Thursday, 17 January 2013

Bye bye Laos, hello Vietnam!

According to Taio, our Singing Tour Guide, there are 10 "precepts" in Buddhism; we were all to choose a number between one and ten and I chose five. My mantra is "Vinya Barami" which means "perfection in energy"... And energy is what I needed this morning as we had a lot to squeeze in before catching our flight out of Laos this afternoon.

We arrived at our hotel in Vientiane yesterday afternoon. It was a four hour drive from Vang Vieng, with a new tour guide, that couldn't be more opposite to Taio if he tried. I can't remember his name or really what he looked like as he sat in the front seat of the coach, throughout the whole journey, listening to music on his iPod! You see, as I have mentioned before, it is the law in Laos that a local Lao tour guide is to accompany all visiting groups and as Sam(bo) is Cambodian he doesn't count. And so we had just that, literally, a local Lao tour guide who accompanied us on the coach and nothing more ... Oh well, I slept!

Vientiane is a city that didn't seem too frenetic considering it is the Capital of Laos, which was quite nice, apart from the fact that we still had problems crossing the busy roads. But I guess that was all good practise for when we reach Vietnam!

The afternoon was spent visiting The COPE Centre, (The Co-operative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise). It was quite a moving experience looking around at the various sculptures made from pieces of bombs found over the country from 'The Secret War', when America dropped millions of cluster bombs from 1964 - 1975! There are still approx 8 million unexploded still scattered and hidden deep in the ground, causing innumerable deaths and serious injuries amongst the locals, both young and old.

COPE was set up to help these victims and other amputees. Some of the stories are just too harrowing to repeat, we all left there in total silence.

Today we were leaving for Vietnam at 1 30, so Karen and I were up early to meet up with Nicola (Vet from Oxford) and Andrea (ex stunt lady from New Zealand) and explore as much as we could in 3 hours and 30 degrees of heat!

Our first stop was The Presidential Palace, but the gates were locked and I didn't think it would have been appreciated if we knocked on the door saying that we were just in the neighbourhood and thought we would pop in for a cup of tea. So instead we settled for trying to squeeze our camera lenses through the tiny gaps in the gates design and taking a photograph of the rather large and magnificent building.

Our next trial was to cross the road, which we finally managed to do and went to take a look at Wat Sisaket - the oldest temple in Vientiane. It was originally the site where an annual ceremony was held for the Nobles of Laos to pledge their oath of loyalty to the Laos King, then the Siamese King, then the French ...

The Buddhas here were in abundance, hundreds of them neatly laid out in the cloisters that surrounded the main temple. Many of them had been found buried underground, or hidden/damaged by debris after 'The Secret War'. Each of the larger Buddhas had a gold sash placed around them, even the battered empty plinths who's Buddha had been totally destroyed.

Our next pit stop was Haw Pha Kaew. This was originally built to be the Kings personal temple and housed The Emerald Buddha, which was later stolen by the Siamese when they invaded and now found in Bangkok.

With an hour to spare we thought we might try to see Pha That Wang, also known as The Golden Stupor. It is Laos most important religious building and its national symbol. So we flagged down a Tuk-Tuk driver and he happily drove us over. We got there to find that it had just closed for lunch! And so we settled for taking pictures from afar ... And received a bit of interest from a couple of giggling school girls who kept coming up to us to say hello.

We had 45 minutes left before our coach left for the airport, which gave us enough time to stop off at The Scandinavian Bakery for a quick cake and cup of tea. It's quite surprising considering all the guide books point out that Laos isn't really big on puddings and cakes and yet everywhere we have been in this tiny country there has been no shortage of bakeries ... And good ones at that!

And so we made it to The airport in Vientiane and it was time to say goodbye to Laos. A loveLY country, filled with extremely friendly and happy people, it was such a pleasure spending time there ... Saway dee.

Bit of a culture shock getting into Hanoi! Not only was it misty and cold, but it was noisy and bustley and the roads were packed with motorbikes! A few cars too, but the most common form of transport is motorbikes with all and sundry tied firmly to the back and just enough room for the driver!

The perpetual honking of the car horns and different smells in the air reminded me of Delhi, the only difference was, no cows!

So this was our first experience of Vietnam ... I was a bit concerned with the dogs I saw running around; worried for their fate. But it turns out, pet dogs aren't eaten only the ones bred for it! And all of these had collars on!!

Tomorrow we are off to Halong Bay by boat, where we will be spending the night. I have seen pictures and it looks just like paradise ......

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