Vientiane Capital

Located on a curve of the Mekong River, Vientiane Capital has a recorded history that stretches back to around 1.000 AD. The area was originally settled because of the fertility of the surrounding alluvial plains, and Vientiane became the capital city of Laos around the mid 16th century.

Vientiane Capital is the home to the most significant national monument in Laos: That Luang (Great Stupa), which is the symbol of Lao sovereignty and an icon of Buddhism in Laos. Of the many beautiful Wats in Vientiane, a visit to Wat Sisaket is a must; built in 1818, this is one of the oldest temples in Vientiane. Other Buddhist holy places are Wat Ong Teu Mahavihan, known for its 16th century bronze Buddha sheltered by a carved wooden masterpiece, and Wat Si Meuang, The site of the Lak Meuang or pillar-stone of Vientiane. The Wat Si Meuang is the home to the guardian spirit of the city. Hor Phakeo, across the street from Wat Sisakethouses a beautiful collection of Buddha statues, including traditional Lao style of the "Calling for Rain" and "Offering Protection". Spend a morning in the Lao National Museum, which displays an interesting mixture of revolutionary and contemporary exhibitions. The main sights in Vientiane are only a short walk or bicycle ride from most hotels. Wat Xieng Khouan, better known as the Buddha Park should not be missed: take a tuk-tuk to this unique park that includes Buddhist and Hindu. Shopping for handicrafts is easy in Vientiane Capital; visit the Talat Sao (morning market) for a wide range of colourful textiles including silks, wall-hangings and other decorative pieces. For very fine handicrafts, try one of the many upscale galleries in city center. Keep your eyes open for traditional wood carvings, mulberry paper and a variety of basketry made from bamboo and rattan.

When you get hungry try the nation's signature dish, tam mak-hung (spicy green papaya salad). laap (spicy minced meat salad) and ping kai(fried chicken). For its size, Vientiane Capital is surprisingly multicultural and has excellent French, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants that serve both Lao and specialty dishes. Quench your thirst with a refreshing Beer Lao or fresh fruit shake from one of the many small restaurants found along almost every street in town. At dusk, find a spot along the Mekong promenade to enjoy an amazing view of the sunset over the river.

The largest fair, Boun Pha That Luang, is held in Vientiane Capital around mid-November each year. Celebrations begin at Wat Si Muang followed by a procession to That Luang. Festivities last a full week, ending in fireworks on the last night, which coincides with the full moon. In mid-October, the riverbank overflows with spectators watching the annual boat races. Boun Ok Phansa or the last day of Buddhist Lent of Buddhist Lent precedes the boat races by one day. In the evening of Boun Ok Phansa Lao People prepare small banana leaf boats called heua fai and set them afloat on the Mekong illuminated by candles and incense in a charming ceremony meant to bring good luck and prosperity.

According to myth, the city of Vientiane was created by the Naga Souvannanak. Vientiane was an ancient city whose territories covered both banks of the Mekong River. The first name of Vientiane was "Ban Nong Khanthae Phiseuanam" village, which later became "Vientiane" town under the leadership of the first Governor, Bourichan or Phraya Chanthabouly Pasitthisak, between 430-120 B.C.

In 1357 King Fa Ngoum held a grandiose celebration for the great victory of the unification of all Lao territories enhancing his prestige and power over the nobility throughout the Lane Xang Kingdom and the neighboring kingdoms. It was organized in the Pak Pasak area in present day Vientiane.

In 1560, King Saysettha moved from Luang Prabang to declare Vientiane as the capital city of the Lane Xang kingdom, naming it "Nakorn Chanthabouly Sitta tanakhanahood Outtama Rajathany".

During the reign of King Souliyavongsa Thamikarat in the 17th century, Vientiane grew to become one of the most developed civilizations. The city was the center of administration for politics, socio-economic and culture. The kings were brave, clever and kind and people were happy. The palaces were very beautiful, looking like golden houses standing along the bank of the Mekong River.

However, Vientiane was burnt down by Siames troops in 1828, and divided into two cities. The city on the right side of the Mekong River became part of Siam and the city on the left side remained part of Laos. At present, Vientiane is a smaller city, only half of its former size.

In the years of 2009 and 2010; two great historical events take place in Vientiane. In 2009 we hosted the 25th annual SEA Games and in 2010 we held a celebration of the 450th anniversary of the foundation of Vientiane as the Capital (1560-2010). To prepared for the above auspicious events Vientiane people have continued developing the city to be peaceful, clean, green, charming, light and civilized.

Vieng (Vien) in the Lao language means "the city". Chantha (tiane) a Pali word, means sandalwood or the moon. Vientiane is the city of sandalwood and sandalwood is the symbol of Vientiane. It could also be the city of the moon, or the city where people respect the moon as their symbol. It is true however, that Lao people believe their origin to be from the moon, and even the design of the national flag has the image of the moon in its center.

In the old part of Vientiane city, an attractive and interesting settlement is situated along the Mekong River where the ancient temples, museums, monuments and parks are all located just a short distance apart.

The cosmopolitan capital of Laos, Vientiane, has galleries, boutiques, theatres, nightclubs and internet cafe, making it a major attraction for visitors from all around the globe. Although the city is small, it offers visitors a great variety of restaurant serving both Lao and foreign cuisine.

Outdoor Activities

Trekking at Houay Nhang Forest Reserve

Visit Laos' oldest forest reserve just 20 km north of Vientiane capital and stroll along its nature trail and watch for birds.

The Houay Nhang Forest Reserve was established in 1958 on 800 hectares of forest 20 km north of Vientiane. The reserve is known for its bird watching, particularly during the migration season, and several insects such as butterflies and walking sticks can be seen.

Get a guide booklet at the entrance and walk along a marked nature trail through the forest. Though the ecosystem has been somewhat degraded due to hunting, the reserve still offers a nice day-trip from Vientiane.

After a visit to the reserve, stop for a meal at one of the small restaurants at the fish ponds. To get there, take the road that branches off near the junction before the reserve. There is also a market near the junction.

How to get there: Hire a tuk tuk in Vientiane for the day trip.and take Route 10 towards the bird watching destination of Ban Sivilay; the park entrance is about 8 km after the junction of Route (Km 12S). The forest is on the right directly along the road, and a green signboard marks the entrance.

Cultural Visit

Lao National Museum

The building, typical of French colonial architecture, was built in 1925. It was the place where independent was declared in 1945. since then, the building has been extended and used for various purposes, including the headquarter of Laos government, housing the King when visiting from Luang Prabang, and prime minister's office until 1975, when the Laos people democratic republic was established. On December 1st, 1980, the building was converted into the Laos exhibition Hall of the revolution and in 1985 it was further upgraded to the Lao museum of the revolution. In early 2000 the building was newly opened as the Laos national museum, which now houses some 8.000 artifacts the across the country. The museum's collection continues to increase, representing paleontology, archaeology, history and ethnology.

Souphanouvong Museum

The Memorial of President Souphanouvong in Vientiane, Laos officially opened on November 30 2005. The museum was built as a remembrance of President Souphanouvong's formidable achievements. The museum which used to be the President's residence has two floors: the first floor contains a photo exhibit of his activities in the revolutionary movement; and the second floor contains the rooms he used and other things that portray his lifestyle. President Souphanouvong was born in Luang Prabang Province as a Prince. He was a senior leader of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and a model for the Lao people. He is considered to be one of the most outstanding revolutionary leaders of Laos.

The People Security Museum

The People's Security Museum in Vientiane was established to promote the 50th anniversary of founding the Lao People's Security Forces in 1961 and to recognize the dedication of Lao leaders and warriors who fought for the country. It also aims to make the Lao People's Security Forces known both regionally and internationally. The Museum used to be a part of the Lao People's Army History Museum but in 2005 the two became separate entities. The museum displays permanent galleries depicting the founding and history of the public security force as well as the Ministry of Public Security. Explained are their activities on political-social and regional peace keeping missions as well as their international relationship with other international organizations. To date, there are more than 8000 photos and objects in the museum.

Kaysone PHOMVIHANE Museum

The President Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial Museum in Vientiane, Laos opened in December 2000 and is managed by the Central Committee of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party LPRP. The museum was established to give honor to Lao's great revolutionary leader and former President Kaysone Phomvihane. The museum mainly received financial assistance from Vietnam Government. The exterior of the building is designed in Lao traditional style while the interior design is similar to the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Ha Noi. There are two floors: the upper floor contains exhibitions including a photo exhibit about his life and about the Lao revolutionary history.

