Vientiane: Laos‘ capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Many backpackers consider Vientiane to be a bit boring. We don’t want to pretend, because the city might disappoint you if you’re expecting a typical Southeast Asian city. Here you won’t encounter bright colors or the typical chaos of Asian metropolises. Nevertheless, the capital of Laos has a lot in store for you.
It’s not simply a pit stop on your Laos tour – it could also be the highlight of your vacation. Expect French-influenced architecture, delicious food, and many breathtaking temples. And because many people still believe that Vientiane isn’t worth visiting, you’ll be able to enjoy all these attractions without having to squeeze through crowds of tourists.
We took a chance and stayed a bit longer. While doing so, we noticed that there were all kinds of things to discover in the capital. Therefore, we thought we’d share with the outside world a list of our top 10 sights in Vientiane in the form of this article.
Vientiane in a Nutshell
Our trip takes us to Laos, a landlocked country in Southeast Asia that shares borders with Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand. It’s home to about 7 million inhabitants, with 600,000 of them living in the capital, Vientiane, in the west of the country. The country has a long history and holds a very sad international record – the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the world’s most bombed nation. To this day, many bombs from the Vietnam War are still buried deep in the ground, even though the war has been over since 1973. Moreover, there’s still a risk that these explosives will detonate.
For this reason, don’t venture out on your own looking for bombs! Please stay on the safe side!
Instead, try Laos’ national dish, laap. It consists of deliciously seasoned meat or fish on salad. With some chilled Beerlao on top of that, your day couldn’t be any better. If you don’t want to try this local beer, you can order lemongrass tea or the whisky called Lao Lao, which is made from the country’s staple food, glutinous rice.
When you’ve had enough to eat and your pants are ready to burst, it’s high time to get some exercise. Explore the city center on foot or by bike. You can also get around in a tuk tuk or a bike taxi. Public buses are another alternative, but tourists don’t use them too often.
The festivals in Laos are very popular. The Chinese New Year, for example, takes place in January or February, and you can feel the pulse of the city up close. Be it the grand decorations, the parades, or the fireworks – during this time, the capital is more than just alive! In addition, the Boun Lai Hua Fai is also worth seeing. During this festival, many small, lovingly decorated ships are constructed using banana leaves. On them are many sparkling candles and sometimes offerings such as flowers, money, or glutinous rice. Before the boats sail down the Mekong, people say their prayers, and then the main attraction begins. The sight of so many lights sailing down the river is dreamlike – make sure not to miss it!
Unfortunately, this festival falls outside the recommended travel season, which is from November to February. During these months, the weather is particularly pleasant and therefore perfect for your trip. In general, the climate in Vientiane is tropical, with the rainy season lasting from April to October.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Vientiane
Now that we’ve clarified the most important facts, we would like to present you with the top 10 sights in Vientiane. Let’s get started!
Standing at a whopping 50 meters tall, the magnificent monument, Patuxai, is hard to miss. It’s enthroned with its pretty little towers at the end of Xang Boulevard and was built in the 1960s to commemorate the country’s independence. Laos was occupied by the French in the 19th century. The numerous Indian figurines that adorn the walls of the Patuxai are worth seeing.
You’ll find the Patuxai in the similarly named park, where you can, of course, take a relaxing walk. If you want, you can go up to the observation deck and enjoy the view of the city from the top.
Pha That Luang
The temple, Pha That Luang, had already been built in the 16th century. But that isn’t to say that there wasn’t anything here before. In fact, traces of a temple from the 3rd century BC have been found. Moreover, the ruins of ancient Khmer buildings dating back to the 12th century were also discovered here.
Today, it’s the country’s most important cultural monument. Due to its importance in Buddhism, it has become the flagship of the ancient kingdom. The Pha That Luang is so significant that it appears on every banknote. It’s no surprise, given how many legends surround it. For example, the Buddha’s mortal remains found their place here.
The highlight of the complex is, without question, the golden Buddha, who’s taken a lying position on the ground. What’s more, inside the temple you’ll find beautiful snake-like images of the Nagas. You can also relax in the magnificent gardens or watch the monks perform Buddhist rituals. In November, the locals celebrate the Buddhist festival of Boun That Luang at the temple. Don’t miss it if you happen to be in Vientiane at this time!
Wat Si Saket
Built in 1818, Wat Si Saket is one of the temples that takes you back in time by 200 years. Despite the wars that left their mark, the buildings have been extremely well-preserved. But what makes this temple so special is its unique Siamese style. It might as well be standing in Thailand! So don’t be surprised if you have to double-check that you didn’t end up in Bangkok by mistake.
