I love a room with a view. Imagine my excitement at waking on sun-soaked sheets in the capital of Laos, waltzing to the hotel window humming Celine Dion and throwing the curtains open — to face two toothy gremlins grinning back at me. They resembled Keebler elves dipped in pond scum. I screamed.
It’s possible that Laos’s lush landscape escapes further development because its architects have been banished.
But Vientiane deserves credit for obliterating building boredom. The ostentation serves a purpose: 1. Bright colors keep tourists on their toes. 2. House-size Buddhas attract attention from even the most oblivious lost souls. Religious buildings and sculptures are the loud ones, and the town certainly remembers to pray.
Some of my favorite structures are below.
The aptly named Buddha Park hosts over 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. The only question is, is that enough?
PATUXAI (“Victory Gate”)
Oh, the irony! America provided concrete and funding for an airfield during the Vietnam War. Lao architects built Patuxai instead. Locals jokingly refer to it as the Vertical Runway.
The monument, which celebrates Laos’s 1949 coup of French occupation, resembles Paris’s Arc de Triumphe.
Gargoyles are so 1000 years ago. Buddha figurines guard all man-made surfaces, from doorstep to rooftop, from the reaches of archways to (I suspect) the depths of mouse holes.
Can you imagine speculating with friends as this gate went up? The conversation may have gone something like this:
“The guard’s not the handsomest frog in the pond, but he does look dignified in grey plaster.”
“They’re painting him shades of mucus.”
“At least there’s only one.”
“His twin just rolled in. Hide your children.”