Cool Things To Do In Vientiane, Laos

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 spiral stairway
Spiral stairway inside of Patuxai Gate.

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 Vientiane Things to do
Photo of the Patuxai Gate celebrating Laotian independence from French rule.

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.

kinnari Birds at Patuxai gate
Kinnari Bird

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.

Kinnari Birds Patuxai Gate
Kinnari Bird

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. 

Mythical Painting at Patuxai Gate
Viewed on the ceiling in the interior of Patuxai Gate, see the Hindu Trinity from left Vishnu, Brahma and Indra.
Patuxai gate view of Vientiane
View over Vientiane city from the top of Patuxai Gate.

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.

Lao Coffee shop in Vientiane things to do
That is me enjoying my second cup of Lao coffee at a cafe on Lane Xang Avenue.

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.

Wat Si Muang Vientiane Things to do
Famous stupa located at Wat Si Muang.
wat si muang, King Mucalinda statue Vientiane Laos
King Mucalinda protects the Buddha during meditation. This sculpture of the Naga king is most popular throughout Laos.
Wat Si Muang Buddhas
Collection of Buddha statues seen at Wat Si Muang.

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.

Thai Lao Friendship Bridge Day Trips from Vientiane Things to do
Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge Day Trips from Vientiane

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.

Vientiane Things to do promenade on the Mekong River
Visit the promenade on the banks of the Mekong River and don’t miss the night market in the evening.
Mekong Riverside Lunch Day Trips from Vientiane
Enjoy lunch on the Mekong River during day trips from Vientiane.

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.

Pha That Luang Vientiane Things to do
Sculptures of Naga Deities at 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.

Pha That Luang Vientiane Things to Do
Photo of the Pha That Luang gold plated stupa.
Pha That Luang Reclining Buddha
Giant reclining Buddha statue located adjacent to Pha That Luang.
Statue of the Sethathirath King at Pha That Luang in Vientiane Laos
Monument commemorating the Sethathirath King who was responsible for the construction of Pha That Luang.

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.

Local Markets Vientiane Things to do
Visit the best roadside local markets in Vientiane city center.
Places to eat in Vientiane
Additional places to eat include local barbecue stands. Mostly chicken and sausages.

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.

TukTuk Vientiane Things to do
Vientiane Tuktuk

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.

tuttuk vientiane laos
Take a tuktuk ride through the Vientiane city, although we rented a motorbike after the first day.

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.

Laos Music Awards in Vientiane
Don’t miss the annual Laos music awards.

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.

Vientiane Hotels Restaurant
Excellent countryside view from the hotel restaurant

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.

Vientiane hotels
Our Vientiane hotels had an excellent swimming pool and 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!

Additional resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vientiane
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patuxai
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laos
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinnara