09.08.2011 - 09.08.2011
For various reasons which I won't bore you with, I can only currently get a three month visa for Vietnam, which obviously needs renewing as this is where we presently live. For this renewal, I was told I had to physically leave the country and not have it renewed the usual way of paying a couple of $100 and all is done and dusted. So my friends at NLS found the cheapest flight to a foreign city on a certain day and it was Vientiane!
Read any blog or travel article and you can bet there will be a comment on how friendly the people are, how welcoming etc. I'm living in SE Asia and people I met are, generally, exactly that - warm, friendly, welcoming. OK, the tuktuk drivers in Vientiane were a bit pushy but, hey! I could have walked.....
First stop was the Patuxai arch, built in the 60s along the lines of the Arch de Triomphe with cash given to the Laotian goverment by the US to renew the airport runway. The plaque at the base of the arch actually describes it as a "monster of concrete"! The view from the middle is not particularly inspiring - I know I was only there for 7 hours but there didn't seem to be a "heart" to the city. Maybe the Arch is it? Certainly the avenue and gardens from one aspect didn't look too straight or was that just me and my lens??
But hidden away, there are some stunning temples - amazing colours, peaceful places. This temple was beside the Pha That Luong, which dominated in terms of size but was very understated compared to the colours of its little neighbour.
Wandering around the temple complex, suddenly there was a huge, but huge, reclining Buddha: clearly recently completed in concrete with piles of sand, rubbish and whatever else lying around.
- and then into the Pha That Luong temple, listed as one of THE sights to see in the city.
I met a young monk who hovered around the cloister (for want of a better description, albeit usually associated with a different religion!) and then I realised that he wanted to chat to me. His English was very good (how could I go to a country and not even say "thank you" - I was quite ashamed) and I thought he could explain why the buddhas in the neighbouring temple were all clothed in white or gold drapes: he couldn't. Not even when I showed him a photo of one. Very odd really!
I'm fascinated by the Mekong: the thought that this mighty river flows down from China through Laos, Cambodia and out into the South China Sea in Vietnam: that it is a political and environmental hot potato: that millions (I'm trying to find out exactly how many million) of people are dependant upon it for their livelihood; that it backs up into the Tonle Sap near Siem Reap in the rainy season. I had to go and walk beside it and, luckily for me, the Laotian Government have just completed a promenade along its banks. I was walking late afternoon, so probably a popular time for the Vientianians (spelling???!) and there were certainly plenty of people in the park next to it on the free, outdoor gym equipment but very few enjoying the walk and the Mekong. In fact, most of those walking were young monks in their bright robes.
Posted by langforda 08:53