Another journey in Laos and another incident. This time, we were rolling down to the capital, Vientiane, and as usual, there is the mysterious third lane that appears in the middle of the road for passing. The Asian drivers see it, but we don't! Anyway, we are doing exactly this, when a very large truck coming the other way has a tyre blow out, right next to our vehicle. I swear, it sounded and felt like a bomb!! Eardrums nearly burst,and lots of dust and dirt entered the open windows of our van, and given the area we are in, I think most people thought it was a bomb, apart from our driver who just grinned from ear to ear!
Anyway, once again found a great place to stay. As with everywhere else in Laos, if you upgrade just slightly, you get fantastic value for money. We stayed in Vayakorn Guest House which is more like a semi-plush hotel with most mod-cons, and we were again on the top floor. Great place to watch the late evening storm that again hit the area on our 2nd day there. Perfect for us, after a hot day of sightseeing and certainly cools things down. But on a not so good note, when we arrived we saw lots of ancient teak trees had fallen by the Mekong River which flows through here as well (we can not get away from it!) and some had even fallen on cars and houses in the main street. A quick read of the Vientiane Times showed us that the day before, they really had had a big storm. One of the biggest in years (but it was not the one that had hit us in Vang Vieng).
Some of the highlights - well Vientiane is a pretty charming place, by the river, and it has some beautiful french buildings, in fact it almost models itself as a small Paris with wide boulevards, and its attempt at the Arc. See photos for this one, but the Patuxai as it is called is actually pretty ugly up close, but the Laos signs for the place openly admit it. They are pretty relaxed and open about most things. The sign says, that Patuxai as you get closer 'resembles a concrete monstrosity!' And in true Laos style, the Patuxai was actually built in 1962 from cement that the US left behind. The US had been going to use it to build an airport!
Even though it is a charming place, there is one downside to Vientiane - the open sewer pits right in the middle of footpaths, and they are big enough to swallow a person whole!! Not a good way to go on a darkly lit street.
We only visited two wats, one was the main wat in all of Laos, the Pha That Luang, which is very golden in the late afternoon sun, but not much to say about that one except that from any distance it looks more like golden missiles! Like most temples in these parts, it has been rebuilt last century after Thai and Chinese ransacking of the 19th century. We did, however, meet a very cheerful young monk there who wanted to practise his english. His name was Novice Bouysome. Given his age, Novice will be added to his name for some time yet! And we visited a very beautiful Wat Si Saket which managed to survive the ransackings. This place had 6,840 buddhas no less! Most of them tiny ones built in niches.
A personal highlight for me was the visit to the Laos National Museum (previously known as the Revolutionary Museum) and perhaps it should still be called that. For after a brief introduction to Laos in the 'early' years, its welcome to the communist struggle! Pretty much the language used from the 1940s onwards to describe events and photos is US imperialists and their puppets, loyal cadres, royalist stooges, comrades and peasant armies versus profiteering traitors! It really is in fact excellent stuff, and at least gave us the chance to see things from the other side so to speak (but anyone who knows my politics would probably understand why I say that!)
and we went with Heather to a very strange (and amusing) place called Xieng Khuan (or Buddha Park by the locals). This place was started in 1958 by Luang Pu, a self proclaimed yogi/shaman/priest who used sculpture to intermarry Buddhism and Hinduism. The park is full of immense statues of Buddha and Hindu deities. Great for photography. It is about 23 kms from town and on the Mekong looking out to Nong Khai in Thailand, where in fact Luang Pu moved to and created another temple park, after he fled from the communist revolution who might not have looked too kindly on his artwork!
On the way back to town, we had to stop off at the Beer Lao brewery. We had been tasting this lovely brew all the way through the country, so thought it was the very least we could do. Unfortunately, the last tour had finished for the day, but they very kindly provided us with enough free beer to put a smile on our faces! A thoroughly good day was rounded off by a traditional Lao feast! One of very many meals we enjoyed with Heather over the last week. It was sad to say goodbye when we finally headed for Thailand.
Oh and of course, one very big highlight in Vientiane was that I got to see Liverpool win (somewhat luckily) the FA Cup. Over several beers on cable TV in the hotel room. Excellent.
It is also sad to say goodbye to Laos. It has been our favourite country so far, with beautiful scenery and relaxed laid back people. Their attitude can perhaps be summed up by some of the t-shirts that they wear, taking the mick out of one of their sayings that they use to confuse tourists! 'Same same, but different!' Its the Laos way to describe most things!