Pondering Perspectives

I have always loved being a student.  As stressful as it was finishing my degree a few years back, I felt so incredibly motivated while I was at the University of Winnipeg.  My major was in English Writing & Literature, but I took classes in Anthropology, Classical History, Drama, Psychology, Astronomy and so much more.  These classes taught me about the world, taught me to think and dig for information and most importantly, they taught me that there is always more to learn!

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Classical History, for example, taught me that pottery is actually fascinating (if it was made by the Greeks, anyway!)

There are 2 classes that I feel really changed the way I see the world.  The first one was Physiological Psychology.  In this class, I learned about the different structures of the brain and what they are responsible for.  I also learned what happens when you damage those areas of the brain and I learned a lot about mental illness as a result.  Now, 4 years later, a month doesn’t go by when I don’t either think about or discuss things I learned in that class.   I finished Physio Psych with the worst grade of my degree, but it was one of the most eye-opening courses I ever took.

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The other class that changed my perspectives was a random elective course I chose to fill out my semester.  I literally chose it because it was available in a convenient time slot, but by the time the first lesson was finished, I was hooked and knew I wouldn’t be skipping my Tuesday night 6pm lessons.  “Needs of Refugees” was all about refugee crises around the world.

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It looks like I have a 1 hour block free Tuesday afternoons…that can’t be right…oh no wait, I have 3 hours of work to cram in that space!!!

The focus of the class was mostly on the process these people go through to get placement in other countries.  I had 2 professors for that class.  One of my profs was a woman who had spent months abroad working in refugee camps in Palestine, Kenya and a few others I can no longer remember.  The other professor was a Somali man who had fled Mogadishu with his family when he was a child.

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This is DaDaab refugee camp in Kenya.  When my prof fled Mogadishu as a child, he was actually separated from his family and captured by rebel soldiers.  He was forced to work as a child soldier for 2 years before he was finally able to escape.  He fled to DaDaab, where he found the rest of his family.  Many years later, he was given a place in Canada, where he has become a productive member of society.  His story is not one I will ever be able to forget.

Through this class, I met several refugees, all from different conflicts and different areas of the world.  I met a woman who had to flee Iraq because her husband had been arrested and the government was coming after her next so she had to flee with her two teenage sons.   I met a woman from Myranmar who had fled years ago, who began her own small weaving business in Winnipeg.

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Burmese weaving is quite the art form!

I also interviewed a man from the Congo.  He was angry.  He’d been in Canada for more than 10 years when I met him.  He’d been struggling for a decade to find a suitable job, but because he’d been living in a refugee camp for the better part of his life, he had little education and few skills.  It frustrated him that he had so little opportunities in Canada.  Still, at the end of the interview, he took a moment to clarify that although he was angry, he was also grateful.  He told me he’d rather have no opportunities in Canada than to wake up to the sound of bombs back in The Congo.  He taught me a lesson about gratitude.

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Yeah, Canadian winters don’t seem so bad…

If you have me as a friend on Facebook, you know how I feel about helping Refugees.  You also know how I feel about mental illness and trying to fight past the taboos that prevent people from getting help.  I didn’t always care about these things.  I’m sure that I’ve made thoughtless comments about mental health through the years.  I know that there was a point in my life where I never really even thought about what a refugee even was.

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Now I do my best to stop bad information from spreading, and correct that information whenever I can.  

But school isn’t the only place where my perspectives have shifted. Travelling has taught me so much about the world.  Since moving to Guiyang in 2014, I’ve learned about what it means to be an ethical tourist, I’ve seen real poverty and I’ve spent a great deal of time educating myself about the history of South East Asia and India (something never covered in my high school history courses…).

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Learning about the Khmer Rouge was the first of many eye-opening experiences I’ve had in the past few years.

Of course, being in Vietnam has also given me some new perspectives.  I knew about the Vietnam war.  I knew about the draft, the protests and I knew about the fight against communism.  I had never really considered what all this meant for people on the other side of the ocean though…

Now, I’m not here to say that the Vietnamese didn’t do awful things to American soldiers, but when you see things that that happened to the people here, you can’t help but wonder how Vietnam could have possibly deserved the war crimes they endured during that horrible war.  Napalm, agent orange and mass bombing campaigns nearly destroyed the country and even today you can see victims of Agent Orange.  The chemical created genetic defects that are still being passed onto the current generation. It’s pretty awful stuff.

