Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Around Vientiane...

Yesterday, I hired a tuk-tuk to take me out to a place called Buddha Park. It's an area on the banks of the Mekong about 25 K north of the city. The park itself is a collection of very old stone statues of Buddha, cobras, dragons and some of the demi-gods and deities that are described in Buddhist literature. A particularly impressive statue is a reclining Buddha about (I'm guessing) 100 feet in length and over 40 feet high. There were several other statures that towered over the others. Wandering around these weathered and beautifully-carved edifices was quite an amazing experience. They even had one large ball-shaped dome...perhaps fifty feet high...that you could enter by squeezing through an open stone mouth. Once inside, you could climb to the top floor through very narrow passages and then circle that level. Inside the dome are numerous stone statues that represent, I was told later, the various level of hell. As you finally descend, floor by floor, you end up at the lowest level with stone skulls and people being tormented by demons. I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a description in the guide book and only learned about it from the hotel. It's well worth the trip so, if you ever get to Vientiane, be sure to see the Buddha Park. Tomorrow is Sunday and I've booked a 40-minute flight up to Luang Prabang for a few days. Today, I've visited the Cultural Hall and the Revolution Museum and, at 8 P.M. tonight, I'm going to dinner with a delightful Irish fellow named Graham. Some general impressions around Vientiane: 1) As it is around Indonesia, many of the houses and business have small "spirit houses" that they maintain near their front door. Sometimes, these small houses are on the ground but, more often, they're mounted on a platform that is supported by a stone pillar about 4 feet high. On the flat area, (sometimes as large as 4' x 4'), they then erect what resembles a miniature temple or wat that is supposed to honor the spirits. Flowers, incense, fruit, etc. are placed on the platform as gifts. I understand that, if you add to the size of your house, you also are expected to add an addition to the spirit house as well. 2) As it was in Hanoi, the folks in Vientiane also have a special area in which to practice their aerobics every evening. It's all quite voluntary, of course, and the physically-challenging movements are all performed with great enthusiasm. 3) The sidewalks in Vientiane are sometimes very uneven, and it's not uncommon to see gaping holes in them that seemingly appear out of nowhere. Some of these holes, in fact, are several feet across and over a foot deep so, if you're not paying full attention, it's all too easy to take a serious fall. None of these hazards, of course, are marked so you really have to walk carefully. I remember that I had experienced that same kind of pedestrian hazard when I was walking the streets of Bali many years ago. 4) The restaurants in southeast asia don't give you a lot of napkins to use during your meals. For example, at the restaurant in my hotel this morning, I was given one small square of tissue...about 8" x 8 "...that was so thin I could, quite literally, read my newspaper through it. More later...

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