Friday, April 9, 2010

Vientiane Laos

You can blame me; I was the one with the bright idea to take the night sleeper train up to Laos. I should have known something was up when our driver in Bangkok started to laugh when we told him our plans. He is from border town of Nong Khai, just on the edge of Friendship Bridge that crosses over into Laos. His advice was to take the air-conditioned bus. But we wanted the experience of a train so when Barbara, Ana, and I walked into the station to purchase our tickets all was set to go for the A/C sleeper car until I was informed that all the remaining beds were upper bunk and the ticket agent told me I was "too big for high bed" so we opted to the less expensive non A/C car to accommodate yours truly. The train departed at 8 pm sharp and was packed. Us night owls were eventually chased to the food/beverage car for a nightcap of warmly toasted cashews laced with onions and hot chili peppers and Thai beer. Still unable to go to sleep, I sat in my bed and wrote in my journal until we hit another station. I motioned a vendor from my window to bring me a bottle of beer and sure enough he did and he even ran after the train to hand me my change; what service!

Beverages on the train.

We arrived at the Nong Khai station by 10 am hardly rested and bug bitten. We had to catch a tuk-tuk to Friendship Bridge border crossing. This sign was the outgoing message from Thailand. We took a bus over the Mekong River into Laos to get our visas (about 45 minutes) then off to our hotel in Vientiane 20 km north. We were a little anxious to get into the 100-degree heat and explore the communist country. Mexican for lunch sounded like a good idea in theory but sadly the burritos were a culinary letdown. The Lao dinner later that evening was much better. For being a capital, Vientiane is a sleepy town moving at a gentle pace. We found it to be peaceful and laidback, the calm was welcoming.
Door at Wat Chan near our hotel.

The wires are definitely not buried in Vientiane.

Presidential Palace at dusk.

Yes, you do have to be a true man to drink one of Laos finest offerings. Sadly to say that I passed this one up. The Riverside Market where this photo was taken had some of the better prices in town for all your needs including maps to all the major cities in Laos. I would recommend picking up the ever so detailed Hobo Map for all your Laos traveling needs. You can visit them at
If you consume too much True Manhood and Beerlao and you drive a motorbike this is a glimpse of your future.

25 km south of Vientiane lies the 8th wonder of the world, Buddha Park aka Xieng Khuan situated on the Mekong. There are over 200 statues (though not all Buddha) many seem to reference Hinduism merged with Buddhism (at least that is what I remember from hanging out with the Hare Krishnas back in the day). Represented are: gods, demons, humans, and animals. The park is the work of brainchild/visionary Luang Pu in 1958, all the detailed and oversized sculptures are made of cement with the intentions to look older than they appear. To a degree, the insparition/madness reminds me of Howard Finsters Paradise Garden in Summerville Georgia...though not as feverishly constructed. The giant pumpkin sculpture Ana is at the base of is a three level structure representing hell, earth, and heaven. We were tempted to enter and climb our way up to heaven but the fear of a potential cobra or spider encounter in hell prevailed.
One of the many sculptures.

A favorite.

The 40 meter reclining Buddha observes the madness.

I'm sure there's a story somewhere.

What can you say.

Pha That Luang, according to Lonely Planet it is the most significant Laos monument representing Lao sovereignty and the Buddhist religion constructed in the 16th century. It was damaged during invasions and restored in 1900.

Sayset-thathirath statue

Inside the gates of Pha That Luang

A sculpture inside Pha That Luang

Didn't get the name but it was on the same compound of Pha That Luang

Again, I was camera happy and didn't get any info but was blown away by the number of paintings inside the Wat/temple.

A monk after prayer.

Patu Xay outside Patuxay park.

That Dam situated in the downtown area. Word was that it was once covered in gold and the Siamese (people not the cats) swiped it. Another myth has it that it was a seven head dragon that came to life to protect the locals during the Siamese-Lao war during the 1800's

A view from our hotel of communist dollars (KIP) hard at work along the Mekong.

Other places worth a visit would be the Talat Sao Morning Market next to the Talat Sao mall and be sure to visit the Ethnic Crafts Market across the street. The bus station is also in the vicinity and handy for catching a ride to all the sights worth seeing. The National Museum was a little dated and could use a fresh coat of paint. There was quite a bit of information form a Lao perspective on the French Indochina war dating from 1946-1954 leading to the United States involvent in South East Asia often referring to the U.S. as "American Imperialists." Somehow the Hmong (Lao mountain people) were convientely left out of the equation. Something else worth mentioning are the ladies of the evening who gather around the restaurants on Setthathirath Road, they tend to approach you by saying "where you go?" Our visit to Vientiane was short, I would advise 3 days to get a better fill.

1 comment:

  1. The Xieng Khuan looks amazing. I hope to see some of these things someday. What a great trip. Thanks again for the tile.