Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Walking routes

Tuesday 25th January 2011

MP3 track of the day: Alright – Supergrass

Weather: It's getting hotter; luckily, within the shade, it's still quite cool.

Patrick was arriving at my guesthouse at 10am, to take the spare bed within my room (making it cheaper for us both). Reception were fine with the additional tenant and so Patrick dumped his stuff within the room before we all went for breakfast. Breakfast at 10:45am was a new one for me but at least I wouldn't need dinner. Whilst eating we chatted between ourselves and I took out my map of the city from my back pocket; I scanned it intensely piecing a walking route together.

After breakfast (I had a bread roll with butter and jam … excellent bread) we all explained our intentions for the day and, to my surprise, the others were willing to join me on my 'walk of the city' which started along the riverfront at a huge statue just to our left.

Overlooking the Mekong – towards Thailand – a statue of a man stands tall. We couldn't tell whether he was offering his hand to Thailand in friendship, or if he was pointing which direction he wanted his armies to move … either way the direction of concentration fell upon Thailand. The area around the statue had been well cared for with parks, fountains and brick walkways; Vientiane is a completely different city to anyother that I've seen within Laos, it's like every penny Laos has is poured into the capital. The sun was beating down where the statue was located and with no shade we moved onto our next site quickly.

We passed a few 'Wats' (temples) on our way to another statue which marked the extreme east of the city center. I had no idea who the statue was. We all stared at this man, on a column, who seemed to be in a military uniform returning a library book. Our best guess was that he was the current ruler of Laos, and he's a bit of a porker too. We returned back into town by taking the next road north of the one we had just walked down. My 'walking tour of the city' was designed in an 's' shape, moving through the city and out the other end, before returning back into the city using a road further north. As we continued into the city we passed 'Wat Kao Nyot', 'Wat Phia Wat', 'Wat SiSaket' and 'Wat Ho Pra Keo'. We're all 'templed out' however we had a quick look at each just to say that we had seen them.

We were then presented with the main road within Vientiane, heading north to the 'Arc de Triomphe' … Lao style. My walking tour stated that we should have continued west however Partick had to go to the Thai embassy to pick up his passport, and Thai visa, at 1pm. The Thai embassy was north and so, after a quick adjustment to my 'walking tour', we all decided to do the north part of the city before returning back into the center.

The sun was out, the road was long and there was little shade. We only stopped to see yet another temple, 'Wat That', before Patrick dropped us off at the only shopping center within the capital. Rachael, Joe and I said goodbye to Patrick as he headed off to the Thai embassy and we agreed to meet up later.

My computer has no space left on its hard drive and I've nearly filled up another camera memory card, therefore I needed an electronics store. Towards the back of this rather small, and crowed, shopping center I found a stall selling both camera memory cards and USB memory sticks. 210,000 kip later (£16) I had in my possession a 8GB USB memory stick and a 4GB camera memory card. As I had my camera with me I checked the camera card to make sure that it worked, all was okay. I said thank you to the girl I had bartered with and even took her photo; before I left she reminded me that both products had a guarantee and that if either should break I can bring them back and replace them … as long as I keep my receipt. A guarantee, this was a first for South East Asia and a welcome change.

After stopping at a bank for Joe and Rachael we eventually made it to the 'Arc de Triomphe'. Located on a round-a-bout (which was incredibly difficult to cross due to traffic) is Laos' major French influence. The Arc was build in the 1950's to commemorate the soldiers who died for the Royal Lao government. We were only planning on stopping here for a drink, and a sit down out of the sun, however Rachael noticed that you can climb to the top of the arc for 3,000 kip (25p). Thinking that it would be a good place to take photos of the city we paid and headed upstairs.

The Arc was never completed and I feel that this has added to it's charm; bare concrete walls and steps leading forever higher with cobwebs in the windows, the Arc felt a lot older than the 1950's. About 2/3rds of the way up we entered a large room filled with souvenir stalls, which felt a little odd. We gave the tacky souvenir stalls the time they deserved and headed straight to the top of the arc. The sun was high in the sky making it very hot. I got quite a few good shots, of the city below, before spending a little time admiring the view.

