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October 12th 2019
Published: October 14th 2019
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October 12 – I slept a little better last night with earplugs. Our guy on the megaphone or microphone was out again this morning until almost 7am, and construction (more demolition) was happening on the building next door well before 7am, but I didn’t notice most of it. Becky and I headed down for fried noodles and fried rice for breakfast, respectively, at 7:30 and back up at 8am to finish packing. I paid the hotel bill and we were down just before 9am to wait for the minivan to pick us up. When it didn’t show by 9:10, we asked at the desk. He asked if I bought the ticket at the hotel, I said yes, and he phoned them for me. At least he tried – his phone did not seem to be connected to a line so he picked it up and carried it away. Then he used his cell. He said they were picking up others and would be by soon to collect us. They were, but in a tuk-tuk, not a minivan. At first we were worried the tuk-tuk was our four hour ride to Vientiane. It wasn’t, but Becky predicted that we would pick the others up and end up back at the small bus station on our very own street where we had asked about tickets the night before. After driving around for 30 minutes and picking up another 13 people, she was right. And worse, we were taking the large “VIP” bus rather than a minivan, which is why we had decided not to book the bus with them the night before. We thought we had clarified this with the hotel, but their English is not great and it didn’t quite work as planned. Worse still, we paid more booking it through the hotel than we would have if we’d booked at the office. At least we got a city tour (of sorts) and didn’t just sit around the bus station from 9:00, waiting for an hour for the bus to go.

On the bus we got the last two seats that were together and not in the back row, so that was lucky. The bus ride itself was rather uneventful. It took four hours, with a 15 minute stop along the way. It was cooler than outside, but definitely still warm so that I was a little sweaty for the whole ride. When the bus stopped, it was unclear if we had arrived, since we were in front of a temple and not at a bus station. But we had, indeed, arrived, so we agreed on a price for a tuk-tuk for two and he took us to the hotel. The Azalea Parkland hotel is the nicest one we’ve stayed at along the way, outclassing the others by a lot. It’s the first one where we can leave our shoes on to enter the building, we have a key card, the a/c works well, we were given a welcome juice upon arrival, the staff speaks English well and there is a rooftop pool. We got in at 2pm, settled in a bit, looked at the pool and then headed out for our late lunch/early dinner. We wanted to try a place mentioned in the guide book that was also close to two sites we wanted to see today. They were a bit of a walk away and the restaurant closed at 4pm, so we got there as quickly as possible. When we found it, the sign said it closed at 3pm and it was 3:30pm, but the woman said they were still open so we sat down. There was another couple from the bus there, and we also recognized them from the kayaking yesterday. They were actually in tubes in the river when we kayaked by, almost hitting each other in the process. We each had a noodle dish that was quite tasty, hers with chicken and mine with pork. We also ordered a drink they are known for – a coffee blended with coconut for Becky and a tea blended with coconut for me. I almost passed it up for a mango shake, as I really wanted a cold drink, but I decided to go for it. I’m so glad I did because it WAS cold and it was amazing. Really glad we ate there.

From lunch we headed to the Wat Si Muang temple. This town is full of temples everywhere, from floor to ceiling from what we’ve seen so far, but this is the main city temple. They were setting up for a special event tomorrow it seems, so it’s possible we’ll go back. We walked around, checking out the different buildings and watching the monks set everything up. There was even music playing. It was a nice atmosphere.

From the temple, we walked to the nearby Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), which helps people who’ve been injured and lost a limb to an unexploded ordinance (UXO) receive a prosthetic limb, physio and other care they require. It’s one of the top sites recommended in the guidebook, and although it is emotional, it was well worth it. We went to the visitor’s center, which is basically a museum which tells the story of how this came to be a problem in Laos. During the Vietnam War, the US bombed Laos very heavily fighting the Vietcong as they were escaping through Laos to Cambodia. They dropped cluster bombs, which open to release bomblets, smaller submunitions the size of oranges. Many of these failed to explode, and the country is littered with them now. In the last 40 years, only 1% of them have been removed, and it costs millions of dollars to do this. In the meantime, people get hurt or killed, especially farmers, who strike them as they dig in the soil, and children, who find them and often use them like a ball to toss around. People also find them and use the metal from them to make things for their homes, or sell them for scrap metal for $2 a kilo. This is so much money here for people who have so little. I can’t overestimate how much damage these bombs have done to the people who live in these areas.

