Sunday, February 1, 2009

FLASHBACK: Vientiane

(PICTURE: The most famous Wat in Laos. It's on the currency.)

Vientiane is the capital of Laos. I had heard some negative things about the city including that it was, "skippable" and to spend "no more than a day there." However, like the old saying goes, "Sometimes you need to see something for yourself." Is that how the old saying goes?

Hannah and I had a really good time in Vientiane. We rented bicycles and drove all around the city. Some of the highlights included the Laos version of the Arc de Triomphe. The best part about the Laos arc is the sign on the base that basically tells visitors that the arc is a hideous monstrosity. Here's the sign:

In case you can't read it, it says: "At the northeastern end of LaneXang Ave. arises a huge structure resembling the Arc de Triomphe. It is the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientane. Built in 1962 (B.E. 2505), but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete. Nowadays this place is uded as a leisure ground for the people of Vientiane and the seventh floor on top of the building serves as excellent view point over the city."

Vientiane, like much of Laos, was filled with Wats. Wats can start to blend together after a while unless they do something to make themselves stand out. For example, Hannah and I rode our bikes a few kilometers to a Wat that is famous for massages. That's right, massages. I would actually argue that my best massage in all of southeast Asia was at this particular Wat. It would have been a great story if the massages were actually given by monks BUT in fact they were given by laypeople who live on the property. Even better than the massage though was the traditional steam room. Basically a bunch of people sit in a little room with a fire burning below them. The room was filled with smoke and you could barely see your hand if you placed it in front of your face. It was the hottest room I've ever been in but felt really really good.

A small funny anecdote happened at this massage place. Hannah was in the process of getting her massage and I was next in line. The place was really busy and all six massueses were giving massages. While I waited, I noticed this European girl sitting near me. The girl was covered in tatatoos and ear pierces and just observing the scene. The woman who ran the massage center came over to me and said, "You can have your massage in a few minutes." The European girl then said, "Do you need more people to give massages? I'll massage him if you want. I'm certified to give massages." The woman who ran the place turned to me and said, "Do you want a massage from her?" I wanted to say, "Who the hell are you?" but instead I just said, "I appreciate the offer but I want to go with the traditional Laos massage today." It's like this girl ran out of money and was waiting to give someone a massage to earn a couple of bucks. Weird.

At night Hannah and I did what all people supposedly do in Vientiane -- we went bowling. The cool thing about the bowling alley was that it was literally transported from the USA. Everything was from some bowling alley in America. Even the shoes were American sizes. It felt like a little slice of New Jersey.