After yesterday’s quite poor showing of being hungover and not really seeing anything of note in Laos’ capital city, today we woke up early and with much more purpose, we had a need to get out and about and see Vientiane ‘proper’. So after a bit of bargaining with the hotel staff we got ourselves a couple of their best hire bikes to set off on. Yesterday whilst recovering in the room we had planned ourselves a bit of a bike route, so today we were hoping to see some of the more major sites in Vientiane. After taking the punt of hiring bikes from the hotel we decided to then fill ourselves up on the hotel’s ‘free breakfast’ to see what it was all about. As it was free, as you can image, it was not the most appetising of meals but at least it should keep the hunger pains at bay if only for a little while.
Food eaten, we then set off at quite a sedate pace to Pha That Luang. On bike it can be something of a tricky journey as the roads are quite busy and dangerous so you need to be somewhat alert and try and have eyes in the back of your head. Pha That Luang is the most important Buddhist place in Laos and the stupa contained within the grounds holds one of Buddha’s actual breast bones. I would seriously like to piece together Buddha based upon the bones of him which seem to be dotted about in various temples up and down the various countries of Asia but then who am I to pour scorn – agnostic fool that I am? On our honeymoon in Sri Lanka, a driver we had, called Jay, he was a really nice guy and explained to us about Buddhism and it does seem to have some really cool teachings and ideas and it is perhaps the teachings rather than the bones which is the important thing. Anyhow Laos’ Golden Stupa as it is called is really a top visit but the lower walls of the place do look as if they could do with a new lick of gold paint or leaf or whatever it is they use. In the surrounding buildings the decoration both inside and out was, as ever, very colourful and really quite amazing, the use of the reds and the golds in particular make the artwork really outstanding to see.
On the bike ride back towards the river we stopped at the city’s main intersection and the next attraction – Patuxai, also known as Vientiane’s, Arc de Triomphe! Now if I tell you that it is rumoured that the ‘Arc’ was made from cement donated by America to Laos in order that they could build a new runway for their airport, this may give you a bit of a clue that the place is not exactly the most graceful of structures, it is, well, almost underwhelming! I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is quite a centrepiece for the city and the views from the top are worth climbing the stairs for as are some of the ceilings worth a good look but it still manages to look like it has been built from (airport) grey concrete so in some ways is almost better off seeing it from a distance. When we went round the place it was quite busy but the amount of sightseers an attraction has is not always the best indication of the quality of the ‘sight’, try not to be put off though as the views, as I mentioned earlier, are quite something to see. Vientiane has no really big buildings so on a clear day from this vantage point you can see quite a ways.
From Patuxai we cycled on past the Palace and towards the Mekong and then decided to follow the river to see if we could find a pier that was showing on our map – or so we thought. Well, we managed cycling along the road which then turned into a pavement, that then turned into a track and then ….. well you get the idea don’t you and the pier, what pier? Well by the time we had run out of road we were starting to get very hungry indeed. So we took the very next road away from the river that we came across and back towards the main road once more. Once at the busy road we found ourselves a very nice local cafe with waitresses who could not understand a word we said but we pointed at a couple of photos on the wall and they served us some very good simple food and sometimes it just does not get any better than that. Beforehand we did not actually know what to expect from Lao food but like most of the food we have tried so far in the various countries of Asia that we have visited, the base of the dish is a really good and tasty stock and then everything else is just a plus but it is all good eating and just costs pennies too, well at least it did at this place quite far from the city’s centre.
We continued riding back along the main road, which again was a bit perilous to say the least, our plan being to go for a dip (swim) someplace – we can be a right sporty pair when we want to eh! We needed some cooling down and as quickly as possible as the day had been an absolute scorcher. We had brought our cossies with us just for such an eventuality so we were well prepared – all we needed to do now was to find a pool!
Now this turned out to be a bit more difficult that we had imagined. First hotel we stopped at, Liz popped in only to find out that it had no pool but staff there gave us directions to a hotel that would allow us to use their pool – the Lao Plaza. Upon reaching the place though it soon became quite clear that the clientele – we guessed this from the number of Range Rovers in the car park – were in a bit of a different league to us, definitely not backpackers (lol). We still enquired though and as expected the going rate for a swim was, at US$15, a bit too steep for us. So we checked out our trusty Lonely Planet guide and it told us about a public pool not that far from the Plaza. Although it also informed us that the chlorine levels were enough to lighten your hair a few shades too. We decided to go and give it a whirl, I mean what is the worst that could happen? Upon getting to the pool we found it to be really good, chlorine levels were acceptable, there were not that many kids at first at least and it was a great place for us to spend a few of hours until finally the Sun had beaten us and we beat a path back to our hotel.
At night we just had a bite round the corner from the hotel as tomorrow we were to be off further into Laos, to Vang Viang a place the LP guide told us was more for the young ones, especially those of a slightly wilder nature … lol … well it sounded interesting at the very least.