Laos, the ancient landlocked country in the north of Thailand has been picked as our first destination for the New Year. As a part of French Indochina, Laos drifted into Communism of which it hasn't emerged yet!
Besides being a Mekong-Region country (China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam), Laos is also a member of ASEAN and held recently the ASEAN-Games, a Sports event that drew hundreds of spectators from all other Asian countries participating in this. Hundreds of medals were won just like with a mini Olympiad. We thought the hype faded, but were wrong with this assumption. Guesthouses and Hotels jacked up their prices for the event, but "forgot" to lower them back two weeks after the last foreign athlete and spectator had left Laos.
The Patouxay Monument is a much visited sight in Vientiane, it can be climbed for a small fee and offers a good view of Vientiane. Come early or late afternoon to get fried by the scorching sun up there!
That Luang is the name of the hallmark building of the capital. It is a Stupa which was completely covered in Gold colored paint. The national pride building appears indeed impressive, the closer one gets to it and it is visible from quite a distance away. On prior trips to Laos, the Tuktuks brought you right up to the gates - nowadays they ferry you to a large parking lot and let you walk the last Kilometer through a park like showcase of Laotian landscaping and gardening, quite nice though with plenty of benches to rest.
Laos equivalent and namesake Wat Phra Keauw (pictured below) is a temple with a variety of artefacts in their different stages of erosion and repair. 5000 Kip they charge a foreigner admission per head, quite acceptable as we thought.
Artefacts include different style Buddhist deities, as we are used from the displays in Thailand.
The black colored Buddha figurine is one of them:
Theravada Buddhism, as being practiced by the majority of Thais, is also dominant with their northern neighbors. The artefacts and Buddha statues document that for the viewer and photographer here.
There are plenty of temples that survived previous communist rage and riots, much like with the Cambodians, the states rulers did not always accepted or liked the idea of a religion, interfering with peoples minds.
Only a strong followership made Buddhism survive Communism in the neighboring former Indochina colonies of France during the recent decades.
Gold is surely the favorite color, as it is to be spotted on almost all statues. Walks through Vientiane's temples offer an abundance of opportunities for videographers and photographers. Laotians here are very friendly and helpful to foreigners, they don't see us just as a medium to fill their pockets. Our general impression was very positive and refreshingly different from the ones we made in Thailand at centers for tourism recently.
Proof and evidence of vandalism throughout our Vientiane trip was plentiful. We couldn't figure out if disgruntled youth or debrained Communist "task forces" were to be held responsible for this. It is however sad to see what idiots did to pieces of art and religious statues:
The law enforcers in town were too busy issuing tickets at the traffic intersections and overall, a much lower presentation of uniformed police was felt and appreciated. Other than harm to a temple's possessions, we did not once witness any offensive Laotian people or motorcycle rowdies on the roads. Everything seems to go at a more relaxed pace and you see more senior citizens on the pedestrian walkways then elsewhere.
Plenty of figurines must just have been sponsored a fresh coat of paint, and their presence surrounded by nature within a capital city are inspiring and can lead to daydreaming of a photographic minded person, there is so much to document here!
Major roads and avenues are now blacktopped and the red dust of the past, which was dominant in a city that consisted once of dirt roads and lousy asphalt excuses are a thing of the past. Pedestrian walkways downtown are smoother than in Bangkok and traffic signals are obeyed by the motoring folks. Signage to all attractions is given and visible, the whole of downtown can be discovered on foot or with a rented bicycle. Guesthouses are everywhere but they concentrate in the Namphu fountain area and at That Dam temple.
Thalat Sao is a focal point in Vientiane, it hosts a mall and the bus terminal for a good percentage of the buses arriving and departing in Vientiane. A trip to the Friendship bridge costs 5.000 Kip one way. The buses have also improved a lot, but the new train service Nong Khai to Thanaleng and back twice daily for 20 Baht improves the border crossings significantly. SIAMPEDIA will issue an extra report on this great train service from Thailand to Laos.
That Dam is another stupa downtown Vientiane near Talat Sao and not far from all sights. We stayed at the Wonderland 2 GH and paid under 1.000 Baht per night for a family room with A/C, cable TV and a small fridge.
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© Frank P. Schneidewind