Hidden Asia: Vientiane, LaosPosted in Where to Travel to Now
Our intrepid editor, Seb King finds himself gawping at the national monuments of the Laotian capital while nursing the mother of all hangovers.
Nursing a hangover is never fun. After our 24/7 party lifestyle in Vang Vieng we we're in desperate need of some ying to match our yang, and I'm not just talking about Alka Seltzer. I'm talking about spiritual healing.
The capital city of Laos, Vientiane, is littered with Buddhists temples and boasts some of the county’s most prestigious landmarks. Not least the golden precipice of Pha That Luang which features on the Lao Kip banknote or even the Victory Monument erected to honour those that died in the secret war. It was time to readjust to a certain degree of normality. No more swinging from fifty foot trees into murky rapids whilst inebriated. Enough was enough.
Our hotel, The Beau Rivage Mekong, cost $49 for a twin room. A little pricey for what we’d usually go for. The decor in the room had a funky French colonial feel to it was always kept clinically clean. The hotel overlooked the Mekong. On the other side of the mile long stretch of water the banks of Thailand were clearly visible. The location provided a picturesque backdrop for a much needed detox. Besides, my Skinny Friend and I were set on the premise that a brief life of luxury was the answer to our worldly stresses. After a tranquil nights rest it was time to venture into town.
Above: The Victory Monument Erected To Honour Those That Died In The Secret War
You can expect to go anywhere in the capital via tuk tuk for $5. I passed four, one dollar notes to the sun baked tuk tuk driver. We jumped aboard.
“Victory Monument, pal. $4 good for you, good for me, eh?” I said.
After five minutes of pointless haggling the driver nodded his head and took the four dollars. We were off. My Skinny Friend hugged his bottle of bottle of water tightly as the little tuk tuk zipped over the potholes in the road.
Before long we were flying round the smoothly surfaced duel carriageway that led towards the Laotian version of the Arch de Triumphe. The tuk tuk pulled over into a lay-by.
“There stands the American’s apology for the secret war”, said my Skinny Friend as we stepped off the carriage.
“Where’s that?” I replied.
“Patuxai, or Victory Monument was built in 1969. The Americans, as a gift, gave the Lao government enough concrete to rebuild an airport.” He’d obviously been deviously looking up the entry for Victory Monument in our battered copy of the Lonely Planet while I was unawares.
I was puzzled by his revelation. “So where’s the airport then?”
My Skinny Friend pointed upwards towards the monument in the centre of the duel carriage way. “You’re looking at it”, he said. “I just guess they weren’t going to be told what to use the concrete on”.
A smile spread across my face. “Fair play”, I replied.
After ten years of apparently anonymous bombardment who could possibly blame Laos for doing their own thing with a preset from their apparently anonymous antagonist?
Patuxai is complemented by a rather large circular water feature. Unfortunately the army of fountains weren’t actually working at the time we arrived but we reckoned they’d look pretty impressive if they were functional.
A healthy amount of artefacts and Buddhist shrines, as well as a plethora of gift shops lurk inside the monument. But the real delight of Patuxai is the breathtaking view of Vientiane at the pinnacle of the concrete column. It’s worth every kip of the 15,000 entrance fee.
We headed back to the parade of tuk tuks and paid $2 for a lift to the golden national landmark that is Pha That Luang. Before we arrived at the gilded gates of the stupor we passed a rather distinctive statue.
“He looks a bit like the tin man from the wizard of Oz”, I said jokingly.
My Skinny Friend rolled his eyes in dismay. “That’s King Setthathirat you degenerate. He built that golden temple in front of you back in the sixteenth century”, he said.
Again I was left reeling from my lack of general knowledge. King Setthanthirat was seated atop his throne with what I thought was a cowboy hat resting on his head whilst cradling a sword in his arms. We moved on. Enough was enough.
Above: In the Far Distance, Pha That Luang. The Statue In Front Of The Golden Monument Is King Setthanthirat Seated On His Throne
Inside the grounds of the golden stupor the air was heavily pregnant with the smell of incense. Buddhist shrines dominated every corner of the courtyard as we took time to soak in the serene ambiance. Monks were busy repainting fiery nagas whilst the local people prayed beneath gigantic Buddha’s. It was heart-warming to see this peaceful country’s national icon from a bonafide first hand experience.
“Do you fancy a massage?” asked My Skinny Friend.
In the wake of all this walking I most certainly was. “As long as you’re not involved in the process of oiling me up...why not?”
My Skinny Friend shrugged my comments off with a few caustic burst of laughter. “The guide says there’s a pretty good massage parlour nearby. Someplace called the Wot Sok Pa Luang. You fancy it?”
“Dam right”, I replied. We jumped in a nearby tuk tuk with the exciting prospect of being pampered for the entire day ahead of us.
Top Tip: If you’re feeling run down and achy then head down to Wot Sok Pa Luang. Directly opposite the Wot Sok Pa, in the nearby forest, is a traditional Loa massage parlour that’s complete with a natural steam room. This is by far the best masseuse in town so be sure to check it out.