From French colonial architecture to monks in orange robes surpassing tourists, and dusty streets decorated with elegant frangipanis, the capital of Laos is a vibrant town to visit. There are plenty of things to do in Vientiane, so read along to pack your itinerary accordingly.
Interesting Things to do in Vientiane
For several decades, Laos was a sleepy country, but as it gradually opened up to foreign investment and tourism, the country has undergone extensive changes. Bordering with Thailand and located in a curve of Mekong River, it’s easy to add Vientiane to your Southeast Asian itinerary.
And even though Laos is developing rapidly, it remains untouched by massive infrastructural and commercial projects. Therefore, now is the best time to wander through the city’s intact charms.
Explore the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)
Featuring more than 200 Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, Buddha Park is one of the first things to do in Vientiane. Situated 25 kilometers from the capital, you can easily reach it via public transport or tuk-tuk.
Constructed in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, the park is a quite bizarre place to explore. The sculptures are of different shape and height, including a 40-meter high reclining Buddha.
The central sculpture of the park is a pumpkin-shaped formation that combines three floors and symbolizes hell, earth, and heaven. The entrance resembles a demon’s mouth, while stone steps inside guide to a bird’s eye view of the park.
Each sculpture is tremendous in its way, not only because of the size but also because of fascinating motifs and details crafted on them. Note that a similar park with more grandiose statues exists across the Mekong River, on the side of Thailand.
Visit the symbol of Laos
That Luang, a huge Buddhist stupa covered in gold, is the national symbol of the country. Nestled in the center of Vientiane, the original stupa was built in the 3rd century to house the breastbone of the Lord Buddha. However, King Setthathirat built the present stupa in the 16th century, whose statue adorns the entrance of the site.
Enjoy the views from the Arc de Triomphe
Patuxai Victory Monument or the replica of Paris’s famous Arc de Triomphe is the remnant of the French colonial era. The monument is dedicated to those who were killed during the independence fight with France, along with the nation’s previous invaders – Japan and Siam (Thailand).
Located at the end of the main avenue, it’s hard to miss. One of the main things to do in Vientiane is to climb to the top and enjoy panoramic views of old-fashioned districts, greenery all the way to Thailand, and temples to name a few.
Marvel at the Presidential Palace
One of the impressive things to do in Vientiane is to visit the Presidential Palace located on the banks of the Mekong River. It is the official headquarters of the country’s President. The construction of the building started in 1973 on the grounds of the former royal residence. Due to the political change that brought the communist party in power in 1975, the building was completed much later.
Unfortunately, it’s closed to the public, but you can marvel at its impressive yet elegant Beaux-Arts architecture with balconies and tall colonnades.
Lao Textile Museum
If you are into textiles or interested in how they are made, head to the Lao Textile Museum. The country is known for its silk woven products in the region. The technique used in Lao silk weaving is one of the most complex ones that exist, considered as a masterpiece of its kind. Come here to learn more about the field, explore the exhibits, and see weaving in action.
Shop at Vientiane night market
The boulevard along the Mekong River hosts open-air night markets every evening from 5 pm. Even if you are not looking for souvenirs, wandering through the stalls is one of the popular things to do in Vientiane among locals and foreigners. It’s also a great way to have a glimpse of a local lifestyle, enjoy an evening breeze or watch a beautiful sunset.
Learn the history of Laos
Lao National Museum is a perfect spot to learn the traditions and history of the country. Housed in an old French colonial building and a former mansion of a French Governor, the museum showcases a bit discolored exhibits in a somewhat unorganized way. Nevertheless, it presents some captivating evidence from pre-historic items to modern history.
The second floor exhibits the country’s unstable recent history beginning from Siamese raids, continuing with the French colonial period and ending with the American military existence during the Vietnam War.
Visit the various temples
Vientiane has lots of temples scattered across the city: Wat Si Saket, Wat Ho Phra Keo (Haw Phra Kaew), Wat Ong Tue Mahawihan, and Wat Si Muang, should be on your radar. Sadly, none of them are very old due to the repeated invasions of neighboring countries. Nevertheless, they are impressive with ornate decorations that make Southeast Asian temples quite fascinating. In some cases, you can even see the ruins of the old religious sites next to the new ones.
Support the victims of unexploded weapons
Not that many people know, but during the American-Vietnam War, Laos was deadly affected as well. Over 270 million bombs were discharged on the territory of Laos while 80% of them never exploded. Therefore, these bombs still remain a threat to both locals and animals.
Visiting a local non-profit organization, Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), should definitely make on the list of things to do in Vientiane. The organization offers rehabilitation and clinical treatment to those who became a victim of the bomb explosion.
Even though the visitor center is free to visit, I would encourage you to make a donation or buy a souvenir to support this cause. The organization’s visitor center is an impressive museum and free to visit.
Enjoy a traditional herbal spa
Vientiane, much like its neighbor Thailand, is full of massage and spas parlors. However, for a different and memorable experience go to Wat Sok Pa Luang, 3km away from the center, to try the traditional herbal spa. Note that the facilities here are very basic, so don’t expect a luxurious spa experience. This is the place to get a very authentic spa treatment and experience local hospitality in the middle of nature.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Laos travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Laos, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up!
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here
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