Vientiane has a small, almost beach town feel. It’s clear that many of the shops, bars, and restaurants cater to tourists, leaving the city to feel like it’s lacking character and culture. In many touristy cities, locals may feel bitter to or agitated by the tourists, but this was not my experience in Vientiane. People were very friendly, talkative, and helpful.
My first night in the city, I walked from my hostel to the night market along the water. I was waiting for cars to pass by before crossing the street when a woman came up and wrapped her arm around mine. She helped me cross the street and walked with me hand in hand to the night market. Her and her friends took some pictures with me, and they invited me to throw darts at balloons with them (this balloon dart game is everywhere in the night market, so you’re constantly startled by balloons popping).
For another example of friendliness, I took the pubic bus to go to the airport. It’s more like an old, run down van than a bus and nothing is in English. I showed people the name of the airport in Laos and asked them where to go. People would point in directions near the bus and so each person I talked to got me closer to the location of the bus. Even when I was on the bus, I wasn’t entirely sure if it was correct or where I would get off, so I showed the airport name to multiple people. Essentially, everyone on the bus was helping me figure out how to get to the airport. Luckily, I made it there smoothly, but it was definitely a team effort.
I was the most excited to visit Buddha Park, so immediately after dropping off my backpack at the hostel, I hopped on the local bus #14 and headed to the park. The bus costs about 75 cents and takes around an hour to get to the park. Buddha Park is crazy, trippy, and amazing all in one. It was designed by a rogue monk who incorporated Buddhist and Hindu gods and figures. The monk intentionally made the statues look old and worn. You can climb into the “pumpkin” in the park and see a plethora of tiny statues depicting various good and evil scenes. At the top of the pumpkin, you can see views of the whole park.
Initially, I tried to see the Putaxai Monument at night, but it was closed for the day so I went back the next day to see views of Vientiane. The monument was built with funding from America that was actually supposed to be spent on building a new airport. It represents freedom from the struggle of independence from France and resembles the Arc de Triomphe in France.
Wat Si Saket
This temple is such a cool place to explore. There are literally thousands of Buddha statues in the temple. It is also the oldest temple in Vientiane because it was used as the Siam headquarters during the Siamese-Laos war during which all the other temples were destroyed by the Siamese.
Pha That Luang
This is a large, gold Buddhist stupa built originally in the 13th century after a Khmer temple was destroyed in the same location. It is the most important national monument of Laos and national symbol of Laos, so you can find all kinds of touristy gifts with the shape of the stupa. It’s located in the center of Vientiane, but further away from the other tourist sites, so I took a tuk tuk to get there.
Wat Ho Phra Keo
The Wat Ho Phra Keo is surrounded by a beautiful, lush garden and the temple itself has ornate gold and jeweled designs. The temple was destroyed during the Siamese-Laos war and reconstructed between 1936 and 1942.
While you cannot go into the Presidential Palace, it does offer a sharp contrast to the surrounding buildings because of its grandeur. It’s located near the Wat Si Saket and Wat Ho Phra Keo and cannot be missed, especially when walking down the Ave Lane Xang which is in between the Presidential Palace and the Putaxai Monument.
COPE Visitor Center
When in Vientiane, stopping by the COPE Visitor Center is a must. It has a donation based entry and is run by a non-profit that helps rehab people with physical disabilities and provides them with prosthetics and walking aids. The main focus of the center is on rehabbing victims of bombs and explosives released by the United States during the Vietnam war. The exhibits and documentaries show powerful messages about the repercussions of war that disregards civilian causalities and how unexploded bomb materials become incorporated in people’s lives in various parts of Laos.
Lao National Museum
Definitely an interesting, must see place. The exhibits are fairly elementary and appear almost like a high school project. The museum has a strong emphasis on the struggle for independence, a romanticism of communism, and a hatred towards the United States. The building is pretty old and run down. I stepped on a floor board, and it started to give way so I quickly moved away from that spot.
Laos Traditional Massage
For less than $10, I had to try a traditional Laos massage. Having had traditional Thai massages in Northern Thailand, the Laos massage seemed fairly similar. The masseuse used her entire body to perform the massage. This involved all forms stretching, pounding, and massaging. The experience was fairly uncomfortable, so I probably didn’t reap the full benefits of the massage because I wasn’t fully relaxed during it. Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile experience.
While in Vientiane, I had to try some street food. It’s also way cheaper even compared to the already cheap prices of food at restaurants (I’m getting used to the cheap prices living in Myanmar). I had fried noodles, noodle soup, and buns from street stands. All were cheap and delicious. One night, I went to the Anu Night Market to get some dinner. This market is frequented by locals riding through on motorbikes to pick up dinner for their families at home. I tried a Laotian sausage and really wanted some sticky rice. I thought I was buying sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf, but it turns out I bought a small slice of salami with a pickled pepper. Because the salami was cold, I only had a small bite to avoid getting food poisoning. Luckily, I never got seriously ill from the street food!