I had been warned beforehand not too expect too much from Laos’ capital city, and in truth, for the majority, it’s not a pretty town. Seemingly it’s construction boom had been during an unfortunate era of architecture where the sum of combining French colonialism with 1970s modernism bestowed upon its inhabitants a city of uninspiring concrete boxes, peeling stucco and besmirched art-deco.
With the snobbery taken care of we can proceed to events
For me and Sarah Vientiane offered the last opportunity to obtain our Myanmar visa ready for our much anticipated visit, this would also be our last stop with our good friends Eileen, Joona and Iida who are now to travel to Bangkok for their flight home. Somewhere along the way between the bus station and finding a suitable hostel, Eileen managed to adopt a taciturn fowl we have nicknamed “bird.” We have six beds in our dorm room, five of which are taken up by its human inhabitants, the other is reserved for bird complete with curtains (bird seems to prefer the dark as most of the time he/she seems very sleepy, we are are assuming it’s stress related) food and water. Eileen has even taken to showering with bird, which has left the rest of our party questioning is this relationship between Eileen and bird more than what meets the eye? Either way bird seemed a little stressed so we did our best to nurse him/her as he/she was unwilling to fly away when given the opportunity.
The next morning having rested Eileen took bird to a nearby park for a teary goodbye. That day was spent walking around Vientiane’s scorching hot streets hunting for shade and sipping Ovaltine shakes. We paid a visit to the C.O.P.E centre, offering help, support and rehabilitation for those that have been affected by the colossal UXO problem faced by the people and government of Laos. I highly recommend a visit to the centre where we spent most of the day learning about the illegal bombing campaign led by the American Air Force during the Vietnam war in an attempt to stem the flow of supply via the Ho Chi Minh trail that me and Sarah had driven on just weeks before. There were a number of poignant short films which just further demonstrated to us the affects the war in Vietnam has had on this entire region even now, decades later. Be it the direct casualties in Vietnam, the aftermath of cluster bombs and heavy ordnance in Laos, or the knock on effects of fear and mistrust leading to the horrendous genocide in Cambodia.
After leaving the C.O.P.E centre we headed for Vientiane’s answer to the Arch De Triumph. Sarah informs me that the concrete for the arch was donated by America for a civil project (makes up for the bombs then) instead the Laos government decided to build a whopping great big arch in the middle of town which they declined to finish. It was at least a nice place to relax amongst the surrounding gardens and take in the activity of the city as people finished work and children came pouring out of school. That evening it was a last supper of kinds as our friends were leaving the following morning. We splashed out and dined in a fancy (but reasonably priced) restaurant where we could sit on the terrace overlooking the city and enjoy our Beer Laos tower.
The next morning we waved goodbye to our travel companions for the last three weeks -an absolute pleasure- as they were Thailand bound and we headed back to the Myanmar embassy (who have by far the friendliest staff of any embassy we have visited, let’s hope that is characteristic of the country.) Sarah insisted we re-re-visit the night market to make absolutely sure the dress she wants is either impossible to find or does not exist at all. I in turn have managed to convince Sarah to get back on a bike so the remainder of our time in Laos will be spent on a 400km loop starting and finishing in the town of Thakhek.