It’s easy for people in North America to shrug off the Vietnam war because it was so long ago now, but in Vietnam, the war still affects people.  There are still bombs all over the country that never detonated properly during the war.  Every year, people lose limbs and lives because of these UXOs.

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We visited the War Remnents museum when we were in Saigon, and learned about the war through pictures as well as through a few displays.  Horrible stuff was done here.

We also made a short visit to the Phu Quoc prison, where thousands of enemy soldiers were kept during the war.  The first thing both Dave and I noticed was how much the prison looked like a concentration camp.

But Vietnam was not the only country affected by the Vietnam War…

Laos is often forgotten during discussions about that 20 year war.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that Laos is the most bombed country in the world.  We learned more about what that actually means at the UXO museum in Luang Prabang.

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A map showing the most heavily bombed areas of Laos

America dropped  260 million cluster bombs  on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.   There are still 78 million bombs in Laos, that need to be detonated, and as you can imagine, this caused a lot of problems from this developing nation.

The UXO museum was quite an experience…In addition to having a wide variety of bombs on display, there were a few videos to watch and lots of information of how the UXOs still affect Laos today.

I guess what I’m getting at with all of this is that there’s always more to know.  There’s so much happening all over the world right now…I feel like the best thing any of us can do is to educate ourselves.  After all, how can you really have an opinion about things when you only ever hear 1/2 of the story.

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The number of people injured and killed by bombs just in Luang Prabang’s province every year

I know that when I have kids, I will encourage them to travel.  You can learn about so much more than food and temples when you’re in another country.

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You can also learn a real sense of gratitude when you see these things.   Parents have so much less to worry about in North America…

So there you have it…those are my two cents.

Next, I’ll be writing about our week on the island of Phu Quoc!  Stay tuned!!!

 

Charming Luang Prabang

Traveling has its difficulties.  Living out  of a suitcase can get pretty old.  Arriving at a hotel to discover that it smells like sewage can be pretty depressing.  Travel days are exhausting. But the worst part of traveling is traveler’s diarrhea, or as I like to call it ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’

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For some reason, Dave and I love traveling in the most high-risk areas for this terrible affliction…

This is a special kind of ‘food poisoning’, where your gut bacteria decides that it doesn’t like a new cuisine and proceeds to evacuate everything from both your stomach and intestines at such a violent pace that you end up with sore ribs.

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For my readers who learn best through the use of visuals…

I spent the first 24 hours of our 3 days in Luange Prabang wishing for death…or that at least the smell of sewage in our hotel would subside.  Luckily, this never seems to get me sick for more than 24 hours, and by day 2, I was able to go out and explore the city.  I quickly fell in love.

Luang Prabang’s History

Luang Prabang is located in North-Central Laos.  The main city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage sight due to its many Buddhist relics and well preserved historical buildings.

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It’s a small city, but has a tonne of history.  Because it was the capital during Laos’ French Colonial period, there is a tonne of really cool architecture in the town.  The mixture of colonial and traditional Laos buildings make it a great place for taking photos!

Buddhism in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang translates to ‘The Royal Buddha Image’.  I imagine this is because this is the town to see if you want to see Laotian Buddhist Architecture.  We saw countless temples while we were there.  I actually lost count of which ones were which, so I apologize that I can’t properly label them.

Some temples were extra interesting.  Dave found one that had this really interesting rock jutting out in front of it.  Another is said to have Buddha’s footprint in it.  Buddha was apparently HUGE!!!

Luang Prabang is also known for a daily ceremony of local monks.  Each day, at around 6am, monks walk the streets, asking for alms (donations).  We never actually saw the procession, because as far as I’m concerned, 6am doesn’t exist when I’m on vacation, but it would be pretty neat to see.  We did stop at one monastery, though, where I followed a cat around and got some really neat shots of it, with the Monk’s robes drying in the background.

Handicrafts in Luang Prabang

As interesting as temples can be, they aren’t the only things Luang Prabang has to offer.  There are several craft villages around the city.  We attempted to visit 2 of them, but only one of the trips was successful.

We had better luck in the Paper and Weaving village, where we bought more than one souvenir!

On Our Way to the Waterfall

The best part of our trip to Luang Prabang though, was without a doubt, the trip to Kuang Si Falls.

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For obvious reasons

There is more than one way to get to the falls.  Most people take a tour with a group or with a Tuk Tuk driver.   We opted to rent a motorbike instead, and found our own way, which was half the fun!

