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The Golden Stupa is Laos’ national symbol. I love its striking geometry, and the fact that it’s completely covered in gold leaf.

Our first stop in Laos is Vientiane, the capital, which feels like a sleepy suburb, albeit one with great French cuisine. The people are friendly, no one tries to sell you anything. And we met a lovely couple (from Oregon again!) — Savvy and Chris — who were also passing through.

At the center of town is this bizarre structure, Patuxai Monument, a sort of Laotian Arc de Triumph. It’s a tribute to pre-revolutionary heroes built in 1969, from U.S. cement purchased for a new airport. An architectural masterpiece it is not.

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Chris chose the auspicious location of Patuxai to reveal his secret powers.

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Sleepy Vientiane as seen from Patuxai.

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We went to several temples and stupas…

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And walked around town…

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I love this kind of Buddha. We saw it in Cambodia too. The Buddha is meditating and hasn’t noticed the river rising. The naga (five-headed snake) comes to the rescue by coiling its body for the Buddha to sit on, and shielding him with its heads.

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Perhaps this is why the plumbing has gone awry?

The Laos National History Museum was quite a treat. Designed like a decades-old relic of communism past, it’s actually a brand new tribute to Lao communism. Outside is a mammoth sculpture of the party leader, Mao-style. The building itself is palatial in scale, and looks like a Lao temple, yet has the building standards of a budget McMansion. Inside, tiles are askew, angles are off. The water doesn’t work in the bathroom, and you have to buy toilet paper at the gift shop.

The displays themselves have no narrative or chronology. And it seems like they built this massive space, then wondered, "What can we fill this with?" Exhibits include things like "Desk set from the King of Thailand," "Commemorative plate from Arab country" (I think they forgot which one), "Yoga journal, reading glasses and heart medicine of Comrade so-and-so," and "Ranking party leaders photographed with random hippie Austrian communists."

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