The city of Vientiane felt out of place in Laos with its large buildings and urban sprawl. Both Luang Prabang and Phonsavan were not only smaller in size, but also felt quaint with their architecture and walkable streets. After finding a guesthouse, my first order of business was to see the Arc de Triomphe replica named Patuxai, so I hailed a tuk tuk and that’s exactly what I did. I happily paid the entrance fee and climbed all the way to the top through multiple levels of souvenir shops and enjoyed my first real view of the city. It was everything I was expecting it to be, and so much more funny in person.
Now, to explain why I find this particular replica so funny, I must give you a useless history lesson. Patuxai was built in 1969 with donated concrete. The concrete, among other things, was given to Laos by the United States, and was meant to be used to rebuild the airport that had been destroyed. As an American I like to think of Patuxai as a very large and unoriginal middle finger, telling the U.S. what they can do with their donation. There was never a better use of donated concrete in the history of the world… I mean what kind of city ACTUALLY needs an airport anyway?
Since I had already seen the number one thing on my list in Vientiane on day one, I decided to wander through the city and eventually find my way to Wat Si Saket and Haw Pha Kaew, which are two very famous temples in Vientiane. To keep day two from dragging on let me just cut to the chase and tell you that I started out in the wrong direction, and continued getting farther and farther away from both temples with each step I took. I did however see almost every other temple in Vientiane that day, and got a really good feel for where everything was in the city so my day wasn’t a complete waste. I headed back to my room to freshen up and enjoyed an early dinner at some restaurant I don’t remember. This is what happens when you wait too long to post things.
My failure on day two made it much easier to find Wat Si Saket and Haw Pha Kaew when I headed out in search of them for the second time. I paid my entrance fee to Wat Si Saket first and spent a decent amount of time taking in the thousands of Buddha images lining the walls. There were only about 5 people in the entire temple by the time I got there, so I not only had the time and space to wander where I wanted to, but also the peaceful quite that occasionally comes along with a visit to a temple. I love being a tourist in Southeast Asia, but sometimes I just want to be away from other tourists and enjoy a place without the crowds and that’s exactly what I was given this day. There was even this small fenced off section with piles of broken Buddha images that had been damaged during the secret war that I might not have seen if it had been a busy day.
Next I headed across the street to Haw Pha Kaew which is a temple turned museum. To be completely honest with all of you, this museum really isn’t worth the entry fee if you’re not interested in small museums with little to offer. I didn’t know much about what type of museum it was before I paid the entry fee, and while I was let down by the use of the word museum to describe a small room full of random Laos artifacts, I don’t regret going.
After grabbing a bite to eat, and running into a couple I met during my stay in Chiang Khong, I headed off to negotiate the price of a tuk tuk to Buddha park. If you ever plan on visiting Vientiane, you should know up front that the tuk tuk drivers hate to haggle on pricing. They have laminated price guides that they’re definitely not afraid to shove into your face and for some odd reason don’t undercut one another to get a sale. I was feeling a little discouraged after getting no where with my otherwise effective bargaining skills, and just happen to overhear two people having the same argument as me over the price to get to Buddha park. After a few minutes of more confusion, thanks to the tuk tuk drivers, we all agreed to share a ride to cut costs and we were off.
As the tuk tuk swerved to avoid the potholes in the dirt road, we all began to chat and introduced ourselves. They were Eve and Fernando who had previously met and fell in love while traveling… and they were adorable. They didn’t actually admit to me that they were an item until much later that day, but there was no mistaking the obvious so I’m skipping ahead to save time on useless dialogue.
When we finally arrived at the park, we made our way inside and admired the combination of Buddhism, Hinduism, mythology and iconography on display all around us. It is by far one of the coolest, yet confusing sculpture parks ever created, but don’t take my word for it… Admire some photos.
After another pothole filled ride back to the city, we made a plan to meet up for the movie fest happening by the river. Unfortunately the festival was moved to a new location and we missed whatever movie was playing, so instead we headed off in search of somewhere to eat and enjoyed a few hours snacking on noodles and drinking beer.
This would be my last day in Vientiane, and I spent it doing something backpackers often forget is an option… doing nothing. I hadn’t planned on spending five days in Vientiane, but since I had another one to kill, I made a point of going to the only mall in Laos to watch everyone stare at the escalators with fascination and ended up buying a few DVD’s to fill the remainder of my day. Life is tough on the road folks… incredibly tough.
Day 1 Total: 266,000 Kip or $34.72 for transportation, tuk tuk, entrance fee, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 2 Total: 249,000 Kip of $32.50 for laundry, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 3 Total: 233,000 Kip or $$30.48 for entrance fees, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 4 Total: 238,000 Kip or $$31.10 for tuk tuk, entrance fee, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 5 Total: 395,000 Kip or $51.56 for new shirt, DVD’s, food, drinks, and accommodation