Laos’ capital Vientiane is a very undervalued city and is often left out by travelers. Unfounded, I think. Typical sights in Vientiane include temples, monuments, museums, visitor centers and much more.
If you have enough time, you should definitely visit Vientiane for a few days. Here are a few ideas and 10 things to do in Vientiane.
Where is Vientiane?
Vientiane is located along the Mekong River and very close to the Thai border. Around 200.000 people live there, which makes it the biggest city in Laos.
10 Things to do in Vientiane
Vientiane Night Market & Sunset
In front of the Mekong Riverfront, you will be able to enjoy Vientiane’s night market which is open every evening. You will easily spot the market because of its red-roofed stalls that pull along the streets.
On Vientiane’s night market you will find clothes, handicrafts, and electronic stalls, but also food stalls where you can enjoy delicious Lao cuisine.
The best time to go is between 6 pm until 9 pm. However, at 8 pm it is busiest. So, in case you don’t like crowds try to get there before. We usually went a bit earlier to enjoy the beautiful sunset which is another must thing to do in Vientiane.
The Buddha Park is amongst one of the most famous sights in Vientiane. It is an open-air sculpture park with huge Buddha sculptures. You will get to see things like a 40 m long resting Buddha and a two-headed elephant. The sculptures are super massive and I am sure you will be impressed.
It is located around 25 km outside of Vientiane. You can either go there by motorbike or simply take bus number 14 from Talat Bus Station. The bus usually comes every 40 minutes.
Temples & Shrines & Meditation
There are certainly loads of temples and shrines in Vientiane. The most famous ones to visit are Ho Phra Keo, Wat Si Muang, and Wat Si Saket (oldest temple in Vientiane with more than 5000 Buddha statues)
If you are into meditation make sure to pass by Wat Sok Pa Luang every Saturday at 3 pm. Novice monks are leading meditation sessions there free of charge, and everyone is welcome.
Patuxai Victory Gate
The Patuxai Victory Gate is an arch which reminds of the Arch de Triumph in Paris. On the gate, you can see Buddhist symbols and Hindu Gods, and admire the beautiful traditional Laotian style. If you want you can even go up to the observation deck, and enjoy the view from there. It is especially nice during sunset hours.
If you don’t want to go up, you can also just enjoy a walk in Patuaxi Park which surrounds the gate.
Another thing to do in Vientiane is to visit the National Museum. It’s a beautiful two-story mansion filled with ancient items such as stone tools, pottery, dinosaur bones, rock paintings, and much more. If you are interested in learning more about the modern history of Laos and colonization of the French this is for you.
Traditional Lao Massage & Herbal Sauna
Another great thing to do in Vientiane is to get a Traditional Lao massage and visit a herbal sauna. It is perfect to relax after traveling. Many people go there twice a week to enjoy the health benefits.
The sauna is normal like we know it from other countries. However, the steam is infused with herbs to make it an aromatic experience. The sauna seems to be rather old and the steam comes from a small fire that is lit underneath.
After the sauna, you will get the Traditional Lao Massage which includes a lot of stretching, resting on pressure points and foot reflexology. It is a very affordable massage for around 5-10€.
A famous place to visit is the Lao Herbal Steam Sauna & Massage, a traditional building where you will get an authentic experience of ancient massage techniques.
As is well known, love goes through the stomach. We all know that! So, what could be nicer than taking a cooking class in every country you visit? In Vientiane, it is worth taking a cooking class to get an insight into Lao cuisine as well as to learn famous dishes and their ingredients.
National Park Phou Khao Khouay
For all nature lovers, here comes another must thing to do in Vientiane. There is a National Park (Phou Khao Khouay) located around 40 km outside of Vientiane which will be worth visiting.
You will be rewarded with beautiful scenery and big biodiversity. You might find yourself in the jungle for a while and then suddenly be surrounded by a pine forest, rivers and waterfalls.
You can do the trip yourself or hire a driver and guide. It is said that you might be able to spot some wildlife if you do overnight stays with an experienced guide. Otherwise, you can also totally do it as a day trip.
COPE Visitor Center
Did you know that Laos has been the most heavily bombed country in the world? With over 2 million tons of ordnance and around 250 million munitions, of which 80 million failed to explode, Lao is still living in a nightmare today. Many people still get injured on a daily basis by those unexploded ordinances, and less than 1% of the unexploded bombs have been cleared.
Another great thing to do in Vientiane is visiting COPE. It is a non-private organization in Vientiane that helps with the rehabilitation of war survivors. In the center, you will learn about the consequences of war, the struggles with the unexploded munition, the impact on the survivors, and how COPE supports them.
There is an exhibition center with bombs hanging from the ceiling and also a small room to watch a documentary. The entrance is free of charge, but you can leave a donation at the end.
Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center
One must thing to do in Vientiane is visiting the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center. It is a non-profit organization that employs them, supports them with a community and offers vocational training.
According to numbers, around 10% of Lao people are physically disabled. This might be due to accidents but also diseases like Polio. The biggest challenges for those people are access to health insurance and education, but also dealing with daily stereotypes and discrimination.
At the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center, you will see them sew, weave, dye, handicraft, and much more. Visitors can take a handicraft class and learn how to create frames, earrings, key chains, ornaments and so on. The class and tour will cost you around 10€. It is totally worth a visit.
I hope I could convince you with these 10 things that this city is worth a visit and not as boring as others say.
Also, check out this luxury boutique hotel in Laos where we did some volunteer work, in case you need a place to stay in the city center.