Our tour took us on to Laos, another communist country, with a population of 7 million, of whom 200,000 live in Vientiane, and 70,000 in Luang Prabang. Over 70% of the landlocked country is mountainous, originally ruled by the French, with a Laotian Royal family. 80% of the population still lives in villages. In 1959 the communists took control of the country removing the Crown Prince and his family for “re-education”; they were never seen again.
We flew to the capital, Vientiane, and stayed for one night at the comfortable Orchid Hotel, very close to the Mekong River and a night market. What a change from Cambodia and Vietnam; nobody bothered us trying to sell their wares, no begging, no plastic and other rubbish on the streets!
Short of time here, we managed a morning’s sightseeing taking in the Temple at Wat That Luang Tai, the most important monument in Laos. Then our driver and guide took us on to Patuxay, built in 1969 by the French in the style of the Arc de Triomphe with an Indochinese flair. Strangely, ti is made of concrete using materials originally intended for an airport to be built by the Americans. From the top is an interesting view over the city – not exactly the Champs Elysée though!
At the end of this road are two temples, Wat Sisaket, the oldest Buddhist temple in Vientiane, and Phra Keo, where the Emerald Buddha used to be found. The original was reclaimed by the Siamese in the late 18th Century and is now in Bangkok, Thailand. Nearby is the Presidential Palace that is not open to visitors.
Our whistlestop tour was well worthwhile, and we wished we could have spent more time here, in the relaxed atmosphere of an emerging modern capital.