Vientiane – where we learned about Laos

Tuesday 19th January and Wednesday 20th January

We arrived in Vientiane 7 days after leaving Luang Prabang, and the two cities couldn’t be more different. Luang Prabang was a sleepy place that seemed to exist for the tourists, whereas Vientiane feels like a miniature Bangkok – there’s a feeling of energy, plus plenty of traffic! There are still quite a few tourists, but we’re much more diluted by the locals. It’s not as nice and yet I kind of prefer it. 

We had the option to extend our visa here, but after plotting our route we decided to risk keeping it to 30 days. We should be able to make it to the south and have a few lazy days in the 4000 Islands region (famous last words?). 

Stuff we did… 

We visited the National Museum. This was interesting. 

  

Laos is a communist country run by the military, and what do you know, their National Museum was a tad biased. There was plenty of good stuff about Laos’ ethnic minorities and ancient history, but there was also a lot of focus on their modern history, especially the Vietnam War… and I think if you were an American person visiting this museum, you may have left it feeling not quite as welcome as you did when you entered it! 

Throughout the whole museum Americans were referred to as “the imperialist US”. 

   

Also largely criticised were previous occupiers the EVIL FRENCH. 

  
   

I’m not saying that Laos hasn’t suffered at the hands of French occupiers or the US government (I know that in particular Laos was very heavily bombed by the USA during the Vietnam War). What was really bad about this museum was a general lack of facts or figures, or even real explanations about this period. The display was just a series of photographs with evocative tag lines, or in the case of the French occupation, evocative paintings. 

 

The last display was another set of photographs showing Laos’ recent progress. They had captions like: “Officials burn X amount of illegal drugs”, or “Laos’ newest power station established in XXXX”. 

  

After visiting the museum I looked up Laos’ history on Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s page gave a fairly detailed breakdown of Laos’ occupation by the Thais, the French, the Japanese and the Vietnamese. When it came to the French occupation, the Wikipedia page went suspiciously in the opposite direction of the Laos National Museum – the tone was very much that the French were more or less nice rulers who built schools and hospitals, and yes there were a few Laos “troublemakers” but the French dealt with them. Hmm. What does that mean? 

But what I did learn from Wikipedia was that Laos had only been ruled by Laos for a few decades, which puts the National Museum in a different light… here is a government of a country that has lived under the rule of other countries for centuries, and now wants to show that they have overcome their occupiers and attackers and are proudly independent.

It was very interesting. 

We also visited the COPE centre, which was brilliant. This charity’s goal is to give Laos people with physical disabilities free support. In particular, they help people who are victims of UXOs – unexploded bombs dropped during the Vietnam War. 

Model “bombies” – cluster bombs dropped by the USA during the Vietnam War. 

  

Laos was actually the most heavily bombed country during the War, as the Viet Kong fled across the border to hide in Laos. 

It is predicted that 30% of these “bombies” didn’t explode, which means that out of the 270 million dropped, 80 million remained after the War was over. These unexploded devices have led to over 20,000 Laos people being killed or wounded after the conflict ended, and they are still clearing the explosives away today. 

Without COPE, people often had to make their own prosthetic limbs. This prosthetic leg really was used by someone. 

  

COPE gives people medical care, professionally made prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation for free. 

It was also interesting to learn that many Laos people use the shells from bombs to make things like boats, cooking pots, fishing implements and many other household items. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any of these from now on. 

We made a visit to That Luang, which is said to be Laos’ most important monument. 

   
   

Next door was Wat That Luang Tai. Wats in Laos are beautiful and colourful, and have their own distinct style. 

      

First you fight, then you make up (haha).   

While we were here we splurged on a few nice restaurants. Our two favourites were “Noy’s Fruit Heaven” and “New Delhi Indian Restaurant”. There seem to be lots of high quality, international restaurants in Vientiane – it was a nice break from pho! (As much as I like it.)

  

At the night market we made sure to try roti (or lotee, as I think it was spelled on the stall) – a sort of Indian pancake desert. We got one with banana and chocolate and it was so delicious! 

Here Eric’s expression says: “Why do you have to take a picture of me with this roti? Why can’t we just eat it?” 

  
Why? WHY?? Because we have to record every piddling detail of our lives, Eric. That’s why. 

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