Vientiane

Vientiane Travel Blog

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The hotel's patio in Vientiane.

"I've got a bike you can ride it if you like,
It's got a basket, a bell and things that make it look good,
I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it."

Bike - Pink Floyd

Vientiane was one of the earliest settlements on the Mekong in what is now Laos. It was settled around the 9h century and has been controlled by Lao, Vietnamese, Burmese and Siamese (Thai) since. In the 16th century the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom was moved from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, which resulted in the building of many temples, making the city an important center for Buddhist learning.

Cycling through Vientiane.
A war for independence from Siam in the 19th century left the city devastated, but the French began rebuilding it after their arrival in 1867, resulting in a grid-like town planning and many colonial-style buildings. In the last century Vientiane has developed into a typical Asian capital, growing from 9.000 inhabitants to 234.000.

We had two 'days off' in Vientiane and Mieke had the brilliant idea to rent some bicycles to explore the city, but not before we had breakfast first, which was also a revelation. Instead of the French bread and eggs we'd been having for 2 weeks we actually had a choice! After pinching myself I realised that the whiteboard at the restaurant indeed said 'chose between banana pancake or pork steak sandwich'. We decided to go for the latter and even though the volume of the breakfast was slightly limited, having a choice more than made up for this today.

Patuxai, Vientiane.
;-)

After renting four lovely bicycles with basket and all at a nearby guesthouse we headed into the Vientiane traffic, which compared to other Asian capitals was very easy to handle. We first drove up to Patuxai, Vientiane's very own Arc de Triomphe. Unlike the one in Paris it has 4 arches and its been build in the sixties using cement that was actually meant for construction of a new airport, hence the nickname 'vertical runway'. Through two levels of souvenir shops you reach the top, offering nice views over the city.

After having a cup of coffee and some pastries at a nearby coffee shop we continued our way to Laos' national monument, the Pha That Luang stupa. The stupa has been built at the location of a 11-13th century Khmer stupa when the capital was moved from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in 1566.

Ceiling of Patuxai, Vientiane.
To be very honest, the stupa was less majestic than in the pictures you normally see of it, mainly because it needs a bit of new paint here and there. This seems to be the state of many sights in Vientiane, beautiful but in need of touching up.
Each level of the stupa has a definite meaning in Buddhist doctrine. The first 68 x 69 meter level lined by 323 ordination stones represents the material world. The second 48 x 48 meter level surrounded by 120 lotus petals also holds 30 small stupa's representing the 30 Buddhist perfections. The third level measures 30x30 meters and consists of the central stupa which ends in a lotus bud, symbolizing enlightenment in the form of a Lotus growing from the mud to the lake's surface.

Cycling back to the center of town we stopped at the Talat Sao morning market.

View from Patuxai, Vientiane.
This basically was a huge department store selling a wide variety of goods from clothing to fridges and toys to jewelery (some made by goldsmiths at the location). After Paul bought a set of iPod speakers (after deicding not to buy a new set of hair) we had a beer at a local food stall and continued our exploration in Talat Khua Din fresh food market. No matter how many times you visit these places, they're always colourful and fun. And every time you will discover new things, like frogs and insects. We stocked up on some khao laam and jackfruit before we left.

After passing That Dam (Black Stupa), a stupa that according to legend houses a dormant seven-headed dragon that protected the city during the Siam-Lao war of 1828, we had lunch at the nearby Souvemarn Lao Food restaurant where we tried a couple of new things.

At Patuxai, Vientiane.
The fried sticky rice with egg was excellent, the salty minced fish and meat cooked in banana leaf were not everybody's taste.

Although Vientiane's temples cannot match those of Luang Prabang there are some that were worthwhile checking out. We spend a couple of hours visiting Wat Si Saket, Haw Pha Kaeo and Wat Si Muang. Wat Si Saket is Vientiane's oldest surviving temple, showing a Bangkok-like style. Remarkable about this temple are the small niches in the cloister wall that house thousands of small Buddha statues, with 300 standing and sitting Buddha's in front of them. There's also a pile of damaged Buddha's from the 1828 Siam-Lao war and inside the sim (temple hall) there's even more small niches filled with Buddha's. The total number of Buddha statues in Wat Si Sake is estimated to be 7000!
Haw Pha Kaeo was one the private temple of the royal family and housed the Emerald Buddha before it was stolen by the Siamese and taken to Bangkok, where it still resides at the Wat Phra Kaew temple.

The temple was destroyed during the Siam-Lao war and rebuilt with French help in the 1930s. The temple currently serves as a museum for religious art and contains many Buddha statues with different mudra's and poses.

