Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 117

This is our last official trip during our assignment in Shanghai. We thought about where we wanted to go and there were a bunch of options, but we decided on Laos. Alot of people may be unfamiliar with Laos, as were we before we decided to visit. The official name is the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and it is a landlocked country stuck between Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. We had already been to all of these other than Myanmar. This is probably the poorest country we've visited, with about 1/3 of the population living on less than $1.25 per day. Makes you wonder when you don't really even think twice of dropping 4 bucks on a latte, huh?

The first day was ALL travel! It isn't all that easy to get there, traveling from Shanghai to Bangkok and then a connecting flight into Vientiane, which is the capital. Basically all we did was get into our hotel and go to sleep. We stayed at the City Inn which was right in the center of town. Mind you, it probably didn't matter TOO much since we stayed only 1 night and even left before going out to dinner in Vientiane. Having said that, the hotel was quite nice ... really large for what we are used to.

First stop in the morning was the market. The local market of Thongkhankham is definitely not a tourist market. It is a large, mostly open market under a tin roof. One area of the market has lots of little tables where the locals come to eat, next to the open area where it seems everybody parks their scooters.

Then we headed into the area that had the food. Table after table of different kids of foods ... fruits, vegetables, fresh herbs, eggs. Some of the them we recognized while others we had no idea what they were.

Now, this is kinda gross in my mind ... but as we walked through there were lots (and I do mean lots) of flies, and they were everywhere! They were on the dried fish, on the freshly cleaned corn cobs ... on almost everything.

This part was really interesting to me. At home, sometimes I'll buy a coconut and I have the hardest time getting the meat out. I sit out in the garage with a hammer and screwdriver and normally pretty much destroy the coconut meat in the process of getting it out of the shell. Here the guy had a huge machete and held the coconut and whacked the machete down on the sides right at the edge of the meat and the shell came off fairly easily with the coconut meat almost totally intact. Mind you .. me and machete's don't really work well together so perhaps I need to just go to Laos whenever I need a coconut.

Then over to the meat section and here, I somewhat lost my appetite. Tables setup with, basically, a cardboard box on top where they then put the meat. Some tables have something between the cardboard and the meat, and others don't. We strolled up and down and got to see all kinds of meats: pork, beef, chicken, fish ... with the stall owners cutting off portions of the meat as the customers came by.

I then grabbed a few pictures of some of the more interesting items .. .they had several different types of squash that I had never seen before.

This is bamboo shoots which are edible. We normally think of bamboo as the long, strong, sturdy things that sometimes we see made into ladders or rafts. But there are edible varieties as well. There was a lady there cleaning the bamboo shoots, taking them from freshly-picked down to the ready-to-eat.

And then there was rice, rice, and more rice. Sticky rice (sometimes called glutinous rice) is the preferred rice for Laos and Northern Thailand. To me, sticky sounds better than glutinous, so I'll stay with calling it sticky rice. It has opaque grains and gets quite sticky when cooked. While it is grown in alot of countries in Southeast Asia, it is estimated that 85% of the grain produced in Laos is sticky rice.

A little hazy, but this is the Pha That Luang, or "Great Stupa". It is the most important Buddhist monument in Laos and is considered the national symbol. The large golden stupa is believed to enshrine a breast bone of the Buddha. Local legend has it that monks sent to spread Buddhism by the Indian King Ashoka arrived in the Vientiane area in the 3rd century BC and a stupa was erected to enshrine a sacred relic from the Buddha at the spot where the That Luang currently stands. In the 12th century, the Khmer built a temple at this spot (some of the remains have been found) and then the Pha That Luang was built here in 1566 and covered with gold leaf. It was destroyed and looted in 1827 (along with most of the city) by invaders from Thailand (then called Siam). It was rebuilt in the 1930's by the French in the original design.

The stairs are guarded by some really ferocious looking naga.

In front of the That Luang is a statue of King Setthathirat, King of the Lan Xang Kingdom and founder of the monument. The Khmer temple had fallen into ruin and in the mid-16th century, King Setthathirat relocated his capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. With that, he ordered the construction of Pha That Luang.

This is the Hor Dhammasabha, or Buddhist convention hall. It was recently opened during the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the city of Vientiane. The building, which is used for meetings and Buddhist ceremonies, has a beautiful, intricately decorated facade. Its roof consists of multiple, multi-tiered sections, and the central part is topped with a golden spire.

This is their version of the Arc de Triomphe (from Paris) .. the Patuxai. It literally means Victory Gate and was previously known as the Anousavary Monument (monument of the dead). It is a war monument built between 1957 and 1968. It is dedicated to all of the people who struggled for independence from France. While it resembles the monument in Paris, it is decorated with typical Laotian designs, including mythological creatures such as the Kinnari (half bird, half female). An interesting trivia point .. it was built using American funds and cement that were supposed to be used to build a new airport, so it was jokingly nicknamed the "vertical runway".

The ceiling from the ground shows depictions of the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Indra.

We headed up the stairs, and grabbed a few pictures of the decorations up at the ceiling as we got to the 2nd floor.

Once at the top, we got some nice views including this one of the fountain and walkway that we came up as we walked from the parking lot to the monument.

On one side was this nice (new-looking) building, which is the Prime Minister's office.

The other building that you can see from the top is the Ministry of Justice.

The opposite side of the building from the park with the fountain is a view that looks like you are looking down the Champs Elysee in Paris, with the wide boulevard and the large white building at the other end is the Presidential Palace.

Now fast foward and this is the Presidental palace close-up. It was started in 1973 but, due to alot of political change, it was not completed and opened until 1986. While it is the "official residence" of the president, it seems that the president actually "lives" in the suburbs. Then there are two pictures looking back from the Presidential Palace back to the Patuxai.

Continue to Day 2 in Vientiane