The first stop on our 10 day travels through Laos was the charming capital Vientiane. The city has a laid-back atmosphere and feels more like a relaxed town, than a capital in Asia. However, the city makes up for its size with plenty of attractions which are all easily doable in 2 days. To many tourists, Vientiane serves as a point of departure to other cities and adventures, such as Vang Vieng’s Nam Xay Point and Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang. But if you have at least a day in the city, these are the best things to do in Vientiane.
1. Patuxai Victory Monument
Patuxai, literally translated into Victory Gate, is a gate in central Vientiane dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. The gate was built using American funds, which were actually meant to go towards a new airport.
The Patuxai Victory Arch has five towers that represent the five principles of coexistence among nations of the world. For a small fee of 10,000 KIP you are also able to go inside and all the way to the top of the main tower. The view of Vientiane from up there is stunning and if you forgot to buy souvenirs, you’ll also be able to shop for them inside it. My favorite part here was the big fountain and the sculpture of elephants made from ceramics. Never seen anything like it!
2. Pha That Luang
That Luang is a gold-covered stupa, built in 1566. The special thing about it is that this stupa is not just gold in color, but in actual gold – 500 kilos of gold leaf to be exact. So while it might be a slight conflict of interest here (poverty in Laos/gold stupa), it is a great statue to marvel at. The entrance fee to That Luang is 5,000 kip and sarong rental is included in this price. If you don’t wish to rent a sarong, then just make sure to cover your shoulders and knees before you go in.
3. Buddha Park – Xieng Khuan
Buddha Park is a sculpture garden housing over 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures and is located about 40 minutes from Vientiane. Getting to Buddha Park is one of Vientiane’s biggest tourist scams and be prepared for the tuk-tuk driver’s crazy prices. We were quotes 300,000 kip several times until we finally managed to bargain down to 120,000 kip. Quite fast we learned why that was – his tuk-tuk was slower than the cyclists and he told us it would take us 2 hours one way to get there! We quickly hopped off and decided to take the bus instead.
We should have taken the bus to start with. It costs a mere 8,000 kip one way and took us all the way to the entrance of Buddha Park.
The entrance fee to Buddha park is 5,000 kip and the camera fee is 3,000 kip. In Buddha park, you’ll find not only statues of Buddha, but also of Hindu gods, deities, demons, and animals from both beliefs. The park may look older than it is and was actually built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bounleua Sulilat. The park houses about 200 sculptures, but my favorite was the big one at the start. It had several floors inside and even more eerie looking statues inside.
4. COPE Visitor Center
There is so much to learn about the US-Vietnam War, and despite us visiting the War Remnants Museum, we had no idea how this war affected and still is, Laos.
The mission of COPE is to help people with mobility-related disabilities move on by supporting access to physical rehabilitation services. The visitor centre is very informative and provides with a lot of knowledge about the unexploded ordnance still left in Laos since the Vietnam War. The history is grim and the people of Laos are still paying for it to this day.
The entrance fee to COPE is free. However, after you finish looking around, you are can choose if you want to make a donation.
5. Vientiane Night Market
Situated next to Mekong River, the night market in Vientiane was really big and had everything from food and clothes to accessories and tech gadgets. In a way, your typical night market, but with much lower prices. What I particularly liked about this market was that no one was yelling for me to come to buy their things. The sellers are almost not interested in buyers, which makes browsing a rather pleasant experience. Get dinner on the go here and buy a local dish, or for the less daring (such as me), you can just get a baguette kebab.
6. Open Air Aerobics
On our first evening in Vientiane, we decided to take a stroll by the Mekong River. It was nearly sunset and there were about a dozen people dancing to 80s classic tunes and stretching their limbs. The first time we saw open-air aerobics was in Hanoi, Vietnam and then again in Bohol in the Philippines. It’s a thing in SE Asia and everyone seems to have a lot of fun doing it. So if you skipped a few gym days on your travels, head down to the river on Sithane Road and join the party!
7. Watch a sunset over Mekong River
If you make your way towards the night market and want to skip the aerobics, then sit down on the stairs by the river banks and watch the sun go down behind Mekong River. Plenty of locals love doing exactly the same, so you’ll be in good company.
8. Chao Anouvong Park and Statue
On our way from the hotel towards the night market, we took a walk through Chao Anouvong Park and had a look at the statue built there in 2010 to honour the memory of the King Chao Anouvong. The statue is facing towards Thailand (which you can see from the park) and is offering his hand in greeting to Thai people. The park is located next to the banks of the Mekong river and right in the centre of the city and is a great place to stroll through to escape the busy streets.
9. Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket is the only temple in Laos that survived the Siamese occupation, which destroyed much of the capital in 1828. It is the oldest temple in Vientiane that retains its original appearance to Sisaket. It features over 10,000 Buddha sculptures of varying sizes and styles. This is also one of the most popular temples in Vientiane.
Wat Si Saket entrance fee: 10,000 kip per person.
10. Wat Si Muang
The temple’s name comes from a young woman, Si Muang, who sacrificed herself over 400 years ago to appease angry spirits.
Yet, regardless of its history, it was my favorite temple in Vientiane and it was bustling with community life. We saw many locals praying and monks posing for photos. Wat Si Muang is very photogenic and I would say this is a must-visit temple in Vientiane. The temple is also deemed the temple of luck and the entrance to Wat Si Muang if free.
11. Haw Phra Kaew
The Haw Phra Kaew or Ho Phra Keo is a Buddhist shrine dating back to 1565 to house the Emerald Buddha. Haw Phra Kaew is now used as a museum. Here, some of the best examples of Laos religious art is displayed, as well as a small shop. A number of Buddhas are placed on the terrace and 6th-century stone sculptures at the main ordination hall.
Haw Phra Kaew entrance fee is 5,000 kip per person.
Where to stay in Vientiane
Vientiane might be the capital of Laos, but with only around 200,000 inhabitants it’s far from your usual Asian hustle and bustle. So when you decide where to book, keep in mind that the city is very walkable. The only time you’ll really need transport is when you visit the Buddha Park.
We stayed at Bloom Boutique Hotel & Cafe and couldn’t recommend it more. The location was perfect, the rooms modern and the breakfast was delicious. Our room was the Superior Double Room.
Where to eat in Vientiane
Vientiane food scene might not be so broad just yet, but there are a few gems in town that you should check out during your visit.
- Bloom Cafe – situated just below the Bloom Boutique hotel and open to public Great atmosphere, with a great variety of breakfasts.
- Coco & Co – just around the corner from the first place. We came here for lunch and thought the curry with red rice was to die for! The place is also vegetarian, so you’ll have plenty of amazing, flavorful choices.
- Khop Chai Deu – happy hour for cocktails and great Indian – had butter chicken twice here!
- Night market – get a baguette kebab from the lady on the motorbike, so good and insanely cheap.