Following Thailand, I landed in the capital of Laos: Vientiane. As a Canadian I was able to get visa on arrival, but I was very surprised that it was more expensive for Canadians than any other country at $42 USD. It was probably the only time I’ll ever think that it would have been useful to have a Turkmenistan passport.
I was able to explore Vientiane with a friend, which made walking around nice. There was a lot to see! The first stop was a temple called Wat Si Saket.
Laos is a very interesting country with a rich history. It has 3 different regions that roughly correspond to 3 former kingdoms. I didn’t get to the southern area, the former Kingdom of Champasak, but I did see areas in the former Kingdoms of Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
Preceding the division that led to the creation of those three kingdoms was the Golden Age of Laos under the Lan Xang Empire.
The three kingdoms were unified by the French, with some territory being reclaimed from the Siamese, as Laos became a French colony along with Cambodia and Vietnam.
The French influence can still be seen in Laos, with the language still being used on signs and French style bakeries being popular. The most obvious example of their influence is the Patuxai, a triumphal arch similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
When you get close you can see that it is clearly different from the one in France. There are Hindu and Buddhist features as well as mythical creatures decorating it that give it a very different look.
It was built using money and cement from the USA that was intended for an airport, which has earned it the nickname “The Vertical Runway.”
While up here it began to rain hard, but the towers were nice places to hide out and watch the rain. Southeast Asia is crazy, it can go from zero to torrential downpour in a few seconds.
I really liked the Patuxai, I liked that even though it is similar to the Arc de Triomphe, it has a distinct style to it that makes it an impressive Laotian monument.
Laos is a majority Buddhist country, which is evident in the many amazing temples and statues.
There is a Canadian owned chain of coffee shops on Laos, I found one in both Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and I took the opportunity to get a beaver tail doughnut so I could feel a little more at home.
The next day was a bit of an adventure, as we decided to take a bus to Buddha Park nearby. It looked to me like the bus was completely full, but I was so wrong. I spent most of the bus ride sitting on a plastic stool in the aisle of the bus, as a lady with a giant wad of cash weaved through the passengers to collect everyone’s fare. We arrived without incident at a park that turned out to be pretty weird.
There are both Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, and the park was started in only 1958 by a priest-shaman. Its other name, Xieng Khuan, means spirit city.
I enjoyed walking around and seeing the various statues. For a higher view it was possible to climb into the pumpkin like structure. It had three levels, symbolising the ascent from hell to heaven, beginning with the entrance through a demon’s mouth.
Back in Vientiane, there was still more to see. I had chicken fried rice for lunch and tried loganberry juice for the first time. It was pretty good!
The final stop was the most important, as it was at the golden stupa that is the symbol of Laos: Phra That Luang.
It is believed to have been built as the stupa to hold the Buddha’s breastbone. It was destroyed many times by invaders like the Chinese, Siamese, and Burmese, and finally rebuilt by the French when Laos was a colony.
It’s a very beautiful structure, complimented by the temples in the surrounding area.
Visiting between downpours meant that very few people were around, so it was nice and quiet.
Already it was clear that Laos would be a beautiful country. Before saying goodbye to my friend and heading north, I finished my time in Vientiane with a walk along the Mekong river in Vientiane, looking at Thailand just across the way.