Some Buddha To Love/He Aint Heavy He's My Buddha/Anything by Buddha Holly (that's enough of Bhuddist inspired song titles)
07.10.2009 - 12.10.2009 27 °C
Dragon Flies hovered about me, whilst a busker played traditional flute music, the tempting smell of barbecued bananas wafted through the air. The wide expanse of the Mekong Delta lay ahead with Thailand on the other side. I had just been escaping the hustle and bustle of my second day in Lao's capital Vientiane. I was having a serene moment, taking refuge in the marvelous Xieng Khan (Buddha Park), 15 miles from the centre. Although only 50 years old this place is packed with dozens of Buddhist and Hindi statues, ranging from 4 foot Shiva's to reclining Buddhas as long as a double decker bus. I even squeezed into the mouth of one god and survived to tell the tale.
Vientiane is a noisy capital, with the sound of motorbike engines revving up constantly. The scruffy streets (including the occasional tree lined boulevard) are interspersed with a bakery selling French Sticks, a reminder of the French reign over Indochina. I initially took a dislike to the city, at first site nondescript dusty streets, bursting with traffic. Not that much to do for a capital. After two days a half I did get to enjoy the laid back feel of it all. Well I suppose I found plenty to do, as well as Buddha Park- I visited the cities own Arc De Triumphe; a national a national landmark of a temple (Wat Sok Pa Luang). I even managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the gym and swimming pool.
Vientiane is a stark contrast to Melaka in Malaysia, my previous stop. Asia doesn't usually do quaint but this is the place where 400 year old Chinese merchant houses, Chinese and Hindu temples, mosques, portuguese and dutch houses all head but for space on the compact streets. I know it is touristy but there is no tawdry tackiness to it. You can spend all day browsing around the antique shops and art galleries. There is also a canal going through the city that gives it a bit of a Venice theme. If you want a concentrated example of a a historical and cultural melting pot this certainly ticks the boxes and is only 2 yours out of Kuala Lumpur.
Prior to Melaka I spent 4 days in the Cameron Highlands (1800 metres above sea level) in Malaysia, yet again contrasting starkly with my other stops. Where most of this holiday I have had air con or fan, I needed 4 blankets one night. I stayed at a former colonial bungalow called Father's guest house perched on a hill and overlooking the village. I shared the mini bus to the Cameron highlands from Penang with a a young British couple who seemed to share everything other than a selfish consonant: Fran and Frank. They also joined me on the following days day tour covering: a self picking strawberry farm (a GM experiment gone wrong perhaps); tea plantation; tribal village; waterfall (swimming included); Landrover off roading through the jungle (great fun) and trekking. We got to see one of the biggest flowers in the world. The Rafflesia blooms within 7 days and becomes a brilliant red colour. It then dies. But before that, to lure the insects its cunning scheme for pollination, it gives off an aromour of rotten flesh.
By the 12th October and I have been out of the UK for 2 weeks. So far it has been one adventure after another. After a 4 hour trip I am now at Vang Vieng, north of Vientianne. The road is relatively new, which cannot be said for the so called VIP bus that took us here. I am sure the converted Scooby Mobile look does not equate to luxary travel. Anyway the journey was a real pleasure. The long straight flat roads gradually gave way to sharp bends and inclines. The brick houses became wooden shacks as we wound are way towards the heart of the real rural Laos. Locals were ploughing the fields with their conical straw hats instead of the baseball hats I saw in the city. I started to see more cycles than motorcycles. Ahead of me were endless views of limestone karsts and paddy fields.. This was the Indochina that Imagined.
Then I arrived at Vang Vieng, very artificial, a full on backpacker near resort. Every other bar for some inexplicable reason was showing reruns of Friends. I can't stand that programme, with all those smug characters. Had it been Blackadder then then would be a different story though. I may sound a bit hypocritical however as it was a place to be a bit of a grown up kid. To be continued..........