|One of the lovely sunsets on the Mekong, just across the river from Thailand|
Step one was to find a hotel. If you’re not in a hostel, they’re (relatively) expensive here! I chalk that up to it being more of a business/diplomatic destination than a mere tourist town. After debating between ourselves for some time, we decided on the stately looking and well-placed Ansara Hotel, although the most expensive in the city. After our short hop of a flight from Luang Prabang, we settled into the hotel after dark. In person, it was a pretty plain seeming, standard western-style hotel room. The pool area and breakfast were definitely the highlights (along with a healthy-looking poolside cat) – but we’d recommend staying a little further off of the river at Settha Palace if you’re planning on dropping a dime.
|Can't complain: the pool area at Vientiane's Ansara Hotel|
|I believe he's inviting us to the pool area, but he only spoke Lao, so we'll never know|
|Great banana shakes, not so great papaya salads|
We spent day one walking, and walking…and walking in the heat. Once again we had managed to (unintentionally) arrive in yet another destination at the hottest point of the year. We saw or walked by the requisite sights – Pha That Luang temple, which is pictured on all Lao kip bank notes (they don’t show on the notes that it’s surrounded by ugly parking lot on all sides), and Patuxai, the Arc de Triomphe of Laos. We started at Patuxai. Nicknamed “The Vertical Runway,” since it was built with cement donated by the U.S. for the purpose of building a new airport, it is something that looks vaguely impressive from afar. Once up close, it’s clear that it’s a cheaply made, poorly maintained, giant block of cement. We walked up the stairs to the top, where on each floor along the way up there is a market that feels half cheesy souvenir shop, and half thrift shop. We bought the same thing we buy in all other souvenir markets – nothing.
|Patuxai - impressive from across the traffic circle. And look! A traffic signal for pedestrians! Nobody knows what to do with those - but it's Laos, so not much traffic anyway|
|A long hot walk to look at what I could have seen in my wallet|
|At the souvenir stands outside of Pha That Luang. Remember how cool the "Texas 5 Man" seemed? Me neither.|
COPE was our second UXO stop, after first learning about the 2 million tons of ordnance the U.S. dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War at the UXO visitor center in Luang Prabang. The COPE campus is actually a working medical and rehabilitation center, with patients on site. The museum here is much more focused on the people injured or killed by unexploded ordnance, and the help that COPE provides by offering free prosthetics and rehabilitation to survivors. Another well done and sobering exhibit, reminding us of the continued damage caused by the Vietnam War.
|Sign outside COPE museum - the theme continues inside|
|Display of "bombies", 30% of which didn't explode on impact, and still wreak havoc in SE Asia today|
|More displays at COPE|
|Doesn't look exciting, but wrap up this pile of rice, shallot, peanut, etc into the greens, and prepare to be blown away|
|Beef(?) on the left, delicious-ness on the right|
|You can have a lot of variety depending on how you accessorize your fish wrap|
|If you can read Lao, let me know what we ate!|
|One of the two large groups partaking in riverside aerobics after sunset (still pretty damn hot!). This would be team purple. Interestingly, many of the instructors are male.|
Next up, heading to southern Laos to the town of Pakse!
|Caroline was very respectful to the locals|
|Enjoying an afternoon pastis - quite refreshing in the Vientiane heat, and practically free|
|Another (very common) way to keep from sweating too much during peak heat|
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