Visiting Vientiane, Laos

Wat That Luang or Golden Temple featured on Lao Kip
Laos is a country that has a tumultuous history. We hadn’t known much about it before we arrived, but reading our guidebook, we learned about a very painful past the peoples of this country have endured, and in some respects, continue to experience today.
Not only was Laos ruled by the kingdom of Siam (Thailand), but the French also fought their way to power here. In 1953, Laos finally began to govern itself, but only a decade later, they found themselves in the middle of a war without any official enemy. During the Vietnam War (Laotians call this conflict the Indo-China War), the US armed forces apparently dropped approximately 260 million “bombies” or cluster bombs, seen in the picture below from an exhibit at COPE.

As is common with cluster bombs, about 30% of these munitions dropped failed to detonate. That’s approximately 80 million highly explosive bombs littering the country that could go off at any moment, injuring anyone in their wake. We visited COPE, a non-profit organization working hard to improve this situation: finding and safely detonating UXOs (unexploded ordnances); and providing artificial limbs and rehabilitation for bomb victims. Statistics show that about 300 people die each year from UXO accidents.

All of this pain and suffering was literally dropped on Laos, and yet no country officially declared war on them. We sadly learned that if bomber planes couldn’t find their target in Vietnam, they would drop their payload over Laos before landing in Udon Thani, Thailand. Our morning spent in the visitor’s center at COPE was eye-opening and heart-wrenching. This foundation is in dire need of financial support, as high-efficiency metal detectors, TNT and training are expensive. If you can, check out their website (link above) and consider making a donation.

We were lucky to get a guided tour of the exhibit, where we learned all that we explained above:

There’s even a part where we were invited to try walking with a prosthetic leg in their training center, something that proved rather difficult! Here’s Mindy trying it out:

After our emotionally-challenging morning, we grabbed a bite to eat and then visited Wat Si Saket, home to 6840 Buddha relics. In the picture below, you can see Ligeia with a number of larger statues, but behind those, all those little arched pockets in the wall house 2-3 little Buddha figurines each. The square complex comprised of 4 similar walls.

As is customary in Buddhist temples in Laos, women need to have their knees covered. So, when we paid our entrance fee, we were shown a basket of brightly colored sarongs to choose from. Ligeia, of course, grabbed a purple one, while Mindy opted for black as it matched her shirt. Look at how pretty we are!

We continued our day, battling the Vientiane heat (it was about 34 C / 93 F), and walked north to Patuxai Gate, or Victory Gate, which was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris with a Laos twist. We found the ceilings and the railings on the observation deck to be extremely ornamental and intricate, using mythical bird-women. We don’t suppose those exist in Paris…

While each set of stairs dragged you to another level of tourist kitsch and trinkets, the final staircase was a beautiful spiral one. Mindy counted 191 steps in all.

The view from the top deck was lovely.

In the evening, walking home from dinner, we spotted bowls of bright colors from across the street. We had to investigate! They turned out to be desserts that are served with coconut milk, sugar and ice cubes. What a perfect way to end our first full day in Vientiane.
The next morning we woke up early to see as much as we could before having to pick up Ligeia’s passport with a newly stamped Thai visa inside. We walked to Wat That Luang, whose golden stupa is featured on the 1000 kip bill and is also the national symbol of Laos. The original construction of this temple dates back to the 3rd century. It is also rumored that Buddha’s breastbone is buried here.

The grounds feature many important statues for Buddhists, including this very large head…

…as well as this very large golden reclining Buddha. If you look closely, you can see Ligeia looking up at Buddha’s head:

After packing up, we got in line at the Thai embassy, hoping to get Ligeia’s passport and get to the bus station in time to catch the 2pm bus (the last one for the day) for the 4 hour ride to Vang Vieng. We were displeased that so many people were in line ahead of us, most likely having the same or similar plans. Receiving number 57 in line we were not sure we would make it. After getting the passport, we hurried to the street to find reasonable transportation, eg in the back of a tuktuk. We got there in time and Mindy even got the front seat. 🙂

We are now enjoying the beauty of Vang Vieng. Stay tuned for an update on our adventures here.

Mindy and Ligeia :):)

2 thoughts on “Visiting Vientiane, Laos

  1. Anonymous

    With all the destruction that is being done to our planet by people, it does not look well for our future.
    It looks like a loosing downhill struggle to me.
    So we just keep trying not to do too much damage at our end.
    This does not sound like me!
    So enjoy your life – there is so much beauty to be found! And you showed us a lot of that too!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Love from Oma 🙂

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