Buddhism and French food in Vientiane

Vientiane, Laos - August 2010 }

If you read my post on my exciting and adventurous journey to and from Vientiane, you would come to the conclusion that Vientiane is unexciting and unadventurous. And, you would be right. I read this quote somewhere that says, “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow". Having been to all three countries, I would agree with the analogy.

Well, maybe I do not have the full picture of Laos since I was only in the capital Vientiane, but it was a holiday in a city that we soon realised, we did not have enough activities to fill the three and a half days that we were there. And so, we took it slow, covering a few places each day, taking our time during meals and having lots of coffee breaks in between. Here are some of the places we went in Vientiane.

At the northeasatern end of the LaneXang Ave. arises a huge structure resembling the Arc de Triomphe. It is the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane, built in 1962 (B.E 2505), but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete. Nowadays this place is used as leisure ground for the people of Vientiane and the seventh floor on top of the building serves as excellent view point over the city.

That was not extracted from a guide book, but rather, on a wall of the concrete block. Talk about self promotion! However, the description was close to the truth. It was badly maintained, and climbing up to the upper floor, there were stalls selling dust-filled souvenirs. The locals may thought otherwise, as lots of them hang out around the area, including young monks.

Pha That Luang
I couldn't find any words to describe this but "golden shiny stupa". The Buddhist stupa was probably the best looking structure in the whole of Vientiane, and one of the most important national monument in Laos.

Haw Pha Kaeo
It used to be a temple, and is now a museum of some sort, storing many Buddhist statues and sculptures. There was also one plain jar from Plain of Jars in the garden outside. The jar looked normal sitting there by itself, but I tried to imagine what it would look like having jars like this all around the garden. Now, that would just be weird.

Wat Si Saket
One of the oldest temple in Vientiane, it stored 10,000 over Buddha statues, big and small all around the main compound. It was in need of a restoration and funds to upkeep the place. The roof was being repaired when we were there, and I hope that they would start to restore the whole temple before it came tumbling down.

Xieng Khuan / Buddha Park
We knew that the Buddha Park was pretty far from the town and so, we took a tuk-tuk. It was a bumpy dusty one hour ride to the park. It was an experience that I could have easily passed. Somehow, there were no taxis on the street else we would, and should, have flagged one down.

There were many statues in the park - some nice looking, some interesting and some scary ones too. It was a pretty bizarre experience. Even after reading up more about the park, I am still not sure what the point of the park is! The two main sculptures are the large sleeping Buddha and a big pumpkin-shaped concrete. We climbed up to the upper level for a view of the park (which was where the photo below was taken).

That Dam / Black Stupa
A black block of bricks with overgrown grass being used as a roundabout. That's my observation of a stupa that has many legends and mystery behind it - from it being covered in gold once upon a time to being inhabited by a seven-headed dragon.

Food in Vientiane
Tried some local food in Restaurant Kua Lao on the first night that we arrived, but unfortunately, the food left much to be desired. Maybe it was because I expected it to be similar to Thai food since it was so close to Thailand. So we spent the rest of our stay in Vientiane having French food in French restaurants opened by French! There were a few around but our favourite was Le Provencal which we went a few times. There were also some bakery and cafe around.

As a capital city, Vientiane was extremely laid-back and slow-paced. It is a good place to just relax and chill, and if you do not expect much, I am sure that it has a potential to surprise you. My next visit to Laos would be to the UNESCO's World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang.

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