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December 5, 2015

We took a short flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The city lies on the Mekong River and just 600 feet across the river is Thailand. Vientiane has about a million people and is the only place in Laos with traffic signals! Their main industries are agriculture and textiles. It is also the primary center for education and health care.

Our hotel for our stay in Vientiane was the Sabaidee @Lao Hotel. The city has a real mix of architectures, including French, Vietnamese, Chinese and of course Buddhist. Despite being primarily a Buddhist country, there were alot of Christmas lights and displays all over the city.



In the evening, we were guests of a local family for the traditional OAT home-hosted dinner. Our host was an interesting man with a wife and 9 month old baby. Living with him in his father-in-law's house was his niece and wife's aunt. The niece and father both spoke pretty good English so it was a comfortable visit sharing and comparing our lives. Our host was a monk for 6 years, from age 18-24, so we asked him alot of questions about that period in his life. He is now a data entry clerk.

For dinner, we helped prepare a local dish called lapp. It is made with either ground pork or chicken, garlic, lime juice, lots of mint, green onion and fish sauce. It was really delicious. Then we went to the table and the wife had made all kinds of special Laotian dishes, including skewered chicken, green papaya salad, chicken in banana leaves, fresh stir fried veggies and of course, sticky rice.



December 6, 2015

We started our exploration of Vientiane with a visit to Wat Sisaket, the oldest monastery in the city. It dates back to 1818 and contains over 2000 Buddha statues in various sizes and positions. Our tour director, Joe, took the opportunity to teach us about meditation and its benefits. And then we took 5 minutes to practice. As he said, it gets easier and better the more you do it.

There was an impressive shrine nearby with several images of Buddha in various positions. We learned that these Buddhas represent the days of the week on which you were born.Barbara's birth day was Friday and someone born on that day is said to be compassionate, kind and a bit emotional, flying off the handle quickly. Friday's color is blue which turns out to be Barbara's favorite color!

Fred was born on Monday and his Buddha represents compassion, patience and attention to detail. His color is yellow.

We then visited the golden domed Phra That Luang, whose name means The Great Stupa. It was built in the 16th century and is considered the symbol of Laos sovereignty and independence. Its image appears on its currency and national seal. It lies in a compound behind a statue of King Setthathirat and is flanked by two Buddhist temples and the large reclining Buddha pictured above. The stupa could use some maintenance as the gold paint is deteriorating.





Our next stop was to Patuxai or Victory Gate. Patterned after the Arc d'Triomph in Paris, it was erected in 1960 to commemorate those killed in the wars before the Communist revolution. It is made of concrete which is rumored to be donated by Americans and intended to build a new airport. The Arch has thus been nicknamed the "vertical runway." We climbed to the top for great views of the city.




Our final stop before lunch was to a rehabilittion center called COPE. There we saw a documentary about the problem of unexploded ordinances from the Vietnam War that cover the countryside in Laos. Laos is the most bombed country in the world. And they were not even involved in the war except the Ho Chi Min Trail went through the country. Over 260 million bombs were dropped over Laos and at least 30% of them are not exploded. When people try to farm their lands, they often set off the bombs, causing severe injuries and even death. This organization offers help to those injured, especially creating prosthetic limbs for them. There is another organization called MAG which is trying to locate the bombs in the fields and detonate them before they do injury. Since this is primarily a society dependent on agriculture, it is a huge problem not to be able to safely till their fields.

After a delicious lunch of pork stew and chicken with quail eggs, we visited the local "morning" market where we bought a few more souvenirs and gifts. Dinner was on our own so Fred and I decided to try an Italian restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. It turns out that the owner was from Rome and we had a wonderful dinner of fried calamari, eggplant Parmesan and lasagna. Of course we had gelato for dessert. Although we have enjoyed the Laotian food, this was a nice change.



To view more photos from our trip to Vientiane, please go to Vientiane Photo Gallery. To read about the next place we visited, go to Phnom Penh Newsletter.

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