Leaving Vang Vieng, we headed south to Laos’ capital Vientiane, home to old French colonial mansions, colorful temples, and a rich selection of international cuisine.
Arriving at our Avalon Hotel, we were assured that our stay would refresh us and make us feel young and happy (see below).
Can you take us to up there?
So, our first experience in Vientiane was a mishap of an adventure. We had about one hour of sunlight left in the late afternoon and wanted to squeeze in a visit to Pha That Luang, “world precious sacred stupa.” We grabbed a tuk-tuk and told the non-English speaking driver that we wanted to visit said site and even pointed out the location on a map. I think the mistake I made was pointing “up” on the map, which apparently confused our driver, who didn’t understand what we were saying in the first place. After about thirty minutes in rush hour traffic heading pretty far out of town, we all started scratching our heads, wondering why we were driving the opposite direction of our intended destination. Then, suddenly, we arrived at the international airport. Hmmm. I guess when I pointed “up” on the map, the tuk-tuk driver thought I was pointing up to the sky, like airplane?
We hopped out and found another tuk-tuk, this time with a driver who spoke English, and tried it all again. We drove back through the city, passing the Patuxai monument (like a Laotian Arch de Triumph) en route.
Pha That Luang
We finally made it to Laos’ most important national monument, a symbol of Lao sovereignty and Buddhism. The glimmering golden stupa, which appears on the national seal, is a worthy attraction in and of itself, but the surrounding wats offer colorful murals, verdant gardens, impressive statues, and chanting monks. The best time of day to view the stupa is in the late afternoon when the setting sun reflects off the golden spire.
The legend of Pha That Luang tells a story of Ashokan missionaries from India erecting a temple in the 3rd century to encapsulate a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Further construction ensued in 1566, and four additional wats were built around the stupa.
Of the four wats originally built, two remain: Wat That Luang Tai and Wat That Luang Neua, the monastic residence of the supreme patriarch of Lao Buddhism. The brightly painted murals and well manicured gardens impressed.
Witnessing the serene devotion of chanting Buddhist monks was spiritually transporting.
Christmas in Vientiane
We headed over to Khop Chai Deu for dinner, a very large restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating and a wide assortment of Lao, Thai, Indian and Western food. The halls were decked for Christmas, although blue seemed to be the dominant color in the decor.
Jo and I taking shots of each other.
Tom mak houang, a local Lao specialty, deliciously spicy green papaya salad.
Beer Lao and Tiger Beer (Southeast Asian Bud equivalent) are pretty cheap and pretty tasty.
Exploring Vientiane on Foot
This was it. It was the last full day of our two week G Adventures tour of Cambodia and Laos. I knew I would miss the new friends I’d made, but for some reason, maybe it was travel fatigue(?), I wanted to spend my last day exploring Vientiane on my own. So, I grabbed my map and “Resource Guide” and headed out on foot.
I started off from our Avalon Hotel, heading South toward the river. Turning left on Setthathirath Road, which seemed to be heavily populated with Wats. My end goal was the famous Wat Si Saket, at the Southeastern end of the city. I wanted to see as many temples along the way as possible, which included Inpeng, Mixay, and Onglou.
Lovely colonial architecture mixed in with the palm tree tropical vibe seemed almost Caribbean (or probably closer to Vietnamese French colonial capital, Hanoi).
Have you ever seen a monk cut grass with scissors? I’ll bet that takes some time.
Vientiane is dripping with colorful bougainvillea.
Wat Si Saket
Built in 1818, Si Saket is the oldest and most important wat in Vientiane. The inside cloister walls are riddled with 2000 ceramic and silver Buddha images and 300 standing and seated Buddhas made from bronze, wood and stone. The square cloister surrounds the central temple, which has a five-tiered, Thai-style roof.
Across from Si Saket was Haw Phra Kaew. Originally constructed as a royal temple in 1565 to house the jade Buddha (which now resides in Bangkok), the temple now houses a museum of Buddhist art and architecture.
There were a slew of Asian tourists that arrived by tour bus, all cramming into the museum at once. It was very claustrophobic, so I didn’t linger long inside. The majority of the artifacts were hand-carved Buddha statues. I preferred the Buddhas on the outside and just being outside in general.
Holy Buddha Juice
These monks were walking around the parameter of the temple, rubbing each Buddha statue, like they were trying to connect with them or get some holy Buddha juice or something.
U.S. Embassy Encounter
After my morning of temple visits and a quick trip to the local mall to buy some cheap shades for my hubby (his request), I turned back towards the hotel, in desperate need of a shower before our overnight train ride to Bangkok. I headed to That Dam, a large stupa believed to house a seven-headed naga (serpent) that protected against a Siam invasion in 1827. On the way, I inadvertently came across the U.S. Embassy. As I raised my camera, men started walking toward me, waving their hands, “No photos!” Oh, that’s right. I should remember that from my time at The State Department. In my glee to be so near U.S. soil, I smiled and very cheesily said, “That’s my country! I’m American!” Woah- maybe I was a tad homesick and didn’t realize it?
This is just a random cat that looks like Chunga, my mother and father-in-law’s cat. The cats in Laos, like the ones in Thailand, were quite attractive.
Leaving Vientiane, we boarded an overnight train to Bangkok. This was a bit better than my first overnight train to Bangkok, mostly because I knew what to expect. We did a little bit of this…
Plenty of beer insured a somewhat decent night sleep on the bumpy, noisy train. I feel it’s somewhat equivalent to taking an ambien before an overseas flight.
If you’re taking the overnight train, make sure you buy a bunk seat in one of the few air conditioned cars. It gets pretty cold, especially in the top bunk, so bring layers! Earplugs and an eye mask are also essential.
This ends my month’s travel in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Before moving to a different continent, I’ll focus on my dive trip to Indonesia (Sulawesi, Bali and Singapore) last October. Then we’ll head on over to a very special place, Africa!
Thanks for stopping by!