Top Attractions in Vientiane Capital
Temples & Stupas
Vat Sisaket, constructed by King Anouvong in 1818, is located on Lane Xang Avenue near the Presidential Palace, and is the only temple in the “Old City” that survived the Siamese invasion in 1828. The temple’s main hall presents shelves displaying 6,840 Buddha images and a library with Buddhist manuscripts dating to the 18th century.
Nearby, step into Vat Phra Keo and its museum with a great view of the Presidential Palace and garden. King Sayasetthathirath constructed the temple in 1565, as his personal place of worship and to house the Emerald Buddha, which remained there until 1828, when it was lost to invading Siam. The temple was destroyed, but rebuilt in in 1936. However, monks never returned to reside there. The temple was converted into the Hor Phra Keo Museum in the 1970s, and houses the nation’s finest collection of Buddhist sculptures and artefacts.
Vat Si Muang, home of Vientiane’s original city pillar sits at the junction of Rue Setthathirath and Samsenthai. Built in 1956, the holy believe the temple guards the spirit of a local pregnant girl, name “Si” who jumped to her death as a sacrifice, when the pillar was lowered into place. The golden temple annually attracts crowds to the colourful Phasat Pheung (wax pavilion) procession held two days before the That Luang Festival in November.
Stop and ponder That Dam (Black Stupa), a city landmark built in the 16th century as the home of a seven-headed serpent, which protected Vientiane and the Lane Xang Kingdom. It survived the 1828 Siamese invasion, and remains intact and covered with living vegetation in the centre of a traffic circle near downtown.
No visit to Vientiane is complete without a visit to That Luang, Laos’ most sacred religious structure and cultural monument. Locals believe that 2,000 years ago, the first governor of Vientiane, Phaya Chanthabouri Pasitthisack, built a stupa on the site that resembled a kiln about 9 metres tall. History states the original That Luang was built in 1566 by King Sayasetthathirath, and is thought to contain a Buddha relic. The golden stupa, which stands 45 metres tall, was restored in 1953, and its golden centrepiece resembles an elongated lotus bud. Every year, the That Luang Festival is held in November.
While roaming downtown, take a look around Vat Ong Teu, built in the 16th century by King Setthathirath. The Siamese destroyed the temple during the 19th century, but it was rebuilt shortly after by the French. The temple then became a school for Theravada Buddhism. It is now the national centre of Buddhist studies in Laos, and a visit reveals book-toting monks as well as several Buddha statues, including Vientiane’s largest.
One block west on Setthathirath Road, 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.
Museums & History
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 is home to government functions and ceremonies, but not the Lao president, and is landscaped with well-manicured lawns and gardens. At night, lights focus on the palace, providing excellent opportunities to take great pictures.
Stop in at the nearby 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 for visitors. To support COPE, make a purchase at its gift shop.
Prominently standing on Lane Xang Avenue is 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. Nearby, 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.
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 structure became the Laos exhibition Hall of the Revolution, and in 1985, it was further upgraded to the Lao Museum of the Revolution. 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.
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 hero of the nation.
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.
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.
Stop at Talat Sao (The Morning Market) and its two malls sitting in a cluster on Lane Xang. Talat Sao mostly serves locals seeking housewares, textiles, everyday products and souvenirs. It is straddled by two malls. The older mall on the corner mostly offers clothes, mobile devices, gold jewellery, and nick-knacks, while the newer mall next door offers more upscale products and cafes.
Next to the Central Bus Station behind Talat Sao, 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.
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. Head downriver to Walking Street, where you can grab a seat at a quiet restaurant or bar and enjoy the sunset over the Mekong.