Trip To Vientiane, Laos

In Sept, 2013 I joined Naran in the capital city of Vientiane, Laos. History sites more than 40, but Laos is one of five remaining communist countries, on planet earth. Naran had a room at the Villa Sisavad in central Vientiane. I used a satellite program to familiarize myself with the cities layout. I found the international airport on the west side of Vientiane, but I could not find Villa Sisavad or the street that we were on. I did find another landmark, Avenue Xang was clearly identified by the satellite program. It appeared to be a divided, 4-6 lane road that runs slightly NE/SW, and one mile in length. I didn't cross this road coming from the airport so my Thai bicycle and I traveled further east in hopes of locating Avenue Xang. In less than a quarter mile I came upon it. I traveled the length of the road and found government buildings, banks, small hotels, a temple and lots of traffic. At the north end of Avenue Xang is Patuxay Park and a very large concrete structure called "Freedom Gate". At the north end Avenue Xang separates around the Freedom Gate and Patuxay Park. In the evenings lot's of people hang out here. The south end of Avenue Xang terminates at an intersection with another large government property. Facing Freedom Gate from the west is a large government property. Inside the Freedom Gate is a plaque that states the structure is dedicated to Laos freedom from further oppression by others, French, Vietnamese, Thai, and recognized the USA for providing funds and concrete for the building.

City traffic in Vientiane is very heavy and dangerous motorcyclists are everywhere. At first I thought the persistent haze was China's drift, but I have since reconsidered. Most of the streets, particularly N/S, barely provide enough space for two automobiles to pass one another. People park on the street, sidewalks and everywhere in between. On work mornings and afternoons, Avenue Lane Xang is also completely covered with automobiles, including the sidewalks. On weekends the streets are virtually empty. One weekday, within 15 minutes of one another, I witnessed two police motorcycles down. In the city, the police sit under small structures at an intersection, then jump on a motorcycle when they see somebody make a mistake. At night, after the police have disappeared, a great number of drivers will simply drive through red lights.

Vientiane, Laos
  • Villa Sisavad

We found what I feel is the best restaurant in SE Asia. Khop Chai Deu features a wide variety of meats, shrimp, fish, barbecue skewers, vegetable offerings (bowls of white and yellow corn, broccoli, bean varieties, asparagus, etc) and light deserts that are delicious. Downstairs the menu contains offerings from a variety of countries. Upstairs they provide a midday buffet, 11:30 - 2pm, Mon - Fri. A good hamburger is hard to find in Asia, but Khop Chai Deu has them and western ketchup! It does not look like it, but Khop Chai Deu is not a typical Asian restaurant. Get there early!

The Pizza Company, Bangkok Thailand, and Swensens are also in Vientiane. I read about this 'franchise test' so Naran and I visited the restaurants. Naran, born in Cambodia and raised in the USA, is a pizza freak. It did not surprise us that the pizza and ice cream was flat. Good pizza and spaghetti relies upon flavorful Italian spices that are not utilized in Asia. To be fair we returned a month later. Naran refused the pizza and I left disappointed for the last time. If the Pizza Company would do it right, most likely they would find that their building is immensely undersized! In Thailand, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and Carls Jr franchises do a booming business, and, they provide western ketchup. Months earlier in Chon Buri, southern Thailand, we had stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch. The place was packed. Directly across the street was another Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant under construction. It was at lease six times the size of the one that we were in!

I also found this in Vientiane. "That Dam" is its name, and it is a Stupa. Here is the first paragraph of a very lengthy explanation: "The Stupa represents Buddha's holy mind, Dharmakaya, and each part of the Stupa shows the path to Enlightenment. Building a Stupa is a very powerful way to purify negative karma and obscurations, and to accumulate extensive merit. In this way you can have realizations of the path to Enlightenment and be able to do perfect work to liberate suffering beings, who equal the sky, leading them to the peerless happiness of Enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal of our life."

Vientiane is located along the Mekong River. Between the access road, Quai Fa Ngum, and the river is a park called Anouvong. During the evenings and weekends this park is used by hundreds of people. They hangout, walk, talk, run, do group and individual exercises with or without music. On the east end is a statue of King Anouvong. He reined between 1805 and 1828. During his term he tried repeatedly to defeat the Siemese, from Thailand, and rally hundreds of thousands of Laotians that had left for Thailand, back to Laos. Late in his term he invaded and gained control of Karat, Thailand. Thailands emperor did not like this and chased him back to Laos where they captured him. He was brought to Bangkok and placed in an "iron cage", Jail(?). He died in his cage one year later. Here is a quote from J&C Expat Services Laos: "Interesting to be mentioned, that the statue of Chao Anouvong turns its back towards Laos and eyes once again over the Mekong River into Thailand, where more than 2 million former Lao, nowadays Thais, are living in Thailand's Northeastern Isaan provinces!".

In 1975 Lao's was 'renamed' the Peoples Democratic Republic, PDR. Since then they have done nothing to reform government, create a democracy or policy that would attract industry to grow the economy with. One third of the country's population lives below the international poverty line, living on less than US $1.25 per day. With China on one border and Thailand on another, Laos should be embarrassed! Thirty Eight Years is certainly enough time to have started a diversified economy. Industry amounts to Lao telecom, Asian Pacific Brewers and mining. Two managers that I met, information technology and a power industry startup, complained of a lack of competent people and the cost of materials in Laos. Here is one example of how the government helps with expensive products. Away from Avenue Xang, maintenance on the cities streets, drainages, sidewalks, or the interest to close doors on power cabinets degrades. Reasonably priced groceries, goods, supplies and outlets are in Thailand, not Laos. The mom-n-pop store operators use bridge #1 to bring these goods into Laos. To sum this up: Government owning anything more than the car keys they carry, is a guaranteed slow, inefficient way to get something incorrectly accomplished. American presidents have repeatedly told the voters: "You will be much better off using as little government as possible".

Consider these from Wikipedia: The "Federal Republic" of the USA is 300 years old and is the worlds largest economy. The "Commonwealth of Australia" is 112 years old and is the worlds 12th largest economy. China's communist run "Peoples Democratic Republic" is 64 years old. It under went economic reforms in 1978, 35 years ago, and quickly became the worlds 2nd largest economy. Lao's communists "renamed" the country the "Peoples Democratic Republic" 38 years ago. They signed agreements giving communist Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. This earned them trade isolation from China, USA and others! Laos is the worlds 138th largest economy, tied with Cambodia. In 1991 their constitution was amended with safe guards for human rights. Yet, "In October 1999, 30 young people were arrested for attempting to display posters calling for peaceful economic, political and social change in Laos. Five of them were arrested and subsequently sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment on charges of treason. One has since died due to his treatment by prison guards, while one has been released. The surviving three men should have been released by October 2009, but their whereabouts remains unknown."

Vientiane is the capital city. Government money, earned by government employees who buy things, it's what makes this city look prosperous. By Laos standards it certainly is, but it ends at the city limits. Most Asian countries, China in particular, produce products, educate, and have earned industrious, resectable reputations. As you read about this country, an entirely different picture is presented.



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