Found A New Home
Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,
This delightfully friendly capital, studded with crumbling French mansions, bougainvillea­-blooming streets and steaming noodle stalls, is somewhere between a big town and a diminutive city; the kind of place you might find a Graham Greene protagonist. Its conveniently compact travellers’ enclave is based around Nam Phu, the Mekong riverside and Setthariat and Samsenthai streets. Full of things to see, from Buddha Park to the Morning market and an impossibly rich selection of international cuisine – most pointedly French – you’ll find yourself slowly won over by the easy charms of this evolving backwater.
The city may reveal its beauty less readily than Luang Prabang, but spend a few days visiting its unusual sights, sampling its excellent food and enjoying a Beer Lao at sunset by the river, and you’ll soon feel at home here. Vientiane delivers a relaxing riverside break where one of the best things you can do is grab a drink and enjoy the sun’s spectacular show as it sets over the Mekong.
Despite being the largest city in Laos and the hub of commerce and administration, Vientiane is still refreshingly laid back.
The city offers a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and pavement cafes some adding a French air with their style of architecture which contrasts pleasingly with the old Buddhist temples dotted around. There are plenty of things to do after dark and bars cater to all tastes from backpacker beer haunts to elegant cocktail lounges. Navigating Vientiane is relatively simple due to its size and sightseeing can be done either on foot, by bike or by hiring a song-teow.
The countryside is never far away, with rice paddies providing a backdrop to most streets. Culture buffs should make the Laos National Museum their first stop.
When in Laos, do as the Laos do and the slow the pace right down. A common joke is that acronym PDF (Peoples Democratic Republic) actually stands for 'Please Slow Down’. A word of warning to the anally punctual, the country is decidedly laid back and some visitors may mistake this for a lack of ambition or impolitesse but regardless, it's best not to expect things to run like clockwork. (Lonely Planet)
<u>Now For A Bit Of History</u>
According to myth, the city of Vientiane was created by the Naga Souvannanak. Vientiane was an ancient city whose territories covered both banks of the Mekong River. The first name of Vientiane was "Ban Nong Khanthae Phiseuanam" village, which later became “Vientiane” town under the leadership of the first Governor, Bourichan or Phraya Chanthabouly Pasitthisak, between 430-120 B.C. In 1357 King Fa Ngoum held a grandiose celebration for the great victory of the unification of all Lao territories enhancing his prestige and power over the nobility throughout the Lane Xang Kingdom and the neighboring kingdoms. It was organized in the Pak Pasak area in present day Vientiane. In 1560, King Saysettha moved from Luang Prabang to declare Vientiane as the capital city of the Lane Xang kingdom, naming it “Nakorn Chanthabouly Sitta tanakhanahood Outtama Rajathany”.
During the reign of King Souliyavongsa Thamikarat in the 17th century, Vientiane grew to become one of the most developed civilizations.
The city was the center of administration for politics, socio-economics and culture. The kings were brave, clever and kind and people were happy. The palaces were very beautiful, looking like golden houses standing along the bank of the Mekong River. However, Vientiane was burnt down by Siames troops in 1828, and divided into two cities. The city on the right side of the Mekong River became part of Siam and the city on the left side remained part of Laos.
At present, Vientiane is a smaller city, only half of its former size.
In the years of 2009 and 2010; two great historical events take place in Vientiane. In 2009 we hosted the 25th annual SEA Games and in 2010 we held a celebration of the 450th anniversary of the foundation of Vientiane as the Capital (1560-2010). To prepared for the above auspicious events Vientiane people have continued developing the city to be peaceful, clean, green, charming, light and civilized.
Vieng (Vien) in the Lao language means “the city”. Chantha (tiane) a Pali word, means sandalwood or the moon.
In the old part of Vientiane city, an attractive and interesting settlement is situated along the Mekong River where the ancient temples, museums, monuments and parks are all located just a short distance apart. The cosmopolitan capital of Laos, Vientiane, has galleries, boutiques, theatres, nightclubs and internet cafe, making it a major attraction for visitors from all around the globe. Although the city is small, it offers visitors a great variety of restaurant serving both Lao and foreign cuisine.
<u>What Is The Buddha Park</u>
Buddha Park (aka Xieng Khuan) is a famous sculpture park with more than 200 religious statues including a huge 40-metre high reclining Buddha image. The best spot for photography here is on top of the giant pumpkin structure standing about three stories high. The entrance is crafted to look like a demon’s mouth (about three meters high) with a stone ladder inside leading to a bird's eye view of the entire Xieng Kuan Park.
It was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a monk who studied both Buddhism and Hinduism. This explains why his park is full not only of Buddha images but also of Hindu gods as well as demons and animals from both beliefs. Buddha Park, like many of Vientiane’s other attractions, is more curious than spectacular. A rogue monk is said to have attempted to reconsolidate Buddhism and Hinduism into his own brand of mysticism through a rather prolific collection of sculptures depicting various deities and scenes from both religions in the 1950s.
