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Love, Trust, and a little bit of Wanderlust If we don't try we will never know, in the end we only regret the chances we didn't take.

Learning to Love Laos

THAILAND | Saturday, 8 April 2017 | Views [853]

The COPE Museum.
Vientiane, Laos.

The COPE Museum. Vientiane, Laos.

I would never tell someone not to visit a place, but Vientiane isn't somewhere we see ourselves visiting again. It's beautiful, full of South East Asian/French culture and some lovely things to see, but it's not as welcoming as other places we have visited. There was just a tension about it that left me feeling a little uncomfortable. We didn't struggle there, but maybe we had been spoilt with the ease, the beauty and the cheapness of North Thailand.
While here we visited the Chao Anouvong park with its memorial statue and impressive view of the Mekong River with a view of Thailand just across the water.

We battled insane traffic to cross a road to see The Patuxai war memorial. It was built to commemorate those who fought for independence from the French. The translation of its name means 'Victory gate' or 'Gate of Triumph' and it looks remarkably like a smaller version of the Arch de Triomphe in Paris. The archway was apparently partly funded by the Americans, albeit unwittingly. They donated funds and product for the Laotians to build an airport runway, the Laos government decided otherwise and the arch was built. It is now nicknamed the 'Vertical runway'.

We also stumbled on to 'That Dam'. I say stumbled because we had no intention of seeing it that day. We know from the map we were in the same area but we didn't expect to be walking down what seemed like a small side street, and be looking directly at it. It has huge historical significance in Laos. There are conflicting stories about this unusually neglected relic. The structure used to be completely covered in gold. One story is that the Siamese (now Thailand) Army, stripped it of its gold and stole it during the Siamese - Laotian war, leaving the structure standing as the rest was worthless.
Another story states that the Stupa was inhibited by a 7 headed Naga (a mythical snake/dragon type creature) this Naga is believed to have been the protector of the city, and although the gold was stolen, the Stupa and the city were saved by the creature. This is the reason it still stands today, unkept and battered by the elements and is known by many as the Black Stupa. As the Laos people believe it is sacred and serves as a memorial of the times of war.

The most impressive place we visited in Vientiane was the 'COPE' museum. It is listed as a museum but it consists of one room, it was surprising small considering its popularity with tourists. The museum promotes the work of a committee dedicated to helping people who have lost limbs. Some of them are caused by unexploded bombs left after conflicts, a large section of the room is dedicated to explaining this and why the unexploded ordinance are so dangerous in the country due to the way the people live, the fact the cook on open heat on the ground, some scavenge for scrap metal to make money, even the children use these things as toys when they find them!
A higher percentage of amputations are caused by road traffic accidents. Once you have visited this part of the world you can certainly see how that is so common!
And finally illness or disease affecting babies at birth or developing in later life.

The room is located inside an active disability support centre. The complex is quite big and we passed many school children leaving after a days education, some in wheel chairs, some with white walking canes.
We entered the museum door, they do not charge a fee to enter but the room does have a donation box along with a guest book you can sign. The staff don't mother you but they are available to answer questions and provide further information.
The room displays products that have been made from the materials of the unexploded devices once they have been made safe. These people again showing their incredible ability to be resourceful. They display a selection of artificial limbs/prosthetics that have been used over the years, varying from the most basic wooden blocks to currently used pieces, but even those are not as up to date as what we have available in the West.
The stories are harrowing and very humbling, these individuals represent thousands who live with these incredible injuries and illnesses everyday, without complaining or expecting any support. They just continue. Continue to work, to farm, to teach, to cook, to provide for their families, to live. They are an inspiration and example to so many, especially when we considered situations back home. How even the smallest of ailments back home would cause a persons life to grind to a halt and expect to be provided for. These people just keep going.
It's difficult to explain the impact this single room can have. Without visiting it you can't understand the extent. But for such a tiny place it provides a new perspective.

As we are beginning to warm a little to Laos we are preparing to move on, another town we have heard is beautiful and calmer, so we are excited to see what it has to offer next.

Tags: culture, exploring, history, humbling, learning, museums, sightseeing, traffic, warming

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