Best way to see a city is "per pedes", on foot, as the old Romans said! Well, I did not really intend to walk everywhere, but asking my nice lady in the lobby of the hotel how much a tuk tuk would charge me to go to Phra That Luang, she said about 5 US $. 50.000 Kip in Lao currency, which seemed a lot for that way, specially since I had heard different quotes from locals before.
But I also wasn't in the mood to just drive by everywhere and keep shouting "stop here". Walking is a much better choice for a photographer, even if it's just a hobby photographer like me!
That Luang, the big chedi/pagoda, was what I intended to start my visit with in Vientiane. The reason is simple. I am a Buddhist and I usually start with the most important Buddhist place before seeing other things. So, the intention was to just walk across the city to Phra That Luang.
Outside my hotel was Ong Tue Temple and I had paid a visit to the "most important Buddha image of Vientiane" the night before, but I had to cross the temple and I thought it is also a good thing to just pay my respect again. So I went in and by passing through the temple grounds I quickly made contact with some of the monks and novices waiting for their school buses.
The shops and restaurants on my way along Setthathirath Road were still closed, so nothing much to see until That Dam, the black Chedi. It's a quick stop really for a photo, but there is nothing to see or do here either. Passing through the small side street on the way to the bigger Lane Xane Avenue was more interesting, since I passed by the U.S. embassy with their big walls and huge antennas on the roof and I was wondering if my mobile signal would be picked up. I anyway smiled and waved at the cameras :-)
Lane Xane Avenue is huge and does not have a lot of traffic. It is easy to walk across the streets here, unlike most other capitals of Asia. The Tourism Information Center was a quick pit stop but it also provided good maps and great information about Laos and it's provinces, and the staff was quite helpful and even told me that it was an easy walk to Phra That Luang.
Before continuing to the major tourist site of Patuxai, the Victory Monument, I took a quick look at That Foun temple.
The Patuxai is impressive, reminded me of Paris, except that crossing the street was much easier! View people were here because it was still early morning and the monument was not open yet. But there were plenty of photographers waiting for Lao tourists, the same way I had seen it the night before along the river. Few people in Laos actually have a camera, so there are hordes of photographers who wait for their models and then run a full service photo lab job on them. Take the photo, develop it, print it and frame it, all in the back of their cars and trucks waiting on the side of the street. Something I have never seen before! Of course all the photos are very colourfully edit jobs on the computer!
The main streets split after the park of the Patuxai and walking along the quiet road to Phra That Luang proved to be longer than anticipated. Only beautiful villas from embassies along the way were interesting points to see. The huge square in front of the Chedi was completely empty. I expected tour buses, masses of people, but nothing! No tourists and no local people to see. Perfect for a photographer!
That Luang will charge you 5000 Kip and you have the place for yourself. I expected crazy masses like in Bangkok's Emerald Buddha Temple. But instead I could set up my tripod and take plenty of selfies. Besides the That Luang there are two temples north and south, which are also interesting to see and rest for a bit.
I am a "temple extremist" as seen by my other blogs, so I spent a lot of time exploring, walking around, seeing what the backside looks like and going in and out kind of deal. That Luang allows for that because there is almost nobody here, at least when I visited. Plenty of detail photographic shots to be taken with great sun light.
On the way back I thought for a second to take an offer from a tuk tuk driver waiting along the street after the white monument, which I could not figure out what it was. However, two older Lao women walked in front of me and wanted to take the tuk tuk. The driver kept them waiting to see if "the tourist" wanted a (more expensive) ride and when I shook my head, he accepted the two old ladies!
The way back seemed even longer than the way here but I did stop at the Patuxai for a visit. I heard the two Lao people in front of me in the short line that the entrance fee was 2000 Kip (since I speak Thai and the Lao words where the same). I took 2000 Kip out and handed it to the lady who gave me the nastiest look and after a second or two she said "3000 for tourists! 2000 for Lao!" Here we go! I was back in the reality of double standards!
The view from the Patuxai is good and the entire city of Vientiane can be explored from above. Some tourist were here now, but still not too bad. Plenty of people asked me to take their photo with them in it. The few floors inside the monument were filled with tourist shops. Everything that nobody needs was sold here. Nothing unique!