Sights & Landmarks in Vientiane
Vientiane is best viewed as a comfortable transit point for other places in Laos, or as a recuperative stop on the way out. It's a pleasant enough place, but generally, there is little reason to spend more than a couple of days here.
- COPE Visitor Centre (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) (Khou Vieng Rd, 300 m east of Water Park/JoMa Cafe, opposite Green Park Hotel).09:00-18:00. This centre explores the Lao legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and the National Rehabilitation Centre's efforts to expand prosthetic, orthotic, and rehabilitation services across the country. There are a number of exhibits and visitors can watch a number of short films on the subject. Exhibits are appropriate for all ages. An excellent gift shop offers fun, offbeat souvenirs that support a good cause. Free parking. Free.
- Kaysone Phomvihane Museum (km6 Dongdok Rd). Tu-Su, 09:00-16:00.Kaysone Phomvihane was the leader of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party from 1955. He served as the first prime minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic from 1975 to 1991 and then as president from 1991 until his death a year later. 5,000 kip.
- Lao National Museum (Lao Revolutionary Museum ພິພິຕະພັນແຫ່ງຊາດ), Samsenthai Rd (Next to Lao Plaza Hotel). 08:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00.Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum. It should be rechristened the Lao Natural, Cultural, and Political Science and History Museum, the historical exhibits on the first floor are modest though very interesting in depicting some of the early history. They include one of the original jars from the Plain of Jars and various stone and Bronze Age implements. The second floor provides great insight into the 18th Century Laotian Kingdom and the customs of the day. It would appear that the Laotians did not treat their guests quite as well in those days, often keeping them from leaving the country for several months. The floor builds up to a fervently revolutionary pitch as it documents the heroic struggle of the Lao against the Siamese (Thai), French, and American imperialists. Exhibits include items such as socks worn by politburo members when they escaped from prison and Kaysone Phomvihane's chest expander. The final rooms, on post-revolutionary Laos, are mostly a photo gallery of pressing topics such as the comrades of the 7th Plenary Session of the Laos People's Congress inspecting fertilizer production processes. The final rooms provide an insight into some of the modern advancements, though these are fairly dowdy and uninspiring. Visitors are routed through the shop, and items look like they have been on sale since the revolution in 1975. A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young Western visitors on the merits of communism. Most exhibits are labelled in broken English, though some French labelling remains, occasionally to the exclusion of English. 10,000 kip.
- Lao People's Army History Museum, Kaysone Phomvihane Rd, Ban Nongsangthong. Tu-Su, 08:30-16:30. Displays the equipment and other items from the period of revolutionary struggle, 1950-1975. 5,000 kip.
- Patuxai (Victory Gate), Ave Lane Xang. A local rendition of the Arc de Triomphe. Besides having elaborate Buddhist embellishment, it differs from the original in having four gates instead of two and being just a bit higher to spite the French. Reasonably impressive from afar, a surprisingly frank English sign inside the monument labels it a "monster of concrete" when seen up close. The concrete was donated by the US, although it was supposed to go towards a new airport instead: hence the nickname "the Vertical Runway". The monument itself aside, the palm tree-lined park around it complete with fountains is quite pleasant though lacking of shade during the daytime. You can climb up to the 7th storey, stairs only, for a nice view of central Vientiane and three levels of souvenir shops with less than enthusiastic sales people sitting about. It features a musical fountain nearby that attracts visitors from around Laos and Asia, as well as a World Peace Gong presented by Indonesia. Roving cameramen will be happy to charge you for photos near these attractions. 3,000 kip (to climb).
- President Souphanouvong Memorial, Kaysone Phomvihane Rd, Ban Phonsa-art. Tu-Su, 08:30-16:00. 5,000 kip.
- Presidental Palace.
- Lao Cultural Hall, Rue Setthathilath.
Temples and stupas
There are many more temples all over the town, but if you are out to admire temples Luang Prabang is the place to go, not Vientiane.
Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee 5,000 kip and are open 08:00-16:00, with a 12:00-13:00 lunch break. The monks at places that don’t charge a fee are grateful for a small donation.
- Chinese Temple, Quai Fa Ngum (Two blocks from Wat Xieng Nyeun).
