Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
January 26, 2005
This will be my final Laos entry for the blog.
After a couple of days in Vang Viene it was time to leave that place and head south to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. Vientiane is located in central Laos on the Mekong River. Across the Mekong River from Vientiane is Thailand. The capital has a population of around 140,000 people making it, by far, the largest city in the country.
Just south of town there is a bridge spanning the Mekong that connects Thailand and Laos called the Friendship Bridge. I'm not sure of its exact history but this bridge is significant in that it is only about 10 years old, most travelers can get a Laos visa upon arrival to the bridge (whereas all other border points need a visa issued by a Laos embassy) and it is the only bridge in Laos that spans the Mekong. The opening of the Friendship bridge approximately 10 years ago signalled to the world that Laos was ready to join the world community and expand international relationships after years of consolidating power under the communist regime.
Vientiane is a 4 hour bus trip from Vang Viene. It was a nice trip and the roads were decent and not so windy as my previous bus ride. The countryside was very beautiful with occasional villages and towns on the way. As we got closer to Vientiane there were many more signs of civilization as well as higher degrees of infrastructure and relative wealth.
Vientiane has a French feel about it, much like Luang Prabang but it is larger and more cosmopolitan. The streets are wide and there are many signs of prosperity.
I stayed in town for 4 nights at the Dragon Lodge. A nice guesthouse about 1/2 mile from the river. I guess you would call it the upper end of the budget places as I paid $12 a night for a fan room with a warm (not hot) shower and a 10" TV that actually got a couple of english language channels (ESPN Asia and BBC). It was a nice place and very quiet, I didn't need my ear plugs here and there were no local roosters!
There isn't a whole lot to do in Vientiane. It's a relaxing place with nice river views and great outdoor places to eat right on the river banks. The vendors set up an outdoor grill, have refrigeration for Beer Lao's and have plastic tables and chairs set by the river channel. It's a nice setting and a great place to watch the sunset over the river while drinking a Beer Lao.
The people are friendly here but not as much as in other places in Laos and that makes sense since this is a bigger city and it's not small town or village life.
This picture is of a lady sweeping dirt in the streets. There are many such people that do this work and it's an endless and fruitless task. It is funny in a way but it's also a job that she gets paid for that someone decided added value to the municipality.
The city is growing as Laos attracts more tourism and foreign investment. Here is a massive, 5-Star hotel on the banks of the Mekong just outside the town center that looks very out of place in this country.
Here's an example of the French colonial influence on a building. This is some sort of government office.
I have an interesting story that brought back to me where I am and reminded me that I'm traveling in a foreign country. I sought out and walked by the American Embassy one day, feeling a bit homesick and wanting to see the Stars and Stripes and maybe stand on American soil for a moment. It was cool to see our flag waving. I stopped to take a picture of our flag but before I clicked it a Lao Army guy came running over to me blowing his whistle and then yelling at me in Lao. Scared the crap out of me, I was about to try to run inside the Embassy. I guess you're not allowed to take pictures of the embassy for some reason, he grabbed my camera and I had to prove to him that I didn't actually snap any pictures. Then I walked away, kinda eerie...
I don't like to take no for an answer so I walked around the block to see if I could get another view of the flag away from these army guys and I did and I took a couple pictures that didn't come out real good. I showed them though, no one is going to keep me from taking a picture of my flag!!!
I went to a Lao history museum in town and it was interesting. The best parts for me were the exhibits describing the Vietnam War and Laos' position throughout the conflict. Laos was technically neutral in the war but was used as a base by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong and thus attracted a lot of American military interest. I wrote in a previous blog entry about the bombing of Laos and how it became a communist country, patterned after Vietnam, in 1975.
Communist propaganda is alive and well in the museum exhibits. The pictures and exhibits were mostly written in Lao, French and English and described the Americans and South Vietnamese variously as "imperialists", "puppets" and "running dogs" among other insults and descriptions. This was my first experience with revisionist history in Asia and I have seen it to a much greater extent in Vietnam (to be discussed in a later blog entry).
Revisionist history is twisting reality and actual events into history that is more favorable and suitable to the current leadership. I can't fault the Lao government for doing this as it has happened the world over since the beginning of time. To the victor come the spoils and the victor gets to record history as they see fit. The beauty of the modern age is that they cannot change the historical record as recorded in other countries.
In a thousand of years there will be some person (or some alien from outer space) struggling over the conflicting historical accounts of the Vietnam Wars in the 1950's through 1970's wondering which accounts to believe. I know the "facts" recorded by the United States concerning this war are not 100% accurate and have been altered based on someone's perception of reality or by outright deception and the same with the Laos and Vietnamese versions. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
A funny exhibit in the museum shows a bunch of antiquated rifles and small arms with all the captions saying something like this: "Here is Comrade Tran's pistol that he used to shoot down an imperialist American A-1 (or helicopter of F-111) and saved the village from the puppet imperialist army". It was amazing how many American airplanes and helicopters were downed by villagers with pistols and old rifles. Those must be some sort of pistols!!
Part of my last day in Vientiane was spent at Buddha Park.
Buddha Park is about 30 kilometers outside town and cost 120,000 Kip ($10) round trip to get there in a tuk-tuk on a bouncy road. This park was created by some weirdo who sculpted and/or got ahold of a bunch of disparate Buddhist and Hindu statues and placed them in this park. Many of the statues need restoration but the park is well kept up. The creator of Buddha Park left Laos soon after the communists took over and went to live in Thailand where I heard there is another strange park similar to this one.
It's funny at time to read signs with English translations. Many phrases in Asian languages just don't translate well into English and it's amusing to see when they try.
Here's another picture of me. I'm in Buddha Park.
That's it for Laos. I love this country and am going to miss it. In America we hear next to nothing about Laos, as if it doesn't exist. I feel priviledged to have spent two weeks here. I have been exposed to the most friendly, down to earth culture I have ever seen. I hope my blog writings have helped bring some of Laos to life and gave my readers some history and knowledge of a country that is mostly invisible to the western world.
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on January 26, 2005 12:35 AM
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