The next morning Pae came at 8 a.m. as promised and introduced us to her husband Loy. Both of them looked like school kids, but we learnt later that they have a 12 year old son who is studying in a Chinese school. The younger generation no longer speaks French, Loy told us, as he drove us around. Chinese is now the lingua Franca, the language of the upwardly mobile. Many businesses in Vientiane are owned by Chinese or Vietnamese.
We arrived at the First Friendship Bridge linking Laos with Thailand. (A second bridge was opened at Savannakhet farther south, and later a third and fourth bridge came into being. A fifth bridge is reportedly under construction.) On the other side of the Mekong lay the town of Nong Khai in Thailand. Before arriving at the Friendship Bridge we spotted a casino in a golden-glitter building somewhat ironically named St. Vegas. Apparently, many Thais cross the bridge to indulge in gambling. A money trap set in an unlikely location I thought, but no doubt it makes good business sense. The people of both countries can move freely to and fro without immigration hassles.
Our next stop was the Buddha Park. We arrived before the tourists, so we had a free run of the place. The Park has dozens of statues of the Buddha as well as other Hindu gods such as Krishna, Shiva, Parvati, et. al. Jatayu is there with a single wing, the other having been chopped off by the demon king Ravana of Lanka. There is also a horse and crocodile.
We walked into the mouth of a demon (or whatever) and came upon a narrow passage with a flight of stairs leading down into an inner chamber where stood several mystifying statues surrounded by human skulls made of earth. Another flight of stairs led to the top of the towering structure atop the demon’s head. The stairs were incredibly steep and my knees being unused to climbing I decided to give it the miss.