Hellooooooooo, Laos! We have had an action-packed couple of days here in Laos…
Yesterday, we rented some bicycles from our hostel and did a self-guided tour of sights around Vientiane. We started our journey at Wat Si Saket – a Buddhist temple built in 1818; now acts as both an active temple as well as a museum of historical statues. On our way to our next stop, Pha That Luang, Adam had some technical issues with his bike but luckily a kind tuktuk driver pulled over and lent us a screwdriver! Pha That Luang is a beautiful golden monument of a Buddhist stuppa and is considered to be a national symbol of Laos – it also has beautiful buildings and gardens surrounding it.
Next up was the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, otherwise known as COPE; a locally run non-profit organisation working with the Center of Medical Rehabilitation, Lao Ministry of Health and four provincial rehabilitation centres in an innovative partnership to provide comprehensive rehabilitation services for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) survivors and other people with disabilities across Laos. During the Vietnam War, Laos was the most heavily targeted by the US army bombing campaign. Over 260 million bombs were dropped over 580,000 missions that were carried out over Laos. It is estimated that 30% of the bombs dropped did not actually detonate meaning over 80 million unexploded cluster bombs remained scattered throughout all 17 provinces of Laos following the Vietnam War. To this day, approximately 25% of villages in Laos are still contaminated with UXO. More than 50,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO incidences in the period 1964-2011…. close to 40% were children… These incidences are caused by activities including handling of the UXO/searching for scrap metal (which is common in Laos as illegal scrap metal trades are necessary to feed families in remote villages), farming, forest products collection, lighting fires/cooking and other domestic activities (many houses are unknowingly built on top of a UXO which may be detonated by the heat of a charcoal cooking stove). COPE was a fascinating facility and a very humbling experience. We were hoping there would be volunteer opportunities here for us as physio students but unfortunately there has been a recent change in Lao government which prevents the Centre from accepting volunteers :(.
Our next destination was Patuxai or the Arc de Triomphe which looked quite majestic at dusk (reminded us a bit of India Gate actually)…
Finally, we finished off our Sunday night with a traditional Lao dinner and some sushi at Nam Phou Fountain where we enjoyed some live music….
Today, we began our day with an authentic Lao cooking experience with a friendly Laotian, Nook! This took place in her beautiful backyard garden tucked away in the back roads along the Mekong River. We were lucky enough to be the only two in her garden kitchen for a private cooking and cultural lesson 🙂
From here, we had our tuktuk bring us down the bumpiest road in the entire world (we’re pretty sure) to Buddha Park – a sculpture park located 25 km southeast from Vientiane, in a meadow by the Mekong River. The park was started in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat (a priest-shaman who integrated Hinduism and Buddhism). The park includes 200 religious statues including a huge 40-metre high reclining Buddha.
p.s. The internet has been spotty at best here in Vientiane and we’re not expecting much better as we get further into Laos. Tomorrow we’re taking a bus to Vang Vieng! Hopefully we’ll still be able to update the blog – it may be less frequently though (or at least the picture posts).
Wat Si Saket
Pha That Luang
Patuxai & Evening Out
Cooking with Nook
Amanda & Adam