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Destinations Center Laos

news_297vientiane01Destinations Center Laos
Vientiane, the Laotian capital, is by far the main attraction in the country. Few cities in the world manage to impart such a strong sense of being a capital, while keeping a sleepy and relaxed ambience. Wide, shaded avenues create a comfortable space between the monuments, ministries and markets. The town is small and can be explored in a couple of days, but it creates tons of empathy and few would be able to leave it in less than a week. The main sights are the Pha That Luang, which is one of the biggest stupas in the world, Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in the city and Wat Pha Kaew, a former royal temple. That Luang Festival takes place in November and offers unforgettable views of crowds walking around the stupa with lighted candles together with a huge market in its surroundings. The socialist-era Lao Revolutionary Museum is an interest place to visit; try to spot which events in the Laotian history are avoided there. Another interesting museum is the Haw Pha Kaew, the museum of Lao art.

Central Laos

Lao food is similar to the Thai, with the addition of bread and coffee. Excellent places to meet it are any of the night markets next to downtown. Coffee at the Morning Market can turn to be an addictive experience. Tam mak hung (spicy papaya salad), baguette sandwiches, fruit shakes and ping kai (grilled chicken) are other popular dishes. Western food of excellent quality and at budget prices is easier to find than in Bangkok or any other city in South East Asia. Read more about these topics in my journal about Vientiane. Accommodation in Vientiane is quite expensive, much more than in most Thai cities, except for two dormitories, the Mixok and the Sabaidy; both are close to the Mixok Temple and to the promenade over the Mekong.

Buddha Park Xiang Khouan or the "Buddha Park" (daily 8am-6pm; 2000K) was created by Luang Phu Boonlua Surirat and is twenty-five kilometers south from Vientiane, very close to the Friendship Bridge to Thailand. The concrete sculptures' garden is a kind of open encyclopedia to his Hindu-Buddhist beliefs. After the revolution, he fled across the Mekong to Nong Khai in Thailand, where he established a similar version at Sala Kaeo Kou, see my journal about Nong Khai for further information. Bus #14 from Vientiane's main bus station gets there.

Lao Pako Lao Pako is a bungalows' resort on the Nam Ngum River, 50km northeast of Vientiane. Take the bus to Pakxap from Vientiane's Morning Market, get off at Somsamai, and take a boat downriver to the site. The resort offers pretty much the same activities and facilities as Vang Vieng, but at much higher prices. Moreover, getting there is a time-consuming detour from the main road spanning the country from north to south, while Vang Vieng sits on it.

Vang Vieng The most popular resort in Central Laos, Vang Vieng is four hours north from the capital and can be reached by buses leaving from the terminal in front of the Morning Market. Beyond its natural beauty, the town offers water sports, trekking and caves exploring in a fashion similar to Luang Prabang in the north. Its tourism infrastructure is excellent, despite the guesthouses that work as a cartel and charge a bit too much. The now inactive runway, running parallel to the highway is a reminder to other, more dramatic times. From the bus stop next to the highway, you can catch all the buses leaving from Vientiane to the north.

The Special Area Looking in a map of the country, it is possible to see the Special Zone just north of Vientiane. To reach it, is necessary to travel to a town called KM52, which is at that distance from Vientiane. Buses depart to there from the terminal in front of the Morning Market. KM52 has a single guesthouse at the main road, after sleeping there, take the 7 or 8am bus that leaves for the special area from the main road. Once in the special area main town, there is a single guesthouse renting rooms to foreigners. However, as soon as the police will spot you, you will be politely requested to return in the same way.

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