As the capital and largest city of Laos, Vientiane is a popular base for digital nomads in Laos. Aside from exuding a relaxed and serene vibe, the cost of living in Vientiane is cheaper than other major cities in Southeast Asia. In addition, it offers plenty of fun activities to enjoy during your break from work. For those visiting I hope to inspire you with my Vientiane Travel Guide.
Vientiane lies along the scenic Mekong river. You can go for a lovely walk along the riverfront promenade and stop by one of the cozy cafes for coffee and some French pastries. As a former French colony, you will find many French influences around this Southeast Asian city, which makes it even more interesting to explore.
Below, check out the top things to see in the beautiful capital of Laos.
1. Patuxai Victory Gate
The Patuxai Victory Gate is an iconic landmark of Vientiane reminiscent of the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It’s a massive arch structure made of concrete standing along Lang Xang Avenue and features Hindu deities and Buddhist symbols with five ornate towers constructed in the traditional Laotian style.
The Patuxai Victory Gate is in Patuxai Park, a lovely park with a fountain, offering a perfect setting for relaxation and enjoying an evening stroll. It’s also possible to climb to the top of the tower for a minimal fee, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Getting to the tower’s observation deck requires climbing through a spiral stairway, yet the views at the top make it all worth it.
2. Buddha Park
Another popular attraction in Vientiane is Buddha Park, locally known as Xieng Khuan. It’s an open-air sculpture park featuring massive sculptures of Hindu and Buddha deities, founded by a monk and a sculpture artist named Bunleua Sulila. The park is located outside Vientiane, about 25 km southeast of the city center.
Established in 1958, Buddha Park is a fantastic place to explore. Highlights include the reclining Buddha of 40 meters long, the two-headed elephant, and a Hindu god called Indra. To get to Buddha Park, take bus #14, which leaves Talat Sao Bus Station every 40 minutes. You can also rent a private vehicle to take you to the park. It’s open from 8 AM to 5 PM daily.
3. Presidential Palace of Vientiane
Constructed in 1973, the magnificent Presidential Palace of Vientiane serves as the official residence of the Royal Lao Government. The beautiful structure was designed by a local architect and opened in 1986, after the political takeover of the communist political movement in 1975.
The Presidential Palace also hosts several government functions and political ceremonies. However, it is not open to the public. Still, many tourists would come to admire the building’s magnificent facade featuring Beaux-Arts architecture, with wrought-iron gates and shaded balconies. The palace is made even more beautiful by the lush gardens in its surrounding. It looks even more spectacular at night when illuminated with bright lights.
4. COPE Visitor Center
COPE means Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, a charity organization offering rehabilitation programs for the local Laotian people with physical disabilities. Most of those they support are victims of hidden explosives scattered all over the country after the Vietnam War. These explosives are known as UXO or unexploded weapons, which you will find scattered in the countryside and continues to injure thousands of locals to this day.
COPE provides the funds to manufacture different orthotic devices to support the victims. Aside from manufacturing prosthetic arms, legs, and hands, they also provide wheelchairs and tricycles to help the victims. Currently, COPE has five rehabilitation centers across Laos, but the headquarter is in Vientiane. Most of the victims they support live in rural areas, where most of the unexploded weapons are. Visitors will find various exhibits and documentary films when visiting the center. You can also witness how they create these prosthetics at the workshop on-site.
5. Vientiane Night Market
One of the best ways to soak up the culture of a place is to visit local markets. The bustling Vientiane Night Market is a great place to see if you want to learn more about the local life in Vientiane. It’s along the Mekong Riverfront with several rows of red-roofed stalls selling everything, from souvenirs to handicrafts, accessories, clothing, and more. If you want to buy something, try to haggle with the local vendors, which is part of the local experience.
After shopping, explore the riverfront area and check out the children’s playground, a flower garden, a Chinese shrine, and the statue of Chao Anouvong facing the Mekong. Come here at sunset, where you’ll see vendors setting up their stalls. It usually gets crowded around 8 PM. If you want to avoid the crowd, come here early.
6. Pha That Luang Monument
Buddhism is the dominant religion of Laos, so it’s not surprising to find several Buddhist monuments in Vientiane. One of these is the Pha That Luang, an impressive religious structure housing the breastbone of Buddha brought to Vientiane by an Indian missionary. It was constructed in 1566 under the orders of King Setthathirat after Vientiane became the capital of Laos. At the main entrance, you’ll find the statue of a former Lao King standing in front of the main entrance. Covered in real gold with painted turrets around the central stupa, Pha That Luang is about 44 meters tall.
