Why you should not skip the capital of Laos!
“Vientiane is best to skip,” is a familiar statement among backpackers. The capital of Laos has no major attractions and is therefore often skipped. But those who do a little bit of preparation know that you can do enough. We mention some of our favorite hidden highlights in Vietiane.
The big highlights in Vientiane
Who arrives in Vientiane will undoubtedly find a sleepy village, regardless of the time you arrive. The ‘center’, a handful of streets with guesthouses and restaurants, borders the Mekong with a long boulevard in between. This is where it takes place- not much at first sight. Therefore rent a bicycle (available for a few dollars a day at many guesthouses) and go on discovery in the area. Your first stop is Pha That Luang, north of the town. An immense stupa that is particularly quiet in the morning. Then continue towards Patuxai; the Laotian version of the Arc de Triomf. For a few Dollars you can climb him and you will be treated to amazing views from above.
Eat like a king
If you visit Vientiane after you have been traveling around for a while, then you are in for a treat. One of the finest highlights in Vientiane is the food. The French have clearly left their mark here and that is reflected in countless coffee houses, bakeries and lunchtentjes. For a good cup of coffee you go to The Little House and for a delicious Western croissant to The French Bakery. There is enough sweetness in the center, especially at The Scandinavian Bakery (which the French can not claim). Indeed, authentic Laotian dishes are not, but believe me: after a few weeks of traveling around Asia, a well-known sandwich in your hand is giant.
Stay close to this nice lunch, because there are plenty of highlights in Vientiane for which you do not have to leave the center. Wander around the streets and enjoy the colonial architecture (pay attention to the French street names and other references) and the friendly atmosphere that hangs there. You will also find enough temples here that are worth a visit. Especially Ho Phra Keo and Wat Sisaket are beautiful.
Visit the COPE Museum
The COPE Museum is less airy, but certainly one of the indispensable highlights in Vientiane. A place where the history of the devastating Vietnam War comes to life and where you learn more about what it has done with the country. Confronting and intense, but also very important to really get to know Laos.
Stroll around the
When the evening falls, the banks of the Mekong turn into an uproar of people and goods. The daily night market brings the town to life and it is wonderful to stroll around and meet people. Shop for beautiful cloths or souvenirs and score a dirt-cheap meal at one of the many stalls, to then eat them with your legs dangling above the Mekong.
Meditation and massage in a temple complex
The proof that one day in Vientiane is not enough, you find just outside the center: Wat Sok Pa Luang. Get on your bike or take a tuktuk and as soon as you have taken the first step through the gate of this temple complex, you will find yourself in an oasis of peace. Surrounded by tall palms and teak trees, you can imagine yourself here in the interior of Laos. What Sok Pa Luang is rightly one of the most beautiful hidden highlights in Vientiane.
A place where countless monks and novices (monks in training ed.) Live and where you get a look at Buddhist existence. A walk within the walls of the complex takes you past small huts where they live and study. Their orange robes flutter here on the clotheslines and on the verandas they sit together in groups.
If you are interested in Buddhism, make sure you are in Vientiane on a Saturday, because then a guided meditation session is held here that is open to visitors. What is special is that the monks speak English relatively well and are very approachable. So do not be surprised if one of them approaches you for a chat to practice his English or to show you the way through the dense paths.
The latter can come out handy, because within the walls of the complex there is also a local spa. Hidden in a corner of the jungle is an herbal sauna waiting. Upon arrival you get a sarong turned around and you can take a seat in the hot sauna. After three sessions of ten minutes-or earlier if you think it is enough- you can sit on one of the beds for a real Laotian massage. For the sauna and 1 hour massage, you lose a total of 50,000 chicken (less than 5 Dollar) and you are guaranteed to be reborn outside again.