Wat Si Muang is Vientiane's most frequently used temple. When Vientiane became the capital a pillar from a nearby Khmer site was placed in a hole. According to myth a pregnant woman sacrificed herself by jumping under the pillar and her spirit now resides in it as the city's guardian spirit. The pillar can be found in the back of the sim, wrapped in sacred cloth, where normally a Buddha statue is found. Elsewhere in the temple a wish-Buddha can be seen. When lifted three times above one's head it would grant your wishes, after which you'd have to come back to the temple to make offerings.

Pha That Luang stupa.
Such offerings are made and sold across the street, where lovely wax flowers were being made. On the crumbling stupa behind the sim a huge maribu bird was reshuffling his feathers.

We headed southwards out of the center to Wat Sok Pa Luang, since we've read that they did good massages there. What's more, every Saturday the monks and a teacher are giving Vipassana meditation lessons. A good way for me to catch up on meditating since I never really get the time to do that while travelling with others. So while I would take the meditation lesson the rest would go for a massage. A small group of tourists had gathered at the temple and the teacher (obviously originally from India) explained the (very) basics of Vipassana, after which 20 minutes of sitting meditation, 20 minutes of walking meditation and another 10 minutes or so of sitting meditation followed.

At Pha That Luang.
Afterwards questions could be asked and just when I had finished this relaxation of the mind the rest pulled up on their bikes. They hadn't found the massage parlour and had decided to have a beer instead.

We just missed the stunning sunset of the Mekong by a couple of seconds. To make up for this I suggested that we would cycle through town to the Papaya Spa, another recommended massage parlour. This was a classy place indeed, which also showed in the prices, which were 4 times as high as what we'd paid elsewhere so far. Still, 25 dollars for a 1,5 hour massage in which you're fully oiled and molded back into shape is a bargain compared to what they charge at home.

Having dinner turned out to be a bit of a problem this evening. We headed for a recommended place that had a variety of spring rolls, but they were out of food.

Cycling through Vientiane.
Then we headed to a recommended bakery, but they were just closing. In the end we ended up back at the Khop Chai Deu restaurant, even though it was a bit disappointing yesterday. We thought f*ck it, let's order some westerns food for a change. After two weeks that sounded more than reasonable. So we got ourselves burgers and pizza's which were, unlike yesterday's food, tasty and big. So, not a bad place after all, as long as you don't order Asian. ;-)

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The hotels patio in Vientiane.
The hotel's patio in Vientiane.
Cycling through Vientiane.
Cycling through Vientiane.
Patuxai, Vientiane.
Patuxai, Vientiane.
Ceiling of Patuxai, Vientiane.
Ceiling of Patuxai, Vientiane.
View from Patuxai, Vientiane.
View from Patuxai, Vientiane.
At Patuxai, Vientiane.
At Patuxai, Vientiane.
Pha That Luang stupa.
Pha That Luang stupa.
At Pha That Luang.
At Pha That Luang.
Cycling through Vientiane.
Cycling through Vientiane.
Paul getting a new haircut !
Paul getting a new haircut !
Talat Sao morning market.
Talat Sao morning market.
Crickets anybody ?
Crickets anybody ?
French bread, one of the legacies …
French bread, one of the legacies…
Frogs sold at the Talat Sao mornin…
Frogs sold at the Talat Sao morni…
Talat Sao morning market.
Talat Sao morning market.
Chicken legs at Talat Sao morning …
Chicken legs at Talat Sao morning…
That Dam (Black Stupa)
That Dam (Black Stupa)
Wat Si Saket.
Wat Si Saket.
Thousands of Buddhas at Wat Si Sa…
Thousands of Buddha's at Wat Si S…
Thousands of Buddhas at Wat Si Sa…
Thousands of Buddha's at Wat Si S…
Wat Si Saket.
Wat Si Saket.
Haw Pha Kaeo.
Haw Pha Kaeo.
Haw Pha Kaeo.
Haw Pha Kaeo.
Offerings for sale at Wat Si Muang.
Offerings for sale at Wat Si Muang.
Making wax offerings at Wat Si Mua…
Making wax offerings at Wat Si Mu…
Wat Si Muang.
Wat Si Muang.
Maribu at Wat Si Muang.
Maribu at Wat Si Muang.
Buddha at Wat Si Muang.
Buddha at Wat Si Muang.
Buddhas at Wat Si Muang.
Buddha's at Wat Si Muang.
Prayer hall with wish Buddha (lowe…
Prayer hall with wish Buddha (low…
Holy pillar at Wat Si Muang.
Holy pillar at Wat Si Muang.
Prayer service at Wat Si Muang.
Prayer service at Wat Si Muang.
Vientiane
photo by: skydiver