Vientiane is the capital, largest city, and economic centre of Laos. Even though it was made capital in 1563 to protect the people from a potential Burmese invasion, today, there is not much left of ancient buildings and artefacts as it got looted and burnt to the ground in 1827 by the Siamese.
Between 1899 and WWII, Vientiane was the administrative capital during the French protectorate. The French renovated or rebuilt some Buddhist temples, and left colonial architecture and a café and baguette culture. Vientiane is probably the best place in Laos to savour delicious meals by some top French chefs mixing Asian and French influences.
So if you don’t feel like running along the Mekong shore to start the day, head to a French café, having some of the best croissants in the country, and then explore the city.
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
Many Thai boxing champions are from Laos and Muay Thai is definitely an art here. One of the best Muay Thai schools in the world is located in Vientiane, in the front yard of a house. Muay Thai is a family tradition here, and if you feel like following a training session or just watching locals or champions train, Kuanjai Sikhot Boxing Gym is the place to go!
- Check times for training sessions as they can vary.
- Hardly any English is spoken, so going with a local guide may be a good idea (see travel tips all the way down).
- To learn more about Muay Thai, check out this article!
Weaving is a tradition in Laos that is threatened as younger generations tend to buy machine-made clothes. The Houey Hong Vocational Centre for Women focuses on transmitting this tradition while empowering local women. Workshops are available to dye your own silk scarf with natural dyes and weave your own piece of cloth.
For lunch time, let yourself be tempted by the Vietnamese influence by trying a pho that you can easily find all over the city. Just stop where you see the most patrons!
A must-visit in Vientiane to understand in which state the secret war (1964-1973) left the country, with an estimated 80 000 000 unexploded ordnances (UXO) to destroy, and its impact on Laotians today.
- Perfect for the hot early afternoon with the A/C.
This victory gate commemorates the Lao who died in pre-revolutionary wars. It is made of cement and was built between 1957 and 1968, with a clear influence from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, topped up by Laotian motifs. Unexpected and… unique.
The 45-metre-high stupa painted in gold with the very top covered in gold houses relics of the Buddha. It is the most famous and sacred Buddhist stupa of Laos, and many Laotians come to burn scent sticks and deposit their offerings.
Each lateral side of That Luang is flanked by a temple. Wat That Luang Tai shows nice paintings describing the story of the Buddha where Hindu symbols can be seen.
Mekong sunset and night market
The mythical Mekong River defines the city limit and the border with Thailand. Join locals and take a stroll on the Mekong shore boardwalk along the river bank. Sit down to enjoy the sunset with snacks from the night market and a Lao beer or a bubble tea.
For dinner, head out to a French restaurant or Makphet to explore Lao cuisine.
Ho Phra Keo
This former temple used to contain the emerald Buddha that can now be seen in Bangkok. It’s a beautiful temple surrounded by many Buddha statues.
Wat Si Meuang
Wat Si Meuang is a very important temple for locals as it marks the center of the city. It is always busy with Buddhists asking monks for blessings, and bringing their offerings to the altar for good luck. It makes its atmosphere special with the many candles and scent sticks burning.
A must-visit in Vientiane and ideally in combination with MAG. COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) is a local organization that trains local staff in the manufacture of prosthetics, orthotics and related rehabilitation activities that are paramount in Laos today to help surviving victims of UXO-related accidents.
- Perfect for the hot early afternoon with the A/C.
From the 5th century, Laos had been ruled by the Khmer whose rulers were of Hindu religion, until the Lao kingdom was created in the 14th century. Buddhism became the main religion. The Buddha park (1958) by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat showcases a collection of monumental concrete Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, along the Mekong, about 30 kilometres south of Vientiane. Here is a hint to try to decode the naive sculptures: Hinduism has animistic beliefs, so everything nature-related tends to be of Hindu influence.
- Head out to Buddha Park for sunset to enjoy the Mekong views a bit away from Vientiane.
Ban Anou night market
Away from the touristy market along the Mekong River that sells more clothes, shoes and electronics, the much smaller Ban Anou night market is exclusively scattered with food stalls of mostly Laotian specialties.
- To get around, you can hop on from tuk-tuk to tuk-tuk (with the hassle of having to bargain every time!),
- Or you can go with a local guide who will take you around and explain you more about the history of the city. To arrange a guided visit of Vientiane, refer to Ae (by his “Western name” Eric) who is very helpful and can customize a visit for your specific taste.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!