After another long bus ride we arrived in Vientiane - we couldn't get over how quiet and laid back it was for a capital city, but very fitting for Laos. After recharging a bit in our hotel (a cosy room as I’d accidentally booked us in as single occupancy!) we headed out for dinner. We had some delicious Laos specialities, but may have possibly over-ordered on rice...
After breakfast we grabbed a tuk tuk and headed up the hill to Pha That Luang - the iconic Laos monument. It is a giant stupa covered in gold leaf, containing fragment of Buddha’s collarbone, brought over from India. Pretty spectacular to look at. There are some impressive temples surrounding it, as well as their cultural hall. We took some time to explore them and stumbled across a photoshoot (we never did work out if they were a couple or models). We then became the subject of a photo ourselves when a Chinese man asked us to pose with his daughter - we assumed westerners were a bit of a rarity for him.
We then headed down the hill to check out Patuxai - the Laos victory monument (aka their Arc de Triomphe). It seemed to have a bit of a reputation for being ugly, but we didn't think it looked too bad. The ceiling especially was very pretty. It had gained the nickname of ‘the concrete runway’ as it was built by Laos using money that was given by the US which was intended for a new airport, so a slightly less practical alternative!
We kept it local for our lunch stop and opted for the cafe next to our hotel, in fairness it had been going a long time and had a very good reputation. Their specialty was Pho, in a ‘do it yourself’ kind of way.
Wanting to expand our Laos history knowledge we headed to their National Museum in the afternoon where we were educated on their ancient history, tribal history and colonial history and the secret war (which ran alongside the Vietnam war). It was informative, if a little one sided, and we definitely could have had a job there improving their English translations.
In the evening we went to a bar with amazing views across the river to Thailand. We also enjoyed browsing their night market and watching the sunset, with the crazy exercise class that was going on in the background.
As our hostel didn’t provide breakfast we were able to sample what the city had to offer, which on Wednesday included some amazing egg white and oat toast with jam (something we might have to recreate when we’re home).
After breakfast we headed off to Cope - a centre which supports and raises awareness of amputees, who may have lost limbs from unexploded ordinance or illness. They manufacture prosthetic limbs and have trained up a whole team of medics and therapists who do incredible work all across Laos.
They had an amazing free exhibition, with some heartbreaking stories of loss, but also some uplifting stories too. We were so shocked to learn how devastatingly the country was bombed during the secret war, more than 270 million bombs were dropped with 80 million remaining unexploded after the war. More than 50,000 people have been killed or injured by these devices, 20,000 of those occurred after the war had ended and 40% of those were children. Cope have also invested in education programmes to educate the country on the dangers of these unexploded bombs and have set up support centres across the country for those who previously previously had no access to medical help
In the afternoon we visited Wat Sisaket which is the oldest surviving temple in the city and was commissioned by Vientiane’s last king. It held a pretty big Buddha collection and some more impressive stupas (and we made friends with a couple of cats).
Thursday brought another great breakfast discovery - the House of Fruit Shakes. Despite its name we didn't actually have shakes there, but instead opted for their amazing fruit platter with eggs and bread thrown in. All for only £2!
We then caught the bus to the Buddha Park - which was exactly how it sounds, a park full of Buddha statues. We had fun taking in all the different designs and there was a great view across the river to Thailand. I even climbed up the precarious pumpkin structure, where health and safety rules didn't factor.
After that we caught a bus part way back to city and visited the Lao Disabled Women's Development Centre. An amazing charity that offers courses to disabled women (and now men), teaching them a skill that they can then use to make money and support themselves. While we were there we went on a tour and saw classes of sewing, newspaper paper art, weaving by hand and clay stoves construction. The centre also has on site accommodation for its students. Since 2002 they helped over 400 women which is incredible given their size.
In the afternoon we headed to another temple and then back to our favourite spot on the river to watch the sun set (again) next to the exercise class.
We had an amazing dinner with some Laos appetisers and a tamarind marinated fish.
On Friday morning we visited another temple (there are a fair few in Vientiane!) which was beautifully decorated, although we’re not sure why, and then indulged in a bit of pampering with a pedicure.
The afternoon was spent window shopping and visiting another temple. Then for our dinner, as is now the tradition for our last night in a country, we went for pizza.
The next day we had an early 4am start to catch our flight to Thailand. We realised we might have been a little over-cautious when we saw the reaction of our sleepy looking hotel receptionist who was surprised we were only going to Bangkok. Our suspicions were confirmed when we got to the airport (only 10 mins down the road) and we were two of only a handful of passengers. Our early start did mean that we got to see the monks going to give almes (finally!) on the journey.
After waiting in a mosquito-packed departure lounge for a little while we finally boarded our flight to Bangkok just after 7am.