Eyes wide open after a visit to COPE... Muscles burning after a kick-ass Mekong workout... And mind slightly blown away after seeing so many 'mixed' couples...

Laos' flag
Asia » Laos » West » Vientiane
July 17th 2013
Published: September 19th 2013
Edit Blog Post

Even relaxing the whole day can prove to be a bit of a tiring experience as we were more or less exhausted waiting for our bus to depart for Vientiane and it wasn’t even 8pm yet! Having seen the bus I knew it was going to be a pretty long journey as well... Very little space in between the seats, pretty stinky seats in general and a person in front of me lowered her chair to the maximum capacity before we even left Luang Prabang while my chair was broken so I couldn’t lower it at all… yep! it was going to be a pretty long journey indeed! In the end I managed to catch a few hours of sleep, but every part of my body was sore, my head the most as managed to bump it a couple of times with full swinging strength in the edge of the window (maybe the wide edge serves its purpose when you put your elbow there and do some sightseeing during the day but during the night when it’s all dark around it kind of becomes a bit of a nuisance and it can seriously give you a few bumps on your head! – you can trust me on that!). Once we arrived in Vientiane we shared a tuk-tuk with a few Chinese men to town. They were dropped off in the middle of nowhere at some random Chinese supermarket that was closed at this hour, but before they had a chance to say anything to our driver, we were driving off already… hope they got to the right place??? We were on the other hand dropped off right in the middle of the guesthouse area, just perfect! It wasn’t even 8am yet so the first few places we went to said that we would have to wait until 10 or 12 until we got the room. Sure somebody would let us check in without waiting right? There was no point for the two of us walking with our backpacks and searching for a place to stay so after having a breakfast at some little French looking café (mmmm…. fresh baguettes!), I just stayed with our bags right there, while Grant went looking for some decent and friendly place to stay. Aaaaah…. The advantages of travelling with someone! 😊 And soon after we had our room! I guess some people didn’t mind us checking in early after all?

After resting a bit we went for a little walk around the block… Literally! As it started raining almost as soon as we left our hotel! First it was just a gentle warning with a slight drizzle but soon after it was bucketing down full on! Running in flip-flops is not exactly my strongest point so I got caught up with the rain just next to some dodgy bar while Grant managed to hide at some more decent spot a few doors further down the road. It was raining so hard that I thought I would wait for it to stop a bit before joining Grant (mostly having my camera and netbook in mind), but after receiving an offer from some sleazy, looking in his middle 50s guy to join him and his girlfriend (at least 30 years younger Asian girl), I thought getting a bit wet wouldn’t be that bad after all… I ran for a minute or maybe even less and was totally soaked when I got to the bar where Grant was waiting for me. Camera and netbook safe though! Pheeeew! Haven’t seen such a downpour for quite a while now… We decided to check out Bor Pen Nyang for lunch, food very average but you could see a pretty nice view of the Mekong from up there (as located on the fourth floor) so worth a visit at least for this reason. As we were sitting there waiting for the rain to stop I thought I might do some blogging in between. As I got lost in thoughts trying to recall some events from the past months, suddenly some very loud music and some shouting through the mike distracted my attention. I had a glimpse at the riverside trying to locate the source of the noise... It looked like they started setting up the stalls for the night market by the river already and just behind it there was a large group of people… doing aerobics to some very weird mix of music – sorry but old Bon Jovi lyrics to some hyper disco sounds just shouldn’t be allowed! It seemed like it wasn’t just a random group of people gathered there for some exercise, but a proper aerobics class with two instructors shouting their commands through the mikes! Well, behind with blogs or not, I just had to check it out! Once we got closer I thought that I might as well join in then! I really needed to feel some sore muscles again as since the trekking and some yoga in Nepal I haven’t really done much exercise on my travels at all. So it seemed like a good opportunity for sure and I wasn’t going to pass on it. There was definitely a lot of arms swinging, leg kicking and in general a lot of jumping – damn it was tough! To be honest I didn’t really thought it through as this much of cardio in 95% humidity after a long break of not doing anything at all really kicked my butt… I was beyond exhausted after the class … Not to mention that I looked as if I just jumped out of the Mekong – totally soaked! But at least I lasted the whole class… I saw some other tourists exercising as well but they gave up after a while… Still I just loved this feeling of exhaustion! I knew I was going to come back here one of these days… 😊

