Apr 21, 2014

Visiting Vientiane, Laos

 I like it when countries offer visas on arrival. Such is the case with Laos. It is quick and easy – just fill out the form, submit a passport-style image, passport, and pay $35 in cash.  As a point of interest the name of the country is the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the local people call their country Lao. Laos is the French derivation of Lao and is in common usage outside the country. 

We checked into the Best Western which was a good choice and reasonable with two of our requirements: complimentary breakfast and internet. The hotel is located in the heart of old Vientiane near the Mekong River. We find it easy to book with an international chain and gain points for future stays.
The hotel was on a small side street with many restaurants and just a short walk to the night market. I liked sitting in the restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows watching the street scenes.  Street vendors still sell produce from pushcarts. Night markets in Asia are fun and a great way to mix with tourist and locals. The market sells handicrafts and food.  I bought a couple scarfs
made of Pashmina and wish I had bought more they were so soft and lovely.  I never heard of Pashmina but a quick internet search said it was cashmere. Oh, well, maybe I will have to return.  During the day we walked down to the riverside park where there is a small Buddhist temple. Vientiane is usually not the main destination in Laos but there are some notable sites to see including Pha That Luang, the glowing gold-covered Buddhist stupa in the center of the city which was thought to have been established in the third century AD.

 Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the major tourist
destination as it the nearby Kouang Si Waterfalls. The falls were beautiful and the kids swinging from a rope into the pool of water below the falls made me want to be a kid again.  A German lady was making a sketch of the area. I wish I had the talent to do the same as it would be a wonderful way to remember the visit.

My favorite Lao destination is Plain of Jars, an archaeological site with more questions than answers. Thousands of huge stone “jars” of various sizes dating from 500 BC to AD 500 are scattered on the fields near the Vietnam border.  The current explanation is that they were part of a prehistoric burial practice.  I’m not sure that is the definitive answer.  I would be more inclined to think they were storage jars but whoever created them are long gone and there are no legends about the jars or the people who created them. The Plain of Jars is in an area that was

heavily bombed during the Vietnam War as part of the U.S. secret war in Laos to support the Royal Government and stop the arms traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Over two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the area over a nine year period and one-third never exploded so wandering around the field is not recommended but the safe areas are clearly marked. 
There is never time to do everything. If I return to Laos I would like to spend more time in Vang Vieng with its surreal karst hill landscape.