Warm capital of Laos and its largest city. Home of many Buddhist temples, beautiful statues, one of three bowling alleys in the country (not a lie) and the most significant national monument: That Luang. Friendly locals, spectacular street food and a lively peculiar nightlife await you. If it’s your first time in this beautiful and fascinating city and you don’t have any idea where to start, don’t fret. I got your list right here!
First on our list and located in the center of Vientiane at the end of Lang Xang Avenue is the Patuxai, or “Victory Gate”. Built between 1957 and 1968, it is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle against France for their independence. Around the monument is Patuxay Park, where you can find some fountains and many Laotians going for an evening stroll.
2. WAT SI SAKET
Built in 1818 and in Siamese style architecture, this beautiful Buddhist Temple can be found on the corner of Setthathirat Road on Lan Xang Road. Considered to be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane, the temple is also known for its cloister wall that houses more than 2000 silver and ceramic Buddha images.
3. Haw Phra Kaew
Just southeast of Wat Si Saket you can find this beauty, Haw Phra Kaew. It was first built in 1565 to house the Emerald Buddha but has thus been rebuilt several times. The Emerald Buddha stayed in this temple for over 200 years until it was seized by the Siamese and taken back to Thonburi, ultimately finding its way to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, where it is considered the palladium of Thailand. Haw Phra Kaew is now a museum where you can find some fine examples of Laotian religious art.
4. PHA THAT LUANG
Originally built as a Hindu Temple in the first century, now stands Pha That Luang, a large gilded Buddhist Stupa in the center of Vientiane. The building includes many references to Lao culture and identity and is also considered a symbol of Laotian national pride.
5. BUDDHA PARK ( XIENG KHUAN )
If you’re looking for something curious outside of the city, then head to the Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan, a sculpture park just 25 km souheast of Vientiane. The name Xieng Khuan means “Spirit City” and although it is a tourist attraction, the park is known for its 200+ Hindu and Buddhist statues. In one sculpture you can enter through the mouth of a giant (pictured above) and climb up three stories to get a nice panoramic view of the entire park.
The entrance fee is 5,000 Laotian Kip.
Tip: To save some money and have a local experience walk to the Talat Sao Bus terminal and take bus #14. This bus leaves every 20 minutes and costs about 6,000 Laotian kip, or .68 cents. (That’s a bargain in my book).
For a better understanding of Laotian recent history and the impact of the neighboring Vietnam War it had on the entire country and its people, then I urge you to please visit COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) Visitor Center. It is a small non-profit organization in Laos which provides prosthetics and rehabilitation to the people that cannot afford it. Many of the patients are victims of UXO’s (Unexploded Ordance) mainly in the form of cluster bombs that remain in rural Laos and are still injuring and killing children and adults to this day.
For more information or if you would like to make a donation
7. Vientiane Night Market
After running around and doing everything on this list, finish your night off at the Vientiane Night Market located at the Mekong Riverfront. Here you can find a plethora of stalls selling all kinds of merchandise: handicrafts, clothes, street food, electronics etc. Here you can also find many restaurants along the river serving a variety of Laotian specialties. After dinner, do what I did and grab yourself a cold Beer Lao, try some Lotus Flower Seeds from a street vendor and watch the sun set slowly over the majestic Mekong River. Afterwards, if you’re looking for a livelier venue, then head across the street to Bor Pen Nyang and let the night carry you away.