The first thing you see when you enter the park, is actually a bear sanctuary.  Asiatic Black Bears (also called Moon Bears) are incredibly cute, but are also becoming incredibly endangered.  They are captured all over Asia for use in Chinese Medicine.

Bear Bile has been used in Chinese medicine for over 1000 years.    The bile is mostly used to help with gal bladder and liver conditions.  Fortunately, there are herbal options that are equally effective as the bear bile; unfortunately, people in China still think the bear bile is better.  As a result, Asiatic bears are captured and literally tortured for years for the sake extracting bile from their gal bladders.

The bear sanctuary has saved their bears from these farms.  They also rescue bears who have been injured in traps.  We saw one bear lumbering around clumsily because it was missing one of its front paws  He made me think of my sweet Hugo, and how adaptable animals can be.

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I never got this good of a picture, so I stole it from the internet.  

If you ever want to get me a Christmas or Birthday present, but aren’t sure what I’d like (and don’t want to pay outrageous shipping fees), please donate to ‘Save the Bears’ or any of the other organizations I’ve mentioned in past posts.

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I’ll be writing about the UXO foundation in another post, but this is another cause I’m very passionate about.  

The Kuang Si Falls

The falls themselves are well worth the trip, no matter how you decide to get there.  They go on for ages, and the final view of the big falls is absolutely stunning.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me…

As you continue up the hill, there are places you can actually swim at the falls.  Dave and I both regret not bringing our bathing suits, as this would have been a gorgeous spot to go for a dip!

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As we continued on, the falls got bigger and more beautiful.

The scenery around the falls was very nice as well.  Even the garbage cans were cute, and there was an old water wheel as well.

Finally, we arrived at the big falls, which are even more beautiful than the little ones!  I hadn’t actually looked at the pictures online, so I wasn’t expecting anything this gorgeous, so it was a rather awesome surprise when we arrived at this point.

So that’s it for Luang Prabang.  I’ve got plenty more to write, as we are now in Ho Chi Minh City!  Stay Tuned!!!

 

On The Road – Taking the Bus in Laos

South East Asia has a reputation for bad drivers.  I’m here to clear some things up about Laos, as well as to show off some of the gorgeous views I saw on my way to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

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1.)  Your Options

There are a few different options for tourists in Laos.  Currently, there are no great train options in South East Asia, but it looks like soon, that will change.  For now, taking a bus is the best way to get around in both Laos and Cambodia.

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This is going to change things for these countries!

There are 3 types of buses.  The first kind are standard, long distance buses.  Think of a Grey Hound bus, but add in more people, more luggage and less air conditioning.  Some tourists report that some of these vehicles are so old, they have difficulty climbing the steep hills on the way to Luang Prabang.  We decided to avoid that option…

The next option is a miniature version of those buses.  They are smaller and more narrow, but they are a bit roomier than the mini vans.  We took one of those to Vang Vieng.  It was pretty comfortable and I even managed to get a bit of sleep on the way…that is until our driver started showing off his driving skills….(more on that in a second…)

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It’s like an ‘inbetweeny Van’

The last option is a minivan.  This choice is slightly bigger than the mini-vans your parents drove you to soccer practice in at home, and they sit about 15 people.  They’re usually pretty cramped, but they ride low and make for a smoother ride.  They’re also usually in better condition than the buses.  We took a mini van to Luang Prabang.

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They somehow manage to fit 15 people in that thing…

2.  The Drivers Drive…Differently….

It’s common to see  drivers pounding back energy drinks and trying to stay awake and alert throughout the long trips.  This is terrifying.  More than once, Dave thought of offering to take over for our driver, who didn’t seem to be affected by the M510s he was emptying and throwing out the window.

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An M510 energy drink.  There are rumours that they contain Amphetamines, which is untrue.  In reality, they’re about the same as drinking a Redbull.  Which still isn’t great…

Our drivers didn’t speak much English, but it didn’t really matter because it was obvious from the first kilometer…their only concern was getting us from Point A to Point B in as short a time as possible.  This often meant speeding, weaving in and out of traffic and slamming on the breaks at the last second to avoid rear ending someone who has slowed down in front of them.

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I think it’s safe to say that ‘Drivers Ed’ isn’t a thing in South East Asia..

 

If you’ve driven in Asia, or have lived in Asia for a while, don’t worry.  It’s not too much worse than everywhere else.  If you’ve only ever driven in the west…prepare yourself.  You’re in for quite the ride!!

