Vientiane is the small capital of Laos. I am not sure what I expected or what I think now that I have been. The city is much larger than I expected and the old quarter did not have much personality. It was filled with tourists, bars and hostels and it didn’t appear that Laotian people really lived and worked there….
We were there one day, and while I was glad I went, one day was enough and I don’t feel the need to return. If going to Vientiane, here is my recommendation for one full day to see the sights.
Pha That Luang – This is the most revered temple in the country and a symbol of sovereignty. It is a beautiful structure but you are unable to go inside. So after a quick walk around the building, there is not a lot to see or do here. But regardless, you should stop to see it.
Patuxai – This is an essential stop for the irony alone. This is a monument to Laotian independence built in 1969. However, it is also a replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe and I heard (but am unable to verify) that it is slightly taller than the Parisian Arc. Yet this monument is also distinctly Laotian and has some beautiful architectural details.
COPE Visitor Center is dedicated to prosthetic limbs for UXO victims. They do amazing work with limited resources. The center has a small but very well done museum. It is not preachy or angry and really spends most of the exhibit looking forward instead of backwards. If you can’t make it to Vientiane but want to check out the work they are doing, visit copelaos.org. This was by far our favorite stop in Vientiane and a reason to spend a day in the city.
Lunch at Kualao (more expensive than the many street options available) but they have a wonderful Laotian menu and an amazing staff.
Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park) was a fun way to spend the afternoon even though it has no historic or religious significance. The park was built using concrete in the late 50’s and combines Buddhism, Hinduism and a creative imagination. The park is very interactive and in addition to tourists will be filled with school children and locals. The park is outside the city limits and while accessible by city bus (#14) we had difficulty finding the exact pick up location (we found the bus terminal just not the stop) and in the end decided to save the time and forgo the crowded ride and hired a taxi instead. I think it was well worth it.
The evening was spent getting a Laotian massage at Champa Spa (there are three in town), watching the sunset at the Meekong River, and meandering through the night market along the river.
Have dinner at the market, one of the many cafes or stalls in the old quarter or splurge at Atmo for a wonderful fusion of Lao and French food.
Vientiane Luxury Hotel: While I will probably try somewhere else on my next trip, this is a good option. It is an affordable, clean, well run hotel with a nice staff. It is near the old town but off the main noisy streets. It had good internet and a good breakfast (but not great water pressure).