Sunday 10th – Monday 11th February
Arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos and noticed immediately that the French influence is much more noticeable in both signs and buildings. It looks more affluent than other places we have been.
We had lunch at Joma bakery, owned by the Starbucks chain but not allowed to be named as such by the government, the first truly western meal we have had since we left home.
|The Super 7 lunching in Vientiane|
After lunch we visited the Golden Stupa, an important freedom monument in Vientiane. A stupa is a place which houses the ashes of ancestors, a bit like a tombstone, but it is usually a lavishly ornate structure. The Golden Stupa used to be covered with gold which was long ago stolen by colonial invaders. Now it’s only painted gold.
The Golden Stupa
Surrounding the Stupa are 2 Buddhist temples and a centre of Buddhist learning which is ornately decorated with scenes from the life of Buddha. It’s a very impressive building and freely available to photograph inside and out.
|Sisaket Museum full of Buddhas|
Our next stop was a visit to the Nam Ngum hydro dam, which forms the largest man-made lake in Laos, with over 4 000 islands. Many are unoccupied but some are home to isolated communities, and 2 house prisoners. We had lunch on a cruise boat followed by a tour of the lake.
One the way we stopped at a silk weaving factory which is staffed exclusively by women working manually operated looms. The fabric they produce is excellent and made primarily for the domestic market. All Lao women in public life must wear these distinctive straight wrap-around skirts with a decorative border and sashes. School students also wear the same type of skirt.
Following our cruise we visited a salt factory which employs most of the village. The salt is distilled from artesian water by heating, hot horrible work. After further processing the salt is packaged by the women. The kids of the village flocked around us, and when we gave them some sweets before we left one of the group said it was worse than feeding seagulls.
|Salt being distilled|
Our final stop of the day was at a small village market. Here the people have little access to protein – obviously they don’t have large animals – so the market sells an array of alternate small animals. These include snakes, rats, hamsters, dried frogs and live small birds. There were chickens are probably a few other unrecognisable items. No-one from our group was inclined to purchase anything.
|Snake ready to buy|
One peculiarity we noticed was that many of the villages were ”strip settlements” lining the main road. We were told that in order to reduce population growth electricity (or electric city as pronounced by our guide) was supplied to places along the main road, but not much further. Obviously the government has great confidence in television and other electrical devices as contraceptives.
|ATMs in glass cages along the roadside|
|A typical clothing store displaying waares on the footpath|
We finished out tour of Vientiane and surrounding districts with a visit to their most imposing monument, the Arc de Triomphe copycat monument, which was originally intended to be the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and fountains.
|Patuxai, the Peace Monument|
Chinese New Year was an interesting time to be in Vientiane as the streets were full of happy relaxed people – walking the embankment along the Mekong, participating in an open air Zumba class, eating out, prancing the streets with the dragon and accompanying drums, all wearing red, or new clothes. Buildings were decorated with red lanterns and everywhere there was a great vibe.