Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 15 -- Is There Such A Thing As A Second World Country?

Well, what I thought would be a whirlwind tour of Vientiane was not, mostly because, well, there isn't a lot to see here, particularly if you're already on Buddhist temple overload. Overall, however, the city is relatively nice. Crowded, but not uncomfortably so; enough push carts and stalls to make it interesting but not so many that everything tumbles into the street. And there seem to be a good number of open air, and even grassy areas, to relax in.

We left the hotel at 8:30, and by 11:30, were done. In that time we visited the Grand Stupa, which apparently contains some Buddha relics inside. As our guide explained, pointing to a balcony on the stupa, "That's where the Royal Family used to sit on festival days. Now the [Communist] party leaders sit there. So, not so different before 1975 and after.". (Later I learned that his father had been imprisoned for 15 years after the revolution, and his uncle, who had worked for the CIA, had fled the country and moved to Washington, DC). We also visited a huge concrete arch patterned after the Arc de Triumph built to celebrate the country's independence from France - insert quizzical expression here. Then there was the temple that used to house the emerald buddha until it was stolen by Thailand, and finally a really nice temple that had, among other things, hundreds of broken Buddhas. Laos has been invaded and conquered and sacked so many times (Vientiane was burned to the round in 1828 and abandoned for 60 years, so everything you see is relatively new) that every time they dig a foundation for a new building or expand a road, they discover more old Buddhas. This should be called the land of the broken Buddhas.

Anyway, after the city tour, we retired to Joma, our not-exactly-Starbucks chain (there's a third one in Hanoi) for lunch and wifi until it was time to get to the airport. And, continuing with out monsoon luck, it only started pouring after we got to Joma and not during our temple tour.

Flight to Singapore proceeded without a hitch. As with all flights around here, although it was short, we were fed well; as Ellery noted, the Lao Airlines food is better than a lot of what you can get on the ground.

Singapore was a shock back into first world life. Incredibly interesting skyscrapers and modern architecture awaited us, much of which we can see from our kindly upgraded room. Dinner at an outdoor food court/shopping mall across the street, and now it's time to sleep.