Things to Do in Vientiane Capital
Along Lane Xang & Talat Sao
Scour Lane Xang Concourse from temples and markets near the Presidential Palace to Patuxay monument and the revered That Luang Stupa.
Lang Xang’s tree-lined avenue presents French colonial architecture, with the Presidential Palace standing at is head and Rue Setthathirath passing its front gate. Though closed to the public, this sizeable landmark displays elegant Beaux-Arts architecture complete with tall colonnades. Opened in 1986, the palace serves as home of government functions and ceremonies, but not the Lao president. The grounds are landscaped with well-manicured lawns and gardens. At night, lights focus on the palace, providing excellent opportunities to take great pictures.
A few steps away from the palace on Lane Xang, you’ll find Vat Sisaket. Built in 1818 by King Anouvong, it is the only temple that survived the 1828 Siamese attack on Vientiane’s old city. Inside the monastery, you can inspect shelf after shelf of close to 7,000 Buddha images. The main hall also contains Hor Trai, a library containing Buddhist manuscripts dating to the 18th century.
After a short walk south from the palace on Rue Setthathirath, you can step into Vat Phra Keo and its museum. Constructed by King Sayasetthathirath in 1565, as his personal place of worship and to house the Emerald Buddha, the Siamese raided the temple some 200 years later, taking the sacred Buddha to Bangkok. They eventually destroyed Vat Phra Keo, which was rebuilt in 1936. The temple was converted into the Hor Phra Keo Museum in the 1970s, and houses a collection of Buddhist sculptures and artefacts.
At the junction of Rue Setthathirath and Samsenthai, Vat Si Muang is home to the original city pillar. Built in 1956, locals believe the temple guards the spirit of a local pregnant girl, who jumped to her death as a sacrifice, when the pillar was lowered into place. The golden temple annually attracts crowds to the Phasat Pheung procession before the That Luang Festival held in November.
Moving up Lane Xang, and past Vat Sisaket, turn down Rue Bartholomie to reach vegetation shrouded That Dam (Black Stupa), one of the few monuments remaining after the Siamese occupation, and has never been renovated. Built in the 16th century, the legendary stupa is believed to cover the seven-headed dragon, which protected the capital from the Siamese invasion.
Continuing towards Patuxay, stop at Talat Sao and the shopping area along Khouvieng Road leading to the Cope Visitor Centre. Talat Sao (The Morning Market) and its two malls sit in a cluster on Lane Xang. Talat Sao mostly serves locals seeking housewares, textiles, everyday products, and souvenirs. It is straddled by two malls. One mostly offers clothes, mobile devices, gold jewellery, and nick-knacks, while the newer mall offers more upscale products and cafes.
Around the corner on Khouvieng, you’ll find the Central Bus Station for those seeking an inexpensive way to get around the capital. Visit lao.busnavi.asia/?lang=en for routes and the current bus location.
Next door, the sprawling and bustling Khua Din Market presents a peek into Lao life as people shop for fresh produce, local food specialties including baguettes and sandwiches, household products, and casual clothing. Further along is the modern Vientiane Centre which features Laos’ lone Cineplex.
Just across Khouvieng, stop at the COPE Visitor Centre and Museum (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise). COPE provides rehabilitation service for Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) survivors and other people with disabilities across Laos. The COPE Visitor Centre houses a free permanent exhibition about UXOs in Laos, stories from survivors, and information on its services. Interactive displays, documentaries and imagery provide a thought-provoking experience to visitors. To support COPE, make a purchase at its gift shop or donation.
Continuing down Lane Xang past banks and government buildings stands Vientiane’s best known landmark, Patuxay Monument (Victory Monument). Modelled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and built in 1957 with materials earmarked for an airport, Patuxay sports Lao motifs, and a climb to the top reveals the best panoramic views of the city.
As Lane Xang approaches That Luang, stop at the People’s Security Museum, which displays more than 8,000 photographs and objects in galleries depicting the founding and history of the public security force.
Lane Xang reaches its end at That Luang Stupa, the country’s most venerable attraction. Built in 1566 by King Sayasetthathirath, and restored in 1953, the golden stupa, which resembles a lotus bud, stands 45 metres tall, and is believed to hold a Buddha relic. The annual That Luang Festival is held in November.
Downtown & The Mekong
A stroll through the main downtown area and along the Mekong reveals temples, the National Museum, and memorials, along with plenty of shopping and dining opportunities.
The Lao National Museum, constructed in 1925 on Rue Samsenthai, served at various times as the Lao government headquarters, the king’s home, and prime minister’s office. In 1980, the French-era building became the Laos exhibition Hall of the revolution, and in 1985 it was upgraded to the Lao revolutionary museum. In 2000, the building was reopened as the Lao National Museum, and houses some 8,000 artefacts collected from throughout the country, including archaeological, ethnological, and historical displays.
Of the capital’s many notable temples, two can be explored on Rue Setthathirath, including Vat Ong Teu, built in the 16th century by King Setthathirath. The Siamese razed the temple, but it was rebuilt in the 19th century by the French as a school for Buddhism, and is now the national centre for Buddhist studies. Vat Ong Teu contains several Buddha statues, including Vientiane’s largest.
One block west on Rue Setthathirath, Vat Inpeng features a lion-like figure at its entrance and a façade and ceiling adorned in gold designs and paintings depicting stories about Buddha.
Further west, where Rue Samsenthai and Setthathirath meet, you’ll find Fa Ngum Park with a statue of Chao Fa Ngum (King Fa Ngum), erected in 2003, to commemorate his founding of the Lane Xang Kingdom in the 14th century.
Downtown’s main attraction is the Mekong River and Chao Anouvong Park with a majestic statue of the last King of the Vientiane Kingdom. During Chao Anouvong’s reign, he battled the Siamese, but was defeated and captured. However, he is still considered a national hero.
The Mekong Riverfront turns into a hive of activity every evening when the Night Market comes to life. Locals and tourists descend to the riverbank to shop for trinkets, Lao food, clothes, and all kinds of goods. Take a stroll downriver to Walking Street, where you can grab a seat at a restaurant or bar and enjoy the sunset over the Mekong.
Across Fa Ngum Road and in the side streets, you’ll find loads of restaurants specializing in international and local cuisine as well as handicraft shops and accommodation. At the head of Pangkham Road, enjoy a meal around Nam Phu (The Fountain) at The Mix, which features menus from a variety of restaurants.
Kaysone Phomvihane Avenue, named after the first Prime Minister of Laos, begins at That Luang, and continues into Xaysettha District. The area is dotted with museums and two golf courses.
The Lao People’s Army History Museum, located just past That Luang, is a must-see for military buffs. You’ll find an exhibition of troop vehicles and war planes before entering the building. Inside, you can catch a historical documentary about the war for independence and statues of Lao leaders and heroes. In the gallery, you’ll find stories of the soldiers and detailed accounts of battles along with pictures.
Further along and just past the new National Convention Centre, visit the Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial Museum built in 2000 to honour the nation’s revolutionary leader. Inside the traditional Lao-style building, you’ll find a photo exhibition of his life and a shop selling books and souvenirs.
Not far away in Xaysettha District, you’ll find the Souphanouvong Museum dedicated to the accomplishments of the one-time Lao prince and then president of the country. Ponder the photo exhibition of his activities in the revolutionary movement and see rooms that portray his lifestyle.
Also in Xaysettha, you can play 18 holes on the par 72 Lakeview Vientiane Golf Club, and 9 holes at the Kilometre 6 Golf Course on Route 13 south.
Vientiane Capital also has activities outside the city centre. On the Thai-Lao Road (Thaduea Road), visit Buddha Park. Erected in 1958 south of Vientiane at the edge of the Mekong River, the park contains a collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures among gardens and trees.
Further along at Km 14 heading towards the Friendship Bridge, spend the day and evening at Impeng Water Park. You’ll find a special Kid Zone with fountains and slides as well as slides for older children. Parents can jump in the pool or relax at the poolside restaurant.
Across the road, you can play a round of golf at the 18-hole, par 71 Lao Country Club course. You’ll be challenged by elevation changes and plenty of Water hazards.
Some 20 km north of the city centre at Ban Sivilay, take a pleasant nature walk through the 800-hectare Houay Nhang Forest Reserve. It’s a great place to spot migrating birds, bizarre insects, and butterflies. Be sure to pick up a guide book to help you understand the surroundings along the well-marked trail.