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Published: March 25th 2015
Called the 'vertical runway' as the cement used in it's construction was intended for a new airport.
My pick up for the bus trip to Vientiane was earlier than expected, around 7.30am
. Thankfully I was ready and at reception when he arrived with an electric people mover, definately a first. The bus to Vientiane was a full sized coach and I claimed a seat in the back corner with plenty of leg room and the only window that opened, I later discovered.
Many of the locals suffered from motion sickness on this trip. Sick bags were handed out before we left and my big packet of wet ones was passed around as people needed them.
I thought there was a new road between Phonsavan and Vientiane, but we certainly didn't travel it. Some of the road through the mountains was gravel and I held my breath more than once as the huge bus inched through roadwork detours, around stalled vehicles and tight corners. We backed up, trucks we met head on backed up, and I tried not to look at the steep drop less than a metre from the back wheels at times. It reminded me of the roads in Sikkim in Northern India. So, this trip was a little scary in places but we all
arrived safely in Vientiane 9.5 hours later. Hats off to the driver, he did a great job!
I had a room booked at the Moonlight Champa Guesthouse, a deluxe queen with balcony for $AUD37 p/n, and wasted no time getting there. I was shattered, all I wanted was a shower, something decent to eat and lots of sleep.
The next day (Saturday) I walked the streets around the guesthouse looking for good breakfast eateries and a laundry. The guesthouse is three blocks from the riverfront so I ended up walking there as well. I bought a decent street map from a bookshop, and will draw up a plan of attack later.
The next day, map in hand, I set out to walk to several landmarks, the first stop being Patuxai, which literally translates into 'Gate of Triumph', and is dedicated to those who fought to liberate Lao from the French in 1949. Ironically, Patuxai bears a striking resemblance to The Arc de Triumph in Paris and was built from cement, intended for a new airport, which was donated by the US Government. I paid my 3000 kip (50c) admission and walked the 120 steps to the top
Pha That Luang Stupa
I was unimpressed by how grubby it was
where there were great views over the city. After descending, I continued my walk past the two waterfalls in the park around Patuxai, and continued on down Rue 23 Singha, heading to That Luang Wat.
Described by Lonely Planet as being svelte and golden, Pha That Luang Stupa is the most important national monument in Laos, a symbol of Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty. Legend has it that missionaries from India erected a stupa here to enclose a piece of Buddha's breastbone as early as the 3rd century BC.
Personally I wasn't impressed. That Luang Wat is badly in need of maintenance, every horizontal surface covered with mould and dirt. An information board wouldn't go astray either. I had a look around the two temples within the grounds and was more impressed by the beautiful painted ceiling in Wat That Luang Tai.
I did a quick visit to The Monument of Heroes, also known as The Unknown Soldier's Monument which was across the road from the carpark behind That Luang Wat. I was turned away by an official as a ceremony was just finishing, lots of huge wreaths were left behind. I took a couple of quick
photos and moved on.
I decided to walk back to the guesthouse, with a stopover at Joma Bakery, for a banana smoothie, a muffin, and half an hour in their air conditioning. Later I walked to the riverfront where the night markets were being set up, row upon row of red canopies. It has to be an extra special item to part me from my cash these days. All I bought was dinner - rice cakes on a kebab stick, dipped in batter and cooked over coals, for 3000 kip, or 50c each.
Over the next few days I visited various temples around Vientiane, the most interesting one being Si Saket Temple, the oldest Buddhist monastery in Laos, situated opposite the Presidential Palace. This temple is famous for its cloister walls housing thousands of tiny Buddha images with rows of seated Buddhas in front of them. These images mainly date from the 16th and 19th centuries and are made from wood, stone and bronze – more than 6,800 Buddhas in total.
Si Saket is not only famous for the interior walls of the cloister but it also has beautiful architecture and layout with history dated back to
In Wat That Luang Tai
1818. Among the many interesting features are its lovely surrounding verandas, an ornate five-tiered roof, a drum tower, a small library building with a Burmese-style roof and the flowered ceiling of the ordination hall.
Unfortunately photos weren't allowed inside the temple itself. Another dozen rows of niches containing miniature buddha images decorated the upper walls. Restoration work on the wall paintings below was underway, with scaffolding set up along one side.
Another temple I particularly wanted to visit, Wat Ho Phra Keo, was also under restoration and was completely surrounded by scaffolding, and off limits to everyone except the workmen.
It was originally constructed in 1565 as the Lao royal family’s personal chapel, and is now a museum. This temple used to be the home of the Emerald Buddha, which now sits in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
I am wearing out my runners as I'm walking everywhere in Vientaine and my street map has already ripped through the creases with use.
Another interesting stop I made was to the visitor centre of COPE - Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) ensures that people with physical disabilities have local, free access to a quality rehabilitation
Si Saket Temple
The cloisters and their many buddha images
COPE opened a Visitor Center in 2008 with the aim to increase awareness about disability in Laos and highlight the amazing work that is being done to help people with disabilities lead full and productive lives. It also presents the unexploded ordnance (UXO) problem in Laos and how it links in with disability. This enterprise makes prosthetic limbs, and offers on going support for the victims of UXO.
Another half day excursion I took was to Buddha Park, 25klm outside Vientiane. There were any number of ways to get there, but I decided on the cheapest - a local bus. As the bus terminal was only 15 minutes walk from the guesthouse, this made perfect sense. Not to mention the fact that the return fare was 12,000 kip ($2), compared with up to 200,000 kip ($30) for a tuk tuk.
Buddha Park is a sculpture garden housing a collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures in a park like setting on the banks of the Mekong river. The park was built in 1958 by a Laos national who later moved to Thailand where he created a similar park on the other side of the Mekong river.
The park houses over 200 concrete sculptures which are well weathered and appear older than they actually are. Hindu Gods, Buddhas, demons, mythological creatures, a rabbit, a grasshopper and a huge pumpkin three stories tall all create a rather curious spectacle. Once again, information boards would have been handy.
On my return to the bus station I purchased lunch from one of the food stands inside the gates.....a huge chicken and salad baguette for 5000 kip (80c), deliciously spicy and very filling.
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