3. The Passengers Suffer

Some blog posts I read said that passengers were throwing up from all the winding roads in the countryside.  Others described anxiety during the trip and pure relief upon arrival.  My experiences weren’t this bad.  I felt a little car sick once or twice, but I get car sick even on the best of roads!

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The roads are VERY windy.  They wind all the way up the mountain

Luckily, many of the regular pit stops that these buses make, have stores that sell motion sickness patches and pills!  You know it’s a problem, when…

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They even have several different brands to choose from!

4.  It’s Worth The Ride

Having said all this, I’d like to finish this post on a positive note.  South East Asia is beautiful!!  The landscapes here are simply stunning, so although you might feel sick, and you’ll probably be scared out of your wits once or twice, it can be worth the trip to take the ride.  Remember, these drivers may seem crazy, but they have some of the fastest reflexes I’ve ever seen on a non-cat!!!

5. Final Tips from the Kinetic Canuck

  1. Don’t take the trip on a full stomach.  It’s just not a good idea.
  2. Don’t take the trip on an empty stomach.  Some routes only have 1 or 2 stops with questionable food choices
  3. Bring some music to enjoy.  It can help keep your mind off of your stomach if you’re feeling sick.
  4. Don’t worry too much!  Enjoy the views and remember that these drivers take these roads every day!  (and if they are falling asleep…offering to drive for them usually shakes them up pretty good and gets them to pay attention to the road a little better!!!)

I’ll be back soon with a blog post about our final stop in Laos; Luang Prabang!!

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Sneak Peak!!

Visiting Vang Vieng

In about an hour from now, we’ll be on our way to Luang Prabang, our last stop in Laos.  Vang Vieng has been everything we’d hoped for, and more.  I can’t remember a time when I loved a landscape this much.  It even rivals my love for Vancouver’s Stanley Park.  Vang Vieng is lush, raw and it has everything I love:  trees, mountains, animals and gorgeous winding rivers.

There is plenty to do here, and although the main draw for tourism is tubing down the river, I much preferred our first day here, when we rented a motorcycle and spent the day cruising around the countryside.   My former student, Ivy, said it best:  a beautiful landscape can calm anxiety and help you relax.  With scenes like this, I was finally able to unwind from my stressful fall term:

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We spent 4 hours cruising around.  I feel like it was impossible for me to take a bad photo!  Even on the back of a moving motorcycle, I was in a photographer’s paradise!

We saw plenty of animals along the way.  Cows, chickens and pigs roam freely in the area.  Everyone watches out for everyone else’s livestock.  And here, like India and everywhere else I’ve ever been, cows rule the road.

We passed countless children on their way home from school.  I know that poverty is a real problem here; Laos is a 3rd world country and is on the UN’s list of the world’s ‘least developed countries’ (along with Haiti,  Ethiopia, Bangladesh and others).  Still, the people who live here have a sort of wealth that I envy.  They may not have flat screen TVs, but they have a pretty spectacular view.  They may not have Xboxes and Macbooks, but they play football with the world’s nicest backdrop.  They are wealthy in their own way.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’d trade my life for the life of a Laotian.  As I mentioned in my last post, 300 people per year die here from UXOs from the Vietnam war.  Laos’ GDP accounts for only 0.02% of the world’s economy, and as a result, people live in extreme poverty.  They rely on donations from other countries to do things like build bridges or fix roads.

Tourism is important in these parts, and I always take that into account when I pay more than locals for food, drinks and pretty much everything.  I have the money.  I don’t mind paying a bit more.  Luckily, Laos does have incredible attractions for people to enjoy.

Attractions like….

Caves

This cave was small and terrifying so I never went into it.  There are more caves than I can even count around Vang Vieng.  Dave braved his way up this terrifying ‘staircase’ and was at the top before too long, exploring.  I stayed down below and took some pictures of the area.

Lagoons

Blue Lagoon is one of Vang Vieng’s most visited locations.  Unfortunately, it are very popular with the crowds, so we never went swimming.  It was crowded and they were closing soon after we arrived, so we never bothered to try.

Instead, while the rest of our group swam, we explored the area a little bit.

We saw some people giving elephant rides, which was discouraging.  There are so many attractions around these parts that there’s no reason to include elephant rides.  The tour guide tried getting us to come over, but I snapped a picture and turned away.  Mostly I just wanted a chance to remind my readers again how awful elephant rides are.

