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Vientiane – what to do in the capital of Laos

Vientiane – what to do in the capital of Laos

The capital of Vientiane has little of a bustling central city. It projects village atmosphere and the amount of tourist attractions is narrow. Most hotels are located in this touristy part, which makes it easy to explore the city, even by foot.

To visit Vientiane we did not need to take tuktuk rides nor rent a bike. There is not that much to do really but it is a pleasant place to visit for a day or two. Here is a list of things, if you don’t know where to start:

Feel golden at the most important religious monument dating back to the 16th century, That Luang Stupa.

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Patuxay – the Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph, is the landmark in Vientiane and situated right in the city’s centre, in the middle of a big roundabout.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

The gate was built between 1962 and 1968 and I very much liked it. The reason I emphasize this is because I was taken aback when I saw the sign on the gate which reads “...it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete“.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

This sentence struck me as incredibly open, maybe even painfully candid – but the ability to self-criticize in Laos, is clearly an asset to a developing society. This characteristic was reflected in the strikingly friendly, open and tolerant nature of Lao people. I was very impressed, especially as it was so unlike another developing Asian culture we had just arrived from, where rudeness, denial and taboos were the daily bread of the political system and the behaviour of its people. (Yes, China is nagging on me.)

Anyhow, I do not think of Patuxay as a concrete monster. I mean, look at the pics.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

As we looked closer, more interesting details appeared. Strange outgrowths were visible – I think bees or wasp like insects made themselves a home. Wouldn’t want to disturb them!

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

There is a fountain on the back side. And I almost forgot to mention, that you can walk up the gate to look over the city. But be there before 5 pm – it had just closed as we arrived.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Turns out I am not the only poser!

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Don’t miss the World Peace Gong covered in flags of all countries, located at the end of the Gate promenade/Patuxay Park.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

That Dam is known as the Black Stupa in Vientiane. Locals believe this structure was once inhabited by a seven-headed dragon that stood to protect the city from the Siamese. The other story goes that the gold which once covered the surface was taken when the Siamese army ransacked Vientiane in 1828.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Wat Sisaket. This is the only temple to survive the Siamese attack because it was built in Siamese style and used as army headquarters. It is the oldest Wat in Vientiane, from 1818. I always enjoy exotic English. “After construction completed it is about 10 years. The foreigner has aggression and destroyed the Vientiane. After the war has over the Lao people has conservation and restoration in the same architecture style. Sisaket museum has restoration in 1935 AD as we have seen at the present.”

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Visit the dusty National Museum in desperate need of a touch up and aged communist propaganda exhibition rooms. This was the only time, I was reminded that Lao is in fact still a communist country.

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Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

There was something eye catching at the entrance but we couldn’t access those memories. Getting old but having fun.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Walk down the pedicured street towards the Presidential Building (used for government purposes only and closed to the public). It makes me think of Buckingham Palace. Location: at the junction of Lane Xang Avenue and Settathirath Road.

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Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

For good service, ice cream and people watching, visit Swensen’s. Right next to Pizza Company – opposite the National Museum Samsenthai Road. Looks like the first American franchises are coming into Laos. Those restaurants really stand out in the city.  For traditional restaurants see the link (‘where we ate in Laos”) at the end.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

These are our customised mini choices. Swensen’s deserts are American-massive with various toppings and layers in fancy ice cream dishes.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

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If you prefer top buy Lao refreshments – adjacent to icecream and pizza stands this coconut seller with delicious mini coconuts.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Vientiane’s shopping mall Talat Sao is definitely an attraction – to see a prospering Lao middle class.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

I have been to two malls (not sure if there are any more) and each had escalators, even if they didn’t always seem to work.

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There were no brand stores but mostly stands and little shops with cheap clothes, accessories and electronics.

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Prices are very low. Flip flops were 1.500 kip.

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Vientiane offers a few examples of old, some are renovated, French colonial architecture.

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See contemporary buildings mimicking traditional Lao style. Lao National Culture Hall on Samsenthai Road (adjacent to Swensen’s). Mostly closed, for occasional events see the Vientiane Times.

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Send a postcard and notice the French signs – the French ruled in Laos until 1953 and created the country’s current borders. The Lao state is fairly new (1945).

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

This sight requires transport but is the most fun! Drive 24km south to Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) littered with Buddhist and Hindu sculptures by philosopher and sculptor Bunleua Sulilat in 1958.

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For evening entertainment. Enjoy daily live music at the illuminated Nam Phou Fountain in Vientiane’s centre.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Various restaurants encircle the fountain and share tables and seating areas – it doesn’t matter what seat you pick, you will get menues from ALL restaurants at once.

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The Mekong promenade and Night Market along the Mekong river front in the heart of Vientiane. It is a nice place to enjoy the sunset and local folks shopping for t-shirts, toys, paintings and cheap accessories. It mainly sells low quality merchandise and is not at all as authentic as the unique Night Market in Luang Prabang with traditional hand made souvenirs.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Chao Anouvong Park was created in 2012, to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Vientiane, complete with a bronze statue of the locally revered King after which the park is named. Chao Anouvong Park is part of the Mekong promenade and filled with Lao people who come to sit, chat and relax. Be prepared to buy some street food for some of the many emaciated stray dogs.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Thank you for reading! These are my listings of where we slept and where we ate in Laos.

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