Vientiane Capital’s Heritage Sites
Along Lane Xang
Presidential Palace: Lane 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 home of government functions and ceremonies, but not the Lao president, is landscaped with well-manicured lawns and gardens. At night, lights focus on the palace, providing excellent opportunities to take great pictures.
Location: The palace sits at the southeast end of Lane Xang Avenue at the junction of Setthathirath Road with Patuxay Monument at the far end.
Hor Phra Keo Museum: Enter a museum inside a 16th-century temple, and admire one of the country’s best collections of ancient Buddhist artefacts and manuscripts. Lane Xang King Setthathirath built Hor Phra Keo in 1565 as a royal chapel and to house the highly revered Emerald Buddha (Phra Keo). The invading Siamese captured the precious Buddha some 200 years later, when they sacked Vientiane and destroyed Hor Phra Keo. Chao Anouvong, who ruled Laos in the early 19th century, renovated the royal place of worship in 1816. It was restored again in 1936, and converted into a museum in the 1970s.
Walk into Hor Phra Keo’s landscaped garden, and see a 2,000-year-old giant urn from the Plain of Jars. Pause at the terrace’s display of stone Buddhas, some of which date to the 6th century. They are joined by bronze Buddhas from a later period. Step through the original, intricately carved doors of the ordination hall to examine more Buddha images, including a wooden replica of Phra Bang, a very sacred Buddha image, now housed in the Luang Prabang Museum. You can also inspect the empty gold throne on which the Emerald Buddha once sat, stone Khmer steles, wood carvings, a bronze drum, and palm-leaf Buddhist manuscripts.
Location: Hor Phra Keo is situated on the right-hand side of Setthathirath Road, about 100 metres from the Presidential Palace.
Patuxay Monument: Don’t miss Vientiane’s best known landmark, Patuxay (Victory Monument), prominently standing on Lane Xang Avenue. The monument was modelled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and built between 1957 and 1968 with materials earmarked for an airport. Patuxay sports Lao motifs, and a climb to the top reveals the best panoramic views of the city and beyond.
“Patuxay” translates to “Victory Gate”, and rises as a war monument dedicated to those who fought against colonial France. The Royal Lao Government erected the monument, originally named Anousavali (Memory), with US funds and cement intended for building an airport, thus it earned the nickname, “The Vertical Runway”. In May 1975, the Pathet Lao overthrew the US-backed royal government, and renamed the monument Patuxay in honour of their victory and independence.
Laotian architect, Tham Sayasthsena, designed Patuxay. The corners are decorated with images of mythical Naga serpents spraying water into ponds, which represents nature, fertility, welfare and happiness. These ponds sit between the corners and also symbolize a lotus.
The four corners serve as towers with a fifth in the centre. These represent five pillars of Buddhism: kindness, flexibility, honesty, honour, and prosperity. Two of the corner towers have staircases that lead to the top viewing gallery with an unrivalled panorama of the capital. Patuxay is decorated with mythological creatures and gods: Vishnu, Brahma, and Indra. Frescoes of nature scenes are on the tower’s walls.
Location: Patuxay is located at the northwest end of Lane Xang Avenue at a multi-road junction with the Presidential Palace at the far end.
Hor Trai Library: Step inside Vat Sisaket Temple to a small ordination hall, Hor Trai, displaying 18th-century Buddhist manuscripts.
Location. From the Presidential Palace, cross Setthathirath Road on the right-hand side of Lane Xang. The entrance to Vat Sisaket is a few metres from the corner.
Downtown & The Mekong
Lao National Museum: Get a head start on your historical journey into Laos at the National Museum. Constructed in 1925, the building served at various times as the Lao government’s headquarters, the king’s home, and the prime minister’s office. In 1980, the French colonial structure became the Laos Exhibition Hall of the Revolution, and 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. The ground floor hosts displays of ancient relics, dinosaur bones, pottery shards, and Khmer sculptures that reflect the country’s early history. Upstairs, detailed exhibits depict Laos’ more modern history, from Siamese invasions and the French colonial era, to American military presence in the 1960s-70s through independence.
Location: The Lao National Museum is located on Samsenthai Road, across from the National Cultural Hall and a block from the Lao Plaza Hotel.
Chao Fa Ngum Statue: Head to the west side of the city to 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. The statue of King Fa Ngum with three elephants in the small park is a popular landmark and place have a picnic in town.
The story behind the monument begins in 1353, when Chao Fa Ngum founded Lane Xang Hom Khao (Kingdom of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol). Legend claims Chao Fa Ngum was born in 1316 with 33 teeth, and the last son of Chao Fa Ngiew. He was seen as bringing bad luck, and banished. He was placed on a raft and floated down the Mekong the Khmer Kingdom of Angkor, where he grew up and married a Khmer princess. Around 1350, Fa Ngum returned home, and assembled an army, going on to unify the far reaches of Laos into the Lane Xang Kingdom. He reigned until 1372. Note that this is a similar tale told about Souvannakhomkham in Bokeo Province
Location: The statue and park are located west of town, where Samsenthai and Setthathirath Roads meet.
Chao Anouvong Park: Head to downtown’s main attraction on the Mekong River – 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 statue was constructed in 2010 during Vientiane’s 450th Anniversary to commemorate the King’s contribution to Vientiane and the Vientiane Kingdom. During his reign, Chao Anouvong fought invading Siamese, only to be overwhelmed and captured. Vientiane surrendered to the Siamese, but because of his valiant attempt to fend off the sizeable Siamese army, Chao Anouvong is considered a courageous hero who fought to his death. If you visit at night, enjoy shopping and snacking at the Mekong Night Market.
Location: The statue is located at the downriver end of the park, and across Fa Ngum Road from the back of the Presidential Palace.
Army History Museum: Stop at the Lao People’s Army History Museum, a must-see for military buffs with an exhibition of troop vehicles and war planes welcoming visitors to the grounds.
Opened in 1976, the museum presents 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 of the destruction caused by bombings and battles. Displays show weapons, tools, and photos of the Lao People’s Army during the revolutionary period from 1950 until independence in 1975.
Location: The Army History Museum is located at the head of Kaysone Phomvihane Avenue across from the intersection at That Luang.
Kaysone Phomvihane Museum: Venture just past the new National Convention Centre, and visit the Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial Museum, built in 2000 to honour the nation’s revolutionary leader and president. Inside the traditional Lao-style building, you’ll find a photo exhibition of his life and the country’s struggle for independence. A shop selling books and souvenirs also sits inside.
Location: This museum is located next to the National Convention Centre on Kaysone Phomvihane Avenue.
Souphanouvong Museum: Stop by the Souphanouvong Museum dedicated to the accomplishments of the one-time Lao prince, senior leader of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, and then president of the country. The museum opened in 2005, in President Souphanouvong’s two-storey residence. Inside, you can ponder a photo exhibition of his activities in the revolutionary movement and see his rooms that portray his lifestyle as a founding father of Laos.