Leaving Luang Prabang, we flew south to the capital city of Vientiane. The city center has wide boulevards and green spaces, a legacy of the French colonial period.
The previous photo was taken from the top of this structure, the Patuxay Victory Gate Monument.
If you think it looks somewhat like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, you would be correct since this was indeed modeled after the Paris monument. Interestingly, this was built to commemorate the country’s independence from their colonial masters, France. Kind of like saying “stick that in your eye, Frenchy!”
We visited the COPE center to learn about the effects of bombing during the Vietnam war (referred to throughout the region as the “American war” by the people here). We learned that the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main supply route for the northern troops fighting near Saigon in South Vietnam, runs through Laos, not Vietnam. American planes dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on Laos during the war, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of the world. The areas in red on this map show the distribution of the bombing.
We also learned that up to 30% of the bombs dropped did not explode. This unexploded ordinance, or UXO, remains a danger to the local population. In fact, tourists are restricted from traveling in the most-affected areas in the southern parts of Laos. Encouragingly, there are internationally funded efforts underway to clear the UXO and make the land again safe for habitation, and accidents involving UXO are decreasing in frequency. The Lao people, in their characteristic Buddhist worldview, are not bitter but instead look to the future for a better life.
Back in the outskirts of the city, daily life goes on. Monks cross a bamboo bridge…
Smiling street vendors sell birds in bamboo cages. These are purchased by followers of Buddha and then released, gaining merit for a good deed done and building up good Karma to improve their chances for a better next life after reincarnation.
Also seen at the street vendor stalls is one of the favorite local snacks: Water buffalo skin strips, just waiting to be grilled and eaten. Kind of like the local version of pork rinds. With the buffalo fur as an added bonus.
We can’t leave the country without sharing a few Buddhist landmarks. Photos cannot capture the aura, but the Phra That Luang (Great Sacred Stupa) towers over the surroundings.
This huge outdoor reclining Buddha dominates a local plaza.
Temples are abundant, and amazing statuary is located seemingly around every corner.
These monks are ending their day with group worship. We received a lesson on meditation from the leader of this temple.
Until our next post, with the palms of our hands pressed together in front of our chests, and with a deferential bow, we say “namaste” to you!