While Vientiane has some sightseeing attractions, the charm of the city is felt when wandering along the river, sitting in a cafe just watching the passing parade, and generally chilling out. It's probably best to start sightseeing at the temples. Some temples charge an entry fee for foreigners and are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a noon to 1 p.m. lunch break. The monks of those that don't charge a fee will be grateful for a small donation in the box.
Wat Si Saket
, now signposted as Sisaket Museum
, is probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. It was built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok style and hence was 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. Ho Phra Keo
opposite Wat Si Saket was King Setthathirat's former royal temple, which once held the Emerald Buddha now housed in Bangkok
's Wat Phra Kaew
. The Black Stupa (That Dam)
is the mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane.
There are three other places worth visiting. Pha That Luang
, a three-layered gilded stupa, is the national symbol and most important religious monument of the country. The current version dates from 1566. Vientiane's most important festival, Bun That Luang, is held here in November on the night of the full moon.
Patuxai ("Victory Gate")
is a local rendition of Paris' Arc de Triomphe
. Besides the elaborate Buddhist embellishment, it differs from the original in having four gates instead of two. Then there is the Lao National Museum
next to the Lao Plaza Hotel
. The historical exhibits on the first floor are modest, though they are very fascinating 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.
One of the most fascinating sightseeing attractions is located some 24 kilometers from the city, about six kilometers east of the Friendship Bridge. Buddha Park
is a bizarre outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities and real and imaginary beasts. The reclining Buddha is especially impressive.
Apart from sightseeing, you should experience a traditional Lao massage. There are lots of massage places all over the town, from hole-in-the-wall joints to upscale establishments. Prices range from $3 to $6 an hour USD, but are higher for the truly luxurious spalike places that go above and beyond to pamper you. There's also a nice little herbal sauna in Wat Sok Pa Luang (the forest temple) that charges 10,000 kip (Lao currency) for the sauna with free tea.
Then there is shopping. There's no better place to go than the Morning Market
, with its large collection of indoor stalls selling pretty much anything, including textiles, electronics, watches, clothing, gold and jewelry. Depending on the product, you should negotiate; discounts can vary from 10 percent to 33 percent. Despite the name, it operates from around 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Thanon Nokeo Khumman
Exquisite and Original Handwoven Silks... read more
Vat Inpeng Street
Vat Nak Road
Asian Vehicle Rental
1 Fa Ngoum
Lane Xang Hotel
KM6, Route 13 South
Opposite Lao National History Museum
118/2 Setthathirath Road
Fine Photographs and Handcrafted Cards... read more
63 Thanon Samsenthai
Inside Lao Plaza Hotel
Tempting Gateaux and Speciality Breads... read more
Opposite the Friendship Bridge
101/1 Samsenthai Road
Next to Lao-Paris Hotel
Nong Bone Road
Pungent Aromas and Unusual Produce... read more
117 Nongbouathong Tai Village
Corner of Setthathirat Road and Pangkham Street
Opposite Nom Phu Fountain