Vientiane, the charming capital city of Laos, is more akin to a somewhat sleepy provincial town than a nation’s main city. If you are looking for the same electric buzz of Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Kuala Lumpur, you may be disappointed. If you want to relax in a laid-back and low-key destination, however, and enjoy that small-town feeling in Asia, Vientiane might be right up your street! That’s not to say you won’t find pockets of night life or swanky bars, restaurants, and hotels – you will. But most of Vientiane’s lovely appeal comes from its unpretentious vibe, colonial charms, and slower pace of life.
There are several cultural and historical attractions to enjoy, as well as a tantalizing fusion of Laotian and French cuisine. Start your day with a freshly-baked baguette from one of the many bakeries and have fun exploring Vientiane!
1. Admire the shining Pha That Luang
This gleaming golden stupa is the national symbol of Laos. A beautiful landmark that rises up in the distance, glinting in the sunshine to really grab your attention, it is also the most important Buddhist temple in the whole country. Standing at 45 metres high, the large Pha That Luang is believed to house a holy relic. Many local people come here to pray and make merit, and foreign visitors can enter the inner courtyard for an admission fee of 5,000 LAK (approximately 0.60 USD).
Inside the courtyard you can enjoy looking at a variety of sacred Buddha statues, as well as images of famous people from Laotian and Khmer history.
2. Enjoy the views from the top of Patuxay
Laos’s answer to Paris’s iconic Arc du Triomphe, Patuxay is also known as the Victory Gate. Built using concrete that was donated to the country to build a new airport, it is also sometimes jokingly referred to as the Vertical Runway!
The mass of concrete is decorated with traditional Buddhist imagery. Set in a beautiful green park, it is a pleasant place to take some time out to sit and relax for a while. There are some pretty fountains that add to the chilled out atmosphere, and you’ll also find an assortment of refreshment stalls and public bathrooms.
Free to admire from the outside, you can climb to the top (seven levels) for a small fee of 3,000 LAK (approximately 0.40 USD). Three levels are home to an array of souvenir stalls, with everything from fridge magnets to traditional clothing. As with many popular tourist attractions, the prices are a little higher here than in less visited spots. From the top, you can enjoy nice views out across the city.
3. See the myth-surrounded That Dam
That Dam, known in English as the Black Stupa, is a solitary stupa in the middle of the road close to the US Embassy. Although it was restored in the mid 1990s, the signs of aging are still clear to see on the ancient stupa. Locals say that it was once gilded, its golden covering stripped and stolen by looters from Siam. Conversely, folklore and myth also says that the stupa is home to a sleeping dragon with seven heads … that is said to have risen from his slumber to help the country during the Siamese-Lao War of 1828.
4. Visit the whimsical and bizarre Xieng Khuan / Buddha Park
A creation of an ambitious and fervid spiritual man, Xieng Khuan, known in English as the Buddha Park, is one of the city’s strangest attractions. It is home to an array of Buddhist and Hindu statues, as well as large concrete depictions of mythical beasts. A short distance from the city centre and located close to the border crossing with Thailand, you can get here by public bus and tuk tuk.
After paying the admission fee of 5,000 LAK (approximately 0.60 USD) you can wander the imaginative grounds, feeling a gamut of emotions as you gaze upon the unusual statues. Some inspire wonder, others create revulsion, and there are those that you cannot help but feel just a little bit confused about! Note that there is an additional charge of 3,000 LAK (approximately 0.40 USD) to use cameras … it’s well-worth it!!
Other great things to see and do in Vientiane
Take an evening stroll alongside the banks of the Mekong River and find a cute bar to sit and enjoy a cool and refreshing bottle of Beer Lao. The emotive COPE Visitor Centre gives lots of information about the “Secret War” in Laos and the effects that the relentless bombings had, and still have today, on the country. The Lao National Museum is a great place to learn about the country’s early history and Wat Si Saket is one of Vientiane’s oldest temples,
Spend a few days getting to know Vientiane and take the time to scratch beneath the surface and dig a little bit deeper and you will find a place that offers laid-back charms rather than in-your-face action.
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