Today was our second and last day in Vientiane before taking the sleeper bus to Pakse in Southern Laos. We had just enough time to visit two of the main tourist attractions that the small capital city has to offer: Pha That Luang (and its immediate surroundings) and the Lao National Museum.
Yet another morning of packing! We had breakfast at our hotel again and just like yesterday we were almost the only ones there. We checked out and asked the hotel to keep our luggages while we explored Vientiane. Our first stop for the day was Pha That Luang, a Buddhist temple twenty minutes away from the city center. We hired a tuk tuk to drive us there and back. It seems that everywhere we go in Southeast Asia, tuk tuk drivers always try to get customers for round trips even if it means waiting for an indeterminate amount of time in front of a museum or temple without getting another customer. We speculate that the average number of rides they give on any given day must be very low for this to be economically advantageous.
The traffic was not at all bad and we arrived around 10:30 AM. Pha That Luang is regarded as one of the main icons of Laos and is even depicted on some of the Laotian Kip banknotes. It was destroyed and subsequently restored several times in the last few centuries, last time being after World War II. This is looking at the temple from the outside.
We purchased tickets and got inside without having to wait at all. We were surprised to see very few tourists in what is advertised to be one of the main tourist attractions in Vientiane. The temple complex is not very big and easily walkable.
As we started walking along one of the walls, we soon noticed a fairly large group of people all the way against the perpendicular wall. We got closer and I noticed dozens of very beautiful young ladies all very dressed up with make up and a Plumeria flower in their hair. Plumeria is the national flower emblem of Laos so we thought this was a photoshoot for Miss Laos or a similar national beauty contest.
We walked towards the group and three of the ladies suddenly came to ask me to take a picture with them. At first I thought it was some kind of scam so naturally I refused. But then seeing that they were getting disappointed and not asking me for anything in return I eventually accepted albeit reluctantly. OK, not credible? Fine. Yes, I was the one asking them to take pictures with them, because YOLO. They all smiled and happily accepted to pose. My gratitude goes to Mimi for taking the photo in question.
There were a handful of professional photographers with the contestants but other than them, this corner of the temple was filled with some of the most gorgeous women in Laos. All the contestants were wearing the same light gold 3/4 sleeves blazer but with a tea length skirt and six inches platform heels in the color of their choice. Here are four of the top contestants. Find the intruder.
We took some more pictures and then decided to resume our visit of the temple although I will admit publicly that taking pictures of Buddha statues was suddenly a lot less entertaining. But the golden stupa in the middle is also very beautiful and deserved to be featured as well.
We kept going along the walls of the temple since we unfortunately could not visit the space that holds the stupa in the center. I parodied a previous video of Mimi walking inside the Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay. Only our most hardcore yolomimo fans would have noticed the parody!
Before leaving the temple, we went back to see how the beauty photoshoot was progressing. The photographers were still working hard (what a horrible job!) and little sweat drops could be observed on some of the ladies’ faces. Quite expected given the air temperature and their outfit that was not the most comfortable for such hot weather. Fortunately for them, they were able to sit in the shaded areas in the back while waiting for their turn.
We left the temple and walked to another religious building nearby. That one was Wat Thatluang Neua.
Here we had to take off our shoes before entering. Just like Pha That Luang, this building too was almost empty. What I liked the most in this temple was all the very colorful paintings right on the ceiling that were depicting Buddha’s life and in particular his teachings. Here are some of them.
We left and kept exploring the surroundings. There was another small temple behind Pha That Luang that we did not have time to enter but had a nice entrance with two symmetrical Buddha statues.
Next to it we saw a very beautiful Banyan tree with golden Buddha statues all around it. There were sitting, standing and reclining Buddha statues but all were about the same size.
We walked back towards the alley where our tuk tuk driver dropped us and visited a few other temple buildings. The entire complex centered on Pha That Luang has a fair number of other religious edifices including this very large reclining Buddha outdoor.
I pretended to see the French flag attached to one of the buildings there. I don’t think it actually was one but I thought I’d exhibit some pride nonetheless. Vive la France!
We were done with our visit around 11:45 AM and our tuk tuk driver took us back to the city center. Rather than returning to the hotel, we asked him to drop us at the Lao National Museum.
We arrived when the museum was closed. It’s apparently fairly common in Laos and other countries in the region to close museums and monuments for a lunch break. We decided to stay in the area and find a place for lunch since the restaurant was going to reopen at 2 PM.
Saw this beautiful flower tree next to the museum’s main entrance.
A number of tuk tuk drivers had dropped other tourists in the area and were also on their lunch break. Tuk tuks in Laos are very colorful.
Based on TripAdvisor reviews, Mimi picked Noy’s Fruit Heaven for lunch.
There we had good sandwiches and delicious fruit shakes. Once again, the wisdom of the TripAdvisor population did not disappoint. We took our time to eat since we had a couple of hours to kill until the museum reopened.
Some cheese and a cheesy picture later we were ready for our visit of Lao National Museum.
The museum has two floors dedicated to the history of Laos and the Lao people from ancient to modern times. The bottom floor focuses on the ancient periods (going back all the way to the dinosaur era) and was less interesting to us. The top floor has more contemporary history and in particular retraces the evolution of Laos through the French colonization, access to independence, Vietnam War and the rise of communism. Taking pictures was forbidden but we still took a handful of pictures of the artwork.
It took us about an hour to finish the museum. Like the temples in the morning, here too there were only few tourists. It probably did not help that the inside of the building was not in very good condition and did not even have air conditioning.
We had to wait until 6:30 PM to be picked up for our night bus to Pakse. We grabbed fruit shakes again and took them back to our hotel.
There we sat in the lobby to work on yolomimo and do more research for the next stops on our trip.
We waited there well past 6:30 PM and started getting worried that the travel agency just forgot about us. But eventually someone showed up and we boarded a songthaew with eight other passengers. They first took all of us to the bus station where we got dropped a couple of days ago. The ride there was super bumpy and extremely dusty. When we arrived at the bus station, we were told that it was not the bus station for our bus and that we had to stay on the vehicle. Another half hour later, we finally made it to the correct bus station. The funny thing is that when I looked at the GPS position on Google Maps, the second bus station was much closer to our hotel than the first one and we had wasted over an hour going West to come back East.
One of the driver purchased our bus tickets and showed us our bus. It was a very tall double decker bus, most definitely the tallest bus I have ever seen. Our bunk was located on the top floor, and to honor the tradition of showing you all the hotel rooms we sleep at with a short video, here is the tour of bunk 45/46!
After dropping our stuff, I left Mimi in the bus and went to buy two large bottles of water for the night. I noticed that most people in this bus station were Laotian, a contrast from the crowd at the other bus station which had a lot more foreigners. As I came back, what concerned us a little bit more is that our bus itself did not have a single foreigner beside the two of us while the bus next to ours had exclusively foreigners. Did we get into the wrong bus? At this point, we thought that we probably got scammed and did not get the right tickets for the express / VIP sleeper bus even though we paid for that service. Oh well, it will be an experience!
Even though the bed was ridiculously small, we knew that it was important to get as much sleep as possible before our first day of trekking and other physical activities in Southern Laos. This was taken before the departure around 8:20 PM.
Someone distributed snacks and water bottles (so much for getting our own bottles) and the bus left with minimal delay. For the first two hours of travel, people were eating, talking, laughing and playing games. There were a lot of families with children around us. By 11 PM the bus was a lot more quiet and we went to sleep. Somewhat surprisingly, neither of us had trouble falling asleep that night.