This time for my bi annual trips, I selected Laos and Vietnam. Both these countries issue e-visa for Indian passport holders and this was the main reason, for selecting these two countries.
I got a very good ticket deal on skyscanner.co.in. I applied on their official visa site and got both the visas, in time. I was planning to stay in Laos, just for two days and I wanted to visit their National Park. Phou Khao Khouay National Bio-diversity park has a waterfall which can be considered as mini version of Pamukkale. The other attraction was Laotian orchids, which grow in this area.
I tried to contact many tour operators for this excursion, but only one of them responded. The price quoted was too high, so I thought, I would try again, after reaching there
I took Thai International flight from Mumbai to Bangkok and then Thai Smile flight from Bangkok to Vientiane (Capital of Laos.) Both the flights were pleasant. The immigration procedure at Vientiane, took just two minutes. I had not made any prior arrangement for airport pick up, but I had booked the hotel. (Hotel VKS.) I took a taxi to the hotel.
I have been to thirty countries so far and my intuition does not let me down, when I make some judgements from the first ride, in that country. Laos seemed very easy and laid back to me, and I was not wrong. After a brief nap at the hotel, I started moving around. I requested the hotel to look for a tour for me.
I really loved the aimless strolling on the streets. The famous night market, was just two minutes away. I spotted few Indian restaurants too. When I came back to hotel, the quote they got for National Park was not so good. (I was a solo traveler and secondly this is not the rainy season, hence the water fall had dried up.) The other option was a day tour of the capital. I haggled for the price and what I could manage to get, was a tour with taxi and driver but without guide. I booked it for the next day.
I visited the night market just to get the feel of what was on display and the prices. The stuff was interesting, so I decided to come back the next day. Then I went to an Indian Restaurant “Rashmi”. The food was excellent and the price was fine.
The next day, the driver came on time. He took me first to Buddha Park. This park as some unusual statues of Buddha. I can call them somewhat modern, compared to the traditional poses, we see. The garden has many statues of Hindu deities. The style of these deities is similar to what we have today. (This park was built in 1950s or so.) The entire area was once part of greater India and followed Hinduism. It seems it is still followed there.
The garden has a domelike structure. It has three layers inside. The entrance is very narrow and the steps inside are tricky. It takes some efforts to enter and climb. (It is clearly written there, that “Old age and illness do not climb.”) There are some statues of Hindu deities, but I could not identify them. I could not understand the meaning of the three layers, either. (Remember, I did not have a guide)
The statues in the garden are somewhat damaged over time, but the garden around it is very well maintained. It has some lovely flowers too. This garden seems to be very popular among the locals. While I was there, there was a picnic of cute young school children. All were very eager to shake hands with me. Of course the pleasure was mine too.
Later my driver took me to COPE center. This is an organization, which helps bomb victims, to move on. America dropped some 260 million bombs in this area, out of which 80 million are estimated not to have exploded and they may be still alive and buried underground. The innocent people become victims of these bombs even today. One bomb shell may contain up to 680 individual cluster bombs and has ability to affect an area equivalent to three football fields.
This center has a small display area. (The actual rehabilitation activities are not for exhibition, and I think that is very sensible of them.) There are no photos of injured victims, on display.
I was appreciating the artistic value of a display but after reading I came to know, they were the actual cluster bombs. I felt ashamed and could not hold myself back. I sat down there, and let my tears flow. That is all, I could do for these innocent people, though I know, in no way, it is going to ease their past pain and suffering.
When you walk on the streets, you can feel the simplicity and politeness of these people. Not only the look innocent, they ARE innocent. Later, when I talked to the owner of Indian Restaurant, he said that, these people are not even aware what dishonesty and cheating is all about. I really wish, they remain like this, for ever.
To be continued…