Vientiane – the capital of Laos – is a peaceful city located on the Mekong River. With the total area of 3,920 square kilometers and the population of 610,000 people, Vientiane is quite small as compared to Thailand or Hanoi. Vientiane is old – aged city which has more than 400 years of constructing and developing since 16th century.
- Location: on the Mekong river near the border with Thailand, the largest city of Laos
- Status: Laos’ Capital
- Name meaning: the city of sandalwood
- Population: 730,000 people (2005)
- Area: 3,920 kilometers
- Highlights: Combination of traditional and modern architecture; beautiful temples and pagodas
- Lao-Thai friendship bridge
Vientiane is the perfect combination of traditional and modern architecture. In Vientiane, ancient constructions and traditional temples and pagodas harmoniously co-exist with new and modern-constructed buildings. Vientiane is famous for its imbued religious architectural space with various Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monuments such as Buddha Park (Wat Xieng Khuan) contains over 200 unique and diverse Hindu and Buddhist statues, Wat Si Muang – a temple was built on the ruins of a Khmer Hindu shrine, the remains of which can be seen behind the ordination hall and Wat Sisaket – a nearly 200-year-old temple on Lan Xang Road which normally held Emerald Buddha, etc.
Being there, tourists will be immersed in the peaceful and close space and let the burden and worries swept away. However, a cosmopolitan Vientiane with many galleries, boutiques, theaters and night clubs makes it not silent and sleepy. As one said, Vientiane has beauty of three women at three different age. Vientiane has beauty of a reserved and discreet young lady, a worried and careful of married woman and a humble and resigned of old age woman. The mixture makes a Vientiane very typical and very special which will leave unforgettable imprints in tourists’ mind.
In this devout Buddhist nation, people are incredibly humble and modest. On sunny day, despite the crowded street, people hardly use horn or wriggle which leave nice impression on tourists. Overall, coming to Vientiane like a journey to take back the calm and balance to your soul. Watching amazingly beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas, feeling the religious space and meeting friendly and modest people will absolutely make tourists pleased and comfortable.
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Vientiane is the capital city of Laos but many visitors here say that is feels more like a small village than a bustling central hub. Vientiane has a relaxed and serene vibe to it and you will find a number of attractions here that make it the perfect place to spend a few days before you head off to other places around the country.
Laos used to be a former French colony and with that in mind you can check out a number of French themed buildings and attractions that seem slightly at odds with the otherwise leafy and exotic surroundings that make up this capital city.
As Vientiane is also on the river, you can stroll along the riverfront promenade and enjoy local markets as well as sample delicious street food snacks.
There are also a clutch of interesting ancient buildings here such as Buddhist temples and you can get outside the city in no time to explore the little villages dotted around the encircling countryside.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Vientiane:
1.Scale the Patuxai Victory Monument
Patuxai Victory Monument is one of the best known landmarks in Vientiane and was designed to resemble the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
It is however also carved with symbols of Hindu Gods and has an additional five towers which resemble traditional Laotian buildings making this something of an East meets West kind of attraction.
The monument is part of the wider Patuxai Park and this is a great place to come if you want to go for a serene walk at sunset.
You can also take in the views across Vientiane from the top of the Patuxai Victory Monument either by climbing a set of stairs to the viewing platform or using an elevator.
2.Visit Xieng Khuan
Xieng Khuan is also known as Buddha Park and is some 25 kilometers outside Vientiane.
As you would guess from the name, is known for having more than 200 religious statues which are scattered all over the lush grounds.
The piece de resistance here is a sculpture of a reclining Buddha which is some 40 meters high and the park was the brainchild of a monk who designed the area in 1958 and who was interested in both Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, which is why you will find a mix of different influences here.
As you walk around make sure to look out for the sculpture of Indra who is atop a three headed elephant and who is considered to be the king of the gods in Hinduism.
Other highlights include famous gods on horseback as well as deities with multiple faces and arms.
3.Admire That Luang
That Luang is also called the Vientiane Great Stupa and has the claim to fame of being the most sacred building in all of Laos as well as one of the most picturesque.
The stupa dates from the 16th century and is a large complex that features the central stupa covered in gold leaf which soars to a height of 148 feet.
This is then surrounded by pretty turrets in the typical Laotian style and the whole complex is around four kilometers outside of the center of Vientiane so it makes a great place to visit as part of a day trip.
4.Eat at Vientiane Night Market
Vientiane Night Market is located along the scenic waterfront in the city.
The market usually gets going around sunset and you can come here to buy a range of items like clothes, textiles, accessories, handicrafts, paintings and myriad souvenirs.
In addition to the actual market stalls you will also find a wide range of street food stalls here where you can snack on some traditional Laotian snacks like barbecued meats, making this one of the cheapest places in Vientiane to dine in the evenings.
5.Admire Wat Ho Phra Keo
Wat Ho Phra Keo is a Buddhist temple in Vientiane which was built in 1565 and is also one of the most spectacular buildings in the city.
It is famous as it used to be the location of the famous Emerald Buddha statues which was stolen by Laotian royalty from Thailand before being retaken in 1778 and returned.
You can still see the statue in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and the temple in Laos is still known as the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ in reference to the story of the carving.
Even without the sculpture, this is also a very pretty temple in its own right, so it is well worth a visit.
6.Learn some history at the Lao National Museum
If you want to know more about the history and culture of Laos, then you need to head to the Lao National Museum, also sometimes referred to simply as The National Museum.
The museum is actually housed inside a building that was constructed during the French colonial period and you will find a huge number of interesting exhibits on sale here.
These include local artifacts like paintings, sculptures and jewelry, and you will also find galleries dedicated to period photographs.
There are even galleries that date from the prehistoric period that showcase dinosaur bones and ancient pottery fragments.
7.Explore Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is one of the most popular temples in Vientiane and is a great place to visit if you want to see some of the finest Laotian Buddhist design work in the country.
The temple takes it name from Si Muang who, local legend has it, was a young Laotian woman who sacrificed herself to please the local gods and allow for the building to be erected some 400 years ago.
The design features of the temple are truly stunning and you will also be able to watch long streams of pilgrims here worshipping at the temple.
8.Visit the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise
The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise is also known as COPE and is a charity in Vientiane that aims to treat and rehabilitate locals who have been the victims of unexploded landmines left over from the Vietnam War.
There are a number of centers across Laos but you can visit the one in Vientiane which has educational galleries to teach you more about the overall mission of COPE and videos of the work that they do in rural areas of the country.
You can also visit the prosthetic making workshops here to learn how artificial limbs are made.
9.Admire Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket has the claim to fame of being the only surviving temple in Laos from before the invasion of Siam in 1828. Unfortunately much of the city was razed to the ground at this time, but the temple managed to avoid being demolished and you can come here to check out the 5,000 sculptures of the Buddha for which it is also famous.
Other design points to look out for also include the yellow pillars that hold up the roof of the temple which is itself painted a vibrant shade of red.
10.Tour the Kaysone Phomvihane Museum
The Kaysone Phomvihane Museum was opened to commemorate the 75th birthday of the president of Laos and is also a monument to one of the most famous communist leaders in Indochina.
The museum is made up a number of galleries that tell the story of Kaysone, who in real life was actually rather private about his day to day affairs.
Both inside and outside the museum you will see a number of statues of Kaysone made of bronze and you can also check out a range of his personal memorabilia.
There is even a model of his home as a child and a model of the cave he hid inside in Hua Phan Province.
11.Go for a massage
Laos is known for its local massage technique which uses herbal sauna and steam rooms.
Local plants and herbs are boiled in a traditional Laotian bathhouse in a sealed room to create a steamy environment and this is then followed by a relaxing massage.
One of the most famous spots to try this is in Vientiane is at Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage which is located in a typical neighborhood of the city and is housed in a traditional building to give you an authentic glimpse of this ancient herbal massage technique.
12.Explore the Lao Textile Museum
This small museum used to be privately owned by a local family who also own the Kanchana Boutique.
Nowadays however it has morphed to become one of the key cultural sights in Vientiane and is located around a gorgeous little Laotian compound.
Here you will find a typical wooden house which is filled with ancient weaving tools and looms, and there are also antique textiles here that represent the various ethnic groups in Laos.
If you want to get hands on then you can also take a textile painting class.
13.Go on a cycling tour
Bicycle touring around Vientiane has become increasingly popular in recent years and you can now sign up for a tour with several companies like Vientiane ByCycle.
You can usually opt for half day or full day tours and a local tour guide will take you around the city to out of the way spots such as villages, temples and markets.
You can also cycle along the banks of the scenic Mekong River and this is a great way to check out the city and also get a workout in at the same time.
14.Visit the Kaysone Phomivan Memorial
The Kaysone Phomivan Memorial is different from the Kaysone Phomivan Memorial and is a located in the house of the former president of Laos who died in 1992. The home has been left much as it was when he died, and you can take a guided tour which will take you through the various rooms so that you can learn more about this famous figure in Laotian politics.
