Our last day in Laos: Vientiane, the capital

The day began with breakfast at around 0715 as usual before a last minute check that we had packed everything. We were then back aboard our bus for the transfer that would leave Vang Vieng behind and place us in Vientiane – the capital of Laos.

The bus journey passed as those previously with Anthony and I playing games (Risk on his iPad – even though we secured SE Asia it wasn’t enough to win the game on expert level), looking out the window whilst listening to music and of course – snoozing!

Magnum pit stop
Magnum pit stop
Our comfort break was at a place that literally had several freezers worth of Magnum ice creams for sale. Most (if not all) of the group therefore opted for such a treat with Anthony and I both going for the Magnum Classic. As we were eating them a few members of our group came across a GIANT spider suspended between two branches, high up in trees. I did not like it at all but at least it was far away and not moving!

Back on the road with more of the same and then suddenly the houses started to seem more house and less hut-like, highlighting that we were entering the suburbs of the city. Once in the city it seemed much like Bangkok with its many mopeds/motorbikes and Tuk Tuks criss-crossing around each other; the jumble of electric wiring and the juxtaposition of old and new developments.

In the heart of this city was our hotel: Sabaidee @ Lao Hotel. It was a posh looking hotel with doormen to grant us entry and a further member of staff bringing us orange juice on arrival. Our room was a good size double (if not king) with shower, complimentary water, A/C and a safe – what more could you want?

Create your own sandwich at JoMa Bakery
Create your own sandwich at JoMa Bakery
After freshening up (20 mins max) we were off out via the money exchange ($20 will be enough to supplement what little we have left for two days!) to lunch. Ate at JoMa bakery – which we last met in Luang Prabang (seems it is a chain – 5 locations in total!) and I opted for pretty much the same as last time having enjoyed it so much – the create a sandwich. This was like SE Asia’s version of Subway. Anthony joined me in getting a melt too and we washed it down with coke to replace sugar levels and a small piece of chocolate brownie.

We were due to go on an orientation walk which would include a temple and the former home of the Emerald Buddha which was now placed and we had seen whilst in Thailand. We opted out of the tour as we had read about a place called Buddha Park but it was 25 km out of the city and would take around an hour to get there. We knew there wouldn’t be time in the morning (we had a plane to catch so couldn’t be held up) so it was now or never. Another member of our group joined us and then it was just about haggling for a Tuk Tuk with our Laos guide Kao assisting with negotiations. Once a price had been agreed – we were off!

The ride started off pleasant enough with us all in agreement that Tuk Tuks should be introduced in Britain. We followed the river for awhile with Thailand just the width of the Mekong away. Under friendship bridge (a different one from before) and then past numerous sections of the BeerLao brewery. It was then that we left the relative smoothness of the ‘main’ road and passed onto a pot hole covered dirt track. Lanes were gone with each driver picking out what he/she thought was the least bumpy route (if there was one) and heading for it, oblivious it seemed of the other vehicles. Several times I left my seat, on more than one occasion it seemed like the Tuk Tuk was stuck or had been damaged after a large bang was heard and throughout the whole journey I understood the purpose of the sports bra!!

Leaving the Sun behind and entering 'The Pumpkin'
Leaving the Sun behind and entering ‘The Pumpkin’
On arrival we paid our 5000 Kip each (less than 50p) and as we walked around the corner saw an array of Buddhist and Hindu statues laid put before us. The park had been set up in the late 1950s and had been receiving donations ever since. The statues themselves were on a large scale with one of the largest being a reclining Buddha (like the one we had seen in Thailand though shorter in length and made of stone) called Buddha Dead. Another particularly large piece was ‘The Pumpkin’ which we had seen a picture of previously which is how we had found out about Buddha Park in the first place.

‘The Pumpkin’ could be penetrated through the base where you entered through a large mouth. Once inside there was an inner and an outer concentric walkway. We began by descending down into the base which was supposed to represent Hell. Here in the dim light there were many statues contorted in anguish. We then ascended through the centre passing into the ‘Earth’ section and eventually up to ‘Heaven’ where we exited through a small opening which on first glimpse I thought was just a window. Each level contained statues and each new level was reached by very narrow stone steps. I was quite proud of myself for clambering up them.

A view of Buddha Park
A view of Buddha Park
After a not so elegant exit through the mouth we had a view of the entire Buddha Park which was quite a sight to see them all laid out before us. Once several photos had been taken, we located a small hole where we began our decent back to the ‘Earth’ level but this time using the outer concentric rings of passage ways.

Anthony in Buddha Park
Anthony in Buddha Park
The rest of our wandering round the park led us to come across a variety of statues including those riding elephants and horses, several with more than one head and even a small pyramid-type structure which Anthony ascended. Once ready to leave we found our Tuk Tuk driver snoozing in a hammock he had set up in the back of his vehicle and once he was awake we were soon on our way back into the city centre.

Statue of the last King of Laos at night
Statue of the last King of Laos at night
Tonight was to be our farewell dinner with Nat our tour guide as he would not be accompanying us to Vietnam. He had booked a table at a slightly posher restaurant called Kualao, which had entertainment (traditional music and dancing) on a stage off to one side. It was a nice atmosphere and the food was good quality.

Following our meal we took a walk down to the river where we saw a statue to the final king of Laos – he was positioned facing Thailand which I thought was a little strange. Following this we meandered our way through the Night Market but not being big shoppers, especially of tourist tat we eventually headed back to our hotel in preparation for an early start tomorrow and some last minute sightseeing.

Claire & Anthony

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