After 24 hours in my sickbed, I woke feeling well enough to keep down some breakfast. That was a good enough reason for me to escape Vang Vieng! Still a little weak and nauseous, I boarded the bus to Ventiane. The trip wasn’t pleasant, but I was happy to be moving on towards the Laos capital city.
Ventiane tries hard to look like an important and official city, with some grand buildings, fancy French street names, ornamental fountains and a huge Arc De Triomphe-style arch, but it’s a bit like a kid playing dressing-up – it doesn’t quite convince you that it should be taken too seriously. It seems far too laid-back and sleepy to be the capital of anywhere. There’s not a great deal to occupy tourists for more than a couple of days, but the food is good, the terraces are sunny and there are little lights in the trees at night. I really enjoyed hanging out there for a while.
We hired motorcycles and took a 25km trip out of town to visit ‘Xieng Khuan’ (The Buddha Park). This place is a product of an eccentric mind – an artist/yogi/priest/shaman who had an obsession with Hindu and Buddhist iconography (and, by the look of things, an acid habit). The park was full of concrete sculptures of hundreds of gods, mythical creatures and weird creations (not sure where the giant grasshopper fits in to either of these faiths). Despite the presence of a few visiting monks, there wasn’t much reverence going on, and it was perfect for comedy photo posing. We got to climb though a giant mouth into a cave-like mound full of snake people and concrete skulls standing in the dark, then up steep steps to a viewing point overlooking the whole park. The whole experience was like visiting an Indiana Jones set in Lego land. Hilarious.
More authentic and beautiful (but, to be honest, not half so much fun) was the old ‘Si Saket’ Temple in the centre of Ventiane. The lovely old cloisters that surrounded the courtyard housed thousands of Buddha statues, most of which were as small as little Russian dolls, each with their own niche in the wall. Someone had lovingly provided a little yellow sash for each of the larger Buddhas (even the ones that were so broken there wasn’t much left of them). It was weird to see a stump wearing a sash, but strangely touching!
It was also time to wave goodbye to one of our travel family members… Sascha… who has left us to travel on to Bangkok. Sad to see him go – we’ve had a blast!
Next stop, further south to Tha Khaek, in search of some spooky caves!