Army Museum

The Lao People's Army History Museum in Vientiane, Laos is located near the Ministry of Defense on Kaisone Phomvihane Road. Established in 1976, the museum contains weapons, tools, and photos of the Lao People's Army during the revolutionary period from 1950 until the liberation for independence of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1975.

Just outside of the main building there is an exhibition of the different kinds of troop vehicles and war planes that were used during the wars. Inside, a short documentary can be viewed about important key historical events of Laos. They have a display of statues of Lao leaders, heroes, and other important figures in Lao history. Their permanent gallery tells the ordinary and extraordinary stories of the soldiers and Lao people that served in Lao armies.

Wat Ong Teu

Wat Ong Teu was built in the early 16th century by King Setthathirath. It was destroyed during the war with the Siamese and was rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries. After the French reconstructed, the temple was used as a school for Theravada Buddhism. It is now the national center of Buddhist studies in Laos. With a visit to the Wat, you're likely to encounter monks reading books around the temple. If the monks seem open to talking to you, take the opportunity to chat with them; they'll appreciate practicing their English and in turn you may learn about their life as monks. There are many statues of Buddha in this temple with a central and massive bronze Buddha, the largest one cast in Vientiane that survived the war. The Buddha called Phra Ongteu gives the temple its name.

Wat Inpeng

Wat Inpeng is a famous Buddhist temple among the many temples in Vientiane, Laos. It's located on Setthathirath Road between Chao Anou Road and Khun Boulom Road. The temple's facade and ceiling are decorated by ornate gold designs and paintings depicting stories and tales of Buddha. A lion-like figure stands outside the entrance of the temple.

Chao Fa Ngum Statue

The statue of King Fa Ngum with a small army of 3 elephants will welcome you to Vientiane, Laos. The statue was erected in 2003 to commemorate King Fa Ngum and the establishment of the Kingdom of Lane Xang in the 14th century. Being one of Vientiane's popular landmarks, it has been a place where Lao people gather and meet. In 1353, Chao Fa Ngum (King Fa Ngum) founded Lane Xang Hom Khao or also known as Kingdom of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol. According to the legend King Fa Ngum was the last son of Chao Fa Ngiew and was born with 33 teeth in 1316. For this reason or some other non specified reason, the baby prince was banished and rafted downstream the Mekong River to the Khmer Kingdom of Angkor where he grew up and married a Khmer princess. In 1350-1353, with the support of Khmer Kingdom of Angkor, Fa Ngum returned to Xieng Thong to assemble an army and unified small villages to establish the Lane Xang Kingdom. He reigned as King until 1372.

Chao Anouvong Park

In Chao Anouvong Park stands the majestic statue of King Anouvong. The park was named after the King and he is highly regarded amongst Laotians. The statue was constructed in 2010 during Vientiane's 450th Anniversary to commemorate the King's noble contribution to Vientiane during his reign. Chao Anouvong was the last king of the Lao Kingdom of Vientiane. During his era, he struggled to fight against the Siamese invasion of Vientiane. In the end, he was unsuccessful and was captured and the Kingdom of Vientiane was forced to surrender to Siamese rule and ceased to exist. Because of his persistent attempts to defeat the Siamese forces, Chao Anouvong is considered a courageous hero who fought for Vientiane until his death.

Architecture

One of the most pleasant surprises awaiting the visitor to Vientiane is the French cultural influence surviving in the city, the legacy of the colonial period which lasted from the late 19th century until the 1950s. It is a pleasure to enjoy a breakfast of croissants and coffee. Lunch may well comprise freshly baked baguettes and pate accompanied by a carafe of wine. In the evening, excellent French cuisine is available at up-market restaurants, survivors of the years of socialist austerity.

This agreeable ambience aside, Vientiane's most notable memorial to the French influence must be its architecture. There are numerous small residences, not just a few mansions, built in the style of the former colonial power. Many of these may be found in the older part of the town, along the riverside appropriately designated Quai Fa Ngum. Here, as by the shaded boulevards in the vicinity of That Dam and along Lane Xang Avenue-the "Champs Elysees" of Vientiane-you will find fine examples of colonial French architecture, complete with shutters and red-tiled roofs, which would not be out of place in a French provincial city like Dijon or Tours.

And then there is Patuxay, a near-replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Many of the former private residences are in stages of advanced decay, and some are clearly beyond saving. Others, however, have been painstakingly restored-and as the authorities come to realize the potential value to tourism of this unique architectural legacy, not to mention the inherent charm of the Lao capital, preservation rather than demolition is becoming the order of the day.

