Hijacked in Vientiane & Blessed by the Monks

7 Mar
Monsters and Monks in Vientiane

Monsters and Monks in Vientiane

This title already indicates contrast – just as Vientiane was for me. On the one hand the gay life went a bit wrong – and on the other side I got a religious overdose. I indulged in lovely luxury and western food – in a lovely laid back Loas setting.

Dates via the internet don’t always go as expected and can lead to tricky situations, nearly getting abducted. But to make up for all my sins I visited about a dozen temples, a magnificent mix between Disneyland and temple at the Buddha Park – and I even got the monks blessing (and a wet head because of the blessing water…).

A place to lay your head

Why not KAYAK down to Vientiane

Why not KAYAK down to Vientiane

Arriving by Kayak in Vientiane, the mini-capital of Laos, was only a little challenge compared to surviving the (quasi non-existent) gay scene (read below). True, the last bit by road on the back of a pick up truck, was strenuous. After a full day of gliding over the tranquil waters of the Nam Lik through pristine untouched valleys, the party guys got their act together as soon as they were on land, and made the car stop at various occasions to get booze from the road side shops. And boom boom music blaring from their ipod cum loudspeakers (those little things are damn loud!). So I am not 18 anymore.

My villa for the week - with TV, breakfast & fridge - wow...

My villa for the week - with TV, breakfast & fridge - wow...

Finding a place to lay my head in Vientiane was easy: not considering the fact that I even got offers of 2 internet guys to stay at their places, not sure at what price that would come… After arriving in town I couldn’t say goodbye quick enough to the party guys and girls (yep – equality reigns amongst the party people) and I set off down the streets of Vientiane, walking into any reasonable guesthouse I would see, and ask the price and to see a room. After some cheap but nightmarish windowless boxes with a dirty mattress on 4 legs, I bumped into this lovely old colonial Villa. Lovely architecture, garden with beautiful flowering trees, wooden floors, a fridge in the room (wow), huge bedside mirror (;-p), international TV (am addicted to TV5 monde, Deutsche Welle TV and BBC world now) and even a hot shower that looked like a shower (not just a shower head hanging from the wall). All of that for 125000 kip (12,5 euro), and with a (meager) toast & jam breakfast included but I got my supply of cheeeeese and yoghurt from the farang supermarket, mmmm, to enhance the breakfast.

  • Does it show from my description that my level of luxury had plummeted in Laos… so making up for it in Vientiane…

Getting abducted in Vientiane

Patuxai - independence monument - a cement Arc de Triomphe copy

Patuxai - independence monument - a cement Arc de Triomphe copy

So what do you do if you are a lone traveler. You try to make friends along the road. Obviously the party crowd of the kayak trip was not my cup of coffee, so I resorted to internet to meet up with some people. Always good to have a chat and a drink together. Until this one guy in Vientiane took me in his car to see some more secluded places near the Mekong river. Nothing against seeing something different, except it seemed that he had his mind set on seeing (or feeling) something different as well… It started with a pat on the knee but moved swiftly upward. And outside the car was only the beautiful view of the Mekong river, nobody else…

So what do you do or say in a situation like that. I tried ‘thanx but no thanx’ but that didn’t seem to be very efficient. Pushing his hand back with a smile didn’t really stop the incursions into my private sphere either. When I took away the polite smile off my face, his progress being made slowed down, And when I was nearly, reaching for the car door, imagining how I would manage one of those jump-rolls out onto a Laos dirt road, he asked: ‘so you don’t want’… Some people don’t come with a lot of brain cells – or maybe they were just short–circuited by hormones. So exit ‘Western style rolling down a ditch’, and he was kind enough to drive me back into town and even stopped the car for getting out…

Getting absolutions for my sins

That Luang Temple - the national symbol of Laos

That Luang Temple - the national symbol of Laos

Laos has definitely not been a very sinful place for me – as I seemed to be the only gay in the village (VIPs read more here). But if there would have been any sins, I am sure I would have gotten tons of forgiveness after visiting about a dozen Buddhist wats (wat = functioning temple with monks – temple = without monks, mostly the old ones like Angkor temples).

Chatting with the monks

Chatting with the monks

Vientiane, like Luang Prabang (and the rest of Laos) is full of wats/temples (see also Youtube Monks chanting). Just like visiting the Angkor temples, you can easily get ‘templed out’ – after seeing 3 you definitely know what the 4th one will look like. When visiting the That Luang (national temple, symbol of Laos, home of the Buddhist patriarch) I couldn’t handle the heat anymore, so I went to sit in the shade under a tree. And then this bunch of monks comes to sit next to me, to have a little chit chat. Very funny. This one monk (the one speaking best English) was actually studying Business Management – because – as he said – he probably couldn’t be monk forever, because “you know, there are certain needs in life”… He also had a very down to earth approach to all the Buddhist rules. How should he not look at a women more than 3 times, if his teachers at university were women. Interesting chat.

