We arrived early afternoon and Straybus took us on a brief tour of the city. Past the presidential palace, along the main street to Patuxay, a memorial to those who died in the struggle for independence from France. It is modelled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris though very Lao in execution. Good views of the city from the top. On to a stupa built by the king who moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane 400 years ago. It is said it was built over an older stupa that contained relics from Buddha. It is considered a very holy site.
On to our hotel, where showered and rested we joined the rest of the group for dinner at a local Lao restaurant. Good food, all typical Lao fare. The rest of the group moved on to a bar but we decided to take a look at the night market.on the banks of the Mekong. Much less frenetic than others we'd been too, it was almost disappointing........., and we did not buy anything!
The next morning our tour leader, a really nice guy, offered us a lift to the COPE centre, which was on their route south. We accepted and joined them. COPE is the national centre for the victims of bombs dropped by the Americans during the Vietnam War. They supply prosthetics and rehabilitation. Approximately 2,000 Lao are killed or maimed each year by unexploded bombs that they accidentally set off, either whilst farming or discovering them they try to dig the bombs out to sell for scrap. It was quoted that a 500lb bomb casing would fetch $20, enough to feed a family for a couple of months, so that is why they try to salvage them. Unfortunately, even after 40 years the bombs can still explode. All depends to what extent the fuse and trigger survived the impact.
A deeply moving documentary, showed the training of Laos as bomb disposal experts, by an ex Australian Army sargent and a Brit, also ex army. It intercut footage of the Americans and their bombing campaign with stories of survivors of recent bomb blasts and with re-enactments of the discovery of bombs by children, particularly the so-called cluster bombs or bomblets, the size of an orange, of which it is estimated there are over 80 million unexploded in Laos. The Americans targeted Laos specifically, in a 'secret war' the American public was not told about, as the Ho Chi Minh trail ran through it to bring supplies from North Vietnam to the Vietcong in the south. Millions of tons of bombs were dropped; apparently more bombs were dropped on Laos that were dropped in all theatres of the Second World War - 30% of these bombs did not explode on impact and lie in wait to catch out the unwary or unlucky. A very disturbing visit, I could say more but.......
We left the group as they headed south and walked back to our hotel to check out and find some lunch. Good lunch in a roadside cafe and Ruth chilled at the hotel while I went for a walk along the Mekong. It was hot but there was a cooling breeze off the river, a pleasant walk.
We were picked up by tuk-tuk and taken to the only railway station in Laos, partially funded by the Thais, the railway runs over the Mekong to Thailand on the Friendship Bridge. Once through Thai immigration we boarded the night train to Bangkok, ordered dinner from a very officious lady and settled in.