It's been a while since we've posted.  There hasn't been too too much going on here, especially since we spent some time in the US on R&R.  Not long after we got back, we took a trip to Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos.  Whitney went there to do a growth diagnostic study - basically, she spent a week studying the economy by meeting with government and private sector officials so she could diagnose restraints to growth in Laos and recommend programs to improve the economy.  I tagged along on the off chance that she went into labor early I could still be around for the birth.  And I wouldn't turn down a cheap vacation.  Vientiane is kind of a quiet city (only about 750,000 people live there).  I wandered around town for the week and explored their different sights, ate cheap French food, and drank a good deal of Beer Lao.

Since there isn't too much to tell about my wandering meanderings, here's a little photo tour of the city.  I'm a little templed out, so there weren't too many landmarks that I photographed.

Pautxai is a memorial that was built from (according to Wiki and Lonely Planet) 1957-1968 and resembles Paris's Arc de Triomphe.  I think the sign at the foot of the memorial offers the best description: "At the northeastern end of LangXang Ave. arises a huge structure resembling the Arc de Triomphe.  It is the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane, built in 1962 (B.E. 2505), but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete. Nowadays this place is used as a leisure ground for the people of Vientiane and the seventh floor on top of the building serves as an excellent viewpoint over the city."  I think I also read somewhere that the US Government provided concrete to the Laotian people for a runway at the airport, but they chose to build this monument instead.  I'm still not quite sure what victory the gate marks, but it did provide a nice panoramic view of the city:

Walking back towards downtown from Patuxai is the Talat Sao morning market.  I think I can best describe this as a smaller version of Bangkok's Chatuchak market with a modern indoor section added on.  You can buy the same stuff there - handicrafts, jewelry, fruits, food, clothing, appliances, etc.  

I think the most interesting part of the market was the row of goldsmiths on the outer ring.  They sit there all day making and fixing different gold by hand.  

There was an old stupa about a block from our hotel and next to the US Embassy.  It's called That Dam (black stupa) and there are a few myths about this structure.  Some say it was covered in gold before the Siamese looted it during the pillaging in 1828.  Others say a 7-headed naga (a serpent deity in Hindu and Buddhist culture) lives inside, who protected the locals from that same invasion.  Interesting note: the guards at the US Embassy do not like you walking down the road between the two compounds with a camera.  

Moving on, next to the Mekong River is a promenade area, a large park, and then a road called Quai Fa Ngum.  Quai Fa Ngum is lined with trees that provide a lot of shade and some nice scenery.  

There was also a ridiculously large statue over by this part of the city.  I was never able to figure out who this is or what he did.  

Finally, on the eastern part of the city is the COPE center and museum.  COPE works with the National Rehabilitation Center as the only provider of prosthetic, orthotic, and rehabilitation services in Laos.  This is important to the local people because Laos is littered with unexploded ordinances, many left from the US during the Vietnam War.  Despite efforts to educate, many children still try to salvage the scrap metal from these old bombs because they can make a substantial amount of money from just one bomb.  As a result, many Laotians have lost their limbs and their lives.  COPE is trying to help the survivors with prosthetics and other support.


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