Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 285: Vientiane .. Laos

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos PDR and literally translates as "City of Sandalwood" … apparently. "PDR", Peoples Democratic Republic, but I’m not sure exactly how ’Democratic’ that makes it. Laos is a communist country, but like in many other supposedly "Communist Countries" that I’ve visited, somebody forgot to tell the people. It’s no different to any other Capitalist Country, people do what they can to make the money that they need and 'more' is seemingly always better than 'less'. It’s just like Animal Farm but without the pigs and horses.

I think I like Vientiane. It’s kind of weird and quirky in a very unfinished sort of way. Lots of things seem to have been started, but nothing is quite complete. The "Freedom Gate" (Patuxay) was built in the 1960’s to celebrate their struggle for independence from France, but as conflict continued, they never quite got around to finishing it. The strange thing is that they actually seem quite proud of it’s 'unfinished' nature and celebrate it on plaques around it‘s base. It’s actually not very 'Asian' at all. It reminds me of the Arc de Triomphe and maybe that’s what it’s supposed to represent. Perhaps they wanted to rub French noses in it, or maybe they just found an old set of plans laying around and decided that it was the easiest option. Whatever the reason, the views from the top give great panoramic views of the City.
The temples around Vientiane are really quite shabby and I think I quite like that. None of the over-glossed Disney of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, these are crumbly affairs that are probably more beautiful for the neglect that they’ve enjoyed. The places are also empty, no people to spoil the atmosphere, no clicking cameras and nobody demanding extortionate entrance fees with different prices for locals and tourists. Access all areas, climb the walls and nobody seems to mind …. not that I would of course.

After three weeks of scooting about in and around Korat, I saw possibly three or four other Westerners ( Farang - ฝะ-หฺรั่ง ), but here in Vientiane there are plenty of them. These Farang seem to fall into four very different groups. Firstly there are the NGO workers and United Nations people who all seem to know each other and talk constantly about the good deeds that they do. The world over, these kindly folks tend to meet in the same places; European style coffee shops, boutique hotels and trendy little bars. I have no reason to doubt the good things that they achieve, but I’m sure that if they spent less time talking about them and more time doing them, then the world would be a much richer place for everyone. A persons arse will only accommodate so much sunshine, so when it’s full .... stop f**king blowing.

The second group are the Hippies, both old-time and born-again together in the same place. The folks who left Goa when it became too expensive and moved on from Thailand when it became too legitimate. It seems that baggy draw-string pants, braided hair and monk’s bags are the legitimate uniform for this group. They don’t seem to meet anywhere in particular, they just seem to wander. Maybe 'wandering' is therapeutic, but in a City the size of Vientiane, surly there is only so much wandering that one person can possibly do?

The third group is the group that I fall into. Visitors of convenience. Folk’s who have crossed the border for a couple of days to see what Vientiane has to offer and to renew or replace their visas for Thailand. As rules for visas are constantly changing, this group is probably now in the majority and Vientiane is beginning to establish a market to specifically meet their needs.

The fourth group of Farang are altogether quite different. They seem to be men of a certain age, all with suspiciously tinted hair, comb-over’s and quite a unique sense of style. They always seem to sit and walk alone, they come out from their hotels after dark and then vanish into the night. I might be jumping to the wrong conclusions about this third group of people, but in the region that made the AK47 famous …… there’s never one around when you really want to use one ... mai pen rai

( Thursday 18th March 2010 .. I'm about to start moving East on a Yamaha Fresh II .... so I'll probably be away from the Internet for a while .... I'll try and stay out of trouble )

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