- Black Stupa (That Dam) (Bartholomie Rd, off Samsenthai Rd near the US embassy). The mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. It was renovated in 1995, but still has an attractive patina of age, and is slowly being overgrown again by lush grass vegetation. Take care as there have been dog attacks at night.
- Hophakaew Museum (Ho Phra Keo), Setthathirat Rd (Opposite Wat Si Saket). A stunning, elegant, and majestic structure, King Setthathirat's former royal temple, which housed the magical Emerald Buddha (pha kaew) after it was taken from Lanna (Chiang Mai). The Siamese took it back in 1779, and is now housed in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew. Later the Thais returned in 1828 to raze the temple. The present structure is a 1942 reconstruction of dubious provenance. Today, the temple no longer operates and the interior has been turned into a small jumbled museum housing Buddha images. Look for the beautiful tall, lithe, long-armed Buddha in the hands-down "calling for rain" pose. 5,000 kip.
- Inpeng Temple (Wat Inpeng).
- Pha That Luang (That Luang Rd (2 km east of Patuxai).). Daily, 08:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00. The national symbol and most important religious monument of the country, That Luang is a three-layered gilded stupa. The current version dates from 1566, although it has been ransacked and renovated numerous times since then. Accessing the inner courtyard gives you a slightly closer view of the stupa, and lots of Buddha statues. Vientiane's most important festival, Bun That Luang, is held here in Nov on the night of the full moon. There are two temples beside That Luang: Wat That Luang Neua (north) and Wat That Luang Tai (south), both currently being renovated. 5,000 kip.
- Wat Chan (Vat Chantha), Quai Fa Ngum (ຖະໜົນເຈົ້າຟ້າງຸ່ມ).
- Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay & Haisok, Rue Setthathilath (Along Setthatirat Rd in the town centre). Given their location, the temples most likely to be visited by tourists.
- Wat Xieng Ngeun, Xieng Nyeun.
- Wat Si Muang (Between Setthatirat Rd and Samsenthai Rd, about 1 km east of the centre). Disney-esque and gaudy in set-up, one would not think that it's a religious compound. Despite its small size, the temple is very active. Followers believe that lifting the small Buddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered. The city pillar is being housed in a pagoda-like structure now being constructed separately on another block northwest across the street. Free.
- Wat Si Saket (Sisaket Museum), Lan Xang Avenue (ຖະໜົນລ້ານຊ້າງ) (Corner of Lane Xang Rd and Setthathirat Rd). With very contemplative ambience, probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. Built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok-style and hence left unsacked when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Within the cloister walls are hundreds of niches housing Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the centre of the courtyard is a five-tier-roofed sim(ordination hall) housing yet more Buddha niches and beautiful, but fading murals of the Buddha's past lives. 5,000 kip.
- Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) (Some 24 km from the city, it's about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge, hence well worth visiting on the way into or out of Laos if you're crossing the Friendship Bridge, thereby saving you a 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane).An outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities, and real and religious beasts. The reclining Buddha is especially impressive. The Park was built in 1958 by the mystic Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. In 1978 he fled to Thailand, following the communist take-over and went on to create a larger version of the Park (Sala Keoku or Sala Kaew Ku) across the river in Nong Khai,Thailand. There are two travel options. Hire a taxi/tuk tuk from Vientiane, say 100,000 kip. The second, take a public bus. Bus #14 travels from the Khua Din (central Vientiane) station, past the Friendship Bridge, all the way to the Buddha Park for 6,000 kip, one-way. For your return there are always tuk tuks at the Park waiting for customers, or take the bus back. The last bus back to Vientiane departs from the park at 16:45. Entrance 5,000 kip, plus 3,000 kip per camera (phones free).
- National Ethnic Cultural Park (On the main road (Thadeua Rd), just before the access road to the Friendship Bridge branches off). Here, typical houses of various ethnic groups are on display, though only from the outside unless you happen to meet some kind of custodian who will unlock some of them and show the inside. There also are some statues of dinosaurs and a rather dismal looking small "zoo". Most times the only activity seems to be the kiosks where they sell soft drinks and crisps/chips, but there are said to be occasional cultural shows. Tour operators often take their guests here before or after a visit to the Buddha Park. Not worth a trip.