It’s the people that make a place, and I’ve certainly met some characters here in Vientiane, my favourite being a drunk/alcoholic older San Franciscan lady who dragged me into an illegal betting shop (basically someone’s front room) where we sat and watched Thai Boxing while about 20 men played cards or bet on the fight. I also toured Vientiane with a group of young lads who bickered for the entire trip (to my entertainment), one of whom was touched/grabbed inappropriately on the street by a questionable lady (possibly a man), and met an old guy who clears bombs in the Laos countryside, once shat himself on CNN in Baghdad, and advised me to claim bankruptcy when I get old and then emigrate while still claiming my pension.
Never a dull moment. Vientiane is pretty cool though, more spread out than Luang Prabang but a little livelier – well, as lively as sleepy Laos can get.
Pha That Luang
The ‘great stupa’ is a gold leaf covered stupa and a national symbol.
In the grounds of the stupa you can find temples and a reclining buddha too, in fact I found this more interesting than the stupa itself.
The Victory Gate is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. You can climb to the top for views of the city.
COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) is a charity that provides support and rehabilitation for bomb survivors and those with disabilities. 80 million unexploded bombs still remain in Laos left over from the US during the Vietnam War and many people are injured or killed by them every year. It’s not just accidents that cause deaths and injuries – many people live in poverty and collect bombs for scrap metal. COPE aims to educate communities about the dangers.
It costs just £30 to make a prosthetic limb for someone in need.
By the Mekong
The Mekong runs along the south of the city and provides a natural border between Laos and Thailand here. The lifestyle is based around the outdoors and in the evening you can see walkers and runners, people fishing and even aerobics classes.
The only thing I really missed out was Buddha Park, admittedly one of the main attractions about an hour away, but I preferred to stay in the city, wander around and take in the atmosphere.