This is the Laos version of the Arc du Triomphe in Paris, complete with Lao style architecture, spires but in drab concrete. The concrete was supposedly donated by America for the Laotians to build an airstrip in support of American military operations in the Vietnam war, but somehow someone decided to convert that into a national monument, and a pretty unique one at that. This is the story most locals say, but the who, what, why are always missing, no matter whose account you it hear from.
While some people would say its not worth visiting, we’d say it’s a pretty magnificent tower, with prominent Lao features incorporated in its design, and a symbol of peace (having prevented the construction of another airfield which would’ve brought lots more explosives and military presence). You can also climb to the top and enjoy panoramic views of the city. The best time to visit would be during sunset where you see the Patuxay with a flaming red background lit by the setting sun and doused by the waters of the fountain in the foreground. While some say its just a concrete block we think that the history is fairly interesting and climbing up the Patuxay is a pretty cool thing to do in Vientiane! Moreover most buildings are really short here, so you will get a pretty good panorama of the city from here.
There’s also a little interesting ‘World Peace Gong’ at the northern end of the complex, which tends to be a favorite photo spot.
This is the golden temple of Laos,and if you decide to visit one temple in Laos, this should be it. Among the best places to visit in Vientiane, It is the symbol, the pride and also the main attraction in Vientiane. Every year a week-long festival is held in honour of this temple every year, celebrated by almost the entire city.
It also looks very different compared to the other wats in the country. It’s more of a stupa, and it supposedly dates back to the 3rd century, initially as a hindu temple. The many buddhist features and extra complexes were mainly constructed in the 16th century when the Lao Kingdom decided to move its capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.
This national symbol is magnificent, gigantic and really peaceful, perfect for a stroll after a day of sightseeing or just people watching if you’ve run of things to do in Vientiane or done most of its sights (which isn’t a lot).
Not your usual buddha park, the Vientiane Buddha Park one is created by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat in 1958, supposedly a religious scholar who believed in both hindu and buddhist faiths. The statues in the park are a testament to this fusion of beliefs, as they are not the types you always see in temples in the region, where every expression and pose is standardized to connote a certain meaning and avoid any possibility of being seen as blasphemous. There are also a variety of Hindu gods thrown into the mix, together with some interesting structures like a pumpkin looking tower with a demon’s mouth as the entrance and various depictions of hell and heaven.
Although quite far out from the city, a one way trip there usually takes around 30-40mins by tuktuk, and the drivers in town regularly charge up to 150,000 kips a trip. There are some shared tuktuks that will take you for 50,000 per person.
The trouble and price is quite well worth it though, everyone we spoke to found this a sorely underrated attraction, spending much more time than they expected to. ‘At least its not the usual temple!’ is what we always hear from them. The number of interesting photo opportunities also make this one of the top things to do in Vientiane we recommend.
COPE Visitor Centre
This is the place that tells you all you need to know about the secret war in Laos fueled by the Vietnam war (or whatever’s publicly available). Documentaries, exhibits and various posters make up this comprehensive centre, but its main aim is actually to help the people who have been affected by the millions of unexploded ordinances (UXOs) all over the country. They manufacture a range of prosthetics, orthotics and various services through a non-profit model.
If you’ve been to, or planning to go to Luang Prabang’s night market, the Vientiane night market is easily missable. Don’t even think about it. It’s simply filled with cheap goods of questionable quality brought over the border from Thailand. Commercialized, commoditized and still costly, we’re sure many won’t enjoy it so better to visit the one in Luang Prabang! Many travellers don’t even put this on their list of best places to visit in Vientiane. There is another night food market near the scandinavian pizza house that looks more happening and is filled with delicious street food that’s worth visiting!
Quirky Sights and Sounds
Lao people’s army museum
This interesting army museum is very eccentric, in many ways. Its opening hours are very erratic, and even locals are not very sure about its operational timings. From the outside, you can see various statues which depict communist ideals and a range of military vehicles from tanks to jeeps and even helicopters. These all look like they were part of World War I, which makes for a pretty quirky trip, if you’re into that.
The Backstreets of Vientiane
As per what we believe, it is the backstreets of every city and the people there that really makes for a unique and memorable experience and so it is here where you will find the most diverse things to do in Vientiane. Here are some of the highlights we have from the backstreets of Vientiane!
