When I first looked into Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, I read many mixed reviews. Many people reported it to be dull and boring with not much to do. Others really liked the city and enjoyed the simplicity of it. I’m never swayed by what others have to say. I was planning on coming to Vientiane no matter what, I just didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this small capital city.
Vientiane is located on the banks of the Mekong river, as are many of the major cities in Laos. Just across the Mekong lies Thailand, making the capital city a popular visa run location for Thailand ex-pats. There are several prominent temples, a monument and the presidential palace. It is by far the smallest capital city in SE Asia but is rapidly growing with the tourist boom. Many new buildings are being constructed and the city limits are constantly growing.
I decided to skip the temples, I’m sure they are all beautiful, but I am getting a bit templed out, as do many people traveling through SE Asia. There are so many of them and for the most part they are really similar, making me feel like I’ve seen them all already. Honestly, I have become a bit bored of them. I did walk by one older temple that was covered in green moss that I found particularly beautiful and snapped a few photos, but that’s about it. I also skipped the presidential palace, simply from a lack of interest. So what is it I did do, you ask?
I did a lot of walking. I love smaller cities where I don’t have to rely on transportation to get around. I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go. On the first day, I visited the Patuxai victory gate war monument. It was built between 1957 and 1968 dedicated to those who fought in the battle for independence from France. It’s a large monument located in the center of Vientiane. It is surrounded by well manicured gardens and also has a large fountain on the grounds. Visitors are able to climb up to the top tiers for great 360 degree views of the city. This is my video of Patuxai War Monument.
That same day I also visited the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) visitor center, where I was chilled to the bones by the factual information I learned about the ongoing problem with UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) within Laos. Between 1964 and 1973 the US army dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on the country of Laos, making it the most bombed country in the world. The nightmare continues today because over 80 million of the bombs didn’t explode and continue to kill and injure people on a daily basis. COPE is a non profit organization offering help and support to sufferers of UXO explosions. I was brought to tears reading the stories about the people of Laos who live with this very dangerous reality. I was extremely humbled by this exhibit and stayed for a few hours choking over the severity and the damage this country has endured. I donated my daily budget to the center because I was so moved by their cause. Thank You COPE for what you are doing!
After COPE I decided to wander through one of the many markets in Vientiane. I needed to clear my head and a market is a perfect place for that. I was in need of few things for my zip lining adventure that I have been preparing for. I needed a pair of athletic pants, a baggy tank top, socks and a sports bra. Shopping for clothing in Asia sucks. Their sizes are so small and you obviously cant strip down in the middle of a market to try on a pair of pants. I’ve already made the mistake of buying things that didn’t fit and had to leave them behind. I really didn’t want to waste money, but I had to get something. I shopped for a few days at a few different markets and ended up with a pair of XXL leggings that are see through when I bend over. I bought a men’s large tank top which I thought would cover my rear when wearing see through pants, however, it doesn’t because my hips are so big. 3 pairs of men’s socks because I needed long socks to cover my ankles so I don’t get leeches. Lastly a XXL sports bra that has little pads that don’t even cover one boob. It’s comical really.
I had met a girl named Julia from the Netherlands and the following morning we decided to take the bus to Buddha Park. Buddha Park is about 40 minutes outside of Vientiane, located in a meadow by the Mekong river and although it is referred to as a Wat it’s not actually a temple, it’s a sculpture park. It has over 200 Hindu and Buddhist sculptures that depict many religious stories. I found this tourist attraction so fascinating and beautiful. My favorite part was a demons head you walk through in order to climb inside a three level pumpkin that is meant to represent hell, earth and heaven. The top level spits you out on top of the pumpkin with fantastic views of the park. Here’s my video of the very unique Buddha Park.
Buddha Park was great and I got lost for an hour or so taking pictures and climbing around. I had split up with Julia when we first arrived and went to look for her after I had sufficed my need for tourist photo opts. I found her in the small restaurant with a local who clearly worked there. She didn’t look good at all. I asked if everything was ok. Apparently, while I was in photo heaven she had gotten sick, thrown up and then passed out. Everyone was really concerned about her and they had her go lay down in a hut, then they called an ambulance. I had no idea what was going on, however, I was quite excited for the opportunity to take a little adventure in the healthcare land of Laos.
The ambulance that came to get Julia was for sure from the 1980’s as well as all its “supplies” inside it. Everything was so old and outdated. There was nothing safe about this ambulance or the way it was driven. We were flying down the street with the most annoying sirens, swerving around people, going airborne after flying over pot holes. No one is secured in their seats because there are no belts, not even Julia was strapped down on the stretcher that was so rickety and old. There are 5 EMT’s in the van with us, all of which looked under the age of 20, only one of them spoke a small amount of English. It’s a really good thing that this wasn’t a “real” emergency, otherwise, we would have been screwed. I knew Julia was going to be fine so I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I was truly intrigued with this insiders experience and kept thinking about how good we’ve got it back in the States.
The first place they took her did nothing for her. They unloaded her, laid her on a bed. They all spoke in Laos and it seemed as if they were cracking jokes and just laughing at the situation, which in turn made me just want to laugh. We obviously had no idea what was going on. They put Julia on speaker phone with a woman who speaks English who asked Julia some questions and then spoke in Laos to the EMT holding the phone. Then one of the EMT’s hands me a bill and asks me to pay. Now I’m laughing for real. I said I’m not paying anything, this is a friend I met yesterday and this has nothing to do with me. So then they load her back into the van and off we go again.
The “hospital” is a decaying old building not well kept at all. When we arrive a nurse comes out, rolling her eyes, and asks Julia a few questions before having the EMT’s bring her inside. I’ve never seen healthcare workers look like helping someone is the last thing in the entire world that they want to do. No one acted concerned and it felt as if they were all making jokes about us. The nurse pricked her finger, like diabetics do. A few minutes later, a woman who spoke English came over and said her blood was fine and basically said we should just go back to the hostel. They gave Julia a bill for the “blood test”, which wasn’t a blood test because they didn’t draw any blood. She said she needed to call her mom and insurance, but they don’t have a phone or WiFi at the hospital making this impossible. So she had to pay out of her pocket, luckily, she had enough money.
We all loaded into the back of the ambulance for the third time and the EMT’s drove us back to our hostel, which was awesome because we basically got a free ride home. This was the highlight of my day. A few things I learned from this little adventure are 1) I hope to God that I never have a real “emergency”. 2) I need to learn to speak some other languages. 3) It’s shocking the lack of supplies and education the healthcare has here in Laos. 4) Things are very old and outdated here when it comes to healthcare. 5) Contacting someone if you are in the hospital is impossible.
Vientiane was an excellent choice for me, I love all the cafes, French influenced cuisine, markets and the fact that I could walk from one side of town to the next. I had a great little hostel that had capsule beds for privacy and also served a decent breakfast. Lastly, Wifi was decent enough in places to get some work done. I don’t know what people were talking about when they said they didn’t enjoy this quaint little town. I’m glad I didn’t skip it!
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