Nowhere With You

Vientiane, COPE Visitor Centre and Patuxai

Tuesday September 1, 2015 (Asia, Laos, Southeast Asia)


Today was a special day for me. Today I was chosen to receive that most ignominious of heavenly gifts. I spent some time generating euphemisms for this most heinous of acts:

  • Skyfall
  • Tweety Tailpipe
  • Avian Goo
  • The Robin’s Wrath
  • Cardinal Sin
  • Foul Fowl Flow
  • Birdie Butt Mud
  • Shite of the Valkyries

Yes, folks. Today a bird shit on my head. Right in my hair. I carelessly walked under a tree and thought perhaps a leaf had lightly grazed my coif. I investigated with a gentle touch, only to recoil in horror at the state of my fingers upon their return. Browned. It’s the first time this has even happened to me. Ever. And you know, I think I’d be OK if it were also the last. Sandra’s quick thinking and scout-like preparedness saved the day: always have tissue at the ready! So I made it through the ordeal mostly unscathed.

Vientiane has been a big change from both of our previous destinations in Laos (Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng). It’s definitely the “big city” in Laos. We’ve decided we’re glad we started in Luang Prabang, which was a highlight of Laos for both of us. Vientiane doesn’t seem to have a ton to offer the tourist, but that’s OK because we’re always happy to relax. We’ve used the time to plan our whirlwind tour of Cambodia that starts on September 2nd.

The food here in Vientiane has been quite nice. I ate an incredible burger here thanks to a place Ray’s Grille. Just… fantastic. And I tried a new beer to go with it – Archipelago Brewing Company's Dark Stout. For about 2 CAD it was a tasty 6.7% dark beer dream. I can’t think of a better lunch! We also spent some time at Noy’s Fruit Heaven. In fact, we’re headed back today for lunch. Super-tasty fruit smoothies and a massive chicken kebab. Delicious!

The pictures for this post focus on two attractions in Vientiane. The first is a place called COPE, which stands for the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. They focus on providing access to physical rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. Many of COPE's patients are victims of unexploded ordinance (often referred to as “UXO”) remaining in the country after the Vietnam War. Over 500,000 bombing missions took place over Laos leaving an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs. It’s a huge problem in the country that, to this day, prevents many locals from utilizing their land. Every year there are many victims, many of whom are children. At the COPE Visitor Centre we learned all about the issues surrounding UXO and the lack of access many rural people in Laos have to medical services. COPE provide prosthetics, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and more to the people of Laos. It’s a very inspiring place to visit.

A highlight of the trip for me was getting to use the mirror box. It’s a tool used for people experiencing pain or irritation in a “phantom limb”. The idea is to place the functional arm in the mirror box and view it doubled in the mirror. You can see a photo of Sandra using it. The brain then interprets the mirrored limb in a unique way. If the patient has an itch, for example, scratching the corresponding spot on the working limb while observing it being scratched in the mirrored limb can provide a sense of relief. It was actually quite mind-bending to use. It really felt like you were watching your “other” hand move if you performed the same actions with both hands. And then it feels really bizarre when you stop moving the hidden hand and continue to move the mirrored hand. Likewise if you only move the hidden hand behind the mirror – your brain thinks it’s seeing your hand but it no longer appears to be moving. Bizarre!

Our second stop of the day was to a place called Patuxai – also known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane. That’s a bit ironic, because it’s a monument dedicated to those who fought for independence from France. Amusingly enough, the monument was built using American money and cement intended to build a new airport. As such, the monument has been given the nickname “The Vertical Runway”. We paid 3000 LAK (Laotian Kip) per person to wander up the stairs to the roof. Strangely enough, there are actually a whole bunch of market sellers and knick-knack booths inside the monument. There are two full floors within the tower full of salespeople hawking all kinds of trinkets. That was completely unexpected!

Tomorrow morning we depart for Bangkok. This’ll be our second time there, but we’re actually just transferring through to Cambodia the next day. We transit through Bangkok again on the way to Myanmar on the 8th. We’re about to take a whole bunch of flights in a short span of time, but this is our only way to fit Cambodia into the mix and we’ve heard a lot of great stuff about it. We look forward to it!

Au revoir, Laos! You've been beautiful!

Tag: Laos


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