Lao Sauces cooking course
The Lao people have traditionally eaten sticky rice with dips. This has led to a vast variety of dips across regions and tastes, and if you ask a Lao person how many dips there are in Laos, they will tell you ‘countless’. There are easily more than 40-50 types of dips that the locals eat. Yet, wherever you go in Laos, the restaurants only offer a few of these, usually just the most famous one. To truly understand Lao cuisine, take this course that introduces you to 7 diverse dips. If you have any particular special request, feel free to ask your host if it is possible! The bursts of flavour and the way it is done is an eye opener for most travelers. If you’re not so much into dips, there’s also a combination cooking course where you can choose 3 dips and 2 main dishes with our local host!
Maison de la culture
This famous building is a centre of Arts and culture in Vientiane, with new exhibitions taking place every month featuring both local and foreign artists. You can simply walk in to check out the art pieces and they’re often for sale as well. Since a large chunk of the arts community are members of this place, they conduct classes here as well through Backstreet Academy. Whether it’s wood carving, pencil sketching, water colour, wood carving or clay art, you can enjoy an interesting arts course in this beautiful colonial bungalow surrounded by art pieces.
This building was once the residence of a famous French artist, Marc Leguay, who stayed in Laos for the most part of his life. There is still a room with exhibits on him in addition to the temporary exhibitions. Just 10mins from the city centre, it’s a place well worth checking out together with a course with one of Backstreet Academy’s hosts.
Meditation and relaxation
Many travel to Laos in search of serenity and peace, finding the quiet country a refuge among the rapidly developing neighbours of Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. However, to find true peace, it is not just the place that plays a part. More importantly, you have got to look inside yourself and then put yourself in the right environment to experience serendipity. And what better way to do that than meditation with a local monk in an idyllic temple? To interact with a local senior monk, understand their meditation practices and experience the calming powers of the temple is really quite an experience!
Rice Spring Rolls
One of the most rare finds we’ve come across while in Laos! Not well known nor easily found, we’ve so far only come across 2 stalls selling this, one in the tourist area on Rue Hengboun opposite shopping mall Melka and the other one on Lane Xang avenue where the row of money changers are. It’s handmade, soft and absolutely heavenly. Minced meat is stir fried and wrapped in the rice flour skins and topped with fried garlic and onions before fresh lime is squeezed on it. Have it with chilli and the sweet and sour peanut sauce for absolute bliss!
You have to try the roast Duck Noodles (Mi Phet), basil stir fried with pork (Phad ka pao moo) and crispy pork! The best place to try this is also on Rue Hengboun a few blocks beside Haysoke Guesthouse. It’s a little restaurant beside an empty piece of land with a nice display or roast duck. It’s too good to miss!
While this is a Thai franchise, unfortunately there are few in Vientiane that can beat them. The signature Black canyon iced coffee is too good and the area is also comfortable and enjoyable. Food is also nice and decently priced.
This is absolutely the best coffee house in Laos, in our humble opinion. The owner is trained in Australia’s Toby estate, and they truly make the best flat white around. Actually the best flat white we’ve ever tasted around the region! The milk is absolutely one of the best, full of flavor, aroma and at just the right thickness. Here’s a tip to drinking flat white there: sprinkle sugar over the top of the foam and sip the coffee together with the foam then crunch the sugar as it enters your mouth. Not only do you taste the full body of the coffee and the milk, it feels sweeter than if you poured all the sugar in, and in the end you find that you had less sugar! The food is also very commendable, you’ll be hard pressed to find something that’s not nice here.
A very nice cafe in town, it has a hidden playground behind for kids to play and that’s why its very popular for all the expats in town. Coffee is actually just slightly above mediocre, foam is very weak, coffee body average. But the food is what stands out here. All of their sandwiches, wraps and salads come in generous portions and are as fresh as it gets in Laos. The fusion flavours are especially tantalizing!
Travel Resources – Great blogs & useful articles
Travel Inspiration 360 – A great blog by Singaporean travel blogger Keith Yuen, who has already travelled to more than 57 countries! His interesting articles, travel tips and way of travel is a cool way to read about any city!