Visiting the capital of Laos allows you to experience a large amount of Laotian culture without needing to travel very far. From shopping to religious experiences and some pretty stellar day trips from Vientiane, this city has it all. I know that a lot of folks complain that there is relatively little to do here, but I found I had no problem filling a week exploring this exotic capital. Here are my recommendations for things to do in Vientiane.
1. Ho Phra Keo
Many of the most famous Laos tourist attractions are Buddhist temples and buildings that have now been opened to the public. Among these, Ho Phra Keo is unique, as it is an almost 500 year old temple that is not a religious museum, allowing access to all parts of the former temple for anyone who visits it. Once home to the Emerald Buddha, Ho Phra Keo is now on top of everyone’s list of what to see in Vientiane for the unrestricted access that it offers and the detailed carvings that make up the majority of the art within the temple.
2. Night Market
One of the most famous parts of Vientiane nightlife is Vientiane night market or Riverside night market. A series of orderly stalled with bright roofs offer paintings, clothing, food, and even traditional Laotian outfits. Bargaining is expected at the market, but vendors won’t be offended if you choose not to buy from them. Many people enjoy strolling along the river while looking at the goods on offer, making this one of the more relaxed places to visit in Vientiane.
3. Buddha Park
While the name suggests that the park is only home to images of Buddha, the 200+ statues that cover the grounds of this park are both Hindu and Buddhist and represent the whole of life in hell, heaven, and earth. As it is frequently mentioned among the top Laos attractions, the park is often full during the early afternoon. However, visitors in the morning may find that they journey through the almost 10 foot tall demon head and through the garden of 200 statues is much less crowded and easier to enjoy. Buddha Park makes for one of the better day trips from Vientiane.
4. COPE Visitor Centre
A somber entry on the list of Things to do in Laos, Vientiane, The COPE Visitor Centre is dedicated to the history of bombing and recovery from the horror of bombs in the country. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise, the company responsible for most of the prosthetic limbs, movement aids, and wheelchairs in the entire country. Their visitor centre seeks to educate the public on how and why bombing happened within Loas, including a number of films that show portions of Vientiane before the city was cleared of bombs and on its way to being a modern metropolis.
5. Patuxai Monument
When asking about what to do in Vientiane, the Patuxai monument is often mentioned to interested persons. Even if you don’t plan to see it, the monument is clearly visible in the middle of the city. A cross between the Arc de Triomphe from Paris and a traditional Laotian pagoda, Patuxai is a monument to the Laotian struggle for freedom that led to the freedom of their country. It ranks high in the list of Vientiane things to do because of the history surrounding it and the beauty of the surrounding plaza, park, and gardens. Aid from the American government and a garden donated by China have created a lush oasis that welcomes tourists and locals alike to relax and enjoy themselves in a city that fought for and won the right to be free.
6. Eat Like A Local
Eating delicious food is usually pretty high on people’s list of things to do in Laos. Thankfully, the capital is able to offer both fusion food from neighbouring countries such as Thailand, China and Myanmar, and traditional food that has fallen out of favour in other parts of the country. Most food will come with sticky rice, but French influences can be seen in the use of baguettes in many foods as well. Spiced and ground meat, known as larb, is the most popular and one of the cheapest dishes available. If you really want to eat like a local, look for street food vendors instead of seeking out sit-down restaurants.
7. Rent A Bike
Most things to do in Vientiane are going to be easier to access on foot than in a car. This is because the country has a large number of automobiles, but lacks some infrastructure to truly support timely transit via automobiles. To get around this, many locals use mass transit or take bikes. As a tourist, you can rent a bike from your hotel or from one of the many businesses around the city. Most Vientiane attractions will have a place for you to tie up your bike, and many taxis will be able to put your bike in their trunk if you decide you want a ride back to your hotel.
8. Sisaket Temple
A visit to Wat Sisaket and nearby Ho Phra Keo will take up the majority of a morning or afternoon, slightly less if you take my advice and rent a bike in Vientiane. Attractions such as a large drum tower, ornate carvings of snakes, open courtyards leading to walls with over 2000 different pieces of ceramics on them, and even Buddhas that are made out of silver are all available within the temple. This temple is also unique in that the building style is mostly Thai from the Siamese building period, rather than being traditionally Laotian or Chinese in style. The sheer size of the temple means that it is rarely crowded, making it a favorite among Vientiane tourist attractions for those who hate crowds.
9. National Museum
In Laos’ capital city there are a number of different museums, but none as famous as the National Museum. In keeping with the standards of surrounding countries, the national museum is dedicated to the revolution that led to the countries freedom. The colonial French architecture and the history behind the building itself make it one of the most important Laos points of interest. Information is available in French, English, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, and several other languages within the museum.