Day 10: Vientiane – City Tour

This morning, Pati stepped out onto the balcony of their hotel room, looked south, and saw the Mekong River and Thailand beyond.  The huge Night Market of last night is gone, leaving only a strip of pavement that looks very small now. Across the street, to the east, is a large temple complex. Below the balcony, four floors down at street level, is a small black poodle in a sweater. Such is the morning view of Vientiane.

Pati and BeeBee started their official day at 9 am, meeting their guide in the lobby. This is their latest morning start so far, but they have been told that there is not much to see in the capitol city of Laos (!) and they will spend only half days with him.

The first area they visited included Wat Sisaket (the oldest major sight in the city), a temple with thousands of miniature Buddha statues, and the former royal temple of Wat Prakeo, that previously housed the famous Emerald Buddha.  Since the Emerald Buddha has been in Bangkok for many years (taken by Thailand when they conquered this part of Laos), Wat Prakeo is not truly a wat (temple) any more, but is known as the House of the Emerald Buddha.

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At one of their stops to look at a small garden of exhibits, there was a very large jar under a protecting roof. This jar was about 4 1/2 feet tall and several feet across. It had been broken but repaired. On the bottom inside it were coins and paper money, dropped there for luck. The guide explained that this was a jar from the famous Plain of Jars, an Iron Age site which was bombed during the Vietnam War. American soldiers stole the jar and transported it to an airport, intending to load it on a plane and take it home with them. They were stopped from doing that, and so the Jar stayed in Laos. Laos would like the Plain of Jars designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as Luang Prabang is), but it is still not cleared of fallen bombs, and until it is, it cannot be developed as a tourist site.

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Next they drove to see the famous and sacred structure of That Luang Stupa, which contains a bone fragment of Buddha. This huge gold stupa is the symbol of Laos. They also visited the National Cultural Hall, which contained elaborately-painted walls and ceilings illustrating stories of Buddha.

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On the way back, they stopped at the imposing Patuxay Monument, which is well known as Vientiane’s own Arc de Triumph. Pati and BeeBee walked to the top (fewer than 200 steps) to take pictures of the city from the top.

They decided not to visit Morning Shopping mall, which, from the guide’s description,  seemed more like what they would see at home.

The guide recommended that they eat lunch at Makphet restaurant, which was one block away from their hotel and actually shared a back wall with it. This restaurant teaches its students how to be waiters, and any tips collected go toward helping the students. The guide’s brother is actually a student there, and is learning English also so that he can interact with tourists. But the guide was not unduly influenced by his brother; the restaurant is actually the number 2 restaurant in Vientiane, according to Trip Advisor. Their meal was very good.

Next they caught a tuk-tuk to go visit the COPE unexploded ordinance (UXO) museum. During the Vietnam War, bomber pilots returning from Vietnam to their base in Laos dropped any remaining bombs on designated areas in Laos, because it was dangerous for them to land a plane carrying bombs. More bombs per capita were dropped on Laos than on any other country in the world. (Google “America’s ‘secret war’ in Laos”.) More bombs were dropped on Laos than in all of World War II. These bombs were still live when they fell on villages and farms.

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Sculpture of mother and child, made entirely of metal from bombs

Over the years, many Laotians have been maimed or killed when they accidently set off a bomb by plowing, digging, touching, or setting a fire on top of one.  COPE helps UXO victims as well as those injured by accidents or natural causes (e.g., birth defects). Trip Advisor rates a visit to the COPE museum as the number 1 activity in Vientiane.

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After some internet time back at the hotel, Pati and BeeBee walked to dinner at Chokdee Cafe and Belgian Beer Bar, which is a French restaurant that is rated the number 3 restaurant in Vientiane by Trip Advisor. They had spaghetti bolognese, an Italian dish in a French restaurant in Laos. It was very good.

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While they were waiting for their food, they could hear what sounded like a parade coming down the street. The sounds veered off the street toward the Night Market, and not long afterward they could see a procession heading through the middle of the market. After dinner, they walked over to the Night Market to shop and, hearing the sounds again, followed them to an area in front of a grandstand full of people. There was a circle of people surrounding the source of the sounds. Inside the circle were two dragons dancing around! Pati and BeeBee realized that they were celebrating Chinese New Year.

After walking through every part of the Night Market, Pati and BeeBee headed back to their hotel, just across the street from the market, to rest up for the next day.