Although it is less grand than many people imagine, a tour of the home is actually one of the most authentic ways to learn more about the history of Laos.
15.Explore the National Ethnic Cultural Park
The National Ethnic Cultural Park is on the outskirts of Vientiane and is known for having models of traditional houses that represent all the different ethnic groups in Laos.
You can tour the different houses at the park as well as check out some statues of dinosaurs and visit the small zoo here.
There are also cultural shows held here on occasion and most people visit here on the way to or from Buddha Park, so you can make a day of it and combine the two attractions at the same time if you are in the area.
1.How to See Vientiane in One Day
If you have just one day in Vientiane, then you’ll want to first head out to the Buddha Park. This seriously quirky park is about 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) from Vientiane – and you can access it on a public bus. You’ll spend most likely an hour tops there and then head back into the city.
Next head to COPE – its an incredible experience and will give you a fabulous understanding of the impact that the unexploded ordnance from the Vietnam War had and continues to have on the countryside.
You’ll want to go to Phra That Luang after your visit to COPE and find a little peace. This is Laos’ most important symbol and you’ll be seeing it everywhere.
End your day at the top of Patuxai to catch a sunset. The Victory Gates monument has some of the best views of Vientiane, especially at sunset. Once you’ve got your important sunset photos head towards the night market, where you can pick up some great Laos food and a cold BeerLao or two before heading you’re your bus and your trip onwards… (book onward transport from Vientiane here)
2.What To Do In 2 days in Vientiane
You can fit a whole lot into a 2-day itinerary in Vientiane. Choose to slow down the pace of our recommend 1 day Vientiane itinerary or try this.
Day 1 in Vientiane
Go to the Buddha Park for when it opens at 0900.
On the way back – remember you’re taking the public bus number 14, which goes every 40 minutes or so so it’s cheap and convenient, stop off at the BeerLao brewery for a tour and a taste.
Arrive back into Vientiane early afternoon and head to the COPE centre to learn about the after-effects of the Vietnam War.
Still got energy? Save it for tomorrow and treat yourself to a cold BeerLao or two at the night market.
Day 2 in Vientiane
Start the day by visiting Phra That Luang – Lao’s most important religious symbol. You’ll want to get here early, as the light is much better for photos then. The stupa opens at 0800.
After Phra That Luang, you’ll head to a local Lao cooking class. Lao cuisine is fantastic. All the flavours of fresh fruit and vegetable with the heat of spice that suits your palate. Not only will you cook up a storm, but you’ll get to eat it as well!
End your day at the top of Patuxai, where you hopefully get to see a stunning sunset over the city of Vientiane.
However long you decide to spend in Vientiane you’ll find something to do with your time. The food is good here, life is laid back and the city is friendly. Explore a little and see something of Laos’s capital city during your visit to the country.
There are two main types of pork sausage you can try in Vientiane and they both go well with beer. These sausages are similar to the kind you would find in central Thailand. Sui oua is fatty pork mixed with spices such as galangal and kaffir lime leaf.
Sai Krok is the better of the two and it’s worth trying if you like bizarre foods. Sai Krok differs in that this sausage is fermented for a few days, which gives it a sweet and tangy taste. Both sausages go well with Beer Lao. Simply head to a street food vendor and eat it right on the street, or, you can take your food to a beer garden and enjoy it with some alcohol.
Sticky rice is a side dish that must accompany almost every dish in Laos, but it’s so good that you could eat it all on its own. This fluffy, moist, glutinous rice is meant to be eaten with your hands. You can even try sticky rice that’s been flavoured with coconut. Khao niao, as it’s known in Laos, can also be toasted and used in dishes like Larb. It’s so good that you will want to eat it with every meal.
3.Crickets, grasshoppers and other insects
In poorer areas of Southeast Asia, insects are a common food staple. In Vientiane, you can try a number of insects that are caught fresh and quickly fried with kaffir lime leaf. They taste much better than what you get in touristy spots in Bangkok, like the Khao San Road. These are a nice, crunchy snack to eat while drinking beer and watching the sunset on the Mekong River. Don’t be squeamish, give them a try.
There are plenty of delicious fish to be caught in the Mekong River and one of the most popular is catfish. These fish taste very good grilled and they have a strong, earthy flavour. You can get one of these fish grilled on a skewer on just about every corner. Empty lots in town are filled with makeshift markets, where locals grill these fish on an open flame. It’s a filling meal that will cost you practically nothing.
