Discover Golden Buddhas, palm trees, Hindu Gods, monks and temples, while eating baguette in the most relaxed and spiritual capitals ever: Vientiane in Laos.
“Simply beautiful” is the official tourism slogan of Laos. The earlier nickname was apparently “forgotten”. But not anymore… The European Council on Trade and Tourism awarded the country the “World Best Tourist Destination” designation for 2013 for its combination of architecture and history, and tourism is the fastest growing industry in Laos – with twice as many tourists now as in 2009. Just imagine how few we were back in 2004… But it still not on the trodden path – which I guess is also good!
Vientiane is probably the most laid-back capital I’ve been to. And that’s counting Phnom Penh….
It’s way more interesting than given credit. Vientiane is the biggest city in Laos with almost 800.000 residents. We started the first day by trying to locate our Lonely Planet we lost. Remember, this was before real useful internet – so LP was a lifeline. Luckily, we found it! We celebrated by eating breakfast: omelette baguette! Laos was colonised (or protected) by the French for about 50 years, so baguettes are the most common bread.
In the afternoon, we had all our pictures from the camera made into a CD (that’s what you did then), and then of course my husband sat on the disc – breaking it! Luckily – the photo shop still had all our pictures on their machine – so again … saved. We celebrated with dinner at a Sichuan restaurant. Lao people only make up about 50% of the population….
There are some interesting sights in the city. The city is built on Buddhism, so the temples are of course the most predominant sights with Pha Tat Luang as the most iconic and Ho Prakeo as the oldest. The kingdom of Lan Xang Hom kHao became very wealthy due to trade giving it the possibility to built these fantastic temples. During conflicts with the Siamese in the 1700’s and 1800’s some were destroyed and many lost their treasure, like the Emerald Buddha. But the architecture is unique to the area and worth coming for!
Also check out the food markets and the morning market.
→ Pha That Luang
The Stupa is the main sight and the most sacred monument in Laos. It dates from the 16th century and is 45 meters tall. You’ll also see it on their currency. It is beautiful in the late afternoon light (the stupa – not the money). It’s trying to become a UNESCO site.
→ Wat Ho Phra Keo
It’s also called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and dates all the way from 1565. The name comes from the famous Emerald Buddha which once stood in the temple. The Laotian King stole it from Siam, but they took it back later, and it’s now in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
The temple was originally the Lao Royal family’s personal chapel. On its veranda, you’ll see some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture in Laos. The interior of the temple is now a museum housing many Lao treasures such as a gilded throne, Khmer Buddhist stone tablets, wooden carvings, bronze frog drums and palm-leaf manuscripts.
→ Patuxai Victory Monument
This monument commemorates moving the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. The Arch de Triomphe is decorated with Hindu Gods and is a focal traffic point.
→Wat Ong Theu
This was also built in the 16th century and also destroyed and reconstructed. It’s the National Center of Buddhist studies and has some spectacular colours.
→ That Dum Stupa
On top is a Lotus – a symbol of strength! According to legend it houses a seven-headed sacred serpent protecting the city.
→ Wat Si Saket
Si Saket is the oldest wat in Laos, and the only temple that survived the Siamese occupation in 1828. This might be because it’s built in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture and the Siamese used it as their headquarters.
The cloister walls contain several thousand Silver and golden Buddhas. There’s also a drum tower, a library and 5-meter long coiled serpent (naga).
GETTING THERE & AWAY
We missed the bus to Vientiane, because I got sick (2 bus tickets not used). But after a few days, we took the VIP bus from Savankhet to Vientiane – it took 7,5 hours. They played karaoke videos and slaps stick comedy – it was impossible to understand, but it helps pass the time and tells you a great deal of the country’s humour. It was February, and it rained almost all the way.
My husband became ill the day we were suppose to leave, (2 more bus tickets not used), so we actually stayed in Vientiane for 4 whole days and 6 nights. Just chilling. We took the bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang – or that is: we were suppose to. But the bus left without us (and 2 more bus tickets not used), so the trip included a night in Vang Vieng. But more on that in a later post…
My husband and I travelled through Laos as part of our 3 month long journey in South East Asia in 2003-04. We entered Laos by boat from Cambodia and left again by boat to Thailand. The roads were way better than in Cambodia, but the food not as good as at it’s neighbours. But it was the most relaxed and spiritual of all the countries and I would like to go back and chill.
Have you been to Laos?
To get more SEA inspiration from out trip: A jungle empire! Angkor in Cambodia is a must-see! & Easy Riders: Seeing Vietnam from the back of a war veteran’s motorcycle!