2006- Entry 2: Vientiane, Laos

 Greetings from Vientiane, Laos (The City of Sandalwood)!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Arrived here the other day after an uneventful trip up to Nong Khai by train. We crossed the border over the Friendship Bridge and had to go to the Lao Immigration Office to get a visa. It only took 45 minutes, but was quite convoluted to say the least. You hand in your passport, visa application and 30 dollars US. You are then handed an entry form to fill out, but of course you need your passport information. Glad I had a copy of mine to get the information! After a while, an officer waves a passport out the window of his air-conditioned office. They don’t call your name, so you’d better be watching for something that looks like an American passport! After paying 10 baht to get into the country, there is one more guy to stamp your passport and papers MANY times! It all looked VERY official!
You just say, “Kop jai lai!” (Thank you very much!) and move on thankful that there is no baggage check or other impediments to getting out of there!
I opted to splurge for the 350 baht (nine dollars) for the half hour trip to Vientiane itself in a nice air conditioned car rather than wait for a full mini bus. After checking into my hotel, which is right on the Mekong River, I had a Lao lunch of sticky rice and “Laap moo” (spicy chopped pork). It was out of this world! I love Lao food as much as Thai! Was nice just sitting in that little restaurant right on the river watching life go by. (This is the way life should be!) There are a number of ex-patriots here— half of them, however, look like they need a “dry out” for a month or two! Went to a local pub the first night and met a few Aussies. I love Aussies as they are so open and gregarious (as a rule). One of them was a bit much. Liked to dominate every conversation—– sort of the type who exhausts his listeners before he exhausts the topic.
The first morning got up and headed for Talaat Sao (morning market). It has really changed in the 30+ years since I was here last. A little more up scale and mostly selling silk. Not the slightly notorious place it was 32 years ago with its marijuana sellers and black market money changers!
As with many places Vientaine is quickly growing. International development is pumping in massive amounts of money. Sewer systems and roads are being constructed. The last time I was here with some Peace Corps friends (you know who you are!) it a was much different time. It was April 1975 and the Pathet Lao (Communists) were taking over the country after a long, slow process. At that time, people were frantically trying to get their families, possessions and selves out of the country. As the Communists arrived on the outskirts of the city, those who chose, or had no choice, to stay here took a far more fatalistic view and decided to have a good time for whatever time was left! Temple fairs with dancing and the seedy bars (so notorious at the time with their saucier night life) took on a festive air. Well, after staying much longer than we should have (the naiive youth that we were), we got out of the country after a taxi drive that was at times interesting to say the least.
The weather here is just as hot and humid as in Bangkok. I thought it would be at least a little cooler! It has threatened to rain, but no major downpours yet. You just have to slow down and drink a LOT of water. I love walking everywhere… sometimes all day to the most remote places in the city. It really is a wonderful city. Walked to the Patuxai, the victory monument that looks like the Arc de Triomphe…. This arc was never completed and is really beginning to get delapidated looking. I think I recall that it was built with cement purchased from the US for a runway at the airport. Well, the top two floors are now taken over by the ubiquious T-shirt vendors and silver sellers.
There isn’t too much night life here and things pretty much are closed by 11:30. The foreigners with some money tend to cluster in the lanes leading from the main river road. There are a number of good restaurants here. The real life of the City is along the numberous roads feeding into Lang Xain Avenue, the main eight lane boulevarde in the city. The food, as with most things, is CHEAP! The exchange rate changes daily because the local currency, the Kip, is so volitile. The exchange rate is 38 baht to the dollar and 267 kip to every baht. So as a result you deal in thousands of kip for anything…. It is nice to know, however, that I am a multi-millionaire SOMEWHERE in this world! The Lao  prefer to deal in baht or even dollars, so you have to carry all three around with you…. It is fun….. The kip itself is only worth anything here in this country. Anything to take out with you, is downgraded to a souvenier.  
There are some interesting wats here even though they have been destroyed by the Thais over the years in they constant warfare between the two. The most famous is Wat Tat Luang, which is the symbol of the nation. It is huge and has some wonderful cloisters along the outer walls. Ended up at Wat Sa-ket, one of the oldest wats in Vientaine. The cloister walls have niches with Bhudda images imbedded in them. The temple itself is in  a sorry state, especially the murals. Across the street is the Haw Pra Keow. This is where the Emerald Bhudda, now in Wat Pra Keow in Bangkok was before the Thais attacked the city in 1779 and took it back to Bangkok.
Spending today just wandering the back streets of the city…… and as ever trying to stay a little cooler!
Tomorrow off to Luang Prabang……..
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