The next day we decided to check out COPE as we have read quite a few good stories about the organisation. As the name suggests – Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise – COPE provides help for UXO victims and for people with disabilities. Their motto actually says it all – it simply ‘helps people move on’. We spent quite a bit of time at the visitor’s centre walking around, reading about COPE’s work as well as about the impact of the Vietnam War on Laos. There were quite a few items on display – from unexploded cluster bombs, bigger bombs to used prosthetic arms and legs. You could read, listen to or watch some people’s stories and watch many documentaries as well. I was really impressed how well the visitor’s centre was organised and how much information it provided. What’s really amazing is that this is the only organisation of that kind in Laos and it exists only from 1997. I wonder who was helping out the victims of UXOs before then? I think that a lot of help should be coming from US to compensate for the damage caused during Vietnam War and the damage which is still caused by UXOs nowadays. Apparently USAID is one of the contributors to COPE – seeing that US spent millions of dollars and dropped 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos during Vietnam War, is enough help provided from their side to help the victims and get rid of the remaining UXOs from Laos? I certainly don’t think so… A few weeks after we have left Laos I have read on the Internet that a few boys at one of the small villages found a cluster bomb and tried to open it which resulted in one boy age 13 being dead and 5 of his friends aged 5-13 being seriously injured. Every day in Laos someone is being killed or injured by an UXO whether farming or intentionally looking for UXOs in order to make some money from selling them as scrap metal later on. A visit to COPE was a really powerful and eye opening experience for sure. Here’s their website: http://www.copelaos.org/

Next we headed to Haw Pha Kaeo museum. It used to be a royal temple and apparently was housing the Emerald Buddha, which has been moved to one of the Wats in Bangkok some time ago. Now the inside of the temple is full of Buddha statues – starting from tiny ones hidden in the cabinets to human size ones holding some offerings (mostly notes) in their palms. Really interesting collection of Buddhas. Next we went just to the other side of the street to visit Wat Si Saket which is the oldest temple in Vientiane. The main temple is surrounded by hundreds of Buddha statues – the bigger ones are sitting in two rows, while the small ones are fitted in the walls all around the temple – they are made of wood, stone bronze and even silver apparently.

Later on went again to Bor Pen Nyang again – it definitely offers the best views of the night market so a perfect place for having a drink and watching the life go by on the shores of Mekong… It just surprised me how relaxed this place was! People walking or cycling along the Mekong, having a stroll through the market, taking part in the aerobics class… Besides working people take time to enjoy themselves and relax as well. What a different side to Asia, well South-East Asia at least… as in China you could see people relaxing and exercising in the mornings or evenings in the parks as well… As tempting as joining the aerobics class was, this time I decided to give it a miss though. Obviously it wasn’t because I was sore at all! 😉 Seriously I had pain in all parts of my body, never thought that was possible until now… Still I was already preparing mentally for the class next day… 😊

The following day the monsoon came again so we knew there wasn’t going to be much exploring that day at all. Another perfect opportunity to catch up on blogs – if only the words were coming to my head then… Every time we are busy with doing something all sorts of thoughts are flying through my head and I’m already creating new entries in my mind, but once the netbook is open in front of me no words are coming out at all. Ah well… It wasn’t the most creative day for me for sure, maybe it was the miserable weather that put me off a bit? We found Joma café (the one we went to in Luang Prabang) so I thought I would cheer myself up by having some nice coffee at least (despite being totally overpriced still totally worth it) and then I made a mistake of trying the carrot cake at the café as well... Yep! I knew I was going to be back here for sure… It simply melted in my mouth… Yum!!! So that was the highlight of the day actually... 😉 The weather started picking up towards the evening so feeling slightly guilty after having gazillion calories at Joma I knew the cardio workout was a must that evening. I was actually really looking forward to it again. This time Grant decided to join me as well. It sure was fun to do it together – obviously Grant was the tallest guy at the class so we got a bit extra attention from the onlookers. Damn! it was even tougher than last time! Probably because my arms and legs were still aching from the previous class! Still I loved it! Grant stopped after a while but there was no way I was going to give up on my free class! Sweating like crazy, all red, exhausted way beyond… still very happy! Why don’t they have free classes like this all around? Exercising outside, by the river, breathing in fresh air (well at least relatively fresh), watching the sun go down, really amazing idea! Still it would never work in Europe or any part of the western world for that matter – where’s the profit from it right? All about money and material things and getting wealthy (or even wealthier) in the ‘developed’ countries… I have to say that I appreciate Asia and love it more and more with each day! Absolutely incredible part of the world!

