Welcome to my travel post covering the best Vientiane things to do. But first, please enjoy this brief introduction to the beautiful capital city of Laos.
Vientiane has been the capital of Laos since 1563. The city has endured many trials and tribulations including 20th century invasions by the Japanese, French and Americans. Although Laos is now under communist control, Vientiane remains steadfast as the capital city.
In modern times, Laos has made economic progress and its population has grown to 760,000. Signs of economic progress include Vientiane attractions such as SE Asian Games in 2009, ASEAN conference in 2016 and also the annual Lao Music Awards.
Best Vientiane Things to Do
Vientiane things to do includes visits to the the city’s monuments commemorating their long Buddhist history. Additionally, there are many reminders of French colonialism and the resulting struggle for independence that occurred here.
Day trips from Vientiane include visits to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and the famous Buddha Park. Additionally, there are many fine places to eat in Vientiane featuring Lao cuisine and coffee.
Patuxai Gate to the City
Vientiane, Laos served as the administrative center for the French colonialists from 1893 until Laos gained independence in 1953. To commemorate the struggle for independence against French occupation, the Patuxai Gate was completed in 1968. Although the gate was never completely finished, it remains as a prominent landmark and monument in Vientiane.
Patuxai Gate is certainly the most prominent French architectural relic on my list. The Patuxai Gate is literally the gateway to the city.
Furthermore, the architectural framework is decorated with Laotian design and the inclusion of mythological creatures.
Patuxai Gate features four gateways each facing one of the four cardinal directions. The four gateways are in the form of arches with sculptures and paintings featured at each entrance.
Although Buddhism has long been the national religion of Laos, many of the Laotian designs at Patuxai Gate are of Hindu origin.
Inside of the archways is where visitors can find some examples of the Laotian art. For example, the kinnari bird is a mythical half bird, half human creature that comes from the Himalayas to offer protection in times of danger.
However, this mythical creature is of Hindu origin, not Buddhism. The kinnari is a combination of the tail and feet of a swan with the upper torso of a human woman. Additionally, they live in a state of constant pleasure by perpetually dancing, singing and reciting poetry.
Best Lao Coffee in Vientiane
In Vientiane Laos it is possible to get the best local coffee in the world. Additionally, it doesn’t really matter which cafe you visit because they all stock local Lao coffee.
Fortunately, there are many snug little cafes near the Patuxai Gate. Since Patuxai Gate is already located in the Vientiane city center, simply walk along Lane Xang Avenue into the city and you will find many cafes serving their local specialty.
The local Lao coffee is so good that I began to purchase the roasted coffee beans in bulk. Additionally, I bought a French press and coffee grinder which I traveled with for many months.
Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is a Buddhist temple that was built on the remains of a Khmer Hindu shrine in 1563. Additionally, the remains of the Khmer shrine can still be viewed behind the ordination hall. It is possible for visitors to enter the Buddhist shrine at the location of Wat Si Muang.
Although tourists are welcome here, taking photos inside the shrine is not recommended. This because it is an important religious site and it is considered poor travel etiquette.
Visit the Mekong River Attractions
The iconic Mekong River flows through Vientiane. Viewing the Mekong River combined with the Xieng Khuan Buddha Park are good day trips from Vientiane. Additionally, you can visit the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and have lunch riverside. The bridge is easily seen in route to the Buddha park.
However, there is also a Mekong River promenade located near the city center. Additionally, it is the location of a good night market and also good places to eat. The riverside night market is also a good option to escape the hot and humid Vientiane, Laos weather.
Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang is a gold plated Buddhist stupa that is built on the location of a 3rd century Hindu Temple. This Vientiane attraction is renown for receiving Buddhist missionaries who were believed to be carrying the breastbone of the Buddha.
This ancient Buddhist relic is believed to be stored on the premises. Additionally, there are other monuments commemorating the Buddha on the site of Pha That Luang.
The gold plating of Pha That Luang seems new due to the fact that the stupa has been renovated several times since the 1930’s. Additionally, the stupa itself consists of 3 levels and each is supposed to represent parts of the Buddhist doctrine.
From the ground to the pinnacle, the stupa is approximately 44 meters high. Pha That Luang is considered to be a symbol of Lao nationalism and it is a most popular Vientiane points of interest.
Visit the Local Wet Markets
Local wet markets can be found along Lane Xang Avenue in Vientiane city center. Although they are open all day, the best time to visit the markets is in the evening. The local markets were basically our favorite places to eat in Vientiane.
There is an abundance of local fruit available such as bananas, pomelo, mangosteen and dragon fruit. However, there is also tangerines, apples and other conventional things to eat.
Take a Tuktuk Ride in Vientiane
The tuktuk is a unique form of transport throughout SE Asia. Tuktuk rides are readily available within the Vientiane city center. As a result, they provide quick and inexpensive transport to local attractions.
Unfortunately, this most novel of Vientiane things to do may be facing extinction because of Uber and other online ride hailing options. Therefore, visitors should enjoy it while it is still available.
We opted for renting a motorbike from our Vientiane hotels because it was more practical for day trips outside Vientiane. However, a tuktuk ride is worth the price of a ticket.
Vientiane Music Awards
Beginning in 2008, the Laos music awards were held annually in the capital city. Therefore, if you are in town be sure to check it out. The music is a cross between pop music and traditional music and it is a good Lao cultural immersion for visitors.
Best Vientiane Laos Hotels & Restaurants
The local hotels feature an abundance of options for all levels of traveler. There are French style boutiques, condos and also cheap hostels that would impress the most discerning Australian.
We opted for a Kamphengmeuang Road condo unit located in the Vientiane city suburbs. As a result of the ideal location, we had easy access to both the Vientiane city center and day trips outside the city.
Additionally, the staff at our Vientiane hotels was friendly and very helpful with practical matters such as motorbike rentals. They are highly recommended, plus there is a nice swimming pool and excellent hotel restaurant.
My favorite Lao food was lapp chicken and the best place to get the real thing is out in the countryside. Many of the restaurants in rural Lao villages have small gardens right out back and you can see the chef picking the fresh herbs and spices firsthand.
Enjoy the Best of Laos
The capital city of Laos is a great place to spend a few days. It was our initial entry point into Laos and we would spend 2 months in the country traveling from north to south.
Last but not least be sure, be sure to take advantage of the best day trips from Vientiane. There are so many really cool Vientiane things to do and I did my best to provide some comprehensive information. Enjoy the best of Vientiane and don’t forget to explore the rest of the country!