Day 239… Today we follow dusty tracks along the river to find villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens, the cleanliness of either one completely interchangeable and dubious at best. Vientiane’s vibrant, colourful morning market (which, incidentally, is open all day… lols!) is full of local treasures, like snakes and scorpions fighting in rigor mortise encased in bottles of embalming alcohol. A great way to round off the day is to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Mekong.
But before that, we take to the streets on foot to visit Wat Si Saket, perhaps the oldest temple in Laos and frankly one of the most beautiful… full of golden buddhas, murals and gorgeous painted nagas (here they do not have human faces, but awesome dragon headed ones). Here i ignore our quietly spoken guide and wander to get my own photos while later, the group stumbles across a litter of weeks old kittens playing and decided that health concerns be buggered… we’re gonna play with them… watery eyes and all! I choose to take photos and move on… cute they may be but screw that. Close by, and once home to the ‘Emerald Buddha’, we visit the former royal temple of the Laos monarchy, Haw Pha Kaew, with a vast array of Buddhist style sculptures. Continuing on to a symbol for Vientiane is Patuxai, or Victory Gate, or the Arc Du Triomphe of asia, and climb up to the top for an unsurpassed view of the city.
Later again we sneak out to visit COPE, an Intrepid Foundation-sponsored organisation dedicated to assistance those who have been injured by the multitude of unexploded ordinance across the country. Laos was and still is the most heavily bombed country on the planet… as during the Vietnam War… Laos was a completely neutral country and so… because the USA was as paranoid as an Orwell Ian about it suddenly becoming a communist country, decided the best thing going to do to stop the Vietnamese from converting them was to drop a bomb every 8 minutes on a tiny country with no way of fighting back. Seriously. .. there are aussies and baits living there today training locals in bomb disposal as 1/3 of the place is still covered in unexploded ordinance (or UXOs) and the smallest hand sized ‘bombies’ are being handled by kids to play with or sell for scrap and killing thousands. It’s quite terrible.
After this sobering journey, we grab a Tuk Tuk to see the giant golden stupha and 121 meter golden reclining Buddha, then a 2nd tuk tuk out to Buddha Park. Here are not only hundreds of Buddha and Hindu statues… but also an impressive (especially if they fix it up… vandals have sadly made are bit of a mess of this amazing place) giant pumpkin-like structure with a cement tree atop it. There is a giant demonic mouth on 1 sided which you enter and see 3 layers of the universe within. There are stairs around the outside looking in on are level of Hell… then up 1 to the Earth… then finally up 1 more to Heaven. Now on the Earthly level there is are doorway you can enter, and from there descend down into Hell or ascend into Heaven, appropriately enough. Once in Heaven however, you can find an extra secret stairway up that takes you through the ceiling to stand atop the structure beneath the tree of life… you have found enlightenment! Quite the intricate sculpture!