Where We Be
The national symbol of Laos -- Pha That Luang -- is located in Vientiane.
The Great Stupa is the site of a huge candle-lit festival in Laos each year.
Vientiane, Laos
The cloister around the central building has hundreds of niches for small Buddhas, with larger golden-robed Buddhas in front
Of course Vientiane is the capital of Laos but it's
so laid-back you'd never know it. It's a walkable
city with plenty of French colonial buildings and
Buddhist temples and monuments. While not
particularly known for its blockbuster sights, we
nevertheless had a great time here. It’s a little
foodie heaven, for one thing, with restaurants
galore offering delicious meals at delicious
prices. One of the best tenderloin steaks we’ve
ever had was served at a place just around the
corner from our Moonlight Champa Guesthouse
called Veena Cafe. A terrific find at just $10,
recommended to us by our stellar hosts, Brad
and Isabella, who took great delight in helping
us track down the best-value restaurants in
town.  Each day they would give us a mission --
that is, a new restaurant to discover. One
evening it was a Belgian restaurant near the
river called Chokdee, where we had a huge
bowl of mussels with Roquefort dipping sauce.
The next it was the awesome bacon and double
cheeseburger at Ray's Burgers. Then it was Le
Vendome, home of “the cheapest French food
in the world” per Isabella, where we enjoyed
their lunch special. Total bill with drinks: $6.50.
Built in 1818, Wat Sisaket is the only monastery to survive a Siamese
sack of the city. We enjoyed the peaceful serenity of this place.
Our last visit of a historic nature was to Ho Phra Keo -- now a museum,
once a temple that housed the famous Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok)
Bronze Buddhas surround Ho Phra Keo. We especially
like the extra-long arms and hands of the one on the right.
Chillin' with my pet dragon at Ho Phra Keo
Buddhas and dragons everywhere
And a rare T-rex carved into this tree trunk on the grounds of Ho Phra Keo
The fact that farmers and other poor people (often children) are still being injured
by unexploded ordnance (UXO) fifty years after the war is hard to believe but true
Laos has the unfortunate distinction of being the world's most heavily bombed nation.
Around 30% of of the cluster bombs dropped on Laos didn't explode.
Back at Moonlight Champa Guesthouse, where we whiled away many
a pleasant happy hour chatting with Brad (in orange) and Isabella
Each evening Isabella would say to us: “So...have you completed your mission?”
and we would tell her about our latest foodie experience at one of her favorite restaurants.
In Vientiane it's all about the food. Whether French-inspired or
Thai or American, it's all delicious and astonishingly affordable.
Our final visit was to the COPE Center, where prosthetic limbs are made for people injured in bomb explosions.
American bombing missions dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos during the Vietnam War.
Patuxai was built in 1962 using concrete donated by the U.S. in order
to build an airport runway! Now expats call it the vertical runway.
A sign at the monument calls it a “monster of concrete” but it does have some pretty architectural elements
You can climb the stairs to the top of Patuxai for views of the surrounding city
Fine examples of Buddhist architecture abound in Vientiane,
including the impressive buildings at That Luang Neua
From Patuxai we continued walking to the eye-catching
gold spire at Pha That Luang -- national symbol of Laos
The dragons guarding Pha That Luang look a little less
intimidating with flower offerings filling their mouths!
Nam Phou Fountain is a landmark near the center of the city
and home to some of the more expensive restaurants in Vientiane
This World Peace Gong in Vientiane is one of
several such gongs located around the world
A walking path along the Mekong River offers a place to hang out --
and maybe make some words out of a convenient pile of stone blocks
Turn another corner, find another Buddhist temple or monument. This
one is called the Black Stupa (That Dam), the largest stupa in Vientiane.
This handsome building is the Presidential Palace, a French
Beaux-arts style building located across the street from Wat Sisaket
Wat Sisaket is the oldest Buddhist monastery in Vientiane
We walked half a mile to Patouxai monument, which resembles the
Arc de Triomphe in Paris but with Lao-Buddhist-Hindu influences
King Sisavang Vong (king of Laos 1904-1959), known as the playboy king, fathered
50 children and married 15 different women -- two his half sisters and one a niece
Facebook photo of Isabella at
Siem Reap, 2011 [Not my photo]