Laos capital of Vientiane has a reputation of being the most laid back city of Southeast Asia. Yet, despite a relaxed atmosphere there’s plenty to keep you busy over a visit. Here’ s our recommendations of things to do in Vientiane!
Patuxai Victory Monument
This impressive concrete arch was built in 1958 to commemorate the fight of many for independence in Laos from colonial France. This massive archway has a Laotian twist the monument features ornate Hindu carvings and a five pointed roof, important elements of Laos architecture. Located at the centre of Patuxai Park, you can go for an evening stroll and pay a small sum to go to the top of the arch. From there you can take in the charming vista of this sleepy capital city.
Pha That Luang
A short drive or more arduous bicycle ride outside of Vientiane, lies the famous Pha That Luang ot the Great Stupa. This immense stupa is coated in gold and is considered the national symbol of Laos. It’s even printed on their currency and used as a national seal. This important and sacred Buddhist site has been rebuilt several times over history, but its original structure is said to have been during the 3rd century. Once a year in November, locals and travellers from around the world celebrate the That Luang Festival.The most important Buddhist festival in Laos, there are elaborate ceremonies, parades and live music playing to thousands crowded around the Great Stupa.
Just 25 kilometers south of the city, lies one of the most unique structures in southeast Asia. The Buddha Park features over 200 concrete sculptures and artwork created by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, who practice a distinctive faith where he blended elements of Buddhism and Hinduism together. Although the park was built in the late 1950s, it has an eerie and ancient vibe to it. This is mostly due to the overgrow bits of jungle that have gradually engulfed it over time. These sculptures are also interactive, for example, you can climb up a giant pumpkin head or enter into a demon’s mouth to see multiple floors representing earth, heaven and hell.
Vientiane Night Market
After visiting all the sights, monuments and temples, its good to kick back on the riverfront. After enjoying a sunset roll, be sure to check out the bustling night market on the riverbank. With a large variety of goods, tasty Laotian snacks and the breeze off the Mekong, it’s a perfect end to the hectic day. Open from 6pm to 10pm, it’s impossible to miss and a charming change of pace.
Wat Ho Phra Keo
Wat Ho Phra Keo, or the Alter of the Emerald Buddha was built as the royal family’s chapel in the 16th Century. At the time, the Laos royalty had snatched the precious Emerald Buddha from the kingdom of Siam in Northern Thailand. This edifice reflects the sacred value of the statue, as it still maintains that name, although the Emerald Buddha has returned to the Thai Royal Palace. Now a museum, Phra Keo is one of the most architecturally stunning places in Vientiane. The wooden structure is covered in opulent carvings, in wood, stone and lacquer. Now a museum, it demonstrates the uniqueness of religious art of Laotian culture.
Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket stands out from other temples in the area, most notably for it’s Siamese-style architecture. It houses thousands of Buddha images and rows of hundreds of statues among its cloistered walls. Carved from wood, stone, ceramics and bronze the immensity of it’s collection of Buddha reliefs is incredible! The space itself is also breathtaking, with spacious verandas shaded by tropical fruit trees, it’s easy to take a leisurely stroll through its grounds. If you’re up early, visit in the morning to observe local worshipers praying and making offerings.
Phou Khao Khouay
The national protected area of Phou Khao Khouay is located just 40km outside of Vientiane and is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in the country. Spanning over three provinces, this extensive sandstone mountain range has sheer cliffs, gorges, rivers and multiple water reservoirs. As a protected area since 1993, state decrees no development on the land, thus preserving the pristine wilderness. Treks are available here from the capital, if you are inclined for a hike and to head orchid spotting, this is an excellent thing to do in Vientiane.