Published: April 6th 2012March 9th 2012
We spent a short few days in Vientiane and it was a welcome city after the adventurous journey! As soon as we awoke later in the morning, John was very kind and found a better place for us to stay so the backpacks were flung over the shoulders for a quick jaunt up the street! We then took a walk around the city. I don’t know how much you could call it a city though – it seemed very small, easy to negotiate, chilled and boy was it quiet. So different to anywhere else we have been. The streets were relatively busy but you will not believe how calm everything felt. We jumped on the chilled bandwagon right away and felt right at home. For the rest of the day we basically relaxed but did it by having a scrumptious lunch, sorted out Vietnam visa stuff for going back later in the month, booked our flight out of Laos (we were happy with the experience getting here but will not happily repeat it!), had some beers and cakes in the Scandinavian Bakery (yummy), all the while people watching!
The Lao people are interesting to watch going about their daily business.
We noticed that not only was Vientiane laid back but the people were seriously horizontal in their ways. They walked, cycled, and pushed veg stalls at the slowest pace I have ever seen. John and I had a good laugh trying to adjust and comprehend how they managed it! Even the laid back king himself was in a lesser league than these people! When reading about Laos, many places mentioned this in a philosophy called LPDR or Laos Please Don’t Rush. We wouldn’t argue with it!
The other thing we noticed about Vientiane is the amount of foreigners that were here. Even when in large cities like Hanoi or in Siem Reap the amount of westerners seemed less than what was here. Along with this came some very swanky restaurants and bars. We were surprised by this as Laos is supposed to be the least well off of the countries we are visiting. The prices were higher than we thought too so I think Laos has quickly caught onto how to make the most of its growing tourism trade.
On our second day we went a bit further afield and visited what’s known as the Arc de Triumphe.
This was a copy (somewhat) of the French monument but I can only presume a lot less attractive! It wasn’t finished by the Laos people but a recent donation from the Chinese completed it (in return for some access to logging, or so it is said).
After this we visited one of the most interesting places (well to me anyway) we have seen since we left. We visited an organisation called Cope. It is an organisation providing services to people with disabilities all around Laos but they have a visitor centre with focus on education and spreading the word about UXO (unexploded ordnance) which were dropped during the war in Vietnam. Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita and this is as a result of the American attack on the country where 580,000 bombing missions were carried out. This equates to one bombing mission every 8 minutes in a day for 9 years………. I know, astonishing….
The problem in the country now is that there are so many unexploded bombs that the people working the land or young kids playing or families trying to make money from scrap metal are regularly coming across these
bombs in the ground and are being killed or they have significant disabilities after explosions such as limb amputation, visual impairments.
The visitor centre gave a good background into UXO but also how families in the country have adapted to life with UXO i.e. they make cutting, cooking tools or stairs or boats or flower baskets from scrap metal. It also provided an insight into how they provide services to people with disabilities all over the country with personal stories, a collection of homemade limbs which were replaced with specially fitted limbs by orthotists in the organisation (costing only $75 to make!), videos of how people are managing/rehab. I was delighted that there are occupational therapists on board (although it seems to be in its infancy). They even had small aids on show that an OT made with pictures of some of the clients successfully using them! They also had a mirror box, something I haven’t seen since university, with a video to explain how those with one remaining limb often feel phantom pains and the mirror box is used to visually trick the brain into thinking that both limbs are still there. The man in the video really
found it helped and made his own homemade one.
I suppose for me it was great to see that such work was being done here and what can be done with limited resources. We had a chat with Sai (a lady who works in the centre) and she told u that the services are funded by foreign aid but some government input also. It was a truly inspiring place and I will remember it and recommend it to anyone visiting here.
That afternoon I collected our passports and got a massage! An hour full body massage for about €6! Bargain. It was definitely the strangest massage I’ve ever been for. I was fully clothed in a linen tunic and trousers (Laos people are VERY conservative about their dress) and the girl did amazing work but I actually had that spinal stretch thing (you know where you see the horror stories where they put your hands behind your head and rotate you this way and that). There was a pretty big crack at one stage… But after I felt amazing! (I know my physio friend reading this is cringing, I apologise if I have undone any of your hard
Off to Vang Vieng tomorrow. Have heard lots about it so let’s see how it goes…………………..
There are more photos below