Visiting Vientiane? But Why?

by - 3:00 PM


Back in Bangkok my parents and I planned a bit of our trip through Southeast Asia: a jungle trek near Chiang Mai, the slow boat to Luang Prabang, then on to Vientiane. We were met with a blank stare from the guy working at the travel agency when we mentioned Vientiane. "Why would you want to go toe Vientiane?' he asked. 'There's nothing to do there. Nothing.'
It probably won't surprise you that we went to Vientiane anyway. Laos as a country is already majorly neglected by most tourists, but its even worse for its capital Vientiane. It's not more or less mythical like Luang Prabang, you can't go tubing like in Vang Vieng and there are no creepy-looking river dolphins like in Pakze. Still there's plenty of reason to visit Vientiane. Let me tell you why you should go there!


#1: Big city, small town feel
There's this thing about Asian cities: they're freaking crazy and chaotic. Vientiane is not really like that though. It is a quite big city, but honestly feels like a small town. Most cities in Southeast Asia drained me both physically and mentally, but not Vientiane. Even the crowded places weren't as crowded as I was used to. Most of the major landmarks are well within walking distance and crossing the street is more or less safe. As far as cities go, Vientiane is laid-back for Southeast Asian standards.


#2: Lao Arc de Triomphe
If you're into pretty buildings and want to see some French influences from the colonial area, you have to go see the Patuxay. It's an unfinished victory arch which the Lao call ugly (they even put a sign on the thing saying it looks like a block of concrete), but it's actually pretty awesome. The Patuxay is an amazing mix between European architecture and Lao culture. The walls are decorated with frescoes in Southeast Asian style, just like the windows on top. Yes, you can climb to the top of the Patuxay. It's about four stories high, with gift shops full of communist clothes on every level. Once you reach the top you'll have a great view of all of Vientiane, especially the presidential palace. It's also vertigo friendly; I usually get vertigo as soon as I'm three meters up in the air, but managed to climb the Patuxay without wetting my pants.

#3: Say Wat?
Okay, terrible joke, but I had to make it at least once while writing about Southeast Asia. Vientiane has plenty of wats, Buddhist temples. For those who suffer from temple fatigue (i.e. having seen so many temples they all look the same now) because of previous trips to Southeast Asia, it's still worth going on a temple tour. The architecture is slightly different from that of Thai and Cambodian temples and some are also museums. Wat Ho Phra Keo for example is full of ancient Buddha icons. The exterior walls are covered in amazing mosaics and there's a little temple garden. If you want to visit a temple with more historical significance you can go to Wat Sisaket, the only temple that survived the Siamese-Lao war of 1828.
Apart from loads of other, smaller and unknown wats there are also a few stupas, oddly shaped buildings containing relics. So if you're looking for culture. Vientiane has enough to offer.


#4: COPE Visitor Centre
My number 1 recommendation for Vientiane is and always will be the COPE Visitor Centre on the grounds of the Centre for Medical Rehabilitation. COPE is an organization that helps handicapped people by providing them with the prosthetics and rehabilitation they need, free of charge for those too poor to afford it. The Visitor Centre tells the story of Laos' Cold War history, the victims US bombs make to this day and the way COPE helps people overcome their handicap. There is no entrance fee, but donations are massively appreciated so COPE can provide more people with the medical help they need. You must be completely heartless if a visit to COPE doesn't break your heart and restore your faith in humanity at the same time.

#5: The Mekong river banks
I have a thing for river banks. I hate swimming in rivers because there's fish in the water, but I love sitting on a river bank and watch life on the water pass by. This is much more fun on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane than... let's say the Maas in Rotterdam. During the day the river banks are quiet, the boulevard almost empty. You can go for a relaxed stroll and look at Thailand on the other side of the water.
At night the boulevard changes. The road is closed off and a market pops up. It's more of a real market, less touristy than the night market in Luang Prabang. But the funniest thing that happens on the river bank every night are the free aerobics and bootcamp classes. A guy or girl sets up some stereo equipment, climbs on a cart and gives instructions like in those group classes at the gym. It's not just great to watch, you're also free to join - which some tourists actually do on their bare feet.


All in all I see no reason not to visit Vientiane. There's nothing to do? Dear guy from the travel agency, you were wrong. You can easily spend two great days in Vientiane - and it's a perfect stop for a break from the awful roads if you take the bus from Luang Prabang to Pakze to see those weird-looking dolphins. So if you're ever asked why you'd go to Vientiane of all places, you now know the answer!

x Envy

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10 Fellow Ramblers

  1. It sounds absolutely amazing! Especially how it feels like a small town rather than a city. Must have been a nice change from the chaos and business of other cities.
    Cora ❤ http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/

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    1. I was so glad it was more or less quiet in Vientiane. All the chaos is hard to handle after a while. I guess if I went there right now it'd still feel like a big city now that I've adjusted back to western standards, hahaha.

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  2. I love your photographs, and this seems so interesting. I've never thought of travelling in Laos area before, honestly didn't know it existed and loving your posts about the places around it. Must have been so strange it having a small town feel in such a big city!

    acupofwonderland.wordpress.com

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    1. Thank you! I put a lot of effort into them (which means I take a lot of pictures without having a clue about photography, hahaha). There are so many people who don't know Laos exists, but I'm changing that a little with these posts now :)
      It really was strange to arrive in Vientiane after having visited much more chaotic cities in Thailand first!

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  3. I haven't heard about this place until this post, but it sounds oh so wonderful! I definitely find the architecture to be interesting and different from anything I've ever seen! Lovely post!

    -GG
    www.girlingamba.com

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    1. It's such an amazing place. I hope tourism picks up for Laos! The architecture is pretty awesome in places where the French combined there style with that of the locals, but a lot of it has been torn down. I expected there to be a lot more from the colonial area, but the buildings that are still there, like the Patuxay, are pretty amazing.

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  4. Wow, I’d never heard of this place before but sounds amazing. Really would love to visit this part of the world.

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    1. It's a great place to go backpacking, especially if you want to see more of Southeast Asia. It's really easy to do Laos, Cambodia and Thailand all in one trip!

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  5. I love this post! There's nothing better than discovering a secret treasure and that is definitely what Vientiane sounds like it is! I also love travel blogs about countries in Asia because I've never been but I'd absolutely love to go! The culture looks so interesting!

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    1. Vientiane is a hidden gem in the biggest hidden gem in the world. Believe me, all of Laos is so amazing. It has everything, culture, architecture, history... I hope you get to go to Asia one day!

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