Pha That Luang and Buddha Park – “The Most Psychedelic Place in Laos”

On our second day in Vientiane, we had a couple of destinations in mind, that were a bit far from city center, so we decided to rent a motorbike to get around more efficiently.

Our first stop was Pha That Luang, a large Buddhist stupa covered in gold and regarded as the most important Laotian national monument.  Built in the 16th century, it really is quite stunning and impressive to walk around.  It wasn’t terribly crowded and you can also buy a flower to offer if you want to.

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Nicole in front of Pha That Luang

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We were permitted to enter one of the halls and found that it was full of truly visionary paintings!

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We spent quite a bit of time exploring the grounds and all of the sculptures around Pha That Luang.  We visited quite a few temples in Vietnam but this was easily one of our favorites places.

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Our next destination was Buddha Park, located about an hour outside of Vientiane.  We downloaded a map onto the tablet (better safe than sorry) and made our way there on our motorbike.  On the way, we passed a couple of noteworthy sites including the Lao Brewery and the Friendship Bridge that connects Laos to Thailand.

When we arrived at Buddha Park, we paid a small fee to park our moto and another to enter the park.  We also had to pay extra to take a camera in but all in all it still added up to less than three dollars.

We had been there for no more than a few minutes before Jojo had decided that this was his favorite place we had ever visited.  At the front of the park near the entrance sits a large pumpkin-shaped structure that you can go inside and climb to the top.  Inside, there are some of the creepiest and downright disturbing statues we had ever seen.  Come to find out, the three levels inside the pumpkin structure are meant to represent hell, earth, and heaven.  You enter through the mouth of a demon and climb your way up through hell and earth, to heaven where you can look down on the entire park.

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The pumpkin structure in Buddha Park
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Jojo entering the demon head at the base of the pumpkin
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Terrifying sculptures in the ‘hell level’
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Climbing into the ‘earth level’
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We made it up to heaven!
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View from the top of the pumpkin structure

The entire park is full of beautiful and bizarre statues that you can walk through and look at.  Some of our favorites were the enormous sleeping buddha and this other scaley manfish thing eating what looked like another head…?

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At the far end of the park is a tower that you can climb into.  The steps start out normal sized, but get narrower as you ascend until only your tip-toes can fit on the step.

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We had worked up an appetite exploring the park and decided to stop for lunch.  After waiting an hour and a half for our food (we will literally always sit that long before bothering to ask what is going on), we walked around the park one last time, then headed back to Vientiane.

For dinner we couldn’t resist going to Lao Kitchen again for some duck laap – it is that good!  This time, we also treated ourselves to a dessert of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk with slices of mango–yum.

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Enjoying some duck laap and thai curry at Lao Kitchen

Breakfast: 55,000kip ($6.77 USD)

Moto Rental: 80,000kip ($9.85 USD)

Buddha Park: 13,000kip ($1.60 USD)

Parking: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)

Lunch: 46,000kip ($5.62 USD)

Green Tea Cappucino: 25,000kip ($3.08 USD)

Dinner: 129,000kip ($15.88 USD)

Accommodation: 70,000kip ($8.62 USD)

Total Spent: 423,000kip ($52.06 USD)

Vientiane – Exploring the Quiet Capital

We had dedicated our first full day in Vientiane to one of our favorite activities of simply wandering around.

Our first stop was That Dam, also known as the Black Stupa.  Legend has it that this structure was once covered in gold and inhabited by a naga, a seven-headed serpent, that tried to protect it during the Siamese-Laotian War in the early 19th century.  Allegedly, all of the gold was taken by the Siamese Army during the attack on Vientiane.  The structure isn’t really ‘used’ for anything anymore, other than a centerpiece for city festivals and events, but it is still regarded as a ‘guardian spirit’ of the city.

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That Dam, aka Black Stupa

As we walked along the streets of Vientiane, we were careful to avoid the loose concrete slabs that line the sidewalks.  Underneath is the sewage system and in some places there are large gaps where an unknowing passerby might find him/herself falling into grey water.

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Exposed grey water

Our next stop was the Patuxai Arch, also known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane.  The concrete used to construct Patuxai was actually donated to Laos by the United States for the purpose of building a new airport.  The Laotian government had another idea in mind, which is how it got its nickname: the vertical runway.  Patuxai is dedicated to the people who struggled for independence from France, so it is just slightly larger than the Arc de Triomphe, to trump its French counterpart.

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Walking to Patuxai
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Nicole sitting in front of Patuxai, aka the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane
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Ceiling underneath Patuxai

We paid a small fee to climb the steps to the top where we got a beautiful view of Vientiane and the fountains below.  Although it was clearly inspired by the Arc de Triomphe, it has a lot of traditional Laotian architecture and design as well.

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Jojo looking out over the roof of Patuxai
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Architectural detail of one of the towers
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The view from the top of Patuxai

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For lunch we decided to try a local dish: papaya salad.  It’s made with shredded, unripened papaya flavored with shrimp, crab, and fish paste giving it a very pungent flavor.  It’s also quite spicy.  Not terrible, but probably wouldn’t get it again.

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Papaya salad

After lunch, we wandered around Vientiane and stumbled upon some beautiful pagodas and other monuments.  The city seems relatively empty most of the time and we really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.

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Jojo posing in front of the World Peace Gong
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The emergency room in Vientiane
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Chao Anouvong (the monarch and leader of the Laotian Rebellion)

Several times, we were enthusiastically approached by Chinese tourists insisting that we pose for pictures with them.  Sometimes it would be a group of 20-something girls and sometimes it was middle-aged couples, but every time it included at least 5 different photos of us in different arrangements.  It was really strange and without explanation, but we found it quite humorous.

We made our way back to city center for dinner at Lao Kitchen where we tried another local specialty: laap.  Laap consists of minced meat (we went for duck) flavored with fish sauce, lime, mint, and chili along with an assortment of other spices and herbs.  In contrast with the papaya salad we had tried earlier, we really enjoyed this dish and thought it was actually the best food we had tried since arriving in Southeast Asia.

We ended the night at Bor Pen Nyang, a local bar with a balcony overlooking the river.  It was full of people but still really relaxed at the same time – a great end to our first day in Laos!

Breakfast: 70,000kip ($8.62 USD)

Patuxai: 6,000kip ($0.74 USD)

Water: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)

Sunscreen: 90,000kip ($11.08 USD)

Lunch: 60,000kip ($7.38 USD)

Dinner: 73,000kip ($8.98 USD)

Bor Pen Nyang: 60,000kip ($7.38 USD)

Water: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)

Accommodation: 70,000kip ($8.62 USD)

Total Spent: 439,000kip = ($54.03 USD)