vientiane (part 2)

Posted in laos, vientiane by moonwire on September 3, 2009

Just a few days before leaving, Vientiane has definitely unleashed its charm on me. I remember how I arrived here at first and thought ‘this is it?’ After having spent a week here, I’ve discovered there’s so much more to it than initially meets the eye. The people here, just like in Luang Prabang, are amazing. They are nice and helpful and interested in your whereabouts (and like to practice English). Everything is so mellow here, even the traffic. It’s strange that a town like this is the capital of a country.

My last few days here were really good. The weather was also cooperating more. There were still heavy rains overnight and in the early morning, but none of the 6 hour downpours that I experienced at first. And though I’ve gone off rice and noodles, I did have a really good Lao noodle dish here. Spicy (and very salty).

This morning I got up early to visit the morning market. Because it had rained a lot overnight, it was very messy and muddy but that didn’t seem to deter anybody, including myself. Absolute mayhem. Just like any other South East Asian country I’ve visited , there are a lot of motorbikes. There were major traffic jams right in the market.

And of course, seeing all the flies on the meat and fish made me hurl my cookies (again) but I did end up having brekkie with a girl I met, Leah. She’s 10 years old. Speaks a tiny bit of English and doesn’t go to school because there’s no money (this breaks my heart). She helps out her family by selling packets of chewing gum. Heart breaking. We had breakfast (though I skipped the mystery meat) and I gave her my umbrella. Later in the afternoon, I saw her walking down the streets again, with my umbrella. She didn’t see me but it made me smile.

Some more images from the morning market:

This afternoon I went back to Wat Mixay, the temple just around the corner from my hotel, where I had met a few giggly monks earlier. Well, I was right on time. The monks were shaving eachother’s head and eyebrows in preparation of a big festival on Sunday. I chatted with them for a while and they let me take photos of the shaving event. One of them, monk Syriya, the one who’s getting the close shave in the photographs, asked if I could email him the shots. Somehow, this cracked me up.

I’m off to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, tomorrow. I can only hope it will be even remotely as good as Laos. This is my first trip to South East Asia, and I’m trying to do a ‘best of’ but I’d like to return to Laos one day, and see more of this beautiful country and its people.

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Posted in laos, vientiane by moonwire on September 1, 2009

On Friday morning I packed my stuff  and I headed to the airport. Luang Prabang airport is tiny. They only have two terminals. One domestic, one international (Thailand only, though now that I think about it, there might be flights to Sieam Reap (Angkor Wat) as well). I saw an ATR72 plane land and I thought that would be our plane. Nice on time. I had flown into Luang Prabang on a turboprop like that and though initially I was a bit nervous; it was fine. Then, when it was time to board, I noticed that people from the International terminal bound for Chiang Mai were getting onto that plane. So I looked around, and what did I see? An even tinier turboprop, a Chinese made MA60. Oh lord. I wasn’t expecting that. However, the plane was only half full and I had two seats to myself and the ride was fine. Got a good view of the Laos landscape –  mountainous jungle and the Mekong river.

It didn’t even take 40 minutes to get to Vientiane. I was so glad I had taken the plane instead of an 11 hour bus ride. And the beauty of domestic flights is that you’re out of the airport in no time. Within 15 minutes of landing I was already in downtown Vientiane. I hadn’t booked a hotel yet, but I had a few names I wanted to check out. The first one was the Vayakorn Guesthouse and though they didn’t have any single rooms available, I could get a double for only a few dollars more. And it’s worth it. It’s a big room with windows on two sides so it’s bright and airy. Wooden floors, good bed, nice bathroom. After roughing it in Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang, I was really hoping for something half decent and this is more than that. The only thing missing is a balcony, though the hotel has a patio where you can have a drink and watch life go by. And there’s good wifi there 🙂

However, my initial reaction to Vientiane was a huge disappointment. I expected more of a city. Luang Prabang is tiny, but there’s a lot more going on in terms of vibrancy and beauty. More restaurants, too. I checked out the ‘downtown core’ and was done with that in about an hour. So, on Saturday I wanted to book a flight to Phnom Penh for the Tuesday or Wednesday. Well, it didn’t work out like that. All the flights are full so I’m stuck here til Friday. Though I was a bit down about it at first, I’m okay with it now. Vientiane and I might never have the love affair I was hoping for, but at least we’ve become friends.

I’m trying to make the most of my time but there isn’t much to see or do. I visited a few temples, did the touristy things like the Vientiane ‘Arc de Triomphe’ but something is missing here. It’s the hustle and bustle. It’s so quiet here. It reminds me of Krabi Town in a way, which is nice to check out  for two days, but a week would be overkill. However, I am still enjoying the quiet days, the breakfasts at one of the many bakeries and a good Beer Lao at night.

The other day I walked around for about an hour and I already found myself  in the outskirts, not too far from the airport. It was interesting to see but seeing poverty is heart wrenching. I don’t even feel like taking pictures of these people. It’s just too much. Depressing. If I could describe Vientiane in one word, it would be “crumbling”.

The food… well, Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang were heaven. Here, the only decent thing I’ve had are the baguettes. And well, they’re good. They also do know how to make a good cup of coffee, which always makes me happy. I think I’m just so sick of Asian food that I can barely enjoy it anymore. I remember the days in Bali where I’d happily eat nasi goreng (fried rice) three times a day. I can’t even stomach the thought of rice and noodles at the moment, but I sometimes still eat from the cholera cart. Just for fuel.

This morning I went to the COPE Laos Centre. This organization deals with victims of UXO (unexploded ordnance). How little did I know. I had no idea that Laos is one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. During the ‘secret war’ the US pretty much carpet bombed the entire country as part of their mission in the Vietnam war. Many of those bombs (about 78 million) did not explode at the time but have been wrecking havoc in Laos on a daily basis ever since.

Teams are working hard to uncover these potential explosives but it will take more than a hundred years for laos to be UXO free.

I watched a Canadian documentary called ‘Bombies’ but the most heartbreaking one was a short interview in which a woman tells the story of her 8 year old son. How he got severely injured by one of the bombies. He was taken to the hospital but they didn’t have any ogyxen and blood, so they took him home to die.

I cried my eyes out.

Off to Phnom Penh on Friday. I’ve been reading so much about the history of the places I’m visiting, I can’t get enough. Though mostly severely depressing, it interests me a lot. Visiting the Killing Fields will be something else.  I’ve got my Kleenex ready…

A few more for your viewing pleasure:

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