Laos 4: Vientiane

We arrived at around 1:30pm and spent about half an hour checking out hostels before settling on Sport Guesthouse near Chou Anouvong Park for 80,000 kip (£8) per night for a double room with fan. We spent the afternoon and evening wandering round the area and getting our bearings and stopped in nearby coffee shop (the Influence of the French colony has resulted in many cafes and bakeries here in Vientiane) Comma Coffee, where I had an amazing Caesar salad.

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We later took a Tuk Tuk to Wat Sok Pa Louang as there was a free meditation session conducted by Monks. First we spoke to the monks to help them with their English, and then we were led into an hour meditation session including both sitting and walking meditation. I am so bad at a) sitting still b) pushing away my thoughts (berating myself for not being any good at it, at least that is a thought about the present rather than the past or the future!), but I had moments where I managed to shut off from my mind and got lost in the present moment.

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We then headed Later we headed to the busy and long night market in the park. The park itself is just along the Mekong River, and at around 6pm each evening there are outdoor fitness classes going on that finish around the same time as he sun sets. There definitely seems to be a life to this city.

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The following day we hired bicycles for 10,000 kip (£1) each and headed out a bit further – although it was ridiculously hot and the traffic in Vientiane adds a thickness and stillness to the hot air – taking ourselves to the Patuxai Monument for views across Vientiane for 3,000 kip (30p) each.

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Afterwards we cycled to COPE visitor centre; a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the victims of UXO (unexplored ordinance) left over from the bombings carried out on Laos by the US during the Vietnam war. Bombs (and “bobbies”, or cluster bombs) were redirected to Laos either to prevent those moving across from Vietnam, or purely because they hadn’t been able to bomb in Vietnam and they didn’t want to land their plan back in their Thailand base with ammunition still on board. An estimated 260 million bombers were dropped between the years of 1964 and 1973 and 78 million failed to explode. Since the war ended, unexplored bombs have caused serious injury (loss of limbs) or death to more than 20,000 people (40% children) due to pure accident, searching for scrap metal of the bombs to then sell on, or because children mistook them for household objects (as many exploded bombs and the remaining metal were used to make appliances, so they would appear familiar and safe). This was an incredibly harrowing, emotional and enlightening place to visit and I would highly recommend it.

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Late afternoon we then headed down towards the park so we could cycle across the Mekong river as the sun was beginning to set. A lovely, chilled way to end quite an intense day.

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The following day we headed to the Vietnamese embassy to obtain our visa for Vietnam but it didn’t quite go as planned. Due to varied research indicating different things and the heat maybe going to our heads, we arrived expecting to be able to obtain a same day 30 visa (up until 39 June 2016, at least, Brits can enter Vietnam with no visa for up to 15 days but we felt we needed more time than that) but were told it would take at least 2 working days as they had to apply for an invite to immigration. We paid 55 USD for his visa and then, feeling a bit despondent and sorry for ourselves, we decided to spend the day relaxing at Vientiane Swimming pool; an outdoor pool that costs 15,000 kip (£1.50) to enter and one that you can actually do laps in!

That evening we went to Bor Pennyang, a third floor bar along the Mekong River where we watched one of the most vibrant sunsets I have ever seen – I swear to actively watch more sunsets during my travels and once again when I am home. There is nothing quite like watching the setting of the same sun no matter where you are in the world to remind you of how big the world is and how small you are.

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On our last full day we took it slow (the heat is seriously thick here!) and took the number 14 bus from opposite the morning market for 6,000 kip (60p) each to Buddha Park. It took about an hour to get there but was on an air conditioned bus, and the cost to enter the park was 5,000 kip (50p) – you have to pay more if you have a camera with you. It wasn’t the biggest park but there was something quite grand about it, and once again I felt “stilled” by my surroundings. Some of the statues were incredible, and being able to climb into the mouth of the biggest and climb to the top for views over the park was sweaty but so worth it.

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That evening we went to Centre Culturel et de Cooperation Linguistique where they exhibit dance, art exhibitions, literary discussions and live music throughout the year. As it is low season not as much is going on, but at 7pm there was a free outside performance of “A Midmonsoon Night’s Dream” (no prizes for guessing what this is an adaption of) which was performed in a mixture of French, English and Laotian, and also included dance. Any attempts to explain a performance are futile, but it was such a diverse and beautiful performance that moved me to tears. Culture is such a wonderful thing.

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On our last morning in Vientiane we headed back to the embassy to pick up our passports (complete with visa, thank goodness!) and I booked at 14:40 flight from Vientiane to Hanoi airport in Vietnam. It was quite expensive on a backpackers budget (£115 for the flight plus a fiver for transport to the airport) but the alternative of a 22 hour bus (even if it was only 180,000 kip, or £18) was too much for me physically and emotionally by this point and I just wanted to get to Vietnam. To cut a long and difficult story short, this is where Jason and I sadly went our separate ways, and it isn’t really something I want to go into detail about. However I will say that being sat in the back of a minivan on the way to the airport with tears streaming down my face, for the Laotian driver to immediately switch the track on his stereo to “Take a Bow” by Rihanna, was certainly a different grieving experience for me.

LS.

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