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The Blue Lagoon did end end up providing us with some entertainment at the end of our stop there.  A Chinese man had decided to jump off the high trunk of a tree.  It was about 20 feet up, and he had climbed up, but didn’t want to jump.  We watched him for more than 20 minutes.  He jumped just as we got on the bus.  It was pretty funny.  I felt bad for the guy, but at the same time, I KNOW I’m a wimp, and that’s why I didn’t go up there in the first place.

Zip Lining

I’m not going to go into much detail about the zip lining because I decided to write a short story about our experience.  My major focus in all of my writing classes was creative non-fiction, and it’s been ages since I wrote a non-fiction story, and our trip out into the mountains had everything that a short story needs:  humour, suspense and a clumsy and terrified protagonist.  I’ll link that story here as soon as I’m done.   For now, here are some pictures.

Tubing on the Nam Song River

Tubing down the river is the main reason people visit Vang Vieng.   A few years back, the tubing experience was wild.  People were getting drunk, getting high and dying on the river.  In 2011 alone, at least 27 tourists died in Vang Vieng (the number is actually higher because many of the injured are sent to Vientiane, where they later die).   Tourists hurt themselves jumping off of trees in shallow areas and many drowned after drinking shot after shot of Lao Lao (a local whisky) before hopping back on their tubes.  It didn’t take long before Vang Vieng became known as South East Asia’s party town.

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It’s such a beautiful place, and it was nearly ruined by tourists being irresponsible 

In 2012, things began to change.  South East Asian tourism was suffering because of Vang Vieng’s bad reputation, and the Laotian government was pushed into making changes. I’m happy to say that the river is now a lovely, relaxing place where there are still bars (but fewer of them), but, for the most part, the environment is controlled and safe.

One thing worth mentioning though, is that if you book your day of tubing with the wrong people, you may not have the best time…

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I wasn’t trying to imitate the locals…I was just trying to protect my poor shoulders from further burning

 

We had planned to take the North river on own own.  We figured that if we didn’t go with a guide, we could take our time on the river (which is very lazy and slow moving) and meet up with like-minded people along the way.  Instead, we ended up going down the south river with a guide, along with 6 European 20 year olds…

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I learned at the beer Olympics this year that beer pong is not my sport.  I wasn’t too keen on 2 hours of it…

We were definitely not happy with the fact that we were made to stay at the first bar for nearly 90  minutes.  Eventually, we told the guide we were going to leave with or without him.  He realized that we weren’t there to get sloshed and assigned us a different guide and let us go ahead.  That hour and half was gorgeous.  I actually fell asleep once or twice because the river was so comfortable and relaxing.

Our tour guide also fell asleep on the way down.  He realized quickly that he didn’t need to worry about us, so he enjoyed the ride down.

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He uses his sandals as paddles and has an awesome hat that he can drape over his face when he naps.  He’s thought this whole thing out…

I wish we’d had a couple of hours of this and that we hadn’t had a guide at all, but still, we made do and had a very nice time on the Nam Song River.

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I took a video at one point down the river.  Notice the silence.  This sort of serenity is exquisite for someone who lives in China 10 months of the year…

When we reached the end of the tour, we found at ourselves at another bar…this time it was for 2 hours.  You can’t exactly go flag down a tuk tuk in the middle of nowhere, so we were stranded and stuck waiting until our guide let us leave.  We found out later that people who had started 2 hours later than us were leaving at the same time, because they hadn’t gone on a tour with a guide who forced them to stay at bars in the hopes of making extra money.

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Dave found something to do right away:  There were kids around who wanted to play soccer!

Travelling does something strange to nomads like me.  When you visit all these different places, certain ones really stick with you.  Kratie in Cambodia, Chiang Mai in Thailand, Goa in India…  These places somehow manage to steal a piece of your heart, and they leave you feeling homesick for them, even if your time there was short.  Vang Vieng is now a part of that list.  I will always remember it and always feel drawn to it.

I hope one day we can go back and see Vang Vieng again.  Until then, I have plenty more to look forward to!

Next stop, Luang Prabang!

 

 

 

Vivre Vientiane

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!

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Architecture is only 1 of the reasons why everyone should visit this part of the world!

Where to begin???

About Vientiane

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.

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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!!)

Temples

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…

Buddha Park

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.

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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!

Around Vientiane

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!