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The Top 10 Things to Do in Vientiane, Laos

By Wendy Updated Jan. 16, 2024

The top things to do in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, including visiting temples, pagodas, and markets, and trying local cuisine.

Vientiane is the capital and the largest city of Laos. The ancient city was first built in the 4th century BC and has been the capital and economic center of Laos since the 16th century AD.

At first glance, Vientiane is more of a small city than the capital of a nation because it is not as busy and bustling as other capital cities. But when you travel around the city and are attracted by the gorgeous temples and pagodas, you will get a better understanding of this cultural and spiritual center.

If you are interested in Laos and Vientiane, just read on to see the top 10 things to do in this ancient and tranquil city.

1. Take a Photo with Patuxai, the "Arc de Triomphe" of Laos

Located in the center of Vientiane, Patuxai is a monument for the people who fought for the country during WWII. It is a very popular place for travelers to take photos and it looks similar to the Arc de Triomphe in France.

When you get closer to it, you'll find the building has a strong Southeast Asian style in its appearance and details. The carvings on the arch come from the Buddhist culture and the spikes have the character found in the country's Buddhist temples.

Cost: Free. A ticket to climb the stairs inside the building costs 3,000 kip (about 0.30 USD).

2. Admire Pha That Luang, the Magnificent Pagoda Complex

Location: Rue 23 Singha, about 2 kilometers north of Patuxai

Pha That Luang, namely "the pagodas built by the king", is the symbol of the country's Buddhism and the most magnificent pagoda complex in Laos. The main pagoda is 45 meters high with 30 smaller pagodas surrounding it, symbolizing Sakyamuni and the 30 perfections of Buddhism. All the pagodas are plated with gold.

Pha That Luang is located about 4 kilometers from the center of Vientiane.

Please note: You are not allowed to wear shorts or short skirts in the temple. You can hire a long skirt at the entrance for 5,000 kip (0.50 USD).

Cost: 10,000 kip (about 1 USD)

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3.Visit Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Location: Rue Setthathirath, located about 1.2 kilometers from Patuxai

Wat Phra Kaew, or "the Temple of the Emerald Buddha", is a museum of religious art. The temple was first built in 1565 but was then destroyed and the Emerald Buddha statue was taken (you can see this statue in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew). The temple that stands there today was rebuilt in 1942.

Although the emerald statue that the temple was named after is gone, the precious collections are wonderful samples of the country's Buddhist culture. The carvings on the gate and walls as well as the golden, jade, and crystal Buddha statues are worth a visit.

Cost: 5,000 kip (about 0.50 USD)

4. Observe Believers Praying in Wat Si Muang

Location: the junction of Rue Setthathirath, Rue Samsenthai, and Rue Thadeua; it is about 1.4 kilometers south of Patuxai

Wat Si Muang might be the liveliest Buddhist temple in Laos. Every day, local people and travelers from around the world visit it and pray there. The Buddha statue in the main hall, which stayed intact during wartimes, is believed to bring good luck and make prayers come true.

Cost: free

5. Admire Buddha Statues in Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)

Location: about 23 kilometers southeast of the city center, on the bank of the Mekong River

Buddha Park is formally called Xieng Khuan. If you are interested in Buddhist sculptures, the park is a must-see attraction for you.

There are nearly 100 Buddha statues exhibited in the park. You may find nearly all of the Hindu and Buddhist divinities there, including Shiva, Vishnu, Sakyamuni, and more. The most eye-catching one is the reclining Buddha, which is over 50 meters long.

There is a marvelous pagoda in the park, which is known as "hell to heaven". The paintings and sculptures in the pagoda display people suffering in hell but a golden Buddha statue on the top level embodies heaven.

Cost: 15,000 kip (about 1.50 USD)

6. Rest in Mekong Riverside Park and Observe the Statue of Chao Anouvong

Location: about 2 kilometers southwest of the city center

Mekong Riverside Park is public and free to visit. After you have visited the attractions on your list, you can finish your day at the park. Just sit down and admire the sunset over the Mekong River.

The most obvious attraction is the statue of Chao Anouvong, who was the last ruler of the Kingdom of Vientiane. The statue is holding a sword and pointing from Thailand to the other side of the river, silently telling about the conflict history between Laos and Thailand hundreds of years ago.

7. Buy Souvenirs at Talat Sao, Vientiane's Morning Market

Location: in the center of Vientiane, at the junction of Rue Lan Xang and Rue Khu Vieng

If the temples represent the faith of Laotians, then the morning market called Talat Sao stands for their daily life.

Although it's known as the morning market, it actually operates until 4pm. The market is held on two stories with hundreds of stores selling all kinds of goods ranging from electronic appliances to traditional clothes. Local people and travelers like to take hours looking for goods.

8. Walk Around Mekong Riverside's Night Market

Location: near Mekong Riverside Park

At about 4 to 5pm, vendors will set up their stalls and prepare for business. At about 6pm, no vehicles are allowed on the street by the Mekong River and local people will gather on the temporary pedestrian street for shopping and entertainment.

For travelers, it is not the best place to shop because the goods are not very attractive and there are lots of fakes. However, it is an interesting place to get closer to the locals.

The nearby square is where local people go to do their exercises. At about 7pm, hundreds of local people gather in the square and do bodybuilding. The music and crowds make the market lively.

9. Taste the Local Cuisine

In Vientiane, you have plenty of chances to taste the local cuisine.

For breakfast, local people like to eat glutinous rice with a meat salad called laap or laab, which is a blend of fish, pork, or beef with parsley, mint, and orange sauce. The highlight is that the whole dish can be eaten raw.

For lunch and dinner, you may try more characteristic food, such as roast chicken with mint, a Laos hot pot, and spicy fish soup. It is possible to find restaurants that prepare local ingredients in a more delicate way or in a Western style. Some Indian or Thai restaurants also provide tasty Southeast Asian dishes.

10. Drink Beerlao at 34-Station

Location: about 5 kilometers east of the city center

Vientiane is not just about traditions and history. Youngsters in this city like to seek excitement and the open-air club 34-Station is one of the most welcoming places for them.

34-Station is a series of restaurants and bars that are built in containers. At night, youngsters go there for food, entertainment, and their favorite drink, Beerlao. You will find that the young people in their 20s are just as active as others of their age group around the world.

Be aware that 34-Station is not an attraction for travelers and the flavors of the food are limited but it is still a wonderful place to see a different side to Vientiane.

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