“From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos in 580,000 bombing missions, the equivalent of one planeload every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. At least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped as part of the bombing campaign; approximately 80 million failed to detonate.” – from the Legacies of War website

Needless to say, it was pretty devastating to see what has happened and how the US was involved. More bombs were dropped on Laos than anywhere else in the world, even to this day. Becky and I were both quite moved by what we saw, and we both donated before we left. It was very sad.

We had a very quiet walk back to the hotel but after a few blocks we started chatting again. When we arrived at the hotel, I got changed to take a dip in the pool, and Becky came up to the roof with me, even though she wasn’t feeling like swimming. We stayed for about 20 minutes, and it was very nice. Eventually someone else came and I was done splashing around. We headed back to the room, where I could talk to Jeroen for the first time on the trip due to time zone challenges. Becky and I also had a pretty good chat, looked at pictures, and so on. It was a nice chill evening.

October 13 – Slept all the way until 6:30 today. It’s just hard to keep sleeping, for some reason. We didn’t make it to breakfast until about 8am and there were a decent number of people there. It was a buffet and it was unclear initially how all of it worked. I decided to order an omelet from the woman cooking eggs once I had a handle on it. She did not speak much English and I was a little disappointed to see that it was only egg, no fillings. But it was surprisingly delicious and I was pleasantly surprised. I also had some fruit and some noodles and some stir-fry. A very international breakfast.

We eventually made our way out of the hotel around 10am and headed to the nearby replica of the Arc de Triumph. It was overcast and the photos are not great, but it was interesting to see. We then decided to walk to a place Becky suggested, Pha That Luang, one of the most important temples in the area. It looked like it would take about 20 minutes to walk to, which would be easy, especially since it was rather cloudy. I started us out on the wrong road and we got a little lost but we found it in the end and it was closer than we’d thought. It had a huge golden stupa and the sun was shining by the time we left, so we had some good views of it.

From there, we got a tuk-tuk to the farthest part of downtown that we wanted to see and walked back, visiting temples along the way. Today is the end of Buddhist Lent so all of the temples were busy, some more than others. We stopped at Wat In Paeng, Wat Mixai, and Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan and then made our way to That Dam, an old stupa that used to be covered in gold, before it was carted off by the Siamese in 1828. We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant called That Dam Noodle, which is just an awesome name. It was located nearby the That Dam Wine House Restaurant. The owner looked quite round, like a Buddha, and his soup was delicious. The family was eating lunch at the same time we were eating our soup.

On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a nearby textile mall and looked around and then went back towards the mall where we had seen some bubble tea last night. I got my daily dose as we walked back to the hotel. We came back hot and sweaty and went up to the pool to have a swim and read in the sun. It was a good late afternoon activity. I chatted with Jeroen, looked at the internet and then we headed out again.

We went first to the night market first to look around. Due to Buddhist Lent ending today and the festival, it was quite crowded and loud and we suspect much larger than normal. It was a little too much by the end and we were glad to get away and head back towards the hotel. We decided to look for food at a place near the hotel, but by then it was 8pm and everything was closed, probably due to the events. Oddly, we went into one restaurant, were given menus, and then just as we were about to order, someone came and said they were closed. So weird. So we asked at our hotel and she told us to go back into town to find a place. We decided instead to go to a minimarket nearby. We came back with the dinner of champions – little bun with pork inside, a bag of Doritos to split, and ice creams. We ate the ice creams on the walk back so they didn’t melt and the rest in the room. It was simple but easy and we had had a big lunch, so it was fine. Not a bad evening after all.

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