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Vientiane (7/25-7/26)

July 26th, 2006 · No Comments

Below is a quick account of our short time in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We saw some stunning architecture and many Wats that give Laos a unique flavor. We also got our first taste of Lao textile work, just beautiful.

Click here, for some photos from Vientiane.

Daniel

After our trek through Vietnam we headed to neighboring Laos – from one Communist country to another. However, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was a striking contrast to the busy hustle we found throughout Vietnam. One guide explained that the Vietnamese grow rice while the Laotian listens to the rice grow.

Our first stop in Laos was in the capital, Vientiane – one of the most laid back capital cities we have ever visited. We stayed in a small guesthouse along the banks of the meandering Mekong River. Even the famous river seems to slow down during its journey through Laos.

After clearing customs, we noticed that the airport was shutting down just after 4:30pm. Expecting a mob of taxi drivers fighting over our business, we sought out the official taxi stand & paid for a voucher. Our taxi driver greeted us just outside the terminal when we noticed there were only two or three cars parked outside. The car would be considered antique or vintage by any car aficionado. The only problem was that the speedometer stayed at zero the whole way – luckily we didn’t have any problems.

With only two half days in Vientiane, we set out to explore the city sites in the afternoon. The main draw is That Luang built by King Settathirat. Built in the 16th century, this enormous stupa towers into the sky. We took a TukTuk to the stupa and passed Pratuaki Monument, an arch very similar to the Arc de Triumph in Paris. However, this arch commemorates the victory over Colonial France by the Lao People.

The next morning we ventured out to Wat Sisaket, one of the oldest temples in Vientiane. The temple is currently inhabited by a small number of monks. It’s most unique characteristic is the massive number of Buddha figures found within its galleries and cloisters. All of the inward facing walls have thousands of small niches, each has a small ceramic Buddha placed inside.

We also visited Lao Textiles run by Carol Cassidy. Many different styles and techniques of Lao weaving are on display in the French villa showroom. Lao Textile is internationally known and produces some of the best quality textiles in the country. Past wars and unrest have threatened the weaving traditions passed down over the years, but people like Carol Cassidy have encouraged a resurgence in the demand for high quality silk textiles. In the end locals are able to make a living by continuing this traditional art. Luckily, we were also able to see the weavers in action. In a courtyard just behind the show room, a handful of women knelt by spindles whirring raw silk into thread. Further back, there was a long row of hand looms worked by more women who were methodically weaving their colorful masterpieces. One handmade piece can take months to complete. Even more impressive is that many of the tapestries are 2-3 meters long. It was here where we were inspired to begin a search for our very own tapestry…tbd in Luang Prabang.

Finally, we paid a short visit to the city market selling everything: jewelry, tapestries, DVD’s, souvenirs, fried eggs, etc. Only a few of the vendors tried to get our attention as we wandered through the maze of isles. Again this was an interesting contrast to the tugging and pulling that we had grown accustomed to in Vietnam. Next stop Luang Prabang.

Tags: Laos

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