The most outstanding ones include Indra, the king of Hindu gods riding the three-headed elephant (aka Erawan and Airavata), a four-armed deity sitting on a horse and an artistic deity with 12 faces and many hands, each holding interesting objects. They are all equally impressive not only because of their enormous size but because they are full of interesting details and interesting motifs. (Vientiane Website)
Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________
The soundtrack to this entry was by Ride The album was ‘Carnival of Light’ ____________________________________________________________
Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,
Where does it usually happen? In bus and train stations, market places, walking a busy street or even in a café. So the dirt track in that photo above, it happened right there on that very spot. It was like a scene from a movie and a rather funny one at that.
<u>Enters The Comedy</u>
In fact the more I think about it the more I find that it was like a comedy skit from a television show such as The Comedy Company etc that has been written to take the piss out of those 'extremely paranoid travellers’. You know the ones who put their day pack on their front and stare around with flickering eyes. Well, if it was a skit written to take the piss, the wind actually blew in the writer’s general direction leaving him soaked and humiliated.
For the paranoid back packer would still have his or her pack. Silence, all there was beautiful silence.
This morning I hired a bike and took off out into the fields and karst peaks. The main dirt road out to the Blue Lagoon was rather busy with scooters and little four wheel go cart looking things. When I arrived at The Blue Lagoon’ I walked around for about five minutes and after saying, ‘really, that’s it!’ I took off out into the real countryside just like I do back in China. After a few hours I realised that I hadn’t seen anyone except for a few farmers in the passing fields.
As it was over thirty degrees and I was sweaty I stopped for a breather and some water. That was when I heard the motorbike in the distance. This is where it becomes outrageously funny.
<u>Enters The Thief</u>
I was off my bike resting, my pack was behind me on the track but near my feet and I was drinking some water looking out over the fields. Soon a Westerner/Foreigner came around the corner and when we saw each other he waved, I waved in return and after waving I turned and continued drinking my water while staring at some of the most amazing countryside I have seen in a number of years. I heard the motorbike slow down as it neared me and didn’t really think much of it due to the roads condition.
I then heard the motorbike speed up and then go quieter as it went into the distance.
A few minutes later, after finishing my bottle of water by emptying it on my head I turned around to grab my daypack and there was only a dirt track. I was a little startled but thought hey I must have hung it on my bike after taking the water bottle out. I then looked at my bike and then at my feet and honestly even then even did a few turnarounds like a ballerina on stage.
It took a few seconds before reality actually clicked in to mouth the words: That sneaky friendly motorised son of a bitch snaffled my pack!
I then looked down the track in the direction of that sneaky friendly motorised son of a bitch and found that I could no longer hear his sneaky friendly son of a bitch motor. So what was in the bag? Oh only my new phone which ‘was’ a HTC M8 Eye. The first phone I have purchased in many many years. Why did I buy a new phone? Because my trusty old Nokia N8 now and takes just over five minutes to start, yes it does and I know this because The Brits and I timed it on several occasions. Back then it was funny, a right laugh so to say because I knew I was going to buy a new phone and was currently researching which one to fork over my small savings on.
Oh and just for shits & giggles five minutes ago I turned it off and on, now it’s ready.
Yes over the past few years I’ve taken the old N8 into the service joint where they gave it a grease and oil change, changed the spark plugs, tuned the breaks, put in a new starter motor, changed the coolant and even bored the engine until it fit NASCAR 454V8 specs but sadly the fact is it is just old.
But a phone is a phone is a phone and a phone can easily be replaced.
<u>Enters The Tragedy</u>
The tragedy of it all is that my ‘main ATM card’ was in the phone case. Normally I keep snuggly with me in my money belt with my wallet and keep my second ATM card with my phone. I say this because my phone up until now has always been a small screened phone with a really really good camera. Who thought it was a great idea to up screen size upon purchase? Shhh, don’t tell anyone but it was ME who thought it would be a great idea to up size to a five and a half screen from a four. After the first day using it I knew that it was going to be a real bitch to carry around as a camera so I kept it in my pack and began using my old Fuji camera.
One camera, one phone, why not make it a real joke and by a separate MP3 Player. Anyhow, on to the ATM Card and why it is a tragedy.
Simply put, China’s banking system really really sucks in a way that each province might as well be a separate country. My main ATM Card belongs to an account in Jiangxi Province, which is the last province I taught in but in the city three schools back. Do you think that the same bank in Jiangsu Province can do anything at all to help me? Are you kidding me! NO, they cannot help at all, I’ve already had it looked into by two separate people and yes of course when I leave Laos and return to China I will do the stupid thing of sitting in line to then have the clerk look at me and say;
I am sowwi Sir, we cin nah hewlp.