Wat Si Saket - 1001 Buddhas - spot the odd one out...

Wat Si Saket - 1001 Buddhas - spot the odd one out...

On the way out, I passed some other monks collecting donations for a huge Buddhist conference hall they were building. As I thought Buddhism does this world more good than bad (unlike some other religions maybe?) I went in to donate. In return, the monks gave me a blessing. I was summoned on the carpet (taking off my shoes of course) and kneeled down (laymen should always be lower than monks, and these were already seated, so on the floor I went). The monk then took his little whisk/broom made of reeds or straw, dipped it into his golden bucket and started showering with sacred water and best wishes (I suppose because it was all in Lao – I only heard ‘farang’ every once so often, so it was a tailor-made blessing for me, the foreigner). The blessing was actually quite refreshing at the midday heat. Next the monk grabbed my hand and rubbed some string over it, 3 times from me outwards – to get the bad things out – and 3 times towards me to stow the good things upon me. And then tied the orange string around my wrist. “For happy happy” he said. Great. I read that after 3 days you should untie (not cut) the string and remove it – but I think I want to hold on to that luck for a few weeks longer ;-)

  • And a special mention goes to Wat Si Saket: the temple/museum with the thousands of Buddhas. And one extra pretending – for the occasion (see pic)

Buddha park – mixing Disneyland and a temple

Reclining Buddha in the Buddha park

Reclining Buddha in the Buddha park

I heard about Buddha park which was supposed to be an interesting little place tucked away 24 km from Vientiane on the bank of the Mekong river. Of course you can rent a tuk tuk for lots of money to take you there and back, but I thought I’d do it the alternative way. In stead of paying the 175000 kip (17,5 euro) to be driven, I rented a bike for 10000 (1Euro) and drove their myself, along the Mekong, with Thailand (and emergency help) just down the other side of the river.

Good idea I thought initially, but that was without taking account of the hot weather – with temperatures reaching 35 degrees here in the middle of the day… So I covered up with my Cambodian out-of-place Krama (they don’t do karma sarong style cloth here to cover up) and looked like an out-of-place veiled woman with the karma twisted around my head. At least it kept me from burning or getting sun stroke.

Sunset over the Mekong River - Vientiane

Sunset over the Mekong River - Vientiane

The Buddha park is indeed a mix between a theme park and a Buddha temple. There is the famous reclining Buddha (makes for nice post cards), but the rest of the statues are a collection of disintegrating cement statues of all kind of Hindu or Buddhist mythical figures: with wings, shark shoes, alm bowls, swords, long hair, dragon heads, giant pumpkin, etc. A funny curiosity but a bit too much of peddling or paying to get there.

Dinosaurs in the Lao Ethnic park ???

Dinosaurs in the Lao Ethnic park ???

So to get most out of my efforts, I also stopped at the Lao Ethnic Culture park on the road back from the Buddha park: the biggest waste of money ever (even though it only cost 5000kip entry- 50 cent). It was basically a plot of land, that maybe used to be landscaped once upon a time, with some houses and huts from different ethnic groups of Laos that were falling apart and closed to the public. Some were even ruins. The most interesting part was the picnic area overlooking the Mekong, and the troops of red-scarved school children shouting hello and trying their 3 English phrases on me.

Maybe (probably) it was because of the limited financing they got. There was a well rusted sign at the entrance saying how generously some organizations had contributed to the park – about 300000 kip on average (30 euro) – so no wonder the park is in such a state.

No money, no honey...

No money, no honey... derelict ethnic park

Add to that that the ticket seller came out of his booth, all excited to talk to me in… Russian. He had studied in Moscow for 3 years and trained as a pilot in Kiev. He was telling me (in Russian!!) that he had flown M17s (does that exist? Did I understand correctly?) So being white is close enough to being Russian – so I just talked back in my few words of Slavic languagues I knew. All in all, the theme park seemed a quite communist affair.

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One Response to “Hijacked in Vientiane & Blessed by the Monks”

  1. eric 13 March 2009 at 17:21 #

    very funny story!
    you do, can put colors in your writtings, or should i say you just have a very colorful life! ;-)
    smiling from sunny 12 degrees antwerp!
    eric

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