Every year between October and November, the That Luang festival, one of Laos’ most significant Buddhist celebrations, takes place here. The event features traditional performances, fun parades, and religious ceremonies. Pha That Luang lies 4 km northeast of Vientiane, and you can take a tuk-tuk or bike to get here. Many guesthouses are only a short walk from here.
7. Laos National Cultural Hall
One of the places to see in Vientiane is the Lao National Cultural Hall, a government-run exhibition hall that opened in March 2000. It’s a massive building with grand designs located on a road that connects Rue Setthathilath to Rue Samsenthai. The place can accommodate up to 1,500 guests and has two conference rooms and a spacious lobby with art exhibits.
Sometimes, the Lao National Cultural Hall will show French films and classical performances. The massive building features traditional Lao architecture with white and gold accents and elaborate carvings of Buddhist symbolisms. Aside from classical shows, the Lao National Cultural Hall also hosts car shows and other modern events. One of the things you will notice at the building is the flag of the People’s Republic of China flying in front of the hall beside the Laotian flag. The reason is that the building was built with the help of the Chinese government.
8. Wat Si Saket Temple
Wat Si Saket is another Buddhist temple in Vientiane that’s worth visiting. It has thousands of Buddha sculptures of different sizes scattered across the temple. What’s fascinating about this temple is that it survived the Siamese occupation in 1828, despite much of the city being destroyed. With a history dating back to 1818, Wat Si Saket has an interesting layout and architecture.
Some of the highlights in Wat Si Saket include the ornate 5-tiered roof, a small library featuring Burmese-style roofing, a drum tower, and the ordination hall’s gorgeous floral ceiling. It also features 7,000 images made of bronze, wood, and stone. You’ll find Wat Si Saket along Lan Xang Road. Come early in the morning to see locals praying and giving an offering to the monks.
9. Wat Sok Pa Luang
Given its serene atmosphere, Wat Sok Pa Luang is a wonderful place to visit to meditate. You will find monks leading a sitting and walking meditation session every Saturday afternoon at this temple. The meditation takes place in the open-air pavilion every 3 PM.
Foreign visitors can join the meditation session. In fact, the session starts with an ice-breaking conversation with the English-speaking monks before they start with meditation. Everyone can join for free, although donations are highly appreciated. It’s a fantastic experience for those who want to learn how Buddhists meditate. If you want to deepen your practice, you can take up the intensive Vipassana meditation workshops at the temple twice a year.
10. Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is a lovely Khmer temple with an interesting legend and holds great significance among the Laotians. Built during King Setthathirat’s time in 1563, the golden structure was named after Si Muang, a woman who threw herself into a hole in the ground where the building’s main pillar was erected as a form of sacrifice to appease the angry spirits.
You will find a small statue of Si Muang at the back of the temple, along with heaps of bricks said to date back to her time. Wat Si Muang is right beside the monument of King Sisavang Vong, which you can view by entering through the gate within the temple complex. You will find local vendors selling street foods, bananas, flowers, coconuts, and other items at the entrance to the temple.
11. Haw Phra Kaew
Haw Phra Kaew is a former Buddhist shrine built as a chapel for the royal family in 1565 that now serves as a museum. It houses the Emerald Buddha believed to have been stolen from nearby Thailand and is now on the grounds of the Grand Palace of Bangkok. As you stroll through the temple, you’ll see displays of several Buddha statues, including 6th-century stone sculptures. You will also find several Lao treasures, such as the gilded throne, bronze frog drums, Buddhist stone tablets, and palm-leaf manuscripts.
One of the highlights is the stair’s balustrade that features a dragon with heads facing the grounds, guarding the temple. Outside, you will find a well-tended garden, a perfect setting to relax and meditate.
12. Laos National Museum
To learn more about the history of Laos and its people, visit the Lao National Museum, which showcases the history of the Laotians from prehistoric times. It’s also a wonderful place to spend a few hours after being under the sun outdoors. The museum is housed in an old French colonial building with some exhibits already fading.
The bottom floor focuses on the country’s early history and showcases pottery shards and dinosaur bones. On the upper floor is a more modern presentation of Laos, including the history of French colonization and the country’s fight for independence.
13. That Dam (Black Stupa)
That Dam is another religious structure to see in Vientiane. It’s a 16th-century Buddhist stupa located in the city center. Also called the “Black Stupa”, the stupa was once covered in pure gold, but locals believe that Naga, the seven-headed water serpent, has dwelled here to keep it protected.
During the war between the Laotians and Siamese in the late 1820s, the gold was pillaged and taken to Siam, now called Thailand. That Dam sits in a quiet roundabout near the morning market and the American Embassy.