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Vientiane

Bizarre Buddhas, Fad Foods, Stunning Stupas, Lost Limbs...

sunny 36 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Buddha Park
Heading out of town this morning along what Zak, our local guide, called the 'dancing road (as it was so bumpy) while it is still (relatively) cool, to the bizarre Buddha Park. Affectionately known as Buddhaland (the official name of Xieng Khuan means Spirit City), the park is a Disneyesque collection of around 250 religious images – one man's interpretation of Hindu and Buddhist deities. The project was started in 1958 by a priest-shaman and his untrained disciples and each image is made from reinforced concrete. Known as the Pumpkin, you can climb inside this enormous representation of Hell, Earth, Heaven and Paradise. Entering through a giant mouth, it was hell to get in, and not much easier to climb up through the layers.

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David entering Paradise...
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The 'Pumpkin' representing Hell, Earth, Heaven and Paradise.

The Lao Disabled Women Development Centre provides vocational training and employment opportunities for women who have either been injured by cluster bombs or were born with disabilities. Founded in 2002, the centre takes in 30 new girls every six months, providing training in things like sewing, weaving, hand made paper making, computer literacy and English. After this time, most girls go back to their village, with the foundation providing loans for them to start up their own business. One of the products they make is table mats made from rolled up newspaper - a fabulous way of recycling as well as creating something useful.

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Table mat made from recycled newspaper

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Somvang Cemetery
An unscheduled stop was made at the Somvang Temple to see the crematorium. Three days after death, the body is brought to the temple, where monks give a blessing, the family wash the deceased's face with coconut milk and the body is cremated on large open fires. In and around the grounds are benches and seats for family and friends. Three days later, the family will collect the ashes, which will be placed inside a stupa in the grounds of the temple. The size of the stupa depends on the wealth of the family. Should the deceased have committed suicide, the ashes will be scattered on the river, and their soul is not thought to be reincarnated.

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The cremation area.

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Stupas containing ashes.

After a light lunch of sour fish soup with ants' eggs and deep fried baby swiftlets, we continued our city sightseeing tour. The soup was delicious, and the ants' eggs very tasty - quite sour and I loved the way they seemed to 'pop' in your mouth when you bite into them.

The swiftlets, however, were another story. I ate one and really didn't like them. They were whole, complete with legs, head and beak, but that wasn't a problem, it was the taste. It just didn't like it.

I felt very guilty that all those baby birds had been killed and I only ate one......

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Wat Sisaket
Built in 1818, Wat Sisaket is the oldest standing temple in Vientiane as all the others were destroyed at some stage during some war or invasion. The temple now has more than 10,000 ceramic and silver Buddha images (10,136 to be exact), many brought from other temples when they were destroyed.
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Wat Prakeo
Formerly a royal temple, this building previously housed famous Emerald Buddha which is now in Bangkok Grand Palace. Built in 1535, it is not technically a wat as it does not have monks associated with it.
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That Luang Stupa
This is the Golden Stupa and the most important national monument in Laos. Originally built as an Indic temple in 3rd century to house the Buddha breastbone (the man known as Buddha seems to have more temples with his relics that there are human bodily parts...), the current stupa was built in the 16th century, with 1000 pounds of gold leaves covering its exterior. The original stupa can still be found inside the new one.
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Patuxay Monument
Known as Laos' Arc de Triomphe, the name means Victory Gate. The monument was built in memory of Lao soldiers who died in the Vietnam War, using US funds meant for an airfield, hence it is colloquially known as the 'vertical runway'. The building work was started 1957, and the five towers representing coexistence among nations of the world
and the five Buddhist principles (thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honour and prosperity). Later the fountains were added by the Chinese.
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COPE Exhibition Centre
The Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise is a rehabilitation centre for amputees, most of whom lost limbs as a result of 'harvesting' scrap metal from unexploded cluster bombs. An emotional display shows the various limbs available and chronicles the fate of many local people. I came away in tears, and seeing the young chap with half an arm struggling down the stairs with his white stick, just finished me off! The poor lad wasn't even born when the war was on, yet his life is ruined as a result of the atrocities in the 1960s. Cluster bombs should and must be banned!

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Cluster bombs. There are 25 million unexploded cluster bombs left in Laos - SCARY!!!!!

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Prosthetic limbs

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Survivor!

Posted by Grete Howard 03:22 Archived in Laos

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Comments

Wat Sisaket was where I got my rain curse. I hope you didn't touch any of them!

by Mel

I'm glad I didn't know that beforehand. I didn't touch any though...

by Grete Howard

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