Day 14 - Saturday 15th April - Vientiane

Up at 0530 to work on the car and fix the niggles. Why that time of the morning, I’m not sure other than suggesting that the more mechanically minded are having trouble sleeping. Changed the brake light pressure switch and that problem seemed solved and then shortened and reconfigured the CB aerial lead. We will see tomorrow whether we get better range. That said all of us are using the same CB radios and have supposedly mounted them in a similar fashion, but all are getting different ranges. We may have worked that issue out by the end of the trip.

At 0900 the streets were deserted, the shops closed and piles of rubbish were the only indication of the street parties the night before. We had this sense that it was safe to venture out without getting drenched. Off for an exploratory wander around the city. The guide books don’t mention avenues of beautiful French colonial architecture for good reason. In fact Lonely Planet devotes more to restaurants and cafes than to the sites. Initially I thought that may have been a reflection on their main demographic, but after our morning exploring, I think its because there really is not a lot to see.

The various temples and monasteries are interesting, more so because of all the New Year celebrations rather than any spectacles. The Mekong, mighty river that it is only occupies a fraction of its water course with a dishevelled matt of weeds, bamboo, sand and plastic filling the remainder. There is little in the way of promenade on the river bank. If the absence of French colonial architecture is a disappointment, the French food and wine culture that they left behind makes up to some extent.

The temples must make all their money at this time of year. Everyone makes donations, and some of the more important charge an entry fee. More for foreigners than locals. They are packed with people splashing water and flower mixture over all the Buddhas and seeking a monk’s blessing. The monks, in their saffron robes, sandals and shaved heads look devout and pious until you notice one open up his shoulder bag and pull out a set of ear buds for his iPhone, or take a selfie in front of the MG. The blessings they give are for health and happiness, but prominent on the list is wealth.

The temple grounds are also full of food stalls and in some, trinket stalls. For those that don’t bring their own bucket, water and flowers, they will kindly supply (for a fee). You can also buy a cage of birds (tiny little finches) to set free. The more birds you buy, the bigger the blessing.  

Loris made a donation (they don’t charge) for a blessing, received a wrist string and had a lengthy conversation with the young monk about our travels. His English was perfect. In one of the main temples we visited, which had occupied the site since the 3rd century, we nearly had to swim to get to the see the Buddha, so deep was the water in the temple.

By lunch time the kids were just starting to surface again. I guess it had been a late and alcoholic night for them. By mid afternoon the festivities were back in full swing again. Viewing it from street level was no safer than in the MG. Everyone seemed to feel that we should be drenched and sprinkled with powder so that we were not left out of the celebrations. And to boost the ego a surprising number of girls (and some of their mothers) sidled up, interlinked arms and got their friends to take photos.

While you have to have your knees covered, hats and shoes off to enter most of the temples, by mid afternoon when the water was starting to flow freely in the streets, the monks did not seem to have too much of a problem with the girls in shorts and wet T shirts paying their respects and receiving blessings. And probably to encourage them most of the temples seemed to be competing with the bars in how loud they could play their music. I’m not talking ethereal bird sounds o tinkling bells, I’m sure one had Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker going at it full tilt.

Tonight as I write this, its started to rain. I’m not sure the kids have noticed, as the windows in the hotel room are starting to vibrate in tune with the ‘We will rock you’ blasting out from the bar opposite.

The farmers will be happy, hoping that this will be the start of the wet season and they can plant their rice. And for us, the hotel has found some undercover parking so that I don’t have to bail the car out before we start moving in the morning. Maybe all the monk’s blessings are working.