Vientiane, the fabulous capital city of Laos, is often described as the largest village in Southeast Asia. It’s home to just over 500,000 people and is the center of the nation’s commerce, administration and culture. It sits beside the famous and picturesque Mekong River, and is filled with a lot of magnificent contrast. In the city and surrounding area, you’ll come across vegetable and rice fields, French-style architecture, and Buddhist monuments and monasteries.
The French rebuilt the city after it was virtually left in ruins by the Siamese army back in 1828 and the main boulevard reminds visitors of Paris’ Champ Elysees. It’s quite easy to explore Vientiane, as it’s relatively small for a capital city. Many of the popular sites can easily be reached by foot and you have the option of renting a bike known as song-teow.
There are numerous restaurants along the Mekong. The food is excellent and inexpensive and there are few options such as Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, French, and local cuisine to choose from. There are also plenty of hotels and the nightlife is pleasant and leisurely and Laos is known for its relaxing and laid back pace of life.
Most of the city’s attractions are located close to each other, making them easy to visit. These are some of the most popular ones to spend time at while in Vientiane.
1. The Lao National Museum
The Lao National Museum is an ideal way to learn the history of the nation and about its people and culture. It’s located in an old French colonial building and covers a lot of history starting from prehistoric times all the way up to the present.
2. The Patuxai Victory Monument
This traditionally designed monument has 5 ornate towers and is a significant part of the city’s skyline. It’s located in Patuxai Park, and was built in honor of the citizens who lost their lives while fighting for independence from the French and the country’s earlier occupiers, such as the Japanese and Siamese.
3. Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a small town outside of the capital which offers some heavenly sights. The town is surrounded by beautiful rivers, mountains, limestone cliffs, and rice fields. The picturesque town also has several interesting sites to visit.
4. Wat Ho Phra Keo
There are several magnificent temples to visit in Vientiane, with Wat Ho Phra Keo being one of the most impressive. The Wat was built originally back in the middle of the 16th century as a personal chapel for the Laos’ Royal Family. It was also the home of the Emerald Buddha which was taken from Siam.
5. Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is known as one of the most popular temples of worship in Vientiane. It allows visitors to see how ancient animist beliefs have easily blended with Theravada Buddhism. The temple was erected back in 1563 and legend has it that when it was under construction a young pregnant woman known as Si Muang offered herself as a sacrifice to please angry spirits.
6. Wat Sisaket
This temple is famous for the cloister wall which features thousands of small images of Buddha on it along with rows of hundreds of seated Buddhas. The images can be traced back as far as the 16th century. You’ll find them in a wide variety of sizes and they’re built out of different materials such as bronze, wood, and stone. In total, there are close to 7,000 Buddha images at the temple.