Into Laos: Strolling Vientiane
I’ll be honest with you, Laos, like Sri Lanka, wasn’t really on my radar when I moved to Asia. Then my friend Chloe went to Laos. When she came back, she told me, “You have to go.” Over a cup of coffee I listened to her talk about the charming old town of Luang Prabang and delicious French food. She also brought me back a pot of delicious black currant jam. I was sold. I contacted another PiA fellow who had been living in the capital, Vientiane, for a few years. She recommended a spot on NYTimes 36 Hours piece to start exploring. As I read more, I would encounter some dark pieces involving the Communist government. This piece was especially interesting and I recommend it to anyone before going. To put it in super simplistic terms, Laos is a complicated place. The landlocked country gets overlooked by many Americans today, yet, as the NYTimes piece notes, “Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped over two million tons of ordnance over Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.” As we strolled the night market in Vientiane, passing tables with dolls and beautiful embroidery, we also passed many with jewelry made from leftover bombs.
We had a full day to explore Vientiane, but, unfortunately, that day was a Monday. The famous Pha That Luang (Great Stupa) was closed. So instead we stayed in the center of town and visited Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in the city. I could have spent hours here looking at all of the small Buddhas.
The French descended on Laos in the 19th century and their legacy is still present:
Vientiane even has its own Arc de Triomphe. Patuxai, or the Victory Monument, was built in 1969 and Lonely Planet had this interesting description that it was built “with cement donated by the USA intended for the construction of a new airport; hence expats refer to it as the ‘vertical runway.'”
View from inside the Arc:
Victor and I had a giggle when we saw this sign: That Dam Wat!
We also paid a visit to Haw Pha Kaew, a royal temple known for its Buddhas as well.
Want to get to Thailand? Just swim over:
I could have probably spent another day in Vientiane. It was a pleasant and super slow-paced capital city where strolling, stopping at cafes and eating well are on the menu. But Luang Prabang awaited us, so just as soon as we’d settled in, we were back on the road.
Where to Stay: Ansara Hotel, a bit of a splurge, but it was a nice hotel and the breakfast was delicious.
P.S. I just jumped on the Instagram bandwagon recently. If you’d like to see more photos, follow me @lydiatomkiw.