Some of the new banks are now connected in a way they can issue a new card in any major city but not the Agricultural Bank of China, no each province still wants to be the only Agricultural Bank of China in China. You know like those back packers who look at you as you walk towards them but when your eyes lock they quickly look away as if to say, you are not there, I am the only back packer in China.
So, next term is really going to suck money wise.
I’ve had to borrow enough money to get me back to my school and live until end of March which when my next salary is and of course most of that will be used to pay the money back that I have borrowed. So I am pretty much beginning at zero money and the NEXT BIG PROBLEM will be when can I go all the way to Shangrao city in Jiangxi Province to even try to get my money? Also I have just found out that my money is in a bank account called EGG. Egg was always my teaching name for my young students (it sounds more fun in Chinese than in English) and if I do not have any paper work supporting the fact that I am EGG (which I don’t) then it will most probably be illegal for them to give EGG’S money to someone whose name is Shane ? on the passport I will be showing them.
This is really going to cause a lot of problems in the future is I can’t get that money.
Next term is going to be a very short term which means several months less salary, subtract the first month’s salary being used to pay off the money I borrowed. This most probably is going to mean that I won’t be able to move schools or fly back to Australia to see friends and family on over a decade as at the end of the term I won’t have a salary for three months two months Summer Break and then having to work for a month before getting Septembers salary. Oh frakit, I'm gonna sit here, drink some more beer Lao and watch a few hours of 'Friends'. Beers N Noodles toya…..Shane the Eggflip ___________________________________________________________
The soundtrack to this entry was by Metallica The album was ‘Master of Puppets’ ____________________________________________________________
Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,
This cannot be real! I can’t believe that it is still happening!
Fifteen years ago when I crossed into China from Vietnam I was greeted by what was to become a familiar sight when staying in backpacking hostels, that being a bar/lounge full of travelers watching the TV series 'Friends’. When we arrived in Vang Vieng last night I was once again greeted by roadside bars/eateries all full and many with a big screen TV’s showing ‘Friends’.
Upon hearing the words ‘Tubing in Vang Vieng’, to most travelers it tells of drunken young backpackers, excessively partying at riverside bars drinking Happy Shakes while eating Happy Pizza to then throw themselves off rope swings into the water that at certain times of the year is far too shallow, most made it to the next bar but far too many didn’t.
Believe it or not, in 2011 there where twenty seven tubing related deaths and in 2012 there were between seven and twenty two, different sites offer different figures but no matter what those figures are that is easily one death a month for more than many years. Thankfully the Laos government stepped in and cleaned the mess up and the shonky riverside bars were dismantled, others had their ‘menus’ forcefully changed and tubing once again became about peacefully floating down the Nam Song River.
Today we decided to join the Tubers and Kayak down the Nam Song River.
We spent the morning visiting several caves and after lunch we grabbed our paddles and off we went. We made one stop at one of the several riverside bars left which I found to be thankfully rather tame when looking at the amount of Tubers dropping in and in the time we stayed I only saw two people with ‘buckets’, one of which was already pretty well on her way and from memory we were only at the second bar. Others around were consuming at a rather rapid pace but still having a good time. I counted quite a few bars after that so I am thinking many would have lost control of their tube by the end of the afternoon.
As for the kayaking, it was well worth the day with a paddle in hand! So what is Vang Vieng like?
It is beautiful and for those who have been reading my blog for all the many years I’ve been travelling China, simply think of Yangshuo yet I wouldn’t rate its beauty as equal as Yangshuo and its surroundings. Like Yangshuo it offers the more adventurous traveller a handful of outdoor activities such as cycling, trekking, kayaking, caving, rock climbing, rafting and of course Tubing.
<u>From the Lonely Planet</u>
Like a rural scene from an Oriental silk painting, Vang Vieng crouches low over the Nam Song with a backdrop of serene cliffs and a tapestry of vivid green paddy fields. Thanks to the iron fist of the Lao government finally making its presence felt in 2012 (when the river rave bars were finally closed down), the increasingly toxic party scene has been banished and the community is recalibrating itself as an outdoor paradise home with some achingly lovely boutique hotels and a raft of adrenalin-inducing and nature-based activities.
For the first time in years Western families and a more mature crowd are visiting (many en route to fabled Luang Prabang), stopping to kayak the Nam Song, go caving and climb the karsts. Relief pretty much describes the current feeling of Vang Vieng's inhabitants. It is mixed with a dose of anxiety as to how they are going to fill their empty guesthouses, for at its height 170,000 footfalls swept through the town on a yearly basis. Still, locals are glad that Vang Vieng is now untroubled by thumping music, disrespectful teens and the misconception that anything goes.
PS: If you are wondering why the girl in the photo is pointing up at the sign, it is because her name is Huang Ting and if you look at the sign they have left out the 'ing' in the word visiting....sooooo, VisiTING! Ha Ha Ha, oh well, it was funny at the time!
Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________
The soundtrack to this entry was by the TV show ‘Friends’ ____________________________________________________________