‘Hustle’ and ‘bustle’ are words that usually come to mind when describing a capital city; think Bangkok, Saigon, Beijing or Mumbai. Breaking the norm is Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, which is quite possibly the sleepiest capital around. It’s laid back, suburban feel is nice for chilling out while on a VISA run or before heading further north or south through the country; but it can definitely leave you wanting more. However, mixed between the slow pace, noodle soups, baguettes and BeerLao; there are a few sights worth seeing. Here are 3 things to see & do while in Vientiane that’ll make your stay a cultural and enjoyable experience.
This mini Arch de Triumph stands tall in the city center and is a lasting legacy of French influence in the country. The name Patuxai, which translates to ‘Victory Gate,’ was completed in 1968 to commemorate the lives lost during Laos’s fight for independence from France. The funds and materials for the project were originally contributed by the U.S.A and were intended to be used for the construction of a new airport. Plans apparently got lost in translation and the monumental arch was built instead. As a reminder of the original intention, Patuxai now holds the nickname “vertical runway.” Climbing to the top costs 3,000 Kip, ($0.45), and provides a sweeping 360o view of Vientiane below. On the way up there are merchants on each floor and it’s not uncommon to share the view with a few monks once reaching the top.
Phra That Luang
Known as ‘The Great Stupa,’ this monument is the national symbol of Laos. History says it was originally built in the 3rd century to house the breast bone of the Lord Buddha, but, more recent accounts say King Setthathirat commissioned it when the capital was moved from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in 1556. Standing 148 feet tall it’s been given the name ‘Golden Temple’ due to its shining gold-leaf paint job. The temple has also become known as ‘Temple of the Mind’ for its three levels, each of which represent a reflection of Buddhist beliefs. Surrounded by high walls, from the outside it actually look more like a fortress than a temple. Walking inside there’s a grassy area surrounding the temple along with several Buddha images, both of which make it a peaceful place to escape from the heat.
Sunset BeerLao and Baguette
Perched along the banks of the Mighty Mekong is Vientiane’s ‘boardwalk.’ Around 5pm every day the area fills up with locals, travelers and expats out exercising or walking and taking in the view. As the heat of the day fades the sunset provides a great backdrop to enjoy a few cold BeerLao’s and a fresh French Bread baguette. BeerLao is hands down the best locally brewed beer in Southeast Asia and combine that with authentic baguettes and you’ve got some great comfort food for a relaxing evening. Beer and baguettes may not be the most exciting activity to write home about, however, it’s a must try ‘slice of Europe’ while in Laos. Walking along the boardwalk will also drop you right into the evening market where you can do some souvenir shopping and of course snack on more local eats!