Friday, 18 January 2013

A little bit of Laos - first Vientiane.

Arriving in Vientiane we brought our experience of travelling in SE Asia to the fore and ignored the touts with their gleaming air-conditioned Mercedes at the Arrivals door and carried our bags to the airport gates (only 50 yards in this tiny airport). We were rewarded by finding a tuk-tuk - far more ethnic and in keeping.

A quarter of an hour and we were in the frenetically busy centre of town where more than 50% of transport is two-wheeled and business is conducted 'on the street'.

Vientiane is a very popular destination for young back-packers and this is reflected in the wonderful mix of people, stalls and vehicles. This scene is right outside where we will be staying.

Installed in our hotel, we headed for a quick overview of the city - it is the capital after all - to get a feel for what we need to do in more depth.

The Patuxai Arch was first to qualify for a 'WOW'. It stands proudly over a main thoroughfare and has a great story. Also known as the Laotian Arc de Triomph, which is a bit hard as it commemorates the lives of Laotians lost in the struggle against French colonialism. However it exists because America donated money for the creation of an airport runway. A noble gesture, but the Laotian Government felt it would be better spent on a monument. Hmmm.  Anyway it gave birth to it's most popular nickname, 'the vertical runway'. Visitors are allowed to explore the monument, so we take a note of that for later.

The symbol of Laos is the magnificent buddhist stupa of Pha That Luang. A place of prayer and meditation with walls surrounding it. We are advised that it should be seen either at dawn or at dusk.

We opted for dusk. Actually we went a couple of times as it was equally fascinating when it was crowded with both tourists and adherents. But certainly at sunset, the whole golden structure glowed.

Offerings being made at Pha That Luang seen through a haze of incense.

The city lies on the Mekong River and at this point you look south and west to Thailand. The river is a thoroughfare and a source of minerals and food; interests that are frequently conflicting.

Many fish farms are sited on the banks alongside the bustling city waterfront and we watched as this man transferred fishes from trap to trap.

The Laotian traditional style of building is retained despite outside influences, mainly Thai, over the years. The French colonial periods are well represented, but tend to be in addition to buildings of Lao appearance. This place is modern and we saw an exhibition of work by local artists inside.

On the outskirts of the city, farming starts and the familiar sight of rice paddy fields.

Buddhist monks shooting their posed pictures alongside the sleeping Buddha.