First impressions of Vientiane - Frangipani trees, black and white paint along the curbs of the pavements, and dozens of thick black cables strung between electricity poles. Heat and warmth, dust and then monsoonal rains. Palm trees, tin roofs, bamboo scaffolding, bumpy roads, wandering dogs, children waving as they ride past on bicycles, and people reaching out to squeeze my children's chubby arms.
It's not unlike many south east Asian cities but mostly, it reminds me of Sri Lanka.
Growing up in Colombo through the civil war the city seemed frozen in time; while noisy and chaotic, it was also peaceful and relaxed. Though I've since been back to visit and it's now a very bustling and cosmopolitan place, I always see it through the eyes of my younger self.
And when people described Vientiane to me before I arrived here, it sounded very much like my Colombo of old.
And so it is.
With a few differences of course (or where would the fun be?) Like the mighty Mekong which flows alongside the city with Thailand on the other side only half a kilometre away; the multitude of gold-crusted temples throughout the city; or the prevalence of fresh baguettes and paté, just a small part of the surviving French colonial culinary scene.
There's also petanque. A national past time also bequeathed by the French. Much as the older Hanoians play checkers, the Laotians play petanque (boules) in parks and streets, and in competitive sport.
Az recently went to a sports day with one of the local ministries. He opted to play badminton and table tennis but it was suggested that petanque may be more suitable for his... err, seniority. Ha, ha. Perhaps management are not often seen cavorting on courts when they could be engaged in more leisurely pursuits.
Or perhaps it's just that when in Vientiane...