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Vientiane

25 Mar
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Vientiane

It is said about Vientiane that it may be the most peaceful capital in the world. The streets are calm, the traffic is limited and lazy and is hot. The dinner I had at Cote d’Azur was great with soup of fish cooked Provencal by made out of dried fish and some kind of beef flambe, very tasty. I walked latter on the streets and I got to see the new hotel, Don Chan Palace, built with Malaysian contribution, the only tall building, besides the stupas, that exists in Vientiane. It is located off center, on the Mekong but inside it looks “Chinese luxurious”, meaning kind of bland and with no traits. Just a lobby with nothing, so different from the hotels built by Europeans and Americans architects. I left the hotel and went to take a walk on the Mekong, not a good move because is dark, so after a while I met some guards with a gun who asked me to go back because it is dark and it may be a little dangerous , no matter that in Vientiane crime is almost non existent. So I walked back and continued to walk to the hotel on the main promenade, towards my hotel that was closing the doors at 11:30pm. When I booked they did not have single rooms and I asked for a double room with bathroom, so they looked suspicious and they told me that the hotel closes at 11:30pm and …. no visitors. Laos, like most of the countries in SE Asia, is a major destination for sex-tourism and after dark, like In Thailand or Vietnam, the street is populated by a different crowd that congregate around the guest houses and hotels frequented by foreigners.

During the evening I was trying to book a train to BKK for the next day but the offices were closed. I was convinced that is no problem to find a berth and I was wrong because the next morning when I started more convinced to do it, there were no more AC berths available, just with fans. I hesitated and latter on when I checked there were none left, the entire train being booked including first class. So I bought a bus ticket, that had some advantages, one of them was that brings you directly to Kao Sarn Road so I did not have to schlep my luggage from the train station. In the morning trying to find seats on the train, I got to a guest house where I tried to make a booking. One guy who was at the reception asked me where I want to go and I said that I will go with a tuk-tuk directly to Pha That, that is a stupa famous in Laos, the symbol of the country that is also on the national flag. He said that he will go with me for free on his motorbike because he is a student in English and wants to practice the language. So, still waiting for an answer for the tickets, we left and visited the stupa located in the northern part of the town. Very interesting and beautiful, the stupa was full with people from Thailand who came in a weekend visit to Vientiane. I shot some video and I noticed a blemish that I did not notice before on the filter. After I figured out how to clean my viewfinder I noticed that the blemish is still there so I had to replace the filter with the UV one and shoot again. We visited also the two temples nearby and we left to their Arch located in a park close by, that is the symbol of the city. I climbed in the arch for a great view of the city, that as I assumed is flat with no tall buildings. After this visit we left back to the guesthouse where he dropped me and left to school and I continued to investigate for my ticket. In the end not finding anything I bought from my guesthouse a bus ticket, that also had the advantage that instead of 15:00 they were picking me up at 17:00, extending my time in Vientiane for 2 more hours. I started around 11:00 the tour of the city, that is small enough in terms of attractions to be covered in 4-6 hours. I went to the market and I had some great shakes, looking through the overpriced items sold there. In Laos the asked prices are much higher than in the other countries in Asia, and you have to bargain hard to get to the real price. I bought another milk shake and I went to visit two important wats, Wat Phre Kaw and Wat Si Saket. the first housing now a museum of religious objects and the other is the oldest wat in Vientiane. Most of the wats in Vientiane were destroyed in various wars in the 19th centuries and rebuilt in the 20th century, sometimes in a different style than the original. From there I continued to see an old stupa and several other temples, chatting with the monks that are kids getting their education in the wats, this being for many of them, country boys, the only way they can afford. All of them study English hoping to become guides and they want to practice, so they come to you to talk in English, asking mainly the same questions, where are you from, how many days in Laos, etc. I chatted with them everytime the possibility came by. Following my way to the other temples, that more or less look and feel the same, most of the having the “sim”, main building, built in Siamese style, I passed by a handicraft store where I purchased on the spot a great hmong wedding jewelry. Great stuff that I could not find anywhere else! I got another shake to cool off the heat, it was very hot in Vientiane, and continued my tour and at 4:30pm I went to the hotel to change, pack and be ready for the bus.

The minibus came at 5:00pm and picked me up and several others to the border, where we exited Laos and got in the no main land. We left our luggage in the bus that is a two tiered one with super AC and reclining seats and we waited one hour tlll 7:00pm for the bus to leave. I chatted with a German student from Mainz and two Japanese sisters from Okinawa, one of them impressed me a lot because she spoke English extremely well with the high school vocabulary all the kids in America have. I asked her if she studied in the States and she said that she studied one year in high school. The kids are like sponges and they absorb right away. She was not perfectly fluent but she had an American accent and ALL the expressions of kinds in school: “amazing”, “actually”, and a lot of “like”s. The funny thing is that the German student was speaking in the same way without ever being in the States. He got it from movies I guess, but obviously the attraction of America is fascinating among young generation. We left at 7:00pm and we stopped in Udon Thani that is the border to Thailand, we crossed after a passport check, got on the bus and stopped again after 15 minutes in a place on the shore of Mekong where they fed us, some veggie rice. I chatted with a girl from Vancouver who was on a long journey like most of the people here, going now for the wrap up to Pukhet and with one middle aged Italian from the Po delta who was traveling also for a long time, telling me that he suspended his job for 4 years (!) in order to travel. After that the bus stopped only at 12:30, a classical stop for all the buses for the driver and the assistants to eat. This is not great because they wake you up and is hard to get asleep after that. The ride was great, the entire way on highway of several lanes where the buses are driving very fast. The bus was very good, (yes, we are finally in Thailand), and we arrived in Khao Sarn Road at 4:30am, much earlier that planned. The street just started to wake up, only the girls and the other “girls”, the boys, where pondering it looking for late customers. I left my luggage at a hotel, shaved, washed, got a quick fix with a watermelon and I am ready to go for a day in Bangkok. My flight is tonight at 12:35 am

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Posted by on March 25, 2007 in Blog, Laos

 

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