I knew I would love Laos as soon as I looked out the airplane window. I saw the sun setting on the soft ridges of the jungle laden mountains. Like Taiwan, the Laos landscape is made up of around seventy percent mountains. Laos has 20 National Protected Areas, (NPA’s), and some of the most intact ecosystems left in southeast Asia. Laos is known for being a leader in sustainable eco-tourism and having a laid back feel.
My first stop was the capital Vientiane. The first morning I rented a bicycle from my hostel and went to the information center. This first taste of Laos was very strange, the scenery and the plants were similar to Thailand, but the architecture of the streets and buildings was blatantly French. Then, every couple blocks a wat would appear and a tuk tuk would zoom by.Vientiane has a monument that looks like the Arc de Triomphe.
From far away it looks like the Arc de Triomphe, but up close nothing like it.
Patuxai, literally means victory gate and was built as a war memorial to commemorate the struggles of those who fought for independence against France. It was built in the 1960’s using funds donated from the United States intended for cement for a new airport runway.
At the information center I received directions to Buddha Park and a map. I took a bus from the Talot Sao station to the Thai Lao border then got a tuk-tuk from there. The park itself was a little strange. It was a very small area full of different Buddha statues, exactly what the name implies.
By the time I got back in town I had just enough time to check out the Houey Hong Vocational Training Center for Women. A dyeing and weaving training center that teaches Laos women from disadvantage backgrounds the art of natural dyeing and weaving by hand. A skill that is remembered by many of the older generations and in the tribal villages but is quickly starting to be forgotten as time drags on.
I walked to their store in the center city and they had someone from the center come pick me up. I signed up for a two-hour scarf dying lesson. They made everything manually, from the wooden looms to the dies. Everything was from one of the surrounding natural plants like coconut and jack-fruit tree bark.
A woman came in and brought me a plain stole, she had me choose a pattern for my scarf and then showed me how to fold it correctly and tie the wooden sticks on in order to make that pattern. Then she brought me outside to where they had the dyes in big cement jars in the floor.
I had to soak the stole, and I chose green so first I had to soak it in the blue dye, made from indigo leaf, and squeeze until the dye was properly soaked in. Then I had to rinse it and boil it in the yellow dye,made from marigold. Constantly stirring it with a long wooden stick. After, I had to rinse that a few times, then I got to unfold it and see what it looked like.
After I hung up my scarf I got to see some weaving.
It was amazing to see all the steps that went into one little stitch.
And the final result.
Vientiane in one and a half days. I felt like I had done everything I was interested in and it was time to move on. I made a sudden decision to leave a day early, and in the morning I made the bus journey to Vang Vieng. Laos party capital.