For many, Laos is the highlight of their Southeast Asia trip as it has been saved from the mass tourist trail that has led to her neighbours –Thailand and Vietnam. This relatively undeveloped nation is located between rugged mountains and the fertile low lands of the Mekong, and is touched by both European and Asian cultures. The city’s man-made structures are as distinctive as the areas of natural splendor.
Modernity has yet to infiltrate this sleepy capital, where temples and religious affiliations blend with the rural foundations of the city. The majority of the city’s sights are situated within relatively close proximity of each another due to the fact that an urban sprawl has yet to materialize within the city.
Vang Vieng for many travelers is simply a piece of heaven on earth. Surrounded by scenic landscape ranging from mountains to rivers and limestone cliffs to rice fields, this small and scenic town offers a long list of interesting attractions. Read more…
Just 16 kilometers outside of Vientiane situated on the banks of the Mekong is the agricultural city of Ban Hom. A day trip might involve taking a wander around the preserved temples before visiting a primary school or watching a weaving demonstration, where the process of fabric making is laid bare. This day is really about getting to grips with authentic Laos culture, with everything from school presentations to observing traditional farming and fishing methods on the itinerary.
Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)
24km south of Vientiane, Buddha Park is in a field near the Mekong River. The park, as its name would suggest, is littered with religious sculptures and was built in 1958 by the philosopher Bunleua Sulilat who famously combined Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, mythology and iconography.
The featured gods range from Vishnu to Arjuna and many in between, all allegedly crafted by unskilled artists who followed the explicit directions of Sulilat. The pumpkin-shaped monument has three levels, each representing heaven, hell and earth.
Beyond these the roof area has a superb panoramic view of the surrounding park and river.
Patuxai (literally Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph), formerly the Anousavary or Anousavari Monument, is situated in the centre of Vientiane. Built between 1962 and 1968, the Laotians built it as a mark of respect for all those who fought in the struggle for independence from the French.
Ironically, the monument bears a slight resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe, although the attention to detail and intricate design is typically Laotian, boasting four rather than two archways. The view from the top is spectacular. Built with cement that was purchased from America, with the intention of constructing a new airport, the locals sometimes refer to the monument as the ‘vertical runway’.
Laos National Cultural Hall
Built by the Chinese in the 1990’s, as a gift to the Laos people, the building is not the most attractive Vientiane has known. Occasionally French cinema and Lao classical dance events are held here within the hall, although it is difficult to access information to find out exactly when. Those interested should keep an eye on the Vientiane Times.
Laos National Museum
This French colonial building, formerly a government office block, is now used to document the struggles and the eventual overthrowing of the French and the subsequent implementation of the communist structure. The Museum Revolution is a two-storey colonial mansion, separated into different sections; each relevant to the country’s history. Departments include culture, archaeology, history and politics, with the latter two making up the majority of the display. This is an interesting way to get better acquainted with the history of Laos through the eyes of the country and visitors should keep in mind that the English translations are not that detailed but the photographs and displays are well put together and insightful all the same.
Known as the ‘Black Stupa’, many locals believe this mythological structure was once inhabited by a seven-headed dragon (now dormant) that stood to protect the city from the threat of the Siamese. Another tale that does the rounds says that the gold that once graced the surface was taken when the Siamese army ransacked Vientiane back in 1828. Situated in the centre of the city, just past the US embassy, you will find one of Laos’ oldest temples.
A symbol of Laos’s nationhood and the country’s most sacred Buddhist monument, That Luang was built in the 16th century under the rule of King Setthathirat. A symbol of the main stupa appears on the country’s national seal.
After being destroyed by the Thai invasion in the 19th century, the monument was later restored to its original design, with inclusion of many references to Lao culture and identity, hence its status as a symbol of the nation. Each level features different architectural designs with encoded Buddhist doctrine.
Wat Ho Phakeo
This temple was built in 1565 as a royal chapel and repository for the celebrated statue of the Emerald Buddha, which the Laotians had seized from Northern Thailand in 1551. The statue remained in the temple until 1778, when the Thais invaded and recaptured it, taking it to Bangkok. The temple was destroyed in 1828-1829 during the Thai sacking of Vientiane; rebuilt in 1936; and restored again in 1993. Inspired by a 19th century Bangkok temple style, it is renowned throughout Southeast Asia for its intrinsic value to Buddhist art.
The only temple in Vientiane to survive the sacking of the city by the Siamese in 1828, Wat Sisaket is the oldest and considered by many to be the most interesting of the Laotian temples.
The interior walls of Ho Trai and the main hall feature hundreds of little niches and shelves containing a total of 6,840 Buddha images and Buddhist inscriptions from the 18th century.
Over 300 hundred Buddha images varying in size and material reside on the shelves, amongst the silver and ceramic Buddhist images, most of which are from 16th -19th century Vientiane.