COPE and passing the time in Vientiane

It’s a very long time now since I was actually in Vientiane. Unfortunately blogging fell to the wayside as final year university work took over, and looking back through my travel pictures became a reminder of how unexciting my life, near the outskirts of Coventry, was currently. But with the exciting prospect of spending another year studying abroad ahead of me (this time in the Netherlands to do a masters degree) I am ready to pick up where I left off and am determined to document the entirety of me and Matt’s South East Asia adventure. So here goes…

IMG_3387Vientiane, the tiny capital of Laos, is rather pleasant; with leafy boulevards and nice restaurants but there is little to actually see and do as a tourist. We just about found enough to keep ourselves occupied for one day, and on the second we played pool (very badly). We spent some of our time just wandering about, getting a feel for the place and stopping for many iced coffees when the heat got too much. As it’s a small city, we went everywhere by foot; allowing us to see and experience more.

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I’d recommend visiting COPE – a non-profit that runs rehabilitation centres, providing help and prosthetics for the victims of unexploded ordnances. It’s not the kind of place that would usually make it to the top of a cities to-do lists, so perhaps its a good thing there is so little else to see in Vientiane, as it really is worth a visit. Information on what the centre does and the impact of unexploded ordnances (remaining from the Vietnam War), fills two rooms and takes about 30mins to view. Entry is free, as the centre runs on donations. I think you’d have to have a pretty hard heart not to donate. For a country that America wasn’t even technically at war with, Laos holds the record of being the worlds most heavily bombed nation. As an indiscriminate weapon, which poses wide risk to the civilian population for years after a conflict, I’m pretty sure the use of cluster bombs violates international law and either is or should be considered a war crime.  Thus I can’t help thinking that the American government should be doing more to clear these UXOs and that a country as poor as Laos shouldn’t be left to deal with such a huge task itself. As with the victims of agent orange that we encountered in Vietnam, it is the fact that people are still suffering and that the harm isn’t just confined to the period of conflict, that is so…..  (I’m not sure how to put this) frustrating…

It feels awkward and somewhat hollow continuing on from that last paragraph to talk about the rest of the ways that we enjoyed our time in Vientiane. But this is what we did, we donated some money (reading over the work of the centre again, I feel like I could’ve give more) and went back to wandering around town and drinking iced coffee. In the evening we went to a delicious Japanese restaurant. The dishes were unfamiliar; unlike the Japanese food I was used to. Matt complained that sitting at low tables on cushions was a pain – I thought it was kind of fun, but maybe because I had the wall to lean against. If I could remember the name of the place (this is why you shouldn’t wait ages to write blog posts) I’d recommend it, unlike the hostel we stayed in. I got a huge itchy rash across the back of my legs from sitting on one of the hostels wicker sofas.

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Vientiane sits next to the Mekong River, which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. We just missed the market next to the river, but enjoyed a couple of drinks, watching the sun set, whilst locals took part in an aerobics/dance-fitness class. Outdoors exercises seem to be common across SE Asia and China. I think it’s a great idea; not only must it cut down the cost of classes as they don’t have to cover studio rents but in good weather its nice to be outside taking in the fresh(-ish) air.

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Lastly I shall end the post with one of my favourite pictures of Laos. I love how ANYTHING can go on the back of a moped in SE Asia!

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