Shopping

Local Markets

Local markets in Laos are part of everyday life, and every village, town and city has numerous markets where you can buy cooked food, the raw ingredients, souvenirs and locally made handicrafts. Check out the Khua Din Market (located behind Talat Sao in Vientiane) for a real scene of Laotian daily life.

Modern Shopping Centers

Vientiane has a small selection of modern shopping malls such as Talat Sao Mall, Home ldeal and Lao ITECC, with more in the pipeline for the near future

Night Market by the Mekong River in Vientiane Capital

With a very similar concept to the night market in Luang Prabang, but with much more products, this is a place to shop or just look around to find some fashion costumes, souvenirs, and food stalls.

Ta Lat Sao or Morning Market

Located on Lanexang Avenue opposite the Post Office, the Morning Market consists of 3 main buildings each with 2 floors. This lively shopping market has become the commercial center of Vientiane. A large variety of goods are sold including Lao Antiques, textiles, souvenirs, handicrafts, jewelry, and products imported from abroad.

That Luang Stupa (Great Sacred Stupa)

Was first built in 236 of the Buddhist Calendar (307 years before A.D), by the first governor of Vientiane, Phaya Chanthabouri Pasitthisack or Bourichan. It was like a kiln of about 9 meters high and 10 meters wide. The original was built in 1566 by King Saysetthathirath, and was restored in 1953. The golden stupa is 45 meters tall and is believed to contain a relic of the Lord Buddha. The gold centerpiece of this stupa echoes the curve of an elongated Lotus bud. Today it is the most important national cultural monument.

 

Sisaket Temple

It is the only ancient temple remaining intact after the destruction of the Siamese in 1828. It's located in the center of the old city, where it was built in 1818 by King Anouvong. The old monastery stands intact in its original form and certainly is one of the most interesting in the country. Inside the main hall, the courtyard walls house hundreds of little inches and shelves containing a total of 6,840 Buddha images.

 

Hor Pha Keo Museum

Originally, this ancient temple was built in 1565 by King Sayasetthathirath to house the Emerald Buddha 1565-1779 (lost to the Siamese in 1828) as his personal place worship. It was later reconstructed in 1936. For this reason and unlike other temples in Laos, monks have not taken up residence here. During the 1970's the temple was converted from a place of worship into museum and now houses the finest national collection of Buddhist sculptures and artifacts. From the terrace of Ho Pra Keo, one can enjoy a view overlooking the president's Palace (former Royal Palace) and garden.

 

Wat Simuang Temple

The original city pillar of Vientiane is found in Wat Simuang located in Ban Simuang village along the Setthathirath Road. It was built in the 1956 and is believed to be guarded by the spirit of a local girl called " Si " Local legend has it that Nang Si, who was pregnant at the time, leapt to her death as a sacrifice, just as the pillar was being lowered into the hole. A very colorful Phasat Pheung (wax pavilion procession) attracts large crowds to Wat Simuang temple, taking place just two days prior to the That Luang Festival in November.

 

Patuxay Monument

The memorial monument, Patuxay, was built in 1957 and is perhaps the most prominent landmark in the city. If is situated on Lanexang Avenue. While the arc de Triomphe in Paris inspired the architecture, the design incorporates typical Lao motifs including "Kinnari", a mythical bird woman. Energetic visitors can climb to the top of the monument, which reveals an excellent panoramic view of the city.

 

Hor Trai (Tri Pitaka Library)

A hall containing many Buddhist manuscripts, which were published in the 18th century. The temple is also renowned for having been featured as the Lao national emblem at the 1970 Osaka Expo in Japan.

 

Xieng Khouan Buddha Park

The Xieng Khouan Buddha Park was built in 1958 and contains a collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, scattered amongst gardens and trees. Built about 28 kilometers south of Vientiane at the edge of the Mekong River, the town of Nong Khay in neighboring Thailand can be seen on the opposite side.

 

Panorama

As the capital city of Laos, Vientiane Capital is now tanking on a very modern environment, and with its mix of Lao culture with the French colonial architecture that dominates some parts of the city, this is rapidly becoming one of Asia's must-visit cities.

 

Sunset by the Mekong

Choose your favourite riverside restaurant from the many choices in Vientiane and enjoy fantastic views of the sunset right on the other side of the river (Thailand). Some restaurants provide good views, which include Bor Pen Yang, Tawan Riverside, Khong View, and Moon the night.

 

That Dam (Black Stupa)

That Dam or Black Stupa in Vientiane, Laos is one of the few ancient stupas that remains after the Siamese occupation in 17th century. It is located in the center of the town and has become one of the most popular city landmarks. It is quite an interesting sight in the middle of what is quickly becoming, a modern city. Since it has not undergone any renovation, vegetation has started to grow out of it which adds to its charm. According to legend, the Black Stupa was built in the 16th Century and it is believed to be the home of the seven-headed dragon that struggled to protect Vientiane, her peoples, and the entire kingdom from Siamese invaders in 1827.

 

COPE Visitor Centre

Museum Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE, is a locally run non-profit working with partners to provide rehabilitation service for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) survivors and other people with disabilities across Laos. The COPE Visitor Centre houses a free permanent exhibition about UXO in Laos, stories from survivors and information on the important services provides by COPE. Interactive displays, excellent documentaries and imagery provide a thought-provoking experience to visitors. There is an opportunity to support COPE through the gift shop or donation.

 

Events & Festivals

Main event Schedule

September-October
  • Boun Ok Phansa and Boat Racing Festival
October-November
  • That Luang Festival
Boun Ok Phansa and Boat Racing Festival

This festival is held after the monks' three-month fast and rain retreat (Boun Khao Phansa) has ended. At dawn on the first day, donations and offerings are made at temples around the city. In the evening, candlelight processions are held at temples and hundreds of colorful floats decorated with flowers, incense andcandles are set adrift down the Mekong River paying respect to the river spirit. On the next day popular and exciting boat races are held to celebrate the Mekong River.

That Luang Festival

This religious festival is held in and around Thad Luang Stupa, the National Symbol of Laos, where hundreds of monks from all around the country gather to accept alms and floral votives from the people. The festival includes a grand fireworks display at night, and during the day, an international trade fair, showcasing tourism in Laos and other ASEAN countries as well as the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

The That Luang festival attracts Lao people and foreigners alike from around the world every year. It is the largest festival in Laos.

Laos is a convenient hub for travel in the Indochina region. Vientiane Capital is the main point of entry for Lao PDR. Most visitors to the country come either through Wattay International Airport, or the Friendship Bridge 18km away. The majority of tourists come from Thailand. Either overland from the border town of Nong khay, or by air from Bangkok.

Wattay International Airport is the main international airport in the country. Lao Airlines, Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines and China Yunnan Airlines offer a range of scheduled flights to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Kunming, Jinghong, and Kualalampur. Lao Airlines' flights offer regular services to all provincial capitals including: Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Xiengkhouang, Savannakhet and Pakse.

Most travelers arrive via the Friendship Bridge connecting Vientiane with Nong khay, Thailand. The bridge was built in 1994 and is the easiest land route from Thailand into Laos. Open daily from 06:00am – 10:00pm. Vientiane is also connected to most major towns in Laos by an extensive and cheap network of buses. From Vientiane it is possible to catch a bus at the Northern Bus Station directly to the northern cities: Phonhong, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Bokeo, Phongsaly, Xieng Khouang and Houaphanh, and even to China\Vietnam. The Southern Bus Station runs buses directly to the southern cities of : Paksan, Thakhaek, Laksao, Seno, Savannakhet, Salavanh, Sekong, Attapeu and Pakse. The Morning Market bus station runs buses directly to Nong khay, Udon Thani, Khonekaen in Thailand, and around Vientiane.

The most popular method of transport in Vientiane is the Tuk-Tuk. These can be hailed almost anywhere in Vientiane but bargaining is essential. Taxis, Bicycles, motorbikes, and cars are also available for hire at many guest houses, restaurants, and shops in Vientiane. Bicycling and walking in particular are great methods of seeing the city, as it is almost completely flat, and most attractions are within a short distance of the center.

Located:
on a curve of the Mekong River (Central Provinces)
Total area:
3,920 square kilometers
Population:
768,743
Districts:
  • Chanthabouly
  • Sikhottabong
  • Xaysettha
  • Sisattanak
  • Naxaithong
  • Xaythany
  • Hadxaifong
  • Sangthong
  • Pak Ngum
Capital:
Vientiane