Sunday, February 26, 2012

One Day in Vientiane

Baby water buffaloes are too stinkin' cute
Neither of us could come up with any justification to stay in Vang Vieng, even though we slept like rocks in the super comfy bed, enjoyed the company of our new cat friend, ate good food, and had beautiful scenery to look at. So after a breakfast of coffee with omelets in warm baguettes (which we again shared with the two grubby kittens who fell asleep waiting for us to return and bring them some eggies) we steeled ourselves to get back on that miserable road to Vientiane. We rode across the rickety wooden bridge and followed the GPS directions to the highway, crossing what must have been the CIA landing strip.

As an aside, the Secret War in Laos is one thing that really disappoints both of us about the United States. What the US government did was illegal, and no one in any position of power apparently did anything to stop it. The people of Laos are the ones who are still paying for it 40 years later. Yes, the US government now provides aid to clear the land of UXOs (unexploded ordinances), thanks very much, but it will take another hundred years or more at the current rate to make it safe. It is reprehensible, and it makes me ashamed to show my US passport. End of rant.

The Mekong River of sand
We hit the highway, and it was as bad as the day before. The road again was smooth, then out of the blue, it was pitted dirt and gravel. Speed up, slow down, speed up, SLOW DOWN! We arrived in Vientiane by about 2:30 and found a room at the highly recommended cheapo in town, the Mixay Guesthouse. It wasn't anything special, just a room with twin beds (very comfortable though) and a fan, with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. The place we left in Vang Vieng was infinitely nicer, cleaner, cost less, and had kittens to boot.

Buddhas at Wat Si Saket
We got settled and walked to Wat Si Saket, which is the oldest Buddhist temple in Laos. The four walls surrounding the temple are filled with little nooks which hold thousands of Buddha images along with all the large ones that line the corridors. It is unfortunately, crumbling in the humidity, but there were signs announcing plans to study the causes of decay and try to stop it from progressing. We walked the grounds to a soundtrack of a monk chanting hypnotically over the PA system. It actually was a beautiful sound. When we rode into Vientiane, we passed a virtual parade of monks and people dressed in street clothes coming into the city, and we wondered, based on the amount of activity within the Wat, if it was a funeral. We left and strolled to the riverfront instead.

The Mekong riverbed is wide at this point, but the water level was very low, leaving sandbars in place of the water. Once we'd had enough, we headed back toward the guesthouse, stopping on the way to try and find some shaving cream, since Colin ran out, and AA alkaline batteries for the GPS. We struck out in both cases, finding only non-alkaline batteries, and no shaving cream. Asian people don't have the same level of hirsutism as many westerners. To rid their faces of the few stray hairs they do have, they simply pluck them. Or, as we discovered on our last trip, some people actually cultivate the random patches of facial hair, allowing them to sprout and grow to amazing lengths from moles and birthmarks. Why? I don't know, but if you do, please tell me.

Anyway, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing some writing before heading out in search of dinner near the river. We found a place around the corner and had a delicious meal- Colin got a chicken curry dish, and I had fried holy basil with squid, both with sticky rice, and washed them down with a couple of fruit shakes. It was a terrific meal.

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