In pictures: Vientiane, Laos
AS a travel destination, Vientiane isn’t the most exciting place to visit, at least on the surface. When arriving from one of Southeast Asia’s more beloved cities Laos’ capital might appear to be a disappointment, with relatively high prices and a lower quality of life than other parts of the region.
But beneath the surface, Vientiane has stories to tell, ones that are worth learning. Laos seems to be a country in flux, struggling forward toward prosperity from a deeply troubled recent past. Signs of both poverty and promise can be seen in Vientiane, and everywhere there are reminders of its budding involvement on the international stage.
Here is a collection images from the Laotian capital.
Rows of flags line the promenade along the Mekong River, bearing the country’s symbol as well as the communist hammer and sickle. The Laos People’s Democratic Republic is a communist socialist state, governed by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The country was once an independent nation under French Union rule, but broke with France in 1954, when Laos declared independence. Not long after, a civil war broke out and Laos was declared a communist state by the all-powerful revolutionary party in 1975.
Public transportation in Vientiane consists largely of covered pick-up trucks and make-shift tuk-tuks, rickety motorized carriages that can be hired for 40,000 Laos kip ($5USD). The city is marked by a beautiful blend of Asian vibrance and elegant European architecture, yet signs of widespread poverty abound. Despite reports of a growing economy and strong development and economic ties to wealthier Asian countries, Laos reportedly remains one of the poorest in the region.
These elegant dancers performed a traditional Laotian dance along the Mekong River at sunset. They appeared to be making a music video, and drew a throng of spectators, native and foreign alike. The dance closely resembled traditional Thai dancing, and as seems to be case in both countries, the performance troupe consisted entirely of youthful, beautiful local women.
Mahosot Hospital, situated a stone’s throw from the Mekong promenade, was established to help combat Laos’ ongoing problems with infectious diseases. Many local hospitals lack basic medical essentials, such as supplies of blood and oxygen. There are many reports of people who have died or suffered needlessly because the nearest hospital did not have these vital supplies, illustrating how far Laos has to go in terms of development.
While waging the controversial Vietnam War, the United States conducted a bombing campaign in neighboring Laos that included dropping more than 260 million cluster submunitions (known as bombies by locals in Laos) on the country. It is believed that 30 percent of those never exploded, making large swaths of the country extremely dangerous to this day. Men, women and children are regularly maimed and killed when they mistakenly stumble upon one of these leftover bombs. The COPE Centre in Vientiane provides free treatment, including quality prosthetics, to these victims. The prosthetic legs shown in this photo, some quite primitive, were collected from locals.
Patuxay, or the Victory Gate, sits at the heart of Vientiane. It was originally designed to resemble the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. A plaque describes the gate’s history, saying it was built in 1962 but “never complete due to the country’s turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete.” Nonetheless, it is an impressive structure, with elaborate imagery on the interior and ornate detail on the exterior.
Anyone who has visited Vientiane will tell you that grabbing a cold Beerlao and sitting along the Mekong River at sunset is an absolute must in the city. The view of the river isn’t quite as scenic or majestic as in, say, Luang Prabang but it will do while in Laos’ capital. A promenade and park have been built along the riverfront and dozens of vendors set up stalls each evening. The wares are similar to those in other parts of Southeast Asia, including cheap clothing, jewelry, tacky t-shirts and images of the Buddha.
The view of the Mekong River from the promenade in Vientiane isn’t the most spectacular you’ll find of this massive waterway, but it still makes a pleasant place to watch the sunset each evening. The 12th-longest river in the world, the Mekong runs through six countries: China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
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