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Published: January 20th 2019
This morning we are up early. I could have done with another hour in bed but we need to be up and about before the sun gets too hot.
We make our way to the bike hire shop. They want our passports as security. Fortunately our hotel isn’t far away so Ian is dispatched. :-)
Bikes secured, we pedal our way up to the victory monument, Patuxai. This square, concrete monument has the look of a miniature triumphal arch. It commemorates the Lao who died in the pre-revolutionary wars and was built with concrete given by the USA to build a new airport, hence its nickname ‘vertical runway’.
Patuxai is approached via a large dual carriageway which was practically under construction and little used on our last visit. Whilst the traffic here is not what would be expected in a normal capital city, it’s enough when you are pedalling an ancient bike with no bell, no gears and decidedly untrustworthy brakes! There appear to be cycle lanes or sorts...unfortunately these are used as unofficial parking places thus rendering them somewhat useless!
Since our last visit, the monument has opened up for visitors and we are now allowed
to climb to the summit. The steps are worn and downright dangerous in places but we do get superb views of the city. I don’t remember the decorative fountains last time either. It looks like we were the only ones foolish enough to come by bike though. Large open air buses are transporting the other visitors around!
From Patuxai we start a bit of an uphill slug to Pha That Lung, the city’s golden stupa. This is, not only a Buddhist temple, but a symbol of Lao sovereignty and the most important national monument in the country. It has recently undergone a major renovation and visitors are no longer allowed to climb to the inner boundaries, but it’s a pleasant stroll around the ground level cloisters.
It’s 10.30am and already oppressively hot. We pedal back (thankfully downhill this time) to the Scandinavian Bakery for brunch before heading back to the hotel for a shower and siesta.
This afternoon, we head out to the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Ebterprise) visitor centre. A visit to a hospital department supplying artificial limbs might seem an odd choice for an afternoons ‘entertainment’ but this is more of an educational visit.
We hear a lot about the troubled past of Vietnam and Cambodia but little about the ‘secret war’ waged in Laos. The USA bombed Laos heavily during the Vietnam war to prevent arms being supplied to the North Vietnamese army. So many bombs were dropped that it equated to one bomb every 8 minutes over a seven year period. The unexploded ordinance is still wreaking havoc today. Although illegal, sale of scrap metal from the bombs is worth a lot of money so poor villagers including children will risk their lives to better their family circumstances. The display and bomb disposal films is very informative - well worth a visit and a donation to help this worthy cause.
The sun is setting as we leave the COPE centre and we cycle along the Mekong enjoying the cooler evening air and the pleasant views. We stop at a street food place for our evening meal - pork chop and noodles - before returning our bikes.
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