We spent a few days in Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos, during our trip to Southeast Asia. Although it was a short trip to the country, it was certainly full of fascinating sights and an opportunity to gain insight into the culture. We had a guide for the entire time that we spent in Vientiane, which was great since it allowed us to learn more than we would have just visiting on our own. It also gave us the opportunity to hear firsthand stories about the changes that the country is undergoing and how the citizens feel about those changes. We’ve listed here some of our top recommendations for anyone who gets a few days in Vientiane.
Buddha Park – Also known as Xieng Kuan or Spirit City, Buddha Park is something that is truly amazing. With over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues of various sizes, the park will allow you to immerse yourself into various figures and the stories behind each of them. Even though the park is only a little over 60 years old, you will feel transported into something that could be centuries old.
Pha That Luang – Built in the 1500’s, Pha That Luang is a giant golden stupa that contains a holy relic that is believed to be the breastbone of the Lord Buddha, making it a great national treasure of the Laotian people. It is also the site of a Buddhist festival in November that attracts thousands of people to the city of Vientiane for the celebration. Walking around the golden architecture of the stupa, which is Buddhist shrine, is one of our favorite memories of visiting Vientiane.
Taking a Walking Tour of the Wats (Temples) – To say that there is a different wat or temple on every corner of the streets of historic Vientiane would not be an exaggeration. The Airbnb where we stayed was even located across the street from a wat. Most of them are open to the public for at least part of the day and each of them was unique in its own way despite some similarities. Some of our favorite wats were Wat Ho Phra Keo, Wat That Luang Neua, and Wat Si Saket, which is also a museum.
Patuxai (Victory Gate) – In the heart of Vientiane is Patuxai, or Victory Gate, which is Laos’ version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Just like the arch in Paris, going to the top of Patuxai provides amazing views of the city of Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos. The arch is made up of five levels that represent both the principals representing the coexistence of nations as well as the five principals of Buddhism. Regardless of the meanings of the five levels, today there are markets on each level as you climb to the top offering you the opportunity to buy local items and tourist trinkets.
Walking Along the Mekong River – When visiting Vientiane in Laos, one thing that should be on your itinerary is spending time along the Mekong River. There are many restaurants on the road that sits along the river as well as Chao Anouvong Park, the main park in Vientiane. There are also a few rooftop restaurants that are only a block or two away from the river that offer great views of the city as well as the river. We had been told before visiting that we should be sure to see a sunset over the Mekong River and we were definitely glad that we did. At night, the area around Chao Anouvong Park that is near the inner city, turns into a night market with street food, family activities, and vendors selling locally produced items.
The COPE Visitor Center – Although we weren’t originally planning on visiting the COPE Visitor Center, it turned out to be an enlightening experience. Part museum and part informative on the work that the COPE project does to help people who have been injured by the unexploded bombs that litter the countryside of Laos. Like visiting holocaust museums, it contains both disturbing images as well as an acknowledgement of the ravages of war.
Enjoy the Food of Vientiane – The food of Laos has been influenced by its neighboring countries as well as the French who once occupied the country. Fresh fish from the Mekong River can certainly be found on many of the restaurant menus as well as Laab, which is considered the national dish of Laos. We also enjoyed a couple of different styles of sticky rice and a variety of fried noodles with beef, chicken, and pork.
Although Laos and its capital, Vientiane, might not be on everyone’s typical itinerary for visiting Southeast Asia, it certainly worth spending time there. We definitely enjoyed seeing all of the fascinating sights that were in or around Vientiane. It was just a short flight from Hanoi, Vietnam where we were staying, and three days seemed like a perfect amount of time to spend there.