver, there's beef, there's duck, but I'm gonna go for the snails. I don't know what it's gonna taste like, but I'm sure it's high in protein and it certainly is cheap, so we're havin' a feast tonight. Sabaidee. Alright, this is pretty good. One. Alright, the key to communicating in Asia is a few basic words and some body language. In this case, I seem to have managed to order dinner. I got the heart and I got basically a breast arm combo. Wow, and it's wrapped in a banana leaf. It's the original saran wrap. An important word to learn in any language is thank you, and here it's khop jai lai lai. - [Vendor] Khop jai. - Oh, really good. Let's go eat. Oh, okay, dinnertime. This is the chicken hearts right here. Oh, super delicious. Really rich in vitamin iron? I have no idea. Mmm, great. This is the all-star of today's dinner. Very lightly seasoned and barbecued to perfection. Mmm, really good. I've eaten some funky stuff at these night markets before. The last time I was here, a family invited me into their house and then fed me partially fermented duck embryo. That was wild. I was peer pressured to eat the whole thing. Anyways, I got some snail larb. Here we go. Whoa. Honestly, I don't know if I'd order that again. That is seriously funky. I'm gonna stick with the chicken. This tastes way better. Just got a message from my brother asking to meet up at the Mekong River. Sounds good. Gonna finish this and go meet Alex for a drink. What a view. - Yeah. - The Mighty Mekong. - Yeah, man. - The locally made rum. Cheers, brother. - I have had such a great time in Laos, and to be completely honest, I didn't know what to expect. But it has been such a mellow, recharging experience. - Yeah, it's very mellow here. There's a saying that says that the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the Laotians just listen. And I think that's very true. It's a very much a destination that's all about chillin out. You can really just spend your time looking at the Mekong, chilling out in a Buddhist wat, you know? - [Alex] Yes. Tell me about balling here in Laos. - Highlight of the trip for sure was the slow food meal with you. The traditional food was so yummy. The fact that we could share that together? - So good? - So good. - You really don't have to spend a lot of money and you don't have to do a lot of things. It's the simple pleasures. It's one or two dollars for a great meal at a street side place with plastic chairs. It's Beerlao, which is a great beer and costs a dollar. Awesome. - [Alex] Hashtag not sponsored. - Not sponsored, just love it. Okay, so I have an idea. We are leaving tomorrow, we have to get rid of our local cash, I know you definitely have some leftover, and there is something that happens every morning here called Tak Bhat. It's when locals give alms to Buddhist monks. So, I'm thinking maybe you take the extra cash and buy some sticky rice and donate it to the monks in the morning. - In the name of good karma, I will do all of those things happily. - Alright, cheers. Alright, it's been fun, brother. Sabaidee. Virtually all young men in Laos shave their heads and join a monastery at some point in their lives. - Every morning at dawn, a procession of saffron robed monks walk silently from their temples to collect offerings from the faithful. And as we humbly knelt before the monks, it was a reminder that for all our competition over bigger budgets, there are some things money can't buy.

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