After the aerobics we went to Bor Pen Nyang again. I was surprised to see the place so different this time. It was nowhere to being as peaceful and quiet as it was before. And what a difference to the crowd! There were a couple of tourists in here this time as well, only they were in their late 50s or even higher up and they were accompanied by young Asian girls (or a young boy in one case!). And there goes me naively thinking that maybe not all these ‘relationships’ are based on a sex only… But then who am I to judge? Totally different country, totally different life standards and ways of living, so I don’t even try to understand that… What really surprised me though was seeing this here in Laos! I thought there would be more of these kind of ‘relationships’ visible in Thailand – as everything revolves around sex there… And Laos just seems so laid-back and peaceful and innocent… Honestly it’s the last country I would expect to see this… You could see a lot of this kind of couples in Luang Prabang already, but in Vientiane it’s just on a totally different scale – plenty of them all around! Ah well… I just naively hope that both sides are happy in these arrangements… Is it really this way though? I certainly do hope so…

On our last day in Vientiane we decided to rent bikes and check out some sites which were a bit further away. I seriously don’t mind walking but in this heat and no breeze at all, biking seemed like a way better idea. First we headed through Lao ‘Champs Elysees’ to the Lao Arc de Triomphe – Patuxai (Victory Gate). Well… I don’t think you can exactly compare the Laotian version to its original French one, but I can feel where the comparison
all sorts of animals for sale...all sorts of animals for sale...all sorts of animals for sale...

...including doggies locked up in small cages :(
might be coming from... And I have to say that the Gate itself definitely looks much better from further away rather than from close up. It simply looks like it has never been finished with some of the walls left covered with bare cement only. What really surprised me though was the fact that the people of Laos don’t seem to be too proud of the Gate at all – there was a sign on one of the gate’s legs basically saying that the gate is just a piece of concrete and is nothing to look upon at all (it was written in Lao as well as in English). Quite a harsh statement I would say! If you found the place so unappealing why would you bother to invest in putting a huge fountain right in front of the gate then? I thought this statement was really bizarre. I have never seen any other landmarks being so criticised by their own people in any other country. Let’s be honest Tour Eiffel is just a huge piece of steel… still it will always be a ‘romantic’ symbol of Paris, right? Slightly bewildered we left Patuxai and headed to Pha That Luang. We left our bikes in front of Wat That Luang Tai (right next to Pha That Luang) and walked around this temple for a while – I was amazed how colourful the temple was! Beautiful paintings at the walls depicting Buddha’s life, flags hanging all around, a place worth seeing for sure! But in the end we came here to see Pha That Luang right? It looked like it was closed though, hmmm… was there some kind of holiday that day or what? Nope… I tend to forget that some places here were closed for a couple of hours at lunch time! Thankfully it reopened soon after and we were able to check out the symbol of Laos from close-up. Once again there were lots of Buddha statues all around the stupa (just like in Wat Si Saket), but besides that it wasn’t exactly too exciting too look upon. I have to say I liked the nearby temple much more so we just went back there and spent a bit more time walking around it. We cycled a bit more around Pha That Luang and decided to call our biking trip a day after that. Later on we headed to some bar to watch rugby – it looked like it was the only place in town that showed these kinds of sports on TV. I say that they should probably invest some more money in food rather than TVs in this place as our chicken soup was simply inedible – whatever was swimming in this soup was dead for quite a while already for sure… Ah well… At least rugby was pretty decent. 😉

And that was it when it came to our visit to Laos’ capital. We thought of maybe spending a bit more time in here as we still had quite a few days before our entry to Vietnam, but then it felt like it was time to see some other places. We decided to give Vang Vieng a miss as well – tubing didn’t really seem that exciting (we found out later that it was actually banned now as it was getting out of hand and apparently too many people died there!) and it kind of felt as if we would just be going back where we came from, so in the end we just decided to head east instead. Next stop: Phonsavan!

Additional photos below
Photos: 85, Displayed: 33


20th September 2013
with the reclining Buddha :)

Raining...racing...resting...reclining...the joy of travel...great to see you getting into it!
22nd September 2013
with the reclining Buddha :)

Thanks Dave! Loving every bit of it!

Tot: 2.227s; Tpl: 0.085s; cc: 13; qc: 37; dbt: 0.0408s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb