Vientiane is the capital city of Laos, a country in South East Asia that borders Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and China. During a week long vacation in Laos, I spent a day exploring the city and all it has to offer with my boyfriend. Check out my suggestions of the top places to see and things to do there!
1. COPE Visitor Centre
Any visit to Vientiane should include a stop at this informative yet somber center. COPE is a rehab centre focused on helping victims of bombs that still cover a large part of the country. The visitor centre is free of charge, although they do accept donations that go toward helping more victims. Here, you can learn more about the bombing of Laos and the bombs that have remained buried in the ground only to explode when farmers till their soil or children find them in the woods. Many people often stumble upon them when looking for scrap metal as a way to make a living. It is incredibly sad to hear more about the stories involving children who died as a result of these bombs or lost limbs from stepping on one.
COPE does an incredible job of informing visitors of the problem and what they do to help solve it. One is to have searches where they thoroughly go through a section of land to find and deactivate potential bombs. Another is to help the victims by providing them with prosthetic legs, wheelchairs and physical therapy so that may live a more normal life.
Cost: Free! Donations are welcome
Insider Tip: The rehab center is centrally located and easy to walk to – which you may want to do for exercise like we did since we had traveled the whole day before. It is also a good place for kids and adults, with lots of hands on activities for children to get involved. They also have bikes you can borrow for free to explore other parts of the city!
2. Buddha Park
Located about 30 minutes outside of the city, this park is filled with statues inspired by Buddhism and Hinduism. Each statue or group of statues highlights a different story or tale and is a great place to see if you have seen one too many temples. The trip there takes between 30 – 40 minutes, and you should plan to spend around an hour wandering the park and taking pictures. There are no descriptions in English, so find information in advance to make meaning of what you see or ask a local person.
Another park just like it exists just across the river in Nong Khai, Thailand by the same artist if you do not manage to get to the park during your visit to Vientiane.
Cost: 5,000 kip (~60 cents)
Insider Tip: You can either take a tuk tuk or taxi to the park which cost anywhere from 100,00 to 250,000 kip depending on your bartering skills. Another option is to grab a ride in a van from a hostel. These usually leave around 10:00 AM and then again in the afternoon around 14:00 (2:00 PM) and are a cheaper way to get there, though you should check in advance for exact times.
3. Lao Experience (Cooking Class)
If you are interested in learning more about Lao cooking, than you should seriously consider booking a cooking class with Lao Experiences. Spend a few hours first exploring a market and learning about the fresh ingredients used in Lao cooking. Next is a stop for a traditional Lao coffee. Finally, the cooking class takes place where students learn techniques used in traditional Lao meals. At the end, enjoy the food that was prepared and take home recipe cards to recreate the food on your own!
Cost: Market tour and cooking course package deal for $55. Cooking class only is $35.
Insider Tip: This class is less about cooking the food yourself and more about immersing yourself in the culture through the market tour, coffee stop, and finally cooking and eating in the garden. The staff and owner, Nouk, are extremely friendly and will make sure you have a great time! Booking can be done by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Must book by 5:00 PM the previous day to ensure a spot.
4. Patuxai Monument
This arch is a well known symbol of the city. At the monument, there is a plaque where you can read about the history archway and its significance to the city. After snapping a few pictures, pay the small fee to climb to the top and take in sweeping views of the city below.
Cost: Gazing upon the monument is of course free; if you wish to climb to the top for the views, it is 3,000 kip (~40 cents) per person.
Insider Tip: The archway is only about a 10 minute walk away from COPE, but tuk tuks are readily available for transport. If you get or thirsty (which is likely) there is a small shop selling water inside one leg of the arch. There are also souvenir shops inside on the way to the top!
5. Night Market
This is held by the river each night in the Mekong Riverside Park (which also a great place for a stroll during the daylight hours!). It is easily recognizable by the red tents that cover each stand. You can find everything from clothes, to sneakers, local Laos artwork, beautiful silk scarves, and much more! It is definitely worth checking out one night just so you can experience a night market, which are so popular in South East Asia.
Cost: Free to wander! Only pay for what you want to buy.
Insider Tip: There are some amazing Doner Kebab carts just outside of the market that are absolutely delicious! I highly recommend grabbing one for dinner, and then a pancake with banana and chocolate for dessert! And don’t forget to barter if you do want to buy anything in the market!
6. That Luang Temple (Great Sacred Stupa)
As this is the national symbol of the country, this temple is a must-see when visiting Vientiane. Just a short walk from Patuxai (see #4), this temple is one of the largest and most popular in Laos. Legend has it that one of the original structures once housed the breastbone of Buddha in the 3rd century. Make sure to see the huge reclining gold Buddha. The grounds surrounding it also are peaceful when not filled with tourists.
Cost: 5,000 kip (~60 cents) to enter the stupa, but the rest of the grounds are free.
Insider Tip: Go early to avoid crowds. Also ensure your shoulders and knees are covered as it is a sacred place and you do not want to show disrespect. It is also closed for lunch between 12:00 PM and 13:00 (1:00 PM).
7. Wat Sisaket
This temple was built by the last king of Laos near the Royal Palace. It was one of the few buildings to survive an attack on the city in the 19th century, and served as a monastery afterwards. It is a great place to see and learn about the history of the ancient building as well as see and talk to the monks. Among the garden are many interesting states. If it is your first visit to a temple, it is impressive and beautiful. Even if you have seen many temples, it is a pleasant and quiet place to walk around for a little bit.
Cost: 5,000 kip (~60 cents)
Insider Tip: As with most temples, you must take of your shoes and have your legs covered before entering the temple itself. If you want to avoid crowds, it is best to visit earlier in the day.
8. Ho Phra Keo
This historic temple is located right near Wat Sisaket and was built in the 16th century as a personal chapel for the royal family. It used to house the famous Emerald Buddha which now resides in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Take time to admire the exterior with the bronze Buddha statues, carved doors, and gardens. As it is a temple, proper dress is required to enter.
Cost: 5,000 kip (~60 cents)
Insider Tip: This temple is currently under construction that was begun in the beginning of 2015 and was expected to last a year. While they are restoring it, visitors are not allowed inside the temple itself but are allowed on the grounds (and the entrance fee is waived).
9. Eat like a local
Vientiane has plenty to offer in terms of food! Check out some of the best places to eat below:
- Ray’s Grille: If you are craving a burger in Vientiane, look no further than Ray’s Grille. This little restaurant is a favorite among backpackers and vocals alike, and for a good reason! They also serve Mexican food, if you happen to get that craving.
- Street Food: Of course I had to include street food in the list because it is such a staple in this part of the world and is delicious! An added bonus is it is also incredibly cheap! One of my favorite street food meals in Vientiane was the Doner Kebab I had at the night market…
- Dinner on the Mekong: There are lots of restaurants along the river that would provide a perfect backdrop for dinner. Get a seat before sunset so that you can watch the sun go down as you enjoy your food! Perfect ending to the day.
- Joma: This little bakery and coffee shop reminded me a little of Starbucks and certainly rivaled it in terms of taste! Located on a street filled with lots of good eats, this shop served up some amazing coffee drinks, sandwiches, and dessert!
10. Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women
If you are interested in learning more about the art of dyeing silk or weaving, then the Houey Hong Center is a perfect place to start to hone your skills! They offer classes in both dyeing silk and weaving and the finished product is yours to keep! The center itself was founded as a way to provide vocational training to women in rural areas who are disadvantaged or who have little education. They also hope to revive Lao’s traditional crafts such as the dyeing and weaving.
Cost: In the dyeing classes you can choose to either dye one scarf (100,000 kip/$12.15) or 2 scarves (180,000 kip/$22). Depending on the number of people in the class, you may choose one, two, or three colors.
In the weaving classes, you can choose to weave for one hour (50,000 kip/$6) or for the whole day (250,000 kip/$30) which includes local style lunch. The length of time will determine how many centimeters of a pattern you will be able to weave.
The center also offers combo classes where students can both dye a scarf and do some weaving. A half day cost 150,000 kip/~$18 per person (dye 1 scarf and weave for an hour); a whole day cost 250,000/$30 kip per person (dye 1 scarf and weave 10-30 cm of fabric; includes lunch).
The center also offers guided tours for 25,000 kip (~$3) if you don’t have the time for a whole class but want to learn about the process. Transportation to the center can also be arranged in advance for 50,000 kip (~$6).
Insider Tip: It is recommended to choose a color that involves two dyes so that you can see more of the process!
Have you visited Vientiane, Laos? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.