The Capital?

The Capital?

IMG_1254Our journey to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, began in a hectic rush.  As we tried to wait patiently for our pickup, I asked Neil for the third time if we should call.  Once the pickup was nearly an hour late, he called the bus company.  Sure enough, they had forgotten us.  A minivan arrived minutes later and quickly sped off.  We started to think we would be riding crazily in this van all the way to Vientiane.  However, after speeding along for about 15 minutes we pulled over to the side of the road and there was our big bus.


We jumped on and within a few hours pulled into the city.  We went right to Sihome Backpackers, suggested by Kris, and unloaded our stuff into our bunk beds.  This was the first time I had a top bunk.  It was a bit interesting, and I was grateful we were only sleeping there for one night!  We went right out to find food and came across a small street restaurant.  As we walked along, I started to wonder exactly where in the city we were located.  The streets were lined with rundown buildings, men doing construction, and minimal restaurants or stores.  After eating, Kristy and I wandered towards the river and came across some large outdoor market.  However it was different than ones we had seen before in Thailand or Laos.


It had stalls upon stalls filled with similar products and people sitting with microphones promoting their products.  For example, there was a stall selling only diapers, another selling only feminine hygiene products… it was bustling with locals and very noisy.  We took a little stroll to take it all in, then headed back to the hostel.  We hung around the hostel, chatted with a named “Steve-o”, that recently arrived in Vientiane three days ago.  He came to this hostel for a drink, talked with someone, found out they needed an artist, then decided to move in and work to help renovate the hostel with new artwork and more.  Kris arrived around eight and we greeted him with excitement and hugs.  It was not long before we brought out the cards and started playing.  At nine there is apparently “free vodka”.  Steve-o brought some over, we mixed it with strawberry fanta… and we were in for a surprise.  I believe it was some type of homemade rice vodka.  It was not nice, but we all “cheers”ed one another and took a moment to appreciate that we were back together.


That night Kristy and I formed one of the best memories.  I still laugh every time I drink beer with ice.  In Laos, there are only two types of beer: Beer Laos and Namkhong.  Kristy likes Namkhong.  After realizing that we were not going to enjoy the homemade vodka, we walked across the street to a shop.  Kristy was asking for Namkhong.  As often happens with Laotians and Thais when we try to speak their language, they repeated the word a few times.  Kristy said yes and then realized that in fact they did not have Namkhong, but they were just saying yes.  So we grabbed some Beer Laos.  Then as we were paying, the woman handed us a plastic bag with ice.  Kristy looked at me and asked if it was for us, I told her no… it was probably for them or something else.  We paid and as we started to walk out, she realized that they had a sad and confused look on their face.  She went back and grabbed the bag of ice.  IMG_1261When we got back to the hostel, we pieced together what happened… she bought a bag of ice because she asked for it!  Namkhong sounds very similar to the Thai word for ice, many people in Laos understand Thai and Lao.  So in the end, Kristy paid 1 USD for a bag of ice.  No wonder the woman looked so sad and confused as we left, why wouldn’t her customer take what she bought with her?!  I love that I can smile about this memory and I am reminded of Kristy often.

The next day, which was also our last day in Vientiane, we set out to see Buddha Park.  It was the one thing I really wanted to do while I was there, I had read about it and knew it would be really cool to see.  As with most things I have experienced over the last two months, the journey there was half the fun.  We took a tuk-tuk, even though we struggled to barter down to a lower price, it was still reasonable.  The road was unpaved, filled with potholes, huge puddles, and village life unfolding before our eyes.  It was also remarkable to drive right along the Mekong, in the distance, across the river I could see Thailand.  We also passed under the Thai-Lao friendship bridge, the first border crossing between the two countries.
DSC_9368DSC_9366After an extremely bumpy one hour ride, my bottom was nearly numb.  The view was awesome. There was a large park filled with Buddha sculptures and images, but I had done some research and knew they were not in fact very old.  They were created to look like older relics.  We walked around and admired the artwork and took a lot of photographs.  One piece was really interesting, it is pumpkin shaped and inside it there are three levels. It is a demon head and one can walk up the stairs through the levels that are filled with sculptures depicting hell and heaven.  At the top, there is a great view of all the surrounding sculptures.  Of course, there is a large reclining buddha, and you would think after seeing all the wats in Chiang Mai I would be tired of Buddha statues… but I’m not!  Below are just some of my favorite pieces.

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DSC_941920131018_132314DSC_9423After walking around the park for an hour, we piled back into the tuk-tuk and had the driver drop us of in the “city center”.  This is marked by a large arch-like monument.  It is called Patuxai and represents the Laotian struggle for independence from France.  It is reminiscent of Parisian architecture.  Ironically it was built with American money that was meant for an airport!  The arches were stunning and I had read it provided gorgeous views of the city.  I really wanted to see this, as I was still confused about the actual beauty of the city.  My short walks around the previous day had not peeked my interest and I was quite unimpressed with the city.  Maybe seeing it from above would change my mind.  However, we were all very hot, hungry, and eager to walk to Pha That Luang.  This is a huge golden stupa that cannot be missed when visiting Laos.  We walked on and arrived just as dark clouds were settling behind it.  We had a chance to take in the beauty of the structure, from outside the gates.  The gates had closed only minutes before.  On the tuk-tuk back we caught a beautiful view of Patuxai and the surrounding park as the sun set.
IMG_1275 IMG_1280And that was our trip to Vientiane in less than 48 hours!  It was not very remarkable, I knew two days and one night was plenty of time for me there.  I was happy to have seen what I saw and was extremely excited to move further south.  Next on the list: Savannaket.  I had read (I do a lot of reading online before visiting somewhere, utilizing mostly Wikitravel and Lonely Planet.  Who needs guidebooks these days!?) that it was a very small, quaint village town on the Mekong.  But I had also heard by word of mouth not to bother stopping there.  Not many backpackers visit there, instead they head straight to Pakse.  Yet I was curious to detour, just a little, from the backpacker path.  In hindsight, I cannot even express how grateful I am that I went to Savannaket.  I was not nervous because I had Kristy and Rosie with me.  So around seven that evening, we boarded a sleeper bus and settled into our tiny bunk beds.  I let them share a bed and I got the true Lao experience by sharing with a small Lao woman!  I slept great though and it was certainly an experience sleeping next to a stranger in such small quarters.IMG_1291

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