0038 A truly Buddhist country (Laos 001—new)

Vientiane Travel Blog

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Day 024: 16 hours, 23 kms

 The overnight bus to Laos is actually a very fancy double decker bus--  the nicest I’ve ridden in so far in Southeast Asia--  if not the world!  It clearly caters to tourists, but I don’t mind… this way I’ll get a good nights sleep…

We reach the enormous Mekong river early in the morning where we chill out at a little restaurant along the shore until the border opens.  It has a distinctive frontier feel to it. 

Finally we cross the recently built “Friendship Bridge” into Laos. 

Contrary to my expectations, it actually has a rather modern feel to it… There are a couple of restaurants and hotels catering to foreigners--  even a shop clearly marked “Swedish Bakery”!

I’d struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller on the bus--  an American who’s been travelling so long that he’s developed a foreign accent!  Quite an interesting tale of teaching English in Turkey and then making his way across the Middle East, around India and then here to Southeast Asia--  a full 4 years of being away from home… I find myself inspired by his tale, particularly by the fact that he seems quite coherent and intelligent… Most of the guys I’ve met that travel indefinitely seem to have lost a few screws along the way… We opt to share a room and then set out our separate ways to explore the city…

I head north up what seems to be the main drag, lined with a couple of sleepy little shops.

  It’s not long before I reach the end of town, so I head west to the river and follow a shady dirt road back, lined with typical jungle tin roof shacks with folks just relaxing and staying out of the sweltering sun.  Only a couple of orange clad monks with umbrellas brave the mid morning heat. 

This definitely does not feel like a country’s capital… it feels more like a quiet little town somewhere in south Mexico… None of the typical hustle and bustle I’ve grown accustomed to here in Asia.  I’m intrigued to learn more about this country. 

I reach downtown again, where I take a short nap and then head out to explore the city some more.  This time I head east, to a large Gateway Monument built in the middle of a traffic circle.  Kids are now getting out of school, and the city has a lot more life to it. 

I head to the circle where I pull out my guitar and am quickly joined by a couple of fellows.  Unfortunately, right then, some unseen amplifiers start blaring out music for the folks strolling around… so I figure I’d better go find a better place to play my music. 

I continue on up the road a bit to a beautiful and unusual looking temple.  It’s a golden, squarish pagoda surrounded by a couple of dozen spires.  In front there’s a large plaza where I think it would be OK if I played some music. 

Turns out that here in Vientiene I have my best audience to date here in Southeast Asia.  First it’s just a bunch of kids who try to echo everything I sing--  only in Laotian… Everybody starts laughing, so I assume their “interpretations” must be pretty funny.

Soon I’m joined by a couple of young fellows, who eagerly listen for a bit--  then ask for a turn at the guitar.  One of them plays a couple of songs he composed himself in Laotian, with a sort of fusion musical style…

I continue playing on into the evening, and am later joined by yet another group of aspiring young musicians…  Turns out, Laos is a very, very cool place to parkbench…

Finally I decide to continue on, strolling on up the road a bit as dusk sets in.  Finally it seems like I’m reaching the edge of town and I look for another way to go back… All there are are dirt roads through shanty neighborhoods and fields… It seems that I’ve gotten myself completely lost in the darkness, when suddenly I spot that Gateway Arch once again…

After the harried rush, the traffic jams and the eclectic urban soup of Bangkok, Laos feels, well, very Buddhist… just a peaceful, non-materialistic, simple life--  where young fellow still make it a priority to spend a segment of their youth dressed in orange monk’s garb…

And tomorrow I’m going to head a bit deeper into the country…

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photo by: skydiver