Blog-u-like

Right. I’ve had some specific requests for information, so I will delve into my memory-sack and see what treats can be retrieved…

Firstly, the flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – no monsoon, the flight was actually rather smooth, and my first experience of a prop plane, which was rather exciting. Unfortunately the aisle onboard was so narrow that Jeremy and I both whacked our heads on the luggage compartment doors (plus…the planes aren’t made for people as tall as us. Neither are the showers – think of the scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray’s character is trying to take a shower; that was me yesterday morning).

So, Vientiane. It certainly feels more like a real place than Luang Prabang, so while there’s not the same sense of magic, you can appreciate it more on a day-to-day level. The wildlife is pretty similar – as I type there is a cockroach on its back twitching by my monitor (I’m in the hotel here – thankfully the bugs have the sense to keep out of the bedrooms and away from my size-10s). Unfortunately, there are no chickens running amok, which has been a staple feature elsewhere in Laos. But the city has a very enticing vibe, with the cosmopolitan energy of a capital wrapping around the horizontal stance of the Lao attitude. The country’s communist history is also more in evidence here; we visited a golden stupa this morning (said to contain a hair of the Buddha), which unfortunately was surrounded by a flea market. The first stall was a DVD place, which also had a TV shrieking out freaky fervant commie-music. It reminds me of a lot of what I heard in North Korea – ironically, I find it to be the McDonalds of music – a bizarre and off-putting simulacrum of what real songs should sound like, replete with a music video staffed entirely by glassy-eyed drones (“Hello, my name is Musician No. 1. How may I serve my country?”).

But that’s really the only cause for irreverance I’ve found here. Our morning’s touring finished with a visit to the COPE (Co-operative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) visitor centre. The charity carries out amazing and crucial work in Laos, helping victims of UXO (unexploded ordenance), leprosy and road accidents. The project manager for the place, Jo, gave us a brief introduction to the problems in Laos with unexploded cluster bombs and other munitions; it’s an issue which is criminally under-reported in the West and seriously deserves more of our time and consideration. The bombing of Laos by the US during the Vietnam war is one of the world’s forgotten catastrophes, so please go to COPE’s website (http://www.copelaos.org/what.html) where one can at least start by learning a bit more about this overlooked part of modern history, and what is being done to help its victims.

Hopefully that’s given a flavour for what’s going on in the city. The grand French-colonial architecture is visible everywhere, of course, as are wats and typical Asian markets. However, it’s the presence of a relatively new elite which has led to the introduction of funky bars and cafes that really shoots Vientiane through with that moreish atmosphere. Of course, I can’t do it justice – you’ll just have to come and sample it for yourself (that’s aimed at two people in particular – you know who you are!)
I will try and plonk some photos on here this evening, promise…

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