Day 22 (6 Jan 2010): All things Laooooo [Vientiane]

For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.

Weather: Bloody hot!!

Distance covered today: 0km
Distance traveled from Guangzhou: 2,612km
Distance remaining to Singapore: 2,492km

Fact of the day: During the 19th century when Laos was under the French rule, the boat journey from Saigon to Vientiane on the Mekong took a longer time than the ship journey between Saigon and Metropolitan France.

I spent the morning walking on Vientiane’s (KM 2612) main street and then onwards to Patuxai.

Avenue Souphanouvong

Avenue Souphanouvong

Some of the sights along the way:

Inpeng Temple

The electrical lines spoilt the pictures

Nagas - Protectors of temples

Buddhist story reflected on the carvings

Chinese medicinal hall

Paintings for sale

Stupa

National Library

Sign to Vientiane's Mosque

The mosque

Phat Dam

Poster from SEA Games

Avenue of Million Elephants

Just before reaching Patuxai on Avenue Lane Xang, I witnessed a motorcade which required traffic policemen to stop the traffic for them. Must be some Lao big shots.

Patuxai in its full glory:

Inspired by Arc de Triomphe

From another angle

The (in)famous sign

Judokas seen near Patuxai

Then I plotted my way to Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park. First I got to Talat Sao bus station where I would take bus no 14 to the park (5,000 LAK). The other passengers didn’t seem to understand me but somehow I got onto the correct bus.

The co-passengers

The bus would pass by Friendship Bridge, Laos’ main border crossing with Thailand.

Duty-free shop

Finally I reached Buddha Park after more than 30 minutes of bus ride. The entrance fee was 8,000 LAK.

Buddha Park entrance

The sign says it all

To say that the place was filled with bizarre sculptures would be an understatement. There were hundreds of them. People who are familiar with Buddhist or Hindu mythology could probably recognize some of the characters.

One of the many bizarre statues

Big mouth

Playing with color accent

Chatting monks in the background

Tree

Multiple faces

One of my fav

Dancer pose

Multiple hands

Just plain weird

Cute headgear

I took plenty more pictures but the whole place felt really weird to me. Being a really hot day, I got an ice-cream while waiting for the bus back to city center.

Back at Talat Sao station, I went to check the bus departures’ to Nong Khai.

Bus timings to Nong Khai

After that I grabbed a tuktuk to Phat That Luang, Laos’ national symbol, for 10,000 LAK.

View from the tuktuk

Entrance

It screams "GOLD"!

Shrine to a Lao king

Gleaming in the afternoon sun

Introduction to the stupa

Shrine inside Phat That Luang

Opulent

It was really a hot day and I found a cafe to while away the afternoon. I could tap into free WiFi in that cafe which was a bonus. I also read Bangkok Post from few days ago.

Some more pictures along the way:

Chinese cigarette company - Many Chinese investors in Laos

Patuxai under the setting sun's glow

China-sponsored Lao National Cultural Hall - No performance that day though

I spent my last night reorganizing my thoughts about the country. Laos is a small country relative to its bigger neighbors; Vietnam to the east, China to the north and Thailand to the South and West. Myanmar and Cambodia are also its neighbors but their influence are quite negligible compared to the other three. With no offense to the Lao people, I just feel that they are never going to have much say in international and regional affairs. Its neighbors are likely to remain influential in Laos’ development due to stronger economic/political links.

A lot of investments are pouring into Laos and improvements can be observed. For example rivers used to be the main highways but construction of new roads (mainly to facilitate trade between China and Thailand) has reduced the traveling time and improved the comfort level. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder whether most of the economic benefits are being distributed fairly. Some people benefit more than the others definitely; I could see their kids having expensive cakes and sandwiches at the cafe.

Furthermore the foreign investors are also likely to send back the money that they make in Laos to their home countries. From I read, the Chinese government loaned money to African states such as Angola for infrastructure projects on the condition that the contracts would be given to Chinese companies (which bring their Chinese workers). Probably the same arrangement exists between China and Laos as well. Obviously the money aren’t trickling down the Lao society under such arrangement and the Lao state would need to repay the debts eventually..

Meanwhile tourism brings in positive changes which directly benefit local people. ATMs which were unheard of a few years back are more common and WiFi is available in the main touristy places. While the tourism industry in Laos wasn’t as developed as Thailand’s, perhaps it would be more sustainable in the long run. Most of the Lao people I met were friendly and helpful. Even in touristy Luang Prabang, I didn’t meet any locals who tried to take advantage of the tourists. To me, this form of tourism is more sustainable in the long run.

Hopefully Laos will continue to remain unspoiled from the relentless stream of fascinated tourists to the country.

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