Day 11: Vientiane – Buddha Park

When Pati and BeeBee were in Luang Prabang, their guide told them that the monks gathered every morning at 6 am on a street near them to collect alms, which is the only way they are supported. Pati and BeeBee did not go to observe this, since they had early starts these mornings. Their guide in Vientiane told them that there was a similar ritual near their hotel, except at 4:30 am, since the monks had to finish the ritual before shops opened and traffic built. Since the entrance to the temple was directly across the street from their room, with an excellent view of the street for several hundred meters in each direction, BeeBee set their alarm for 4:25 am.

A few minutes before 4:30 am, therefore, BeeBee was standing on their balcony waiting while Pati was getting the camera ready. A skinny white dog trotted out of the gate into the street, followed by another almost-identical dog. They darted around checking out cars and searching for (what?). At just about 4:30, two monks appeared from the shadows below the gate. Gradually, they were joined by 11 others. The morning was chilly, and, although they were dressed in their long saffron robes, their feet were bare. Once they were all there, they drifted like ghosts down the street away from the river, silently except for the occasional cough. (The two white dogs took this opportunity to lope back inside under the gate. Their ritual was done.) When they reached the next street corner, they formed an irregular line and waited. The low sound of a drum was heard, and every dog in the neighborhood began to howl. The monks were still waiting when Pati and BeeBee returned to bed. At sometime after 5 am, the sound of a gong was heard from far inside the temple grounds: the ritual was complete for another day.

Lao-Thai Frendship Bridge #1

At 9 am, Pati and BeeBee set off with the guide and driver out of town. About 30 km (18 miles) out of town, they stopped at the site of an old ferry across the Mekong River to Thailand. All that was left were the 49 cement steps leading down to the river. From this place on the river bank there was a good view of the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge #1 (Pati and BeeBee had entered Laos from Thailand over Friendship Bridge #4). People from either country can buy a ticket from the police at their end of the bridge and walk out to the middle of the bridge, where they must turn around and return to their original side. There are cameras in the middle of the bridge to help make sure of this. The boundary between Laos and Thailand at this place is the middle of the Mekong River.

After another few kilometers, they reached Buddha Park, a blend of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures on parkland located by the Mekong River. The park was designed, built, and paid for by one man (whose parents had owned the land), although eventually he accepted contributions to complete the park. The largest sculpture in the park is a reclining Buddha, after he died.

The statues illustrate stories from the two religions, stories that Pati and BeeBee have seen on the walls and ceilings of temples on this trip.

The most popular structure in the park is the huge pumpkin with the tree of life on top. The entrance and exit of the pumpkin is through the devil’s mouth. There are three levels inside: hell is the lowest, earth is the middle, and heaven is the top. There are steep and dangerous steps between the levels. The most difficult steps are those between earth and heaven.

Just before entering the pumpkin, the guide told Pati and BeeBee that his tour company wanted him to take a picture of them in front of the pumpkin, so that his company could put it on their website. Since Pati and BeeBee’s tour company contracts out their tours to other tour companies, it is unclear just what website was meant. Perhaps someday they will find out! (Pati remarked that the company wanted the picture of them before they entered the pumpkin, because a picture of them in a hospital after falling off the pumpkin would not be good publicity.)

After the guide dropped Pati and BeeBee off at their hotel (his day’s work done), they decided to go to the little restaurant beside their hotel for a small quick lunch. (The guide had recommended this restaurant for its food.) They took seats at a table outside, and after a long while, a young woman brought them menus.  They quickly decided on an order of spring rolls to share and drinks. After another long while, she returned to take their order, which they accomplished by pointing at the items on the menu. She nodded and went to collect the spring rolls from a case near them. After a while, she brought them cut into smaller pieces, with bowls of peanut sauce for dipping. After waiting a few minutes for the drinks, Pati and BeeBee started to eat the spring rolls. They have become used to the problem that Lao waiters have with bringing all the food at the same time. They finished the spring rolls and waited longer for the drinks. Meanwhile, their waiter and others became involved in moving around large pots of plants in front of the restaurant, leaning on BeeBee’s bench and brushing her back with branches and leaves.  Giving up on drinks, Pati and BeeBee left their seats and found someone to pay for the spring rolls. The pot arrangers were happy that Pati and BeeBee were no longer in the way. Pati and BeeBee were thirsty. Pati will write a comprehensive review for Trip Advisor.

After “lunch,” Pati and BeeBee set off walking to find the Lao National History Museum. This museum is a bit run down, but it is somewhat close to their hotel. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the culture of the Lao people, while the second floor concentrates on the military history of the last few hundred years: specifically, invasions by Siam (Thailand), China, France, and the U.S.  (the “US Imperialists and its puppets”). It highlights the revolution in the 1970s. Most of the commentary and labels on the second floor are translated into English. It is a shock to see pictures and commentary about a war that was kept secret from the citizens of the invading country. Yet everyone that Pati and BeeBee have met has been friendly and warm toward them. There is also a very small section in the museum about World War II. Here there are pictures showing Germany surrendering to Russia and Japan surrendering to “anti-fascists” without mentioning the U.S. by name.

Walking back to their hotel, Pati and BeeBee finally got their drinks: unsweetened iced tea, cool but very little ice.

Pati and BeeBee cooled off in their hotel room until the Night Market opened, because BeeBee was interested in a book she saw the night before. They walked straight to the bookseller’s stall and bought a paperback book, “English-Lao Picture Dictionary for Elementary – Lover Secondary Students” (yes, misspelled) for 25,000 kip (just over $3 USD). They stayed a few minutes to watch a large group of women follow an instructor in exercising to music.  A few hundred meters away was another group, also exercising to the same music, but with different leaders. Then they sat on the broad steps behind the market and near the Mekong River with other people and just watched the river and Thailand beyond for a while.

They went to a restaurant near their hotel for a dinner of shrimp pad thai and fried chicken with peanuts. (They had eaten their first dinner in Vientiane there.) Then they walked back to their restaurant of last night for dessert, profiterolles and lao coffee with milk. After this, they walked back through the Night Market to their hotel.

Tomorrow they will check out of their hotel and catch a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.