You might know this dish by its Filipino name of balut, but fetal duck or chicken egg is actually eaten in pretty much all of Southeast Asia. In Laos, it’s called Khai Look, and it’s served with some salt and mint. This fetal egg contains a nearly-developed embryo inside. You simply have to crack open the shell, slurp up the juices and dip it in some salt or sauce. The taste has a very strong poultry flavour.
If Vietnam has pho and Japan has ramen, then Laos has khao piak. This rice noodle soup is typically made with a chicken broth and you can have many added ingredients as toppings, such as crispy pork, cubed pork blood and, of course, chopped green onion. It’s a refreshing way to start your day when you are travelling through Laos. Khao piak or rice porridge, are typical breakfasts in Laos.
Larb is a salad that is popular in both Laos and Thailand. But, if you are a vegetarian, then this is definitely not the salad for you. This is a meat salad that is made with toasted sticky rice, mint, fish sauce, shallots, lime and Thai chillies. Sometimes, it also contains blood or a very strong fermented fish sauce called padaek. In Vientiane, you can try larb made with a number of different meats, such as pork or duck.
The Mekong River is filled with many delicious creatures and they aren’t all fish. Frogs are also a very popular food that is caught in this life-giving river. Mekong frogs are grilled on a skewer whole and when you take a bite, you really get a strong, earthy flavour. This grilled snack requires at least a few beers to wash down its strong taste, but if you are a more adventurous eater, you should definitely give this one a try. You can get it from just about any street food vendor in Vientiane.
If you are a fan of beef jerky, then you really need to try the Laotian version. Seen savanh are marinated strips of beef that have been left to dry in the sun. This jerky is covered in sesame seeds and has a very sweet flavour. This is another great snack for meat lovers to enjoy while sipping on a Beer Lao.
Vientiane is best-known as a tropical climate with two signature Southeast Asian seasons: dry and wet. The temperature experiences around 24°C and 37°C. Before planning a Vientiane trip, you should notice the rainy season beginning from May until the end of October.
Vientiane weather becomes better during the months of November to February; the fewer rainfall downs, the cooler climate is. Not better than this time to take Vientiane vacation. Otherwise, you maybe not stand the burning condition from March. Here the details in each period you can take reference for your upcoming trip
1.March-May: Sweltering but don’t miss Laos Tet
The temperature in this duration reaches 37°C, and the humidity also can’t help the weather more easy-breathing cause precipitation is limited on 3 – 12 days per month. Luckily, Laos Tet, however, festively cool down all.
This traditional Tet called Bunpimay, like as “Songkran” in Thailand is celebrated in the middle of April. During the celebrating time, people wish for full of luck and health in the new year by watering each other. Laotians believe water will wash away all sins and bring back the freshness for them to start everything all over.
2.June-August: The second peak tourism
Rainfall rises as double as the last one, approximately up to 18 days a month, added to integrate with the high temperature around 32°C, the tourists gradually feel comfortable with the climate, the second busiest tourism is coming and the hospitality service is costly a little bit.
This is the time of heat and splashes. The best and most popular activities are conducted outdoors. You should take part in some kayaking and city exploring sections, and enjoy the dry days before showers come.
3.September-November: Does the weather prevent your journey?
The weather is assumed not to follow the tourist’s heart. The wet season doesn’t want to leave Vientiane until the beginning of November. This period is just ideal for those ready traveling in affordable condition.
On the bright side, rains bring more deals of accommodations thus ideally making the season preferable by budget backpackers.
4.December-February: The most comfortable season for everything
So, superb is the weather now in Vientiane just around 27°C – 33°C. Besides, it just rains once a month or not. Be eager to head to this serene capital this time to experience how fabulous the city awards you. Welcome to Vientiane in blooming tourist season.
Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was once a French trading post, and much of the city’s historical center has kept its colorful original colonial architecture intact.
Nowadays, the capital is a hub for café culture, cheap spas, golden temples, and diverse riverside markets. There’s a busy nightlife scene and some good day trips beyond the city limits, including Buddha Park with its more than 200 giant Buddha statues.
If you’re backpacking, Vientiane is a likely stop between Vietnam and Thailand. Stroll the wide boulevards, take in the crumbling mansions, and chill out in Chao Anouvong Park. The surprising number of French bakeries is reminiscent of a bygone era when French colonists rebuilt the city after the Thai army destroyed it in the 1820s.Overall, Vientiane is worth a day or two.