Wat Si Saket is also famous for its thousands of sitting Buddhas. They were made from various materials such as silver, stone, bronze, or ceramics and then embedded in the walls. Thus, they provide a particularly impressive backdrop that’s sure to enchant you.
Haw Phra Kaew in Vientiane
Does the name sound familiar? That’s because this temple shares its name with the famous palace in Bangkok. And for good reason – it has been home to the Emerald Buddha in the Thai capital for a long time. After defeating the Kingdom of Siam, Laos took him as a war trophy. However, the Buddha statue was recaptured at the beginning of the 18th century.
The Haw Phra Kaew was originally built as a personal chapel for the Lao royal family. Today, however, the temple serves as a public museum where you can admire some of the country’s most important cultural treasures. These include the Golden Throne, Buddhist stone scriptures, and many more ancient relics.
Wat Dane Soung
This temple is located in the jungle just outside of Vientiane. According to archeologists, there is evidence that it was built as early as the first millennium and was a significant spiritual place in the kingdom. Now, only old rock carvings of Buddha from a long time ago remain. Moreover, it’s said that only one Buddhist monk spends his time here.
The same can be said for tourists – you’ll only meet them at Wat Dane Soung from time to time. Even locals rarely come here. However, this does not change the fact that this ancient temple is worth a visit. When you come here, you can relax and have the temple almost all to yourself.
The National Museum of Laos
The National Museum of Laos is a must-visit for all history lovers. Granted, it isn’t the most beautiful building – but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? There are great exhibits here, like dinosaur bones! In addition, the museum also covers the wars that took place in Laos and brought a lot of suffering to the people.
Lao Textile Museum
When you are in Laos, you’ll come across beautiful textiles almost everywhere. Many centuries ago, traces of local culture and history were woven into colorful textiles, creating stunning visual testaments to the country. The Textile Museum is one of the most important places where this traditional craft is still celebrated. Thus, it not only showcases art, but also protects it from rapid technological development.
The museum is located just outside Vientiane, in a traditional estate with a lush garden. Here, you’ll find exhibits such as old looms and spinning machines, as well as collections of antique textiles. The museum also has a small workshop where silk pieces are woven. They are available for purchase at the gift shop.
King Anouvong Statue
Anouvong was the last king of Vientiane, who ruled his kingdom for 23 years, starting in 1805. Today, a six-meter-tall bronze statue of the former ruler stands on the edge of a beautiful park on the banks of the Mekong River. He’s wearing a handsome military uniform and is raising one hand, which points towards Thailand. It represents a greeting to the neighboring country.
The extensive park is home to other interesting statues, several elephant sculptures, a lovely pond, and wonderful spots in the shade. So, take some time to just relax when you come here.
Xieng Khuan – Buddha Park
This sculpture park, also called Xieng Khuan, is located 25 kilometers outside of Vientiane and must be on your bucket list. The park dates back to 1958, which you’ll notice by its unique flair during your visit. Luang Pu Slilat designed it, and it has many beautiful Buddhist and Hindu figurines.
The park’s main attractions are the 120-meter-long sculpture of the reclining Buddha, as well as more than 200 Buddha statues and a three-level bell-shaped sculpture. If you take a closer look at each floor, you’ll notice that they represent different themed areas – heaven, hell, and earth.
The Night Market in Vientiane
At this market at Chau Anouvong Park on the banks of the Mekong River, the name says it all. Every night, it transforms into a lively market where you’ll find everything you need. Although it caters mostly to tourists, you’ll be able to find many bargains in the vibrant hustle and bustle.
In addition to textiles, handicrafts, and accessories, you’ll also find a wide range of delicious street food. If you like trying the country’s typical delicacies, then definitely stop by.
As you can see, Vientiane isn’t as boring as you might’ve thought. The many temples alone offen an incentive for us to visit the Southeast Asian country’s capital. The so-called reclining Buddha in the Pha That Luang temple is our favorite, but the Wat Dane Soung temple in the woods also impressed us. And if you’re already there, you must see the wonderful and imposing monument that is Patuxai!
Apart from our top 10 sights, Vientiane offers delicious food as well! The best thing to do is to sample the many different street foods at the iconic night market or visit a typical restaurant. The national cuisine, laap, or sticky rice, as well as the local whisky, Lao Lao, are must-tries.
All this makes Laos and its capital, Vientiane, a dream destination! Have you already booked your trip? When does it start?