Vientiane, capital of Laos (the third communist country I traveled in this trip. There are only five in the world at the moment. Laos also felt the least communist to me… I don't exactly know what communist feels like, but it doesn't really feel like Laos.)
Vientiane feels like a small town. The population is about 300,000 but something about the city feels more town than city. Part of it may have to do with the lack of tall, modern buildings that typify “city” in the beginning of the 21st century. But there are parts of Beijing that lack tall building, and those feel “city” to me. I think it is more the pace of life. Even though taxis and tuk tuks cram the streets and motorbike zip through the traffic, everything feels to be at the pace of the Mekong river the sluggish rolls by the town.
One other thing that I found odd about Vientiane. Standing on the esplanade overlooking the Mekong, you are along looking out over a sluggish brown waterway and beyond that, the other bank, Thailand. I am sure that there are other national capitals that are also border towns, although I can't think of any off the top of my head (with the exception of city-states, Singapore, The Vatican City and their ilk. But somehow those seem different.) But there is something about standing in a capital city looking at a bridge to another country that makes the whole thing feel a bit fake.
Here are some pictures of my trip from Siem Reap (the town near Angkor) and of my day in Vientiane.
Angkor Wat from the air.
My flight stopped in Pakse, the third largest city in Laos (I believe). The airport was tiny. This was the gate for departures. It makes Portland (PWM) look massive.
The baggage claim in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos…
The sign says National Library (actually it says Bibliothèque Nationale and I assume “national library” in Lao.)
This monk was puffing on a cigarette while doing some reading at the base of this stupa.
This was built with cement that was donated by the US to repave the airport runway… I think they missed.
I took a night bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. I seemed to end up on a lot of night buses this trip. Still don't particularly like them. The note on the bottom of the ticket for this bus worried me a little…