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dangoestolaos: part 2: vientiane

April 9, 2012

Vientiane is the modern capital and the largest city in Laos. It doesn’t look or feel like a capital city, compared to Saigon, it’s much less crowded and much more relaxed. Life tends to move at a slower pace here in Laos, and the differences between Laos and Vietnam are pretty apparent even at a glance. Take a look at the picture below: there are more cars on the streets here than anywhere in Vietnam. There’s a lot more space here then in Vietnam.

Album here, and more after the break!

We flew into Vientiane in the early evening and it was dark by the time we made it into the city center. Our first goal was to find a place to stay.

The guest house we found in Vientiane was one of the nicer ones we stayed at on the trip. It had shared bathrooms, which were annoying, but it also had a killer porch. The price was ~60,000 kip a night, which is less than $10 dollars.

Our hotel was on one of the three main tourist streets, all of which end very close to the Mekong River. There’s a very large public walkway down the length of the Mekong, with parks and night markets on the side.

Across the Mekong is Nong Khai, Thailand. You can see a few of the large number of tourists here.

Because this was during the dry season, the Mekong was at a low point. You could walk out across the river’s flood plain to the edge.

Buddhism is still incredibly relevant in Laos. One of the major ways that lower class Lao people can afford education is by sending their kids to live and study in Buddhist schools. These young Buddhists may not be wearing these robes after they graduate from school.

At a public park along the walkway, there was a statue of a Lao folk hero. Of particular note here is Lao script, which still remains in its traditional form for both letters and numbers.

We visited a larger market near the city center. These fabrics are all used for the traditional Lao dress, where women where a full skirt with the signature thick stripe at the bottom.

Local woodwork is easy to find in markets everywhere here. The elephant in particular is a popular subject, it’s a national symbol that the Lao people take particular pride in.

See? This isn’t the last time we’ll talk about elephants on this trip.

Buddhist wats, or temples, are everywhere in Vientiane. We visited Wat Si Saket, a wat that served as both a temple and a museum. This happy Nāga, a snake deity associated with the Mekong River, is guarding the place.

An English plaque telling about the history of Wat Si Saket.

Wat Si Saket has over 10,000 Buddhas? That can’t be right, can it?

I guess it can… let’s take a closer look at those little alcoves…

Yup! Each alcove holds not one, but two little Buddhas!

While photography was forbidden inside the main temple chambers, a look inside the temple library shows the level of work put into the temple.

A look down one of the main streets. Yeah, that’s right, this is a main street in a capital city. Still, the number of cars was astounding after Vietnam.

Further down the main street is a large public square with a major fountain.

Photographers take pictures of tourists at the fountain. But what is all of this for?

Welcome to the Patuxay, a central war memorial dedicated to Lao soldiers, especially those who won independence from France. It’s squat, uninspiring presence is like a concrete monster. And that’s what’s on the tourist plaque:

A fun fact: money given to Laos by the US government to build an airport during the Vietnam war was actually used to build the Patuxay. Fighting communism!

A further-away short of the Patuxay.

The arched roof inside, with Buddhist and traditional Lao imagery.

Buddha is everywhere here, including inside little windows.

Inside the top of the Patuxay there is a… gift shop!

Theo looks down over the edge of the Patuxay.

Hey Buddha!

The streets to our side. Again, I have to emphasize this: this is in the mid-afternoon in the capital city. Laos is not very crowded.

Tourists down in the plaza below us.

But let’s go all the way up to the top!

At the top of the Patuxay, Buddha helps us look out over Vientiane.

Also at the top: a shrine with… questionable incense.

A global constant: wherever you are, if there’s something you can write your name on, someone else has already done it.

Coming back down the Patuxay, we see the storage for crumbling parts of the monuments: under the stairs.

We spent three days Vientiane, and got to see a fair amount of what the city offered, including getting mildly lost and taking an impromptu bike tour over a good bit of the city. One of the places we visited that I don’t have any pictures of was the COPE center, a medical and therapeutic center dedicated to helping the victims of unexploded ordinance, or UXO. During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped cluster munitions over Southern Laos, because the Ho Chi Minh trail cut through Laos. Because of the naturally spreading nature of cluster munitions, UXO are located far and wide all over rural areas in Southern Laos. People of all ages are still being injured and killed when they inadvertently discover UXO. Because of the extremely low penetration of modern medical services in rural areas of Southeast Asia, victims cannot receive any sort of therapy, assistance or prosthesis for their wounds. The COPE center is dedicated to providing these services for victims of UXO all over Laos, and covers the costs of travel and prosthesis for those who cannot afford it. It’s an extremely sobering place: these people are victims of a war that ended almost forty years ago, but COPE center is doing everything it can to help them.

NEXT TIME: We travel to a rural land of incredible sights and touristy attractions.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Dad permalink
    April 11, 2012 7:06 am

    HI Dan, Very interesting. Thank you.

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