Vientiane is the capital city of Laos but many visitors here say that is feels more like a small village than a bustling central hub. Vientiane has a relaxed and serene vibe to it and you will find a number of attractions here that make it the perfect place to spend a few days before you head off to other places around the country.
Laos used to be a former French colony and with that in mind you can check out a number of French themed buildings and attractions that seem slightly at odds with the otherwise leafy and exotic surroundings that make up this capital city.
As Vientiane is also on the river, you can stroll along the riverfront promenade and enjoy local markets as well as sample delicious street food snacks.
There are also a clutch of interesting ancient buildings here such as Buddhist temples and you can get outside the city in no time to explore the little villages dotted around the encircling countryside.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Vientiane:
1. Scale the Patuxai Victory Monument
Patuxai Victory Monument is one of the best known landmarks in Vientiane and was designed to resemble the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
It is however also carved with symbols of Hindu Gods and has an additional five towers which resemble traditional Laotian buildings making this something of an East meets West kind of attraction.
The monument is part of the wider Patuxai Park and this is a great place to come if you want to go for a serene walk at sunset.
You can also take in the views across Vientiane from the top of the Patuxai Victory Monument either by climbing a set of stairs to the viewing platform or using an elevator.
2. Visit Xieng Khuan
Xieng Khuan is also known as Buddha Park and is some 25 kilometers outside Vientiane.
As you would guess from the name, is known for having more than 200 religious statues which are scattered all over the lush grounds.
The piece de resistance here is a sculpture of a reclining Buddha which is some 40 meters high and the park was the brainchild of a monk who designed the area in 1958 and who was interested in both Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, which is why you will find a mix of different influences here.
As you walk around make sure to look out for the sculpture of Indra who is atop a three headed elephant and who is considered to be the king of the gods in Hinduism.
Other highlights include famous gods on horseback as well as deities with multiple faces and arms.
3. Admire That Luang
That Luang is also called the Vientiane Great Stupa and has the claim to fame of being the most sacred building in all of Laos as well as one of the most picturesque.
The stupa dates from the 16th century and is a large complex that features the central stupa covered in gold leaf which soars to a height of 148 feet.
This is then surrounded by pretty turrets in the typical Laotian style and the whole complex is around four kilometers outside of the center of Vientiane so it makes a great place to visit as part of a day trip.
4. Eat at Vientiane Night Market
Vientiane Night Market is located along the scenic waterfront in the city.
The market usually gets going around sunset and you can come here to buy a range of items like clothes, textiles, accessories, handicrafts, paintings and myriad souvenirs.
In addition to the actual market stalls you will also find a wide range of street food stalls here where you can snack on some traditional Laotian snacks like barbecued meats, making this one of the cheapest places in Vientiane to dine in the evenings.
5. Admire Wat Ho Phra Keo
Wat Ho Phra Keo is a Buddhist temple in Vientiane which was built in 1565 and is also one of the most spectacular buildings in the city.
It is famous as it used to be the location of the famous Emerald Buddha statues which was stolen by Laotian royalty from Thailand before being retaken in 1778 and returned.
You can still see the statue in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and the temple in Laos is still known as the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ in reference to the story of the carving.
Even without the sculpture, this is also a very pretty temple in its own right, so it is well worth a visit.
6. Learn some history at the Lao National Museum
If you want to know more about the history and culture of Laos, then you need to head to the Lao National Museum, also sometimes referred to simply as The National Museum.
The museum is actually housed inside a building that was constructed during the French colonial period and you will find a huge number of interesting exhibits on sale here.
These include local artifacts like paintings, sculptures and jewelry, and you will also find galleries dedicated to period photographs.
There are even galleries that date from the prehistoric period that showcase dinosaur bones and ancient pottery fragments.
7. Explore Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is one of the most popular temples in Vientiane and is a great place to visit if you want to see some of the finest Laotian Buddhist design work in the country.
The temple takes it name from Si Muang who, local legend has it, was a young Laotian woman who sacrificed herself to please the local gods and allow for the building to be erected some 400 years ago.
The design features of the temple are truly stunning and you will also be able to watch long streams of pilgrims here worshipping at the temple.
8. Visit the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise
The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise is also known as COPE and is a charity in Vientiane that aims to treat and rehabilitate locals who have been the victims of unexploded landmines left over from the Vietnam War.
There are a number of centers across Laos but you can visit the one in Vientiane which has educational galleries to teach you more about the overall mission of COPE and videos of the work that they do in rural areas of the country.
You can also visit the prosthetic making workshops here to learn how artificial limbs are made.
9. Admire Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket has the claim to fame of being the only surviving temple in Laos from before the invasion of Siam in 1828. Unfortunately much of the city was razed to the ground at this time, but the temple managed to avoid being demolished and you can come here to check out the 5,000 sculptures of the Buddha for which it is also famous.
Other design points to look out for also include the yellow pillars that hold up the roof of the temple which is itself painted a vibrant shade of red.
10. Tour the Kaysone Phomvihane Museum
The Kaysone Phomvihane Museum was opened to commemorate the 75th birthday of the president of Laos and is also a monument to one of the most famous communist leaders in Indochina.
The museum is made up a number of galleries that tell the story of Kaysone, who in real life was actually rather private about his day to day affairs.
Both inside and outside the museum you will see a number of statues of Kaysone made of bronze and you can also check out a range of his personal memorabilia.
There is even a model of his home as a child and a model of the cave he hid inside in Hua Phan Province.
11. Go for a massage
Laos is known for its local massage technique which uses herbal sauna and steam rooms.
Local plants and herbs are boiled in a traditional Laotian bathhouse in a sealed room to create a steamy environment and this is then followed by a relaxing massage.
One of the most famous spots to try this is in Vientiane is at Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage which is located in a typical neighborhood of the city and is housed in a traditional building to give you an authentic glimpse of this ancient herbal massage technique.
12. Explore the Lao Textile Museum
This small museum used to be privately owned by a local family who also own the Kanchana Boutique.
Nowadays however it has morphed to become one of the key cultural sights in Vientiane and is located around a gorgeous little Laotian compound.
Here you will find a typical wooden house which is filled with ancient weaving tools and looms, and there are also antique textiles here that represent the various ethnic groups in Laos.
If you want to get hands on then you can also take a textile painting class.
13. Go on a cycling tour
Bicycle touring around Vientiane has become increasingly popular in recent years and you can now sign up for a tour with several companies like Vientiane ByCycle.
You can usually opt for half day or full day tours and a local tour guide will take you around the city to out of the way spots such as villages, temples and markets.
You can also cycle along the banks of the scenic Mekong River and this is a great way to check out the city and also get a workout in at the same time.
14. Visit the Kaysone Phomivan Memorial
The Kaysone Phomivan Memorial is different from the Kaysone Phomivan Memorial and is a located in the house of the former president of Laos who died in 1992. The home has been left much as it was when he died, and you can take a guided tour which will take you through the various rooms so that you can learn more about this famous figure in Laotian politics.
Although it is less grand than many people imagine, a tour of the home is actually one of the most authentic ways to learn more about the history of Laos.
15. Explore the National Ethnic Cultural Park
The National Ethnic Cultural Park is on the outskirts of Vientiane and is known for having models of traditional houses that represent all the different ethnic groups in Laos.
You can tour the different houses at the park as well as check out some statues of dinosaurs and visit the small zoo here.
There are also cultural shows held here on occasion and most people visit here on the way to or from Buddha Park, so you can make a day of it and combine the two attractions at the same time if you are in the area.