Monday, June 7, 2010

Vientiane, Laos

The tallest building in Laos has 14 stories.  Vientiane, the capital city, is home to roughly 200,000 Laotians.  This is not a modern country.  It is a modest landlocked nation ravaged by invaders and unfortunate associations for much of its history.  Growth is hardly an option when survival is a question.  It sleeps between two raging Asian powerhouses, Thailand and Vietnam.  It has been bombed more than Amy Winehouse.  And while all of this paints a fairly bleak picture for this small country, the place could not be more endearing.  It is an effortless place.  One just glides through the motions of southeast Asian enlightenment with beautiful wats, kind monks, and big glass bottles of Beerlao setting the tone.

Kristin and I woke up this morning and took a leisurely jog down the mighty Mekong river.  I frequently watch the show River Monsters, and could not help daydreaming about Catfish the size of Audi TT's lurking just under the surface.  I was jolted back to reality when I noticed that 2 little black furmonsters were barking at us and incentivizing a faster pace.  These dogs looked like tough Lao street versions of my parent's dog, Murphy, but I resisted the lure and we hypersped ahead of the vicious creatures as they nipped and growled out of earshot.  Below is the rear view.

After a large Breakfast with the rest of the crew, we set out for some varied sights around Vientiane.  Our day had an early visitor that served as a terrific omen for the rest of the day, perhaps, even, for the rest of the trip.  He was that handsome.  I speak of Lao Lou.  For the uninitiated, I will explain the concept of "a lou."  Kristin has a golden retriever named Lou, and whenever we travel, we yearn for glimpses of foreign Golden Retrievers, and name them after their country, like Lao Lou.  Anyways, this beast was a brand of Lou we hath n'er glimpsed before.  His coat was so soft, that you just wanted to drag him upstairs and use him as a pillow.  He was about half the size of Lou with stub legs.  I would damn near call the thing a miniature golden retriever.  His full grandeur will be celebrated in the picture picture below.

Our tuk tuk driver pulled us us to our first sight, the Black Stupa.  It is quite old looking and unimpressive which makes you wonder about its implied splendor.  Kristin pulled up our Lao reference guide up on the iPad, and after reading about the unfortunate warning about frequent dog attacks, we realize that the stupa houses a 7 headed dragon.  That is alot of freaking heads.  Alot.  If I saw a dragon with 1 head, then I would most definitely be alarmed, probably pee my pants even.  7 heads, and I am daydreaming about dog attacks.

After the Black Stupa, we headed to Pha That Luang, which I photographed last night in a display of technical brilliance and balance.  That picture is below.  I have yet to even slightly tire of its sight.

So, we checked out this sight during the day, and took lots of pictures and did a few dance moves here and there.  I think Meagan even taped Ryan and Kristin having a dance off on the monument, which may or may not be offensive.  Either way, it was hilarious.  Pha That Luang is the most important religious site in Laos.  It houses the breast bone of Buddha.

The parking lot for Pha That Luang is quite prodigious in size.  Manchester United and Real Madrid could play in the parking lot, and still have room for 200,000 spectators.  This is a common theme in Communist countries, where planning is not governed by supply and demand, but only by the intended splendor of nationalism.

We next stopped by Patuxai, which is sort of a rip on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  The interesting story behind this is that the U.S. accidentally paid for it.  Apparently, the U.S. donated a large amount of concrete to Laos for a new airport, and Laos decided to build this massive slab of concrete eminence in the middle of their city.  It is pretty impressive, but rather ugly at the same time.

We took a trip to the friendship bridge on our way to the Buddha Park.  It sounds like a nice place, connecting Laos to Thailand care of the generous Australian government.  It was mediocre, looked like a basic highway overpass.  The guy charging entrance fees was passed out in a hammock so we were fairly certain that we avoided the 2000 Kip (each) entrance fee.  Alas, when we returned to our hired car, he was up and active and kindly though somewhat sheepishly requesting the entrance fee.  We slipped him a U.S. dollar (=8000 kip), and were on our way.

View from Friendship Bridge
It was around this time that we gave each other team names.  Ryan and Meagan belong to the "No Eaters Club" since they always seem to skip lunch, and Kristin and I are "Team Tech" since we have alot of unnecessary devices.

The best way to high five is to stare at the elbow of the other person.  Thanks for the tip Amy.  We have been using it much.

The Buddha Park was built by an eccentric oddball who went on to build an identical park on the other side of the Mekong in Thailand.  It is a collection of statues, many of Buddha, in a number of poses and sizes.  The largest Buddha is reclining and about one half of a football field in length.  We took a harrowing ascent up this sphere-like structure to view the park in entirety from up on high.  Later, on the way down, we noticed multiple routes and, of course, we took the most difficult one.

In the Buddha park, we met a young monk named "Souk."  He was very engaging and candidly told me that he was about to graduate and felt like his English was very poor.  He hangs out in the Buddha Park to speak with foreigners and improve his skills.  Apparently, he also likes to throw a little game on the ladies.  He asked Meagan if she was married, and when she replied no, he suggested that she could live with him.  He leaned in and mused, "I have air conditioning."  The heat was staggering at this point in the day, and we all had a laugh.
The domestic terminal at Vientiane has 1 gate.  It is a one room affair, with the departure times adhered by magnet to some kind of board.  We adored this quaint little operation.  We were even able to bring liquids through security, which seemed like a huge victory.  The flight that we took on Lao Airlines to the northern part of the country had little to no air-conditioning.  You know those few minutes when you are taxiing away from the gate and everyone sort of reaches up and repeatedly turns their air conditioning knobs because the air is off?  Imagine an entire flight of that.  We were on this little 50 seat turbo prop, and instead of having the customary cool air cooling, they just gave everyone a cool damp rag.  Classic.  Luckily, the scenery out of the window was absolutely breathtaking.  It seemed to get greener and greener with each passing minute north, culminating in a striking landing in a little place nestled in the hills called Luang Prabang.   

 I would like to introduce a new daily game, the furmonster of the day 

First Day Victor - Lao Lou

 A soft modest size creature originally from Bangkok

 Kristin was in heaven

 Black Stupa, home to a 7 headed Serpent 

 Dragon Offering

 Some Monks hitching a ride in Vientiane 

 This Beekeeper was covered in bees 

 Entrance to Pat That Luang 

 While we were walking to the temple,

 This lady proposed to us an interesting propostion.

 "Give me money, and I free birds"

 For a minute, the 4 of us were heroes

 Fly bird Fly

 The Warden was pleased with the outcome

 The weather looked bleak, but rain did not come 

 The 4 of us

 Pat That Luang

 The courtyard was quite empty 

 There a dragon heads and serpents everywhere.  Some believe that dinosaurs still roam the furthest north reaches of Laos.

 Great Architecture 

 Ryan surveys for a place to...


 They reenacted Kristin's fairly received 5th grade talent show dance 


 We are pretty sure that these are cemeteries for monks 

 There were quite a few kids playing around the temples

 Soviet style meets Laos style 

 A line of comrades

 There was no one at this site 

 The Macy's of Pat That Luang parking lot 

 This parking lot stretched on for at least a mile to the left 

 Laos Shell

 No Passing A Grass

 Patuxai- better in theory I am sure

 An old Vientiane Temple

 The Laos Flag

 A quiet Hall

 We had our tuk tuk driver just take us around to all of the sites all morning 

 We call this guy Bluehead

 Saying our goodbyes to an old friend

 We snuck by the sleeping guard at the friendship bridge 

 Semi-rural Laos

 The Mekong 

 We saw this guy and noticed he was selling Tweet heads, notice anything different about Tweet?

 That Is Thailand across the Mekong.  

 We climbed to the top of this sphere,
 through the maw of a beast 

 Buddha Park 

 The clouds began to break and it got hot

 Hey Bud

 Reclining Buddha

 See that headband Kristin has on?  Left a hilarious tan line.

 No idea.

 A couple of beautiful Laos girls 

 cob of corn

 Fried Banana - best thing ever 

 The Laos Airport

 Fancy Departure board

 Observation Deck


 Boarding the Plane to Luang Prabang

 The gorgeous flight to North Laos

 Safely in L.P.

 Luang Prabang Airport 

 Rooster Long Neck, he guards the street that our guesthouse is on.  He is always on duty, and tends to rise late.

 Lotus Villa

 Our villa 


 More bathroom 

 After a flight every day of this trip, we are glad to be grounded for a few days

 A game of footie on the street 

 The goal

 We hit the night in Luang Prabang - which is a beautiful mix of French and Asian

 We had a great dinner in some private garden 

 Laos Salad 

 Kristin and her chicken fried rice 

 My Coconut Chicken with Roti 

 Chiang Mai Seafood grab bag


 Probably not digestifs

 Luang Prabang Night Market

 Night Market Dog

Meagan's Pictures of us humans 

By the way, this is the 100th post.  Thanks for reading.


  1. Awesome sauce. Seriously though, you brought an ipad out with you for the day in Laos?

  2. Congrats on the post anniv, keep them coming. Great pix. เบคอนเบอร์เกอร์

  3. Your prolificity as a blogger and photographer is something to be proud of and should be applauded. So, applause.

  4. Fantastic journey, Justin!! So enjoyed the pictures of the four of you. Great times ahead. See you on the next blog.

  5. My parents are from Laos.