It’s always exciting to head into a new country for the first time, but sometimes when it takes a 22 hour bus to get there a recovery day is needed before indulging into the new culture and sights.
Our bus was from Vietnam’s capital to Laos’ capital – Hanoi to Vientiane – but their differences were night and day. There were fewer motos and more cars, but the streets were signicantly less busy than Vietnam. Shops, street vendors, and tuk tuk drivers didn’t harass you with aggression but instead made a lazy offer and went back to watching television or chatting to each other. The sleepy atmosphere and muggy temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius were the perfect conditions for a recovery day of sleeping in, casual beers, reading and writting.
After a day of rest we took a visit to a few of the city’s attractions. First on the list was a smaller replica of France’s Arc de Triomphe called the Patuxai, built in 1969 to commemorate the Lao who died in prerevolutionary wars. According to our Lonely Planet guide it was built from cement that was donated by the USA to build a new airport and is sometimes referred to as ‘the vertical runway’. For a small fee we climbed the stairs to the top for a nice view of the city.
Further down the road was the eye catching Pha That Luang, with tall gold towers shimmerig in the hot sun. Inside the walls was a courtyard that surrounded the monument, dozens of local worshipers bowed and carried candles or insence around the courtyard; legend has it that the stupa was erected as early as the 3rd century BC to enclose a piece of Buddhas breastbone.
Behind one of the neighboring temples was something I have been waiting to see since we’ve landed on this side of the world, a giant reclining Buddha. Large, gold, and peacful looking we admired the Buddha that relaxed in the heat as we had the day before.
We followed the complicated street names (for example Chanthakoummane Street or Setthathirat Street) back to our guesthouse and checked out the small night market along the Me Kong River that separates Laos from Thailand. Heading North from Vientiane we will make our way up and over to Northern Thailand after a few weeks in this gentle beautiful country.