As we were heading down Rachael felt terrible and so her and Joe went back to the guesthouse. I wanted to continue north as there was other attractions further out of the city ... I wished Rachael a speedy recovery. Just like 'The White Temple' within Chiang-Rai 'Wat ThatLuang Stupa' was like no other temple I had seen within Laos. As I approached down this long, dusty and straight road I could see the golden spike of 'Wat ThatLuang Stupa' within the distance. Getting closer I could see that the whole temple was painted in gold and that it wasn't like the other traditional temples within either Thailand or Laos. The temple consisted of a center golden spike surrounded by a 'inner square' of further spikes ... all golden. The 'outer wall' was golden too and it had smaller spikes rising from it. I paid the 5,000 kip (40p) entrance fee and began to circle the temple taking photos. The temple was small and so it didn't take me long to walk around it; afterwards I headed into the courtyard area where I took photos of another statue and a very impressive building to my right. Yet again the area was immaculate considering how poor the country is. This is Laos' most sacred religious site however maybe the money spent here could have been better used else where … it was a very impressive temple though.

I didn't leave the courtyard the same way I had come in; instead I headed to my left and through 'Wat That Luang Neua's' grounds (well worth it; the art work on the inside roof of the 'opensided' temple was brilliant) insearch of a shop with any kind of drinkable liquid. I found a 'mini-mart' and purchased a fanta raspberry … yum. I took a couple of photos of a white monument in a nearby park before making the long walk back into town. Once back down the main road I went back to 'Mat's Walking tour' and headed west passing many 'Wats' (Wat Mixay, Wat Ong Teu, Wat Hai Sok, Wat In Peng … all of which I had a quick look at) before I made it to a statue of a guy I hadn't herd of marking the extreme west of the city center. Again a few photos were taken of 'Chao Fa Ngum' before taking the riverfront road to view the final temples within Vientiane ('Wat Chan' and 'Wat Xang'). Even though the city center had provided shade from the beating sun I still felt dehydrated and so I headed to another 'mini-mart' for another drink.

I checked my map and I had completely missed a fountain and a mosque that my guidebook had marked. I have no idea why the mosque was marked as it wasn't anything special however the fountain – which I had seen last night - was very pretty. Surrounded by French looking buildings, forming a square, was this small circular park with benches (painted in the brand of the company who had sponsored the bench), trees and flowers. There were four sets of steps leading to a squared platform where this fountain stood tall and proud, however no water was flowing … which was a little gutting.

It was now 5pm and, having walked the entire length (both horizontal and vertical) of Laos' capital I headed for my guesthouse, stopping at a convenience store to get some refreshments, to see how Rachael was feeling and to put my feet up.

At 8pm we all met up in reception. Earlier within the day a decision had been made that an Indian curry was the choice of meal for this evening, and so it came to pass. The curry was tasteful enough, however not a patch on the curry I had within Georgetown … or, come to think of it, back in the UK. It's funny but as I travel more and more within South East Asia I actually miss Malaysia (especially Gerogetown and Melaka) more and more; with two weeks until I can cross the Cambodian border I would love to find a 'Melaka' in Southern Laos where I can chill for a while … maybe there is one. We left the restaurant almost immediately after dinner with the intention of playing some card game. That intention didn't become reality as Patrick was leaving early the following day, and so he went to sleep, and I was pretty tired also. I went to see Rachael and Joe and we watched an episode of 'Futurerama' before I said goodnight and headed back to my room to travel to the land of nod.

So tomorrow there's an art museum, a history museum and a 'Wat' that I want to visit however that's it. I think those three will fill the day but then that doesn't really leave a lot left. As Vientiane is quite expensive I may only stay here until Thursday, even though its quite a charming, and relaxing, capital city.

Toodle Pip!

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