Vientiane is a very calm and somewhat sleepy capital, and everything seems to move in slow motion here. There are not many must-see attractions, but there are still plenty of activities to invest your time in. From temple-hopping, wandering cultural museums, eating crispy local food or exploring the quirkier sides of the city. Our guide of things to do in Vientiane has you well and sorted.
If you are heading to Vientiane, expecting a bustling city full of chaos and color, you might want to prepare being disappointed. This is a pleasant, albeit boring place, and feels much more like a sleepy village, than an actual capital. Most people simply use Vientiane as a transit point to their other adventures in Laos. We spent 2 nights here, but looking back we would probably have just spent 1 night here.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a clean slate to the bustling Asian vibe, and just spend some time in a laid back city without the crowds of other tourist: Vientiane is your place! There actually are some pretty cool things to do in Vientiane too. Enjoy our guide below for things to do in Vientiane, Southeast Asia´s most chilled out city.
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1. Enjoy a traditional Lao cooking class
The food in Laos is delicious, and it´s so much fun tasting and exploring the fresh, flavorful food. It is even more fun learning how to prepare and cook it for yourself! Your cooking class will normally begin with heading to the local food market, finding all the ingredients and herbs for the meal. You will then head on back to a small, cozy house overlooking the Mekong River. Here you will cook a bunch of dishes together with your private Lao chef. And yes – of course you will eat the delicious food you just made.
2. Make a bargain at the Night Market
Nestled down the sides of the Mekong River at the edge of the city, lies a beautiful park. This park turns into a vibrant and bustling night market every evening! It has all the touristy stuff, and you may find everything from BeerLao shirts to traditional handicrafts. Its colorful, fun and quite energetic. A great place to make a few bargains, and an even better way to spend one of your Lao nights 🙂
3. Hire a tuk-tuk and begin exploring the many temples
Vientiane is all about its temples, and one of the most popular day activities is to locate a tuk-tuk and drive around town visiting all these unique places. There are different temple-tours on offer, ranging from 3 to 7 temples per tour approximately.
Kindly note that all these places are sacred, please dress accordingly and be respectful.
Wat Si Saket
One of the most