Saturday, February 8, 2014

WALKING THE STREETS OF VIENTIANE - LAOS - DAY 3

Day 3 of my stay in Vientiane was the day I wanted to explore the eastern part of the old town with some of the museums and historic places. 

But setting out on foot again, I first visited the shops along Settathirath Road, heading east. Some of the "antique" shops were already open in the morning and I took a look into several of them. Higher market Buddha images and of course higher prices were what I found. Some really nice pieces though. Passing by the big water fountain and some of the official buildings and ministries, many tuk tuk drivers asked to drive me. They are not as pushy as tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok or in Indonesia, of which Bali has the worst kind!

Past the Presidential Palace is the Ho Pakaeo, which is now a museum and is still the original structure built as an ancient temple in A.D. 1565. A small fee has to be paid here. The Ho Phakeo Museum is a beautiful temple building and can only be photographed from the outside. Strictly no photography inside the building though, which is very disappointing. 

The building initially housed the Emerald Buddha, which was taken by the Siamese in 1828 and is now enshrined in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaeo inside the Royal Palace. There was not even a replica inside the Ho Pakaeo, but only other ancient items and statues, in a very confusing display. No English labels are available, so the unknown visitor is quite confused inside. 

Across the street is Wat Sisaket, which is a mix of a museum, with entrance fee, and a living temple. I met up with a friend who is a monk here, which added to my experience, but most tourists visit the museum only. The courtyard and the main hall house several thousand Buddha images, but again there is no photography inside the main hall, which gets quite crowded. The mural paintings are sadly in a very bad state.

Continuing my journey east I passed a few other temples but like most temples in Vientiane they are locked during daytime. The city shrine was open and can be visited. It is just a few minutes away from Wat Si Muang, which is open and is filled with life and prayers. Monks bless the visitors who pray to a local spirit woman and of course the Buddha here. Sadly I was also cheated inside the temple when buying an amulet. The price quoted to me was almost double from the price which was listed outside the temple in Lao language. Again, I witnessed many mobile photo labs, but here on motorcycles rather than inside cars. Local people love to get their photos taken at this important temple. 


Sisavangvong Statue stands in the middle of a small park next to the temple, but beyond that was really nothing interesting to see, other than local village life. The area between the temple and the river is a cultural village district and life here is much more authentic than in the old town where everything is more international and touristy. 


I imagined the walk back to be a nice walk along the Mekong river, but there is nothing to see, not even the river for quite a while because the river is divided by a long island here. There are only trees and brush and some drive ways to Hotels, before one gets back to the Presidential Palace and Anouvong Park.  The walk is also not very pedestrian friendly, as in many other Asian towns, due to the many cars parked on the sidewalks. It seems to be a very common thing here in Vientiane to use this space for cars while pedestrians will have to walk on the street. 




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