Sunday 27 August, cloudy, fine, 32°
We got up at 7:30am and went downstairs for breakfast. Most hotels we have stayed at put on a mixed breakfast with western and asian food, and today was no exception with egg and toast, as well as noodles, on the menu.
We grabbed a tuk tuk at 8:30am and headed out to Pha That Luang. This huge gold covered stupa is the national symbol of Laos, and sits in a massive complex with other temples and museums about 3km from the centre of town. So after we paid our K10,000 ea / NZ$1.60 we entered the walled stupa and had a look around. All that gold was pretty hard to look at in the early morning sun, but it is certainly an impressive sight. We then walked across and had a look around the neighbouring That Luang Tai temple ( and I had my photo taken with some random guys who presumably had never seen a sweating, bald, white guy before ) and then into the entry to the temple on the other side of Pha That Luang.
After an hour or so we headed back to the tuk tuk and driver, who had been waiting for us to return, and headed back towards town to Patuxai park. This driver had a different version of the pronunciation to our driver last night, so more confusion ensued about our proposed destination. Anyway we arrived at the right spot and we paid our driver for his time ( we had agreed K100,000 / NZ$16 to Pha That Luang and back so we just paid him that even though he only took us back 1/2 way to the hotel ).
We walked to the Patuxai monument and paid K10,000 to enter and climb up to the the top. There appears to be stairs in all 4 of the legs of the monument, although only 2 are used ( 1 for up and 1 for down ). When we reached about 1/2 way up the monument we found an entire open floor the same size as the footprint of the monument, with trinket sellers set out around the out side. And after the next flight of stairs was another entire floor of trinket sellers. There we no windows in either of these floors so it can't have been the nicest place to spend the day, but at least it was cool in there. We carried on up to the main viewing level on top of the monument, and then up some more steps to the higher viewing level. There was another level above that but we declined the extra exercise. After scanning the horizon on all sides ( in a fairly low rise city climbing up 20 odd metres gives a pretty impressive view in all directions ) we headed back downstairs and out into the park.
There were lots of photographers wandering around in their photographers' vests ( you can see their pink vests in the first photo below ) offering to take photos of people with the monument in the background, and then after shooting the shots they would rush over their cars and print them out and hand the A4 print straight to them. The photos looked good, and they seemed to be quite busy too. Oddly they only seemed to be targeting the locals (i.e. non white faces ) for this service and none of them even looked at us.
We then grabbed a cold drink in the shade ( and learned that the website on the Pepsi cans is Beerlao.la ) before walking back down Ave Lane Xang to a shopping mall, Tao Mall, that seemed to have more that it's fair share of gold sellers. The locals apparently favour the very yellow looking gold, so there was plenty of that on show. How 30 shops selling what looks like the same product can survive in one mall is a mystery. We bought a small gold elephant for our collection at home from one of the trinket sellers for K60,000.
We then walked to another mall about a kilometre away, the "Vientiane Centre", but it took about 45 minutes as to get there we had to negotiate our way through the local bus station. With no footpaths and with cars, buses and people going in all directions, mixed in with venders selling fruit, meat and clothing, it was a challenge to get out the other side. We had a look around the mall ( it was nothing special ) and then grabbed a tuk tuk back into the centre of town and had lunch at a JoMa's Cafe @ 12pm.
After refuelling at JoMa's we walked along the road to Wat Si Saket at 12:30pm, waited for the ticket seller to come back to her hut, paid the K10,000 ticket price ( seems to be the common price today ) and went in. This temple complex is the oldest in Vientiane and it was quite different to the more showy temples that we had seen earlier in the day. After a walk around and another cold drink purchase we headed out on the streets and walked a couple of blocks to That Dam. This is not what the name would suggest but is a temple / stupa which has had a roundabout and modern buildings built around it, and is covered in foliage. Very strange to see in the middle of a housing area. We then walked back to the hotel to have rest again at 3pm.
We left again at 5:30pm and walked 3-4 blocks down to the Mekong riverbank to have a look through the night market. This was massive and had a real friendly family vibe to it, so we wandered around for a while, Liz bought a Louis Vuitton wallet ( honestly it is real, not like the Chanel one that had the C stuck on back to front! ) for K30,000 ( $4.50 ). Seemed like a good price for a LV wallet.
We also walked up to the embankment overlooking the river where there were exercise classes underway ( they were open to anyone to join for free ) and lots of people walking and cycling on a pleasant Sunday evening .
We grabbed dinner at a little restaurant on the way back to the hotel; I would give you the name of the restaurant but it was written in Laotian so I can't write it here. As an aside the terms Laos, Lao and Laotian seemed to get used interchangeably at times, but as best I can figure it out Laotian is written by a Lao person from Laos.
After that I grabbed a mango smoothie and Liz got an ice-cream and we walked back to the hotel. Vientiane grew on us a bit today, it has a relaxed friendly feel, and the people seem very social.
We have almost another full day in Vientiane tomorrow before our evening flight so we will explore some more.