More sunny days in Laos…
Up and at ‘em, off walking towards the town centre. Just before Patuxay we discovered the World Peace Gong, presented to Laos by Indonesia.
We stopped at Patuxay and made the climb to the top. First we stopped to admire the relief sculptures on the interior of the ground floor ceiling. Sue noted how wonderful the feet, with their opposing ‘big toes’, are. Coloured mirror glass provides the wonderful colours.
On the climb up/down we passed through two floors of souvenir shops with many intriguing items for sale.
The view from the top was quite splendid and worth the climb. But more interesting was the sign on the base of the monument:
On our continued walk we spotted a bicycle rental shop so stopped and rented a couple of bikes. Sue got a single speed bike which looked a lot like my electric bike – kind of a BMX style with high handle bars, small wheels and a short wheelbase. I got a brightly coloured ‘mountain bike’ with gears and flat handlebars which I had to bend way down to. In Vientiane’s easy traffic the bikes were great. We enjoyed the cooling breeze as we rode and we could explore further.
Our first stop was Haw Pha Kaew, once a royal temple but now a museum featuring an impressive collection of religious art. Photography was not permitted inside but I took several of the exterior including the gorgeous gardens. It was so nice to smell flowers and greenery again after months in Hanoi. The ubiquitous butterflies fluttered about the gardens and Sue discovered some kittens to pet.
We’d also hoped to visit the Wat Si Saket, the oldest intact temple in Vientiane (many were destroyed during the 1828 Siamese invasion). Unfortunately we arrived just before their closing for lunch so we did a quick tour of the outer grounds but saved the inner cloister for another day.
The structures pictured above are the Buddhist equivalent of gravestones, but I’m not sure of the proper name for them, although I believe they may be reliquaries, housing the remains of ancestors. Many are elaborate structures and some are covered in mirrored glass. They lined much of the exterior walls of the wat. Below is a small tower housing a large drum. In the early mornings we could hear the drums sounding, calling the monks to prayer.
As the temple was closed for lunch we decided to take a lunch break ourselves. Instead of heading for a restaurant though we decided to try one of the many small street grills along the banks of the Mekong. The smiling owner showed us where to park our bikes and indicated a table for us to sit at. Soon we were eating some of the most delicious grilled chicken I’ve ever had. As you can see in the photo there was a large sandbank between us and the water with many heavy machines moving the sand. They drove by slowly however, so the dust was not a bother.
After lunch we set out on our bikes to find a textile weaving centre Sue had read about. We never did find it – it may have been off on a side road and not all the roads were signed. But we had a good ride and saw lots of the suburbs of Vientiane. We rode past endless small shops, past goats on the road, cows grazing in fields and many smiling, waving Laotians. But eventually the heat got to us and we headed back stopping for needed refreshment at a roadside stand beside the National Circus building (looking sadly rundown and deserted). Sue had a soda, which was poured into a bag of ice and drunk through a straw. I opted for a cold bottle of water and we sat in the shade of a bus stop.
Once back to our guesthouse we rested up and later rode back into town for dinner at the same restaurant we’d been to the night before, this time sitting next to a fountain on the ground floor.
Monday I rose early and rode to the Vietnam embassy to get my visa. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the 3 month visa but was restricted to applying for one month. And then I started worrying about whether they’d even give me that. Visas are becoming shorter and harder to get; the general feeling is that with Hanoi’s 1000 year anniversary in 2010 the government is cracking down, much like the Chinese did before the Olympics. Happily I did get my visa and I was having such a good time in Laos I didn’t spend much time worrying.
The worst thing about the whole visa episode was that I couldn’t pick it up the next day as it was a Vietnamese holiday. So we needed to make some decisions about our travel plans. We decided to go to the ancient capital of Laos, Luang Prabang, for a few days and return on Friday. We rode into town, talked to Green Discovery Tours and arranged for bus tickets to Luang Prabang, plane tickets for a quicker return to Vientiane and also booked for a one-day river kayak tour. With that all taken care of we returned to our tour of Vientiane and its many temples.
We rode back to Wat Si Saket to see the inner cloister. The inside of the cloister wall contains over 2000 small statues of Buddha and many larger ones. Apparently there are about 7000 Buddhas in the temple!
Above is the sim, or temple hall. Surrounding it are the walls of the cloister. Being in these spaces is so serene, even with the, sometimes, bumptious tourists. The architecture is amazing: ornate, colourful and many faceted.
There were temples everywhere we went, both in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. And I did take many, many photos of them as they’re so beautiful but I’ll try to restrain myself and not post endless temple images ;o)
After our afternoon of temple exploration and wanderings about Vientiane we headed back to the river for dinner at one of the streetside grills. The sunset over the Mekong, with Thailand on the opposite bank.
Along the sand foreshore fellow diners gathered in the twilight.
And a photo of our hosts working over a hot grill for our evening meal. And oh, what delicious meals these were!
After our meal we walked back to our guesthouse, having returned our bikes earlier. Along the way I spotted another of those signs that struck a funny bone…
And off to bed because the next day we’re off on a 9 hour bus journey to Luang Prabang.