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Published: September 3rd 2018
Pha That Luang
The stupa Pha That Luang might be the most visited attraction in Vientiane. Supposedly it is covered with real gold
One airstrip, two stupas, three caves and more prosthetic limbs than we wanted to count
This summer we spent five weeks in Southeast Asia. We travelled in four countries and we will here on the blog begin our story where we began the journey, in Laos.
July and August aren't the best months of the year to travel in Southeast Asia. The time of the year we Europeans call "summer" they in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand call "the wet season". In Myanmar the same time of the year could with justification be described as "the monsoon period" and that explains why we never went there. Well, although it was the wet season we have to say that we were lucky with the weather. It rained a few days but since we were away for five weeks in total it didn't matter much. Vientiane
We arrived in Vientiane the capital of Laos. We saw four things in Vientiane we'd like to mention here in the blog.
=> Pha That Luang: Pha That Luang
is a large stupa which is the centre piece of an important temple. It is probably the most visited attraction
Reclining Buddha at Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang is part of a temple. At that temple they have this reclining Buddha
in Vientiane. We actually thought the stupa was painted with gold coloured paint. But according to both our guidebook and Wikipedia it is actually covered with genuine gold.
=> We also saw another stupa in Vientiane. It was old and covered with grass. Perhaps that doesn't sound very exciting but we actually liked it.
=> Patuxai: The third place in Vientiane we would like to mention here is Patuxai
, a triumphal arc southwest of Pha That Luang. It was interesting to see that a plaque on the triumphal arc had the text "From a closer distance it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete". We think the Laotians are a bit unfair towards themselves describing the monument like that. We have in other places seen many statues, monuments and other works of art on public display which have been a lot uglier than this.
=> COPE visitor centre: Few countries in the world have suffered more from war that Laos has. During the Vietnam War the North Vietnamese army was supported with weapons and other supplies from Laos. To prevent the transport of goods from reaching the enemy forces the Americans bombed the roads and
Temple at Pha That Luang
A hall in one of the temple buildings
trails that were used. However, not all bombs that were dropped worked the way they were supposed to. Of the 2 million tons of bombs that were dropped over Laos much still lies in the ground as so called UXOs, unexploded ordnance. Bombs that don't detonate when they are supposed to can "go off" later on. When old bombs detonate it is not unusual that people then get hurt or killed. Here is where COPE comes in. They help people who have been injured to get custom made prosthetic limbs. In the visitor centre they have displays explaining about the unexploded bombs littering Laos and what COPE does to help those who have been affected. Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a town where many tourists stop for one or more days. It is somewhat surprising that it is so popular because there are very few sights around. Instead they have managed to turn themselves into the no 1 place in Laos for activities such as hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, so called tubing (that is floating down a river on a large rubber inner tube from a truck or a tractor) and so on. We went there
We also saw another stupa in Vientiane. It was old and covered with grass. We actually liked that.
with the desire to join one or two of these activities but ended up not doing any of them. We mainly spent time in restaurants and did some shopping. We must be getting old...
Well, we did do some walking in the area and Vang Vieng doesn't completely lack sights. The things we did see there was
=> a cave just outside town which is open for visitors. It is worth going to if you are in town. It was OK as caves go but not spectacular.
=> a former air strip which was used by the US before and during the Vietnam War. Today all you can see is a very large open area and you need some imagination to picture that it was once used for air traffic. According to a source I found on internet, a source which might or might not be correct, the air strip was used by CIA and its airline Air America
. Luang Prabang
We'd like to mention three of the things we saw and did in Luang Prabang.
=> Kuang Si Falls
: A series of picture perfect swimmable waterfalls outside Luang Prabang. They look like something straight
Patuxai is a triumphal arc in central Vientiane
out of a movie.
=> Pak Ou Caves
: Two caves which for hundreds of years have been used as a temple. In the caves there are many hundreds of Buddha statues. To visit the Pak Ou Caves we took a boat tour which went along the Mekong River. Along the way to the caves the boat stopped at a village called Whiskey Village. Unfortunately, that stop was a totally unnecessary one.
=> Royal Palace
: The only one of the three sites that is in Luang Prabang. We visited the Royal Palace in the afternoon. We arrived a little late but we still had enough time to see the site. At least that was what we thought. When we went to see the last of the buildings on the palace grounds there were still 20 minutes left of the opening time. However, we didn't get to see it because they had already closed down the entire site and the staff had started to go home. We think that was a bit rude.
That was what we did in three of the four places we visited in Laos. The fourth place, Phonsavan, we save for the next blog entry.
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