South East Asia is one of my favourite places in the world. Cambodia and Thailand were both such fantastic experiences and Northern Vietnam lived up to the high expectations those experiences set. Now that I’m in Laos, I am sure: South East Asia should be on everyone’s bucket lists!
Where to begin???
Laos and the only landlocked country in South East Asia. Though it is poor, Laos has been gaining popularity with tourists due to it’s beautiful landscapes, fascinating history and its vast cultural treasures.
Vientiane is Laos’ capital city. The Mekong River flows through the city, dividing it from neighboring Thailand. Vientiane is a small city, with a population of less than a million (tiny by Asian standards!). Although many tourist blogs tell people not to bother visiting Laos’ capital, both Dave and I have really enjoyed our time here. There’s been lots to see, great food to enjoy and the people have been just awesome!
Patuxai Victory Monument
The main complaint people have about Vientiane is that there is ‘nothing to do there’. I disagree. As I’ve said countless times in the past, my favourite thing to do on holiday with my handsome husband is to rent motorbikes. We rented one for Vientiane and boy did it pay off!
Our first stop was the Patuxai Victory War Monument. This beautiful monument was built to commemorate all the people who died in Laos’ fight for freedom. Laos has been occupied on more than one occasion; most recently by France. That’s right…Laos was a French colony! You actually see French architecture and road signs all over the city.
The monument took 9 years to build, beginning in 1957 and the materials to make the structure were donated by the USA. China also donated a musical pond and Indonesia donated a Peace Gong for the park as well. It’s a nice place to take a stroll.
Inside the building you find a small market where you can buy souvenirs. Everything is very overpriced (35,000 kip for something that sells for 15,000 in a regular market), but nobody chases you down or tries pushing you into buying things, so it was a fine little place to take a break between flights of stairs.
Laos’ National Museum
Our next stop had to be indoors because the heat was pretty much unbearable. We head down to the National Museum where we learned about Laos’ ancient history and modern history. It was very interesting to see propaganda posters from the other side of the Vietnamese war!
I was a little bit surprised that the museum didn’t have anything about the bombing Laos endured during the Vietnam war. It’d be great if the museum offered information on that, and the gift shop would do well to sell trinkets made of UXOs. You find bottle openers, key chains and magnets made of these old bombs in the markets and proceeds are suppose to go towards disarming the nearly 78 million bombs that are still killing people in Laos every year. (Don’t worry Mom…the areas we are going have been thoroughly checked!!)
There are plenty of Temples to see in Vientiane. So many, in fact, that we didn’t even try to stop at all of them. We did see 2 though. Dave noticed right away that the architecture is quite different from temples in Thailand, Cambodia and India. I, of course, didn’t notice haha! They sure are pretty though!
The second ‘temple’ we saw was actually called the ‘City pillar’. I asked Dave why Winnipeg doesn’t have anything this cool…he reminded me that the snow and the cold would destroy it…
The Buddha Park was definitely my favourite stop in Vientiane. Located 25km south east of the city, we would never have been able to see this cool place if we hadn’t rented a motorbike. The drive there was half the fun!
We entered the park and realized we were starving, so we began by eating a local snack. I have no idea what it’s called, but it had some sort of coconut in it. It was delicious!
The first thing you see when you enter the park is the giant reclining Buddha. He’s beautiful. We were there just before the sun started going down too, so the light reflected off of his face, making him look like he glows.
There are various other statues around. The buddhas are made to look old, but they are actually quite new. The park was built in 1958, and it has mythology from both Hinduism and Buddhism. I personally enjoy Buddhist art more, as it’s less extreme. Hinduism is sure spectacular, though!
It’s really neat seeing the mixture of cultures. Buddhism and Hinduism actually have quite a few of the same roots, which is interesting. An hour in the park is all you really need, and I’d say it’s well worth the trip out there. It’s definitely one of the most bizarre things we’ve experienced in Asia!
Without a doubt, the strangest thing in the park is the gourd, or pumpkin.
It’s suppose to represent Heaven, Earth and Hell…I’m not sure about the first 2, but the 3rd one is definitely depicted. The inside is full of creepy art and scary staircases. I actually hated it in there and got out as soon as I could. Dave made it up to the top for some pictures….
The ride back was also beautiful. I really enjoyed the parties that were going on everywhere! Lao people like loud music and dancing, we learned! When I’m back home, I’ll be sure to stitch together some videos, but for now, some pictures of the parties will have to suffice!
Dave found a Geo Cache while we were here, which was pretty cool. It was in at an old stupa that reminded me of ruins of Ayutthaya. The sight is called That Dam or The Black Stupa. It’s said to contain relics of the Buddha and legend has it that it was once covered in gold. Unfortunately, it was attacked and pillaged by Siam in this legend (which some say is history…the line can be blurred) and that the Thais stole all the gold, leaving behind this black mound of brick in its place.
Vientiane really is a charming place. From the night market, to the Mekong Exercise clubs, it was all a very nice way to spend a couple of days. I definitely suggest renting a motorbike and I absolutely suggest that you try as much Laotian food as possible, because WOW it’s fantastic! And of course, enjoy some BeerLaos when you’re here!
Our next stop is Vang Vieng!! Stay tuned!