We set off on foot to discover the capital. There is no better way to orientate yourself in a new city although in hot, humid climates it would be nicer to be driven around in air conditioned comfort! Well, you don’t have such luxuries on a basic backpacking adventure in South East Asia!
The capital city of Laos, Vientiane has a multi ethnic population with a mix of Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and expats who work here. Laos was closed to tourism from 1975-1989 for political reasons, which is partly why many people in the west can’t really place this country on a map and perhaps don’t even know of its existence!
Our first stop is Wat Sisaket, the oldest surviving temple in this city and one which has survived many Thai incursions over the years. The temple has a courtyard with long passages filled with about 6,000 Buddha images, many of which are set inside little niches in the wall. During the Lao New Year, all of these images are cleansed by having water poured over them.
Our next stop is the Victory Monument which has been built from cement the Americans donated for a new airport! The monument reminds us of the arc de Triumph although the traffic around it is no where near as crazy! The monument commemorates Lao people who died in post-revolutionary wars and is exquisite.
That Luang is our next stop. This stupa is the national emblem of Laos and it’s uniquely Laotian. It sets the standard for other stupas around the country. The spire on top resembles a lotus bud which in nature rises from a murky lake bottom and here in the temple symbolises the triumph of knowledge over ignorance.
Everything at this temple has been worked in a glittering gold facade and is quite beautiful to look at.
The main stupa is surrounded by 30 smaller stupas which according to my guide book are supposed to represent 30 Buddhist perfections! This is definitely a country with strong Buddhist beliefs. I haven’t seen any other places of worship yet. “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves.” - André Gide