Tag Archives: Vientiane

Vientiane, Laos to Udon Thani to Chiang Mai, Thailand

4/12 – As we prepared to move from Laos to Thailand, we researched our options. From Vientiane, we could get to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand on a 15 hour bus ride, or we could take a short bus ride over the Friendship Bridge to Udon Thani and catch a $50.00 flight to arrive in Chiang Mai in an hour. We’re kind of over the long, bumpy bus experience at this point, so we opted to fly for a change.

Our hotel offered to sell us a bus ticket for 60000 kip, but they were only 22000 if purchased directly from the bus station, so we tuk-tukked over to catch the 11:30am bus. By 11:40, I was starting to fret, but a friendly Vietnamese man told me not to worry, as all schedules in Laos are only approximate suggestions. Waiting around gave us time to talk with a young Korean, and a male nurse from France on a mountain holiday. Sure enough, the bus came eventually, and we all got on it. Here is the very crowded bus station – you can see a manicurist painting the fingernails of a woman waiting for her bus. She got a pedicure too! image

The bus took us to the border so we could process out of Laos, then the short drive to where we processed into Thailand. Remembering our experience in China when the bus left without us, we were at the front of the customs line and never let the bus out of our sight! No worries – the driver’s assistant counted noses each time before the bus closed its doors.

As soon as we crossed the border, things looked a lot more westernized, with paved roads, gas stations, car lots, billboards and 7 Elevens on every corner. I wonder if they have Slurpees here?

In less than two hours we arrived at the Udon Thani bus station. As most of us were going to the airport, Jim asked if we could all share a taxi, and the Vietnamese man took charge and bargained for a tuk-tuk that would take four of us and our bags for 30 baht each. New currency again – 1 baht is worth three cents, 100 baht about three dollars. As he spoke Thai, he was a much better bargainer than we would have been – I thought the driver’s original offer of 50 baht ($1.50) each was very reasonable for a five mile ride across town! image

As we rode down the road in the open vehicle, I was suddenly drenched from behind with a bucket of cold water! I gasped in shock, and our Vietnamese friend remarked that tomorrow was the start of the Thai New Year celebration of Songkran, and we should wrap our valuables in plastic and prepare to get wet for the next three days. He said we would be doused repeatedly with water to wash away the old year and wish us luck and prosperity in the new year. Oh boy!

At the Udon Thani airport, there was a small Buddha shrine, and we watched as passengers approached to pray and pour water over the Buddha. image

This ritual is the basis for the Songkran celebration – large statues of the Buddha were once carried in procession down the street, and people poured water on the statues. At some point, the statues became less important than the water, and now people just pour water on each other.

Before long, our flight was called, and we walked out to board.image

Our flight on Bangkok Air was less than one hour, so I was surprised when the flight attendants came down the aisle with beverages, and astounded when they came down again with a meal! That’s just something Americans aren’t used to! Excellent meal too!

Once we landed in Chiang Mai, a metered taxi (no negotiating needed) took us to the historic part of town where our Western House hotel is located next to a wat and a block from the bustle of the Main Street. Tomorrow we’ll explore!

Vientiane, Laos – COPE

4/10 – So here’s the thing about Laos. If you look at a map, you’ll see that it shares a long border with Vietnam, from north to south. During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army frequently stepped across the border into Laos to avoid the Americans and make their way to the south. To dissuade them, the US retaliated by bombing the shit out of Laos, the equivalent of once every eight minutes for nine consecutive years, even though Laos was supposed to be a neutral country. Thirty percent of the bombs did not explode on impact, but littered the ground making it more difficult for the Viet Cong to travel overland.

The result is that rural, sparsely inhabited Laos, to this day, has thousands of pounds of unexploded ordnance, mainly cluster bombs, that get discovered in fields and forests, often by children, resulting in loss of sight, or limbs, or life, almost every day. There are hundreds of explosions in Laos every year, 40 years after the war between two other countries ended.

Today we visited COPE, the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, which is the main source of artificial limbs and wheelchairs for the people of Laos. The visitor center here in Vientiane is open daily to build awareness of the ongoing need to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the countryside, answer questions and encourage donations. Princess Diana was a champion of this cause, and Hillary Clinton visited in 2012 when she was Secretary of State. The US Congress appropriates money annually to assist in this effort, but it is far from done.

Here is a sculpture outside the center, made entirely of shrapnel.

There were videos explaining where the UXO are located, and the very manual process of finding and detonating them one by one.image

The education of the local people to identify and avoid the UXO is hampered by the value of metal, which many collect to sell to scrap dealers or make into household objects. Children will pick up a bomb, because it looks like a lamp or cooker they have at home.image


Wheelchairs are made out of old bicycles.image

Then there were the heartbreaking stories of those trying to live without limbs.image

Anyone who knows me knows I wept for two solid hours. You can buy a person a leg for $75.00. Donate if you can. http://www.copelaos.org

Vientiane – Some Wats and a Palace

4/9 – Today we cruised around some wats. Vientiane is home to over 80 Buddhist temples or wats, many serving as home to orange-clad monks. image

Some are old, and many are new and brightly painted. Here’s a fellow guarding the entrance to the wat across from our hotel.image

There are lots of creatures guarding the wats.

Some intricately carved tree roots being preserved at a temple under renovation.

Lots of stupas, or shrines, some with photos identifying who is being commemorated.

Lots and lots of Buddhas. The mudra with one hand on lap and one hand touching down is Calling the Earth to Witness the Truth.


Some of the traveler blogs we read talk about experiencing “temple fatigue” in this part of Asia, so we don’t try to see every one. We spot the Presidential Palace – tourists not welcome here.image

Here’s a statue of King Anouvong, who lost the kingdom of Ventiane to the Siamese in the 1820s. Even though he lost, he is revered, and candles are lit and offerings left at the base of the statue. image

In an example of quirky urban planning, his back is toward a beautiful park where people sit, and he faces an empty field. Perhaps something grand is planned for the field in the future.image

Vang Vieng to Vientiane

4/7 – Time to brush the Vang Vieng dust off our sandals and get back on the bus. We had a nice conversation with our hotel host this morning, a businessman from Singapore who saw potential in this town and decided to build a hotel and spa for his own retirement here. He was glad when the partying was shut down, as the kids trashed up the town and didn’t spend money except for drinks. He said that a lot of the hotel/hostels that went out of business were very low end, and now real hotels are being built. The China to Thailand train line (no more Bus From Hell) has been promised to be completed within the next five years, and will bring a huge influx of affluent Chinese tourists here. He is sitting on an acorn and biding his time…

This morning we tuk-tukked (can I use that as a verb?) back to the bus station. We had to wait for a group of six very-hungover young adults (?) to make their way onto the cab. They looked extremely green around the gills – evidently doing their part to keep the party spirit alive. We boarded the VIP bus to Vientiane. The bus has air conditioning! We can sit anywhere we want! It’s going to be a good day.image

The scenery was lush green, with little towns and real houses with yards and little fences. We’ve left the very poor country shacks behind, at least what we can see from the main road. After two hours we stopped for a break – ice cream and sinks with soap!image

At 2pm we arrived in the capital city of Vientiane, and 10 minutes later were at our hotel. It’s 100 degrees again. The AC in our room didn’t work, and we asked for a different room. We moved from a room with no AC to a room with poor Wifi. In this climate, AC wins every time!

We ate a noodle soup supper at the hotel restaurant, and watched an old Eddie Murphy movie – in English with Lao subtitles – on TV. They have CNN, MSNBC and BBC here!

4/8 – We set off while it was still relatively cool in the morning to see the That Dam, or Black Stupa, which is just down the road. I asked Jim if the Dam was a Wat? No, it’s a Dam! Sounded like a weird Asian version of Who’s on First. Legend says that this stupa was once covered in gold, which was stripped off by the Siamese when they invaded in the 1800s, and that a seven-headed naga dragon used to guard the stupa. Although it is weedy and looks neglected, it is the symbol of the city. Here is the front view:image
Here is the back view:image

We saw signs for the Patuxai, Vientiane’s version of Paris’ Arc du Triomphe, built to commemorate the ousting of the French in 1949, so we kept walking several kilometers down a wide boulevard until we spotted it. image

The Americans gave Laos money to build an airport in 1960 (preparing for the Vietnam War, no doubt) and they built this monument instead, so it is also called “the Vertical Runway” (probably only by Americans). image


Formal gardens surround the monument, and you can climb to the top to see an overview of the city.image


Now it’s past one, and very hot as we walked back toward our end of town. Even though we stopped to buy cold water, I felt a little woozy, and Jim started looking for a place to sit me down in the shade. We turned a corner, and, like a mirage, what did I see? An air conditioned Swenson’s Ice Cream shop, like the answer to a prayer! Half an hour and one scoop of green tea ice cream later, I was restored.image

Despite how the climate feels to us Westerners, Laotians maintain conservative dress standards with knees and shoulders always covered. In Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng there were signs reminding tourists to cover up, but we haven’t seen the signs here. I wear my long pants anyway.image

For dinner we went to a Vietnamese pho restaurant and I had cool summer rolls. Perfect!