Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vientiane, Laos- the farthest place I have been from home...

After we left Siem Reap, Cambodia, we went to Vientiane, Laos.  Vientiane is the capital of Laos and its largest city.  The population of the city is less than 300,000 people though.  In many ways, the city made me feel even more remote from my comfortable surroundings than Siem Reap.  Vientiane is the farthest place from home that I have been.  I do not think that is literally true in the geographic sense.  I mean that in a more metaphorical sense.  So I guess I should say "Vientiane is the furthest place from home that I have been." in order to be grammatically correct.
The pic in the post is from our modest (and I mean modest by western standards but pretty damn palacious by Lao standards) hotel.  The sand and river bed you see in the pic are of the Mekong River.  Yes, the same river to which your fathers or uncles may refer in their Vietnam War stories- just a little farther north.  While the I never felt threaten by the locals on the street, the fact that the US government is still not on decent terms with the Lao government, that there have been some disappearances/kidnappings of US citizens and other Western civilians, the presence of corrupt law enforcement at every level, and the status of Lao justice and prison conditions made our stay in this country a little disconcerting to say the least.  The vast majority of tourists do not have a problem, but then again there are not that many tourists.   There are some interesting sites and beautiful things to see.  There are also some reality checks and horrible smells to experience.  Like most places, there are always opposites and paradoxes to define it.  For example, in the pic you can see a paved road and cars traveling along it.  You can also see the thatch riverside huts that serve "street" food which may or may not make you ill and whose workers are poorer than poor and personally can't even afford the bottle of beer that they so desperately want to sell to you for less than $1US.
I heard that there are plenty of good things to see in Laos, and I am sure there are.  However, it is not a place that I need to see again in the near future...
It would be on my list if I come back to the SE Asia region for an extended period of time.


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