Monday, November 17, 2008

Odd sculptures and glimmering Wats: Vientiane


Destination: Vientiane

Number of Days there: 2

One thing unexpected: Buddha Park was out of the way but definitely worth the trip

Times we took the: Boat: 0; Bus/Minivan: 2; Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 0; Motorbike: 0

Where we stayed: RD Guesthouse - 120,000 kip (roughly $15) A decent pick and centrally located. We still can't figure out why they went with the saloon style swinging doors for the bathroom instead of a standard door but hey, it was an interesting conversation piece none the less.

Favorite Restaurant: Makphet - Please go here! This restaurant takes disadvantaged street kids and trains them for work in the hospitality industry. Not only do you get to support an excellent cause, the Lao food is delicious and the service is excellent! It's a little expensive for Laos (most dishes in the $6-7 range) but still an excellent value for what you get! The Scandinavian Bakery also serves a good breakfast and sandwiches.

Best of: Buddha Park

Special Moments: Strapping in for an endless spin around the Bumper Car Rink near That Luang

After arriving on the night bus from Pakse, we checked into our hotel and took the morning off relaxing over a cup of coffee at the bakery. Vientiane is the capital of Laos and has a healthy supply of ex-pats generally working for NGO's. We decided that the first afternoon we would spend checking out a few of the numerous Wats (Temples) in town. Wat Sisaket (oldest wat in Vientiane) & Wat Haw Phra Kaew, named for the Emerald Buddha which was "stolen" by the Thais in the 18th century and now resides in Bangkok. After the temples, we went up to the market, strolled around for a bit, and called it an early night. No matter how nice the buses are, you can't really get a good night's sleep on one!

The next day we caught the local bus out to Buddha Park, about 30km's outside of town. After an hour crammed into the back of an incredibly hot van, we arrived and were pleasantly surprised. Built in the 50's by a somewhat eccentric artist, the park is more of a collection of his statues than anything else. Blending Buddhism and Hindu, the statues are spread out over a lovely stretch of land along the river bordering Thailand. The main attractions are a huge reclining Buddha and a unique "pot of life" with different levels from heaven (nirvana) to hell. Climbing to the top of the pot gave you a great view of the park. We highly recommend visiting the park as it was worth the effort to get there in our opinion. After getting back into town, we climbed up the Laos version of the Arch De Triumph (Laos was a French territory at one point) which was never actually finished so it's not as high or as impressive as the real deal, but nice all the same. We finished the day off with a walk up to That Luang for sunset. That Luang is the pride of the nation in terms of temples and it certainly does not disappoint with it golden stupa glimmering in the evening light. There was also a little festival going on so we could not resist getting out some aggression with a round of bumper cars. Who knew that you paid one fee to ride as long as you wanted! After banging till our heads hurt we figured that one out :-). After smashing into one another we went back and got ready to head to our next stop...Vang Vieng.

To see more photos of Vientiane please click here!

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