Monday, September 6, 2010

Lao P.D.R: Please Don’t Rush…

Welcome to a little hidden Communist republic… when you ask people what communist states are left today, usually people answer Cuba, North Korea, maybe China, Vietnam… but here is one that’s off the beaten path, but is still nominally communist… LAOS!!
Buddha Park!

Classic... LAO flag plus Commie Flag

A small landlocked country bordering Burma, Thailand, China and Vietnam, this country has the dubious honor of having been one of the most heavily bombed countries in the history of humanity. Over 500,000 sorties flew over the country in the 1960s and 70s, and millions of UXO (UneXploaded Ordinances) remain as deadly and silent killers, killing or mutilating thousands every year. 
A local version of Hello Kitty ! :(

The country is a mix of communism, modern capitalism and a quirkiness that has led the country to gain the unofficial nickname of Lao… Please Don’t Rush… instead of People’s Democratic Republic.
Ok, Sushi made by a Japanese... still not gonna try sushi in Laos

I flew in from Bangkok planning to spend a weekend in the capital and surrounding area, only later would I hear of the city of Luang Peruang, and I deeply regret that I didn’t have a chance to visit that city. The quirks starts once you get into the city, everything just runs slower, from buying your visa upon arrival to check in into your hotels. At less than $25 a night for a room in a great location, I decided to splurge and avoid hostels in the capital. I only saw one hostel later when I was walking around but I can’t vouch for the quality. The main reason I wanted to visit Laos, besides the extra stamp and a very cool Visa in my passport was the fact that there is a mini-theme park/religious site/monument designed by a madmen called Buddha Park, dozens of Buddhas occupy this park and have demonic faces, skulls, skeletons and other symbols you would never associate with Buddhism, and of course freaky things lead to great pictures.

World Peace Gong!

Buddha Park can be reached via public transportation, for a cost of about 50 cents, I was almost going to do this, but then I ran out of time and hire an Airport drop off service at my hotel which for a few more dollars would take me to Buddha Park and wait for me, total cost less than $20 and the peace of mind of having a reputable driver wait for you was well worth it…
Buddha Park!

Buddha Park!

Buddha Park!

Buddha Park!

The city also has some interesting attractions, the so called Vertical Runway is a bad copy of the Arc de Triumph in Paris, they started construction in the 1960s, using cement that had been donated to build a new runway at the airport, since this cement found itself being used in a different way, the name Vertical Runway or as the sign at the monument calls it a Concrete Monster is a towering symbol from which you have a great view over the city.
Vertical Runway

At the base of the tower I saw something I had never seen before, Photographers equipped with older digital cameras and portable printers were willing to provide their photography services for a very modest fee. Since most Laotians do not have a lot of disposable income, digital cameras, something we take for granted are a luxury that is beyond their purchasing power. They simply have one of these photo entrepreneurs take their picture and they have a souvenir of their visit to the capital. 

On weekends, the city is full of rural residents who come to check out the capital. There is one escalator at a shopping gallery or mall as called by the locals, where rural peasants/farmers go in and are shocked at times to see a moving escalator, they are at times afraid of it and curious as to how it functions. This is simply beyond comprehension for someone raised in the west, but it makes you appreciate just how lucky we all were with the uterus lottery having been born in Western countries. But still seeing that was a unique experience, and visiting some of the local museums, was also an interesting experience. 
Local Entrepreneurs!

As a Communist country, the military plays a major role, even if they have a very low budget, the local Military museum, besides the usual anti-imperialist propaganda has a wide range of old weapons, tanks, airplanes and more…
Keeping you safe!
Overall I wish I would have had a few more days and visit Luang Perung, the capital is small but still offers  travelers a way of distressing from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Saigon or other major cities in the region.

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