Category Archives: Vientiane

Last Lao King

Chao Anouvong, also known by the regal name of King Xaiya Setthathirath V is the last king of the former Lao kingdom of Lane Xang, who ruled from 1805 – 1828. The statue pictured below and the surrounding parklands are a memorial to a man perceived locally as one of the countries most cherished leaders. During the unveiling of the monument in 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad gave a rousing speech acknowledging the kings bravery and devotion to keeping the Siamese away. Although the king was unable to achieve victory, and was later captured and tortured by the Siamese,

“…his determination to fight on reflected the depth of his devotion to maintaining the country’s independence.” – Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad.

Chao Anouvong’s statue points across the Mekong toward Thailand, perhaps as a final act of defiance, or perhaps (as blogger  believes) he is looking for the 20 million former Lao people living nowadays as Thais in Thailand’s north-eastern Isaan provinces! Personally, I think he is offering an outstretched hand of friendship toward the Thai people whom he once rebelled against.

Chao Anouvong, also known by he regal name of King Xaiya Setthathirath V

Chao Anouvong, also known by the regal name of King Xaiya Setthathirath V

Wat Si Saket

Wat Si Saket is perhaps the oldest surviving Buddhist temple in Vientiane after the Siamese army sacked the city in 1827. It was built by King Anouvong c1818 in a traditional Thai style and named after a sister temple, Wat Saket, in Bangkok. It is believed that the use of Siamese architecture in the construction of the temple is what kept it safe during the sacking of Vientiane because the invading armies used it as both lodgings for the troops and as a temporary head quarters. The older buildings are undergoing restoration at the moment and the temple is open as a museum. Entry fee is a modest donation to the restoration effort. Photography inside the old buildings is generally frowned upon

The COPE centre

Understated, tucked into the ground of the Centre of Medical Rehabilitation in Vientiane, Laos, the COPE visitor centre tells incredible stories of survival and challenges today.

More than two million tonnes of bombs – “one tonne for every Lao citizen” fell on Laos between 1964 and 1973.  Laos is most heavily bombed country on Earth, per capita. [1,2]

Cluster bombs COPE centre

At the very least, that’s a lot of scrap metal to be had, which means money to be made. People have become reliant on the scrap metal trade. Although it is illegal there are still communities using basic metal detectors and small shovels to check paddy fields and forest for metal they can sell. Children earn money by collecting metal and selling it to scrap metal merchants.  Scrap dealers pay less than 25 cents a mile which is enough incentive for poor families to take the risk.

It also means a lot of UXO’s (unexploded ordnances – or ‘bombies’ as they are known in Laos.

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta was fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10, when he found a zombie lying in the ground.  He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that you could use the explosive inside to catch fish.  He sent his children behind a tree and crawled up to the zombie.  As soon as he touched it it exploded.  His sons ran from the terrifying noise – when they returned they had to take care of their father, who was losing blood from his terrible injuries.  The dragged him into the boat and rowed back to the village.  In total it took nine hours for him to reach medical help.  Ta lost both arms and an eye.  After returning home from hospital his life was very difficult – Ta described how he had to “eat like a dog”.

Ta was not aware that there were services available to help him; he was, fortunately, brought to the CMR yay a UXO clearance team.  He received three different types of arms that enabled him to be much more independent and to play a larger role in his family  Ta went on to become an advocate fro an international ban on cluster munitions and traveled to Oslo in 2010 to see the singing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  He continues to campaign for countries to sign the ban and implement its obligations.

There are some good stories too.  Since 1995 the US has invested over UDS$60 million dollars to clear and safely dispose of UX in Laos, and deliver education to people in at-risk areas.  In June 2014, the US announced that it was increasing its contribution to the UXO effort from $9 million to $12 million per hear.  In October it announced that it would provide an additional $1.5 million to COPE to expand the provision of free, local access to prostheses and other mobility devices as well as quality physical rehabilitation services throughout the country.

Prosthesis COPE Laos

What is COPE?

COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was founded in 1997 focused on working with Lao health authorities in developing quality services for people with disabilities.

COPE Connect began in 2009 to make services available in remote areas.  Inspired by a boy named Santar it has a powerful outreach programme, and shows and how much difference a prosthetic can make.

Santar is from Muang Sin, in the far northwest corner of LAOS.  COPE staff on holiday there heard about a little boy who had been in involved in an accident some years before.  After some searching the village was located and there, in one of four houses, sat 8-year-old Santar, depressed and withdrawn.  He had been hit by a sugar cane truck two years before, losing one leg and badly damaging the other.  He had been confined to the house since.

Santar COPE Connect Laos

Some months later he made the 24-hour bus journey to Vientiane.  Surgeons operated to correct his left foot and fitted a prosthesis for his right leg.  After four months of physiotherapy Santar returned home and returned to school.  A few years later Santar returned to Vientiane to study, the pictures tell their own story.Santar COPE Connect

What can you do?

Make a donation to COPE!

This is the best present you could imagine, giving someone an improved life through mobility. Here are examples of what your donation will go towards. It’s easy to make a difference here in Laos.

  • US$10 – a developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 10 – A developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 40 – Special Chair for a child with a disability
  • US$ 75 – Prosthetic leg
  • US$ 150 – Prosthetic Arm
  • US$ 200 – Complete Treatment
  • US$ 250 – Club Foot Treatment

Donate and Make a Difference – We did!

References

[1] Mekong: a river rising.  Guardian Newspaper 26 November 2015.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/nov/26/the-mekong-river-stories-from-the-heart-of-the-climate-crisis-interactive  Accessed 29 November 2015.

[2] COPE visitor Handbook

Ban Thongkang Cafe Salas

Lizards Dropping

xmas The Ban Thongkang Cafe on Sokpaluang Road in Vientiane (near the Siavonne market), is one of those hidden gems you often read about in travel books. Our fascinating host is very friendly and always ready for a chat. Along with her many stories of cooking in Paris with her francophone husband, and boating across to Burma on regular visa runs, she also spent twelve years on a dive boat preparing meals for scuba groups and has over 200 open water excursions herself. These experiences help to create a menu that offers an excellent selection of wonderful Thai cuisine, all for a very reasonable price.

We were enjoying a BeerLao here the other day, waiting for our Penang duck curry, spicy laab gai and sticky rice extravaganza, when I noticed they still had their Christmas tree on display. This in itself was not surprising when you consider the overall kitschy design of the alfresco restaurant with old photo’s, damaged pith helmets, Vietnamese coolie hats, fish traps, Chinese lanterns, dusty gourds and other assorted op-shop treasures adorning the salas within the grounds.

From our seat it looked for all the world as if the authentic cow skull (fresh from the set of an old John Wayne movie I bet) had replaced the traditional angel at the top of the tree. As I wandered over to investigate an apparent homage to a ‘cowboy Christmas’ a lizard fell out of the sky and landed with a thud at my feet.

I had read about this happening in the Dr Siri books, and even joked about it in one of our recent posts, but until I saw it with my own eyes I never really thought that it could get so hot a lizard would no longer be able to cling to the walls with its sticky feet. I guess this little guy was not quite the gecko he thought he was. After a minute or two the apparently non-concussed reptile shot off across the scorching concrete faster than Usain Bolt.

I’m glad he was ok, and happier still that I wasn’t underneath him when he decided to bungy jump without an elastic 🙂

splat

Vientianale International Film Festival

Mini-VIFF-POSTERThe Vientianale International Film Festival celebrates the art of film and the diversity of Lao culture in the country’s capital, Vientiane. The annual festival showcases an exciting program of international feature and short films, emerging as an important platform for local filmmakers to screen their works.

The Mini Vientianale International Short Film Festival returns to the silver screen from March 11-13 2016. The festival showcases an exciting line-up of national and international short films to the Vientiane community both indoors for daytime screenings and under the stars in the evenings at the Cinema Department, off Khouvieng Road.

The final evening of the festival on March 13 will be held at the Cultural Hall for the screenings and awards ceremony of the annual Vientianale Short Film Competition.

Download the screening schedule here.

Check out the full program here.

All screenings are free and open to the public.

This year’s program is shaping up to be as diverse and captivating as ever, with 90 short films from more than 30 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. The short films span multiple genres including drama, comedy, animation, documentary, storytelling and experimental – and none run longer than 30 minutes.

Special features include award-winning films from the Berlinale International Film Festival, British Academy of Film and Television, Binisaya Short Film Festival in Cebu (Philippines) – along with a discussion on Cebuano film from Binisaya director Paul Douglas, Chaktomuk Short Film Festival in Cambodia, and a selection of shorts from Interfilm Berlin – Germany’s biggest short film festival – handpicked by Interfilm director and festival guest Heinz Hermanns.

LocationsFamilies will not want to miss the Spotlight on Luxembourg on Saturday afternoon which showcases some of the country’s finest animated films, including Oscar winning short Monsieur Hublot. The children’s program also includes whimsical shorts from KuKi International Short Film Festival for Children and Youth, and Kids Docs – a collection of short documentaries.

Mini Vientianale Short Film Festival, in partnership with the Cinema Department and DokLao Media Centre is generously supported by the Embassy of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Goethe Institute, the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Lao Coca Cola Bottling Company, the Delegation of the European Union to Laos, the British Embassy to Laos, the Embassy of the Philippines, the Republic of the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Heineken Beer Company, Seng Lao Café, the German Development Bank (KFW), the German Adult Education Association (DVV), the British Council and the French Cultural Institute. With thanks to Vidéographe, Yangon Film School, Chaktomuk Film Festival, Chomp-a, Tuk Tuk Safari.

Crazy Canine

BennyThis is my cousin’s dog. His name is Benny and he stands about six inches off the ground.

He’s also very old, well for a dog anyway, and he only has about four teeth left.

Benny also has a lung condition that requires medication. He coughs a lot, the poor little fellow, and sometimes he really struggles hard to breathe. When he has a coughing fit he sounds like a seal barking for a fish and then does an impression of Donald Duck.

He was probably a smoker in a previous life 😉

He’s short, fuzzy and fearless.

“Why fearless?” I hear you ask.

This is a snake.Snake

It is two to three feet long, dark brown to black in colour and was found in our front yard late last night, eating a toad.

I’m not sure what type of snake it is, possibly a rice paddy snake or a rat snake.

I don’t know how poisonous it is either, but I suspect only mildly.

The point is that Benny the toothless doofus decided to tackle a serpent twice his size last night and the only way to separate them was to whack him on the head with a shovel – the snake of course, not the dog 🙂

Well done Benny, protecting your family from the slithering menace!

Crazy canine.

Life in Vientiane

We have been here for exactly four weeks now.  A lot has happened.  We have got ourselves mobile on bikes, I have enrolled in Lao language classes, Matthew has started his internship at Vientiane International School and even done the odd spot of teaching.  What is it like here?

We arrived by small plane (the wound up by a rubber band type)

A 1 hour trip in a small plane from Bangkok to Vientiane

A 1 hour trip in a Small plane from Bangkok to Vientiane

This is where we live – right next to Wat Amon (not Amphone as Google has it) and the Russian Embassy.  Vientiane International school is 3kms away.  Not far, but a challenge to walk in Vientiane heat.  Click on the map for more detail.

Vientiane map

We live in a place with lots of lanes, tracks, and some roads.  It took days for me to figure out how to get from town to home.  The road names (if there are any) are in squiggles, and I had no data on my phone for Google maps.  Here are some of the lane ways near our home:

Local Laneway Vientiane

Local Lane Way Vientiane

The road outside our house is below.  Homes often double as shops, barbers, eateries.  Of an evening we can walk past and often see children watching TV while adults mind the store.  Local homes sit along side huge mansions – the Chinese ambassador has a place here for example as does the Australian ambassador.

Our Local Street

Our Local Street

Shopping for us is on Sokpaluang Road.  Veggies from the local street vendors really do taste good.  They aren’t the perfectly round, unspotted shiny kind you get in western supermarkets, instead they are locally grown, often pock marked and FULL of flavour.  The locals are also teaching me names of food and how to count.  Hand signals come in useful.

Veggie stalls

Veggie stalls

My veggies being bagged up

My veggies being bagged up

Air conditioned luxury also exists (AND you can get Lindt chocolate - at $7 a bar)

Air conditioned luxury also exists (AND you can get Lindt chocolate – at $7 a bar)

The Wat next to our house is called Wat Amon (not Amphon as Google maps has it).  At the moment it is rainy season which lasts three months.  The monks stay in their Wats for the season (Buddhist Lent).  We are told there is an obligation for a Buddhist male to join a monastery at some point, if even for a few weeks.  Children also join the monasteries for education and leave when they finish.  One young monk came to introduce himself as we explored Wat Amon.  He came from the countryside near Luang Prabang and had been at the Wat for two years, finishing off his high school.  One of his favourite pastimes – watching Buddhist films on a laptop.

At full moon during Buddhist Lent the monks have a series of nights where they bang gongs and chant. At 4 am. Next to our house.

Vat Ammon

Wat Amon

Vat Ammon gate

Wat Amon gate

Speaking of which, here is our abode.  Houses here go from local huts, to smaller dwellings, to large posh affairs, to mansions. At the moment there are 5 of us living here (Matthew’s cousin and husband, another teacher who moves into her apartment shortly and us.  It’s quite a change from our 2 bed flat in Leichardt, Sydney.

Home in Vientiane

Home in Vientiane

And of course nothing is complete without a favourite watering hole from which to watch your favourite team.  This is the Highland Bar (run by a Scotsman) overlooking the Mekong river.

Highland Bar, Vientiane, overlooking the Mekong River

Highland Bar, Vientiane, overlooking the Mekong River

 

Watching the Rabbitohs at the Highland Bar. And for those that care, they won.

Watching the Rabbitohs at the Highland Bar.

And for those that care, they won.