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What to see in Vientiane, Laos

The capital city of the most heavily bombed country - thats how we'd been introduced to Vientiane. But the sheer volume of history pouring out of the city's monuments soon made us realise how it was so much more than just a colony of the West!

 

The Temple that was once layered completely in real gold!

 

 

History:

For many centuries, Laos was known as one of the richer kingdoms in South East Asia. The strong influence of Indo-Chinese culture brought from the western neighbours established it as a Buddhist kingdom, much like its neighbours Cambodia and Vietnam! Ancient Indian empires like that of the Cholas spread their influence to this region in the past millennia. In the 1560s, Vientiane was chosen as the capital city by the them emperors. Sadly, in the early 1800s, the Siam Kingdom attacked the city, looted the temples, and razed it all into the ground!

 
The greatest damage was done to the That Luang temple (read below), which is said to have been covered with over a thousand pounds of gold leaf! The completely damaged temple was restored only in the 1930s by the French, who had colonised the poor kingdom. Soon after, the Franco-Thai war resulted in even more damage to the city.

Only after the end of World War II, and with the withdrawal of the French in the 1950s, the kingdom declared independence! 

 

 


Vientiane's location: right on banks of the natural border with Thailand, on the mighty Mekong River.

 

 

What to see in Vientiane:

Although the city is modern and houses many skyscrapers, the real essence of the city lies in the temples and the monuments. 

 

  • Pha That Luang:

The "Great Stupa" or That Luang (in Lao) is the most iconic monument in the city. Having been plundered and restored repeatedly up to the 1950s, this temple is said to be one of the grandest in the region and represents the epitome of Buddhist culture in Laos since its construction in the 3rd century! The gold colouring was apparently once made entirely of real gold leaf, but was all taken away in the Siamese invasion in the 1800s. 

 

The Golden Stupa of That Luang

 

With a modest entrance fee of LAK 10,000 (INR 83 or USD 1.2), expect to spend about an hour admiring this beautiful temple whilst walking the lawns, around the square stupa.

 

 

  • Patuxai Victory Monument:

Built as a testament to the victories of the Laotian people in WWII and in the liberation from French control, the Patuxai memorial was modelled on the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, with numerous features of Lao architecture, particularly the tower tops. The interiors were decorated with snippets from Lao culture, some of which is visible even today. The ceiling of the inner dome bears murals of Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Indra.

 

The Victory arch of Laos - Patuxai

 

A rainy afternoon in Vientiane, as seen from the top of Patuxai

 

There is a nominal fee of LAK 6,000 (INR 25 or USD 0.4, cents) to climb to the top of the towers, and its definitely worth a visit to the top, to see Vientiane from a different perspective! Expect to spend an hour in the premises.

 

 

  • Wat Ho Phra Kaew:

The shrine of the Emerald Buddha, was formerly home to the legendary idol. In the plundering of Vientiane by the Thai forces in the 1800s, the emerald idol was stolen and taken away to Bangkok. It was sanctified in the Wat Phra Kaew there, and is even now worshipped by the people there. It's on our Bangkok explorers' list here.

 

 

Today, this temple stands as a museum housing many Buddhist and sacred Lao artefacts, some of which are from the 6th century! A small entrance fee of LAK 10,000 (INR 83 or USD 1.2) is collected from visitors, unless you are the last visitors for the day and just get lucky!

Expect to spend about 45 minutes admiring the artefacts and the gardens.

 

 

What other places to check out in Vientiane:

  • Take a walk along the Mekong in the evenings - there's a wonderful night market and you can buy from a big variety of clothes, food, and electronics at some really incredible prices!
  • Wave to the other side of the Mekong - thats Thailand! Its not everyday, that you get to stand at an international border thats so open!
  • The Buddha Park which is in the south-eastern section of the city is a great place to see how well Hinduism and Buddhism integrate. There are nearly 200 buddha statues and idols, some of which are actually very large. The tallest idol is actually so big, that it is visible across the river from Thailand too! To get there, it is best to take a rental car/tuktuk (bargain) for the 50km roundtrip ride, and spend an hour or two at the park and return. 
  • Explore the city centre on foot/by tuktuk, and even stop by the Presidential Palace.

 

Street views in Laos: the path leading up to the President's home

 

 

Here are a few other pointers to keep in mind while exploring Vientiane:

 

Getting to Vientiane:

  • Vientiane is well connected internationally through its Airport - flights from South East Asia, and from the rest of Asia through Bangkok, Kuala Lampur and Singapore.
  • Bus services from various Thai cities to Vientiane are also available (mostly overnight)
  • If you're planning to come into the city from (or leave to) Vang Vieng/Luang Prabang, there are a number of incredibly cheap minivans and buses that ply on the highway. 
    It takes about 3.5 hours between VV and Vientiane.

 

Getting around in Vientiane:

  • The best way to get around the city is by a Tuktuk!
    Easily hire one for LKP 100,000 (about INR 850 or USD 12) for exploring the abovesaid places.
    The driver usually knows which places are best visited first, and in what order, the others, thereafter.
  • Another cheap option is to rent a bicycle or scooter - Vientiane is a fairly flat land, with no difficulty in actually peddling or riding your way through the city.
    Rentals for a bicycle are very cheap and scooters cost about LAK 80,000 (USD 10 or less)
  • Another easy way is to just use Grab, SEA's Uber!

 

Undeniably, the best way to explore Laos!

 

 

Where to stay in Vientiane:

  • There are innumerable hotels and hostels in Vientiane - and of course, South East Asian room rates are incredibly cheap!
  • We stayed at the Vientiane Luxury Hotel - the room was clean and air-conditioned and the hotel was actually quite nice. 
    It cost only USD 26 or LAK 223,000 (INR 1,800) and we didn't struggle to find a tuktuk outside.
    Another aspect we enjoyed was its proximity to the night market and the river.

 

What to eat in Vientiane:

  • MUST EAT: Baguette sandwiches!
    These are made French style just about everywhere, and are perfect as an on-the-go snack whilst wandering through the streets or the night market!
  • Just like any other modern city, Vientiane is home to many restaurants.
  • Many restaurants are present right on the river bank, on the main street and although western fast food is not easily available, don't hesitate to try the Asian delicacies there.
  • There are a few South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi) restaurants. 

 

 Shopping in Vientiane:

  • This one's easy: just ask anyone for the night market and you can find everything you need and MORE!

 

 

Got more questions on the classy capital of Laos? Write to us!

 

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