I was staying at a really nice hotel, the Salana Boutique Hotel, which had a great central location for walking around the entire city and along the Mekong River.
I grabbed a city map and decided to check out some of the Wats around the city. I ended up walking past the Presidential Palace, on the way to the first wat on my list.
I then arrived at Wat Si Saket, which was interesting because there was some type of family Buddhist pilgrimage going on at that moment.
Next on my mapped out route was Wat Haw Phra Kaew which was a beautiful wat with a lot of carved wood work. This wat was constructed in 1565 as the Lao royal family’s personal chapel.
I had checked off all the wats in the area, so headed toward the most famous wat in Vientiane, Pha That Luang. On my way, I walked through Vientiane’s Arc De Triumph, Patuxay.
After passing through Patuxay I finally made it down to the huge golden stupa of Wat That Luang….
One of the most important things to do in Vientiane, especially if you are American, would be to visit the COPE museum.
The COPE museum changed my life…
Cope is a museum dedicated to helping those who have lost limbs due to UXOs (unexploded ordnance) from the CIAs secret bombing campaign in Laos in the 60s and 70s.
Most of the world doesn’t know that the People’s Democratic of Laos is to this day, the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world –Ever. More than 580,000 bombing missions were conducted over Laos , one every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years totaling over 2 Million pounds of ordinance.
Then we left Vietnam, and with it over 80 Million unexploded bombies behind us in Laos, for them to deal with for generations…
To this day, over 100 people per YEAR in Laos die from the remaining bombies, and this does not even include those injured and maimed when a UXO detonates.
COPE is a non-profit organization that provides orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation to Laotian UXO survivors as well as education for children and communities on bombies and what to do if they see one.
In the yard at COPE, there were several people with prosthetics playing soccer…. and in the museum, there was a blind man walking around with a blind man’s cane tucked under his arm pit, no forearms and a prosthetic leg, using the stick as a guide and walking around talking to people. I’m embarrassed, but I was so ashamed to be from the US, that I avoided talking to him because I felt awful for our lack of social responsibility.
That evening I went to dinner at a restaurant called Makphet that I had read about. Makphet is run by an organization that teaches street kids life skills and also has an attached store with crafts in it. The store’s profits go toward poor families so they can keep their kids in school, instead of forcing them to work on the streets.
Although a world away from the US, my Thanksgiving gave me a lot to think about…
The next morning, I got up at 4:30AM to watch the almsgiving ceremony. This is one of the most special things to do in Vientiane.
In Buddhism, giving of alms is the beginning of one’s journey to Nirvana, the belief is that the more a person gives without seeking something in return, the wealthier one will become.
Here is a video of the monks chanting after receiving some alms:
I then went for a run and watched the sun rise over the Mekong… Vientiane is a sleepy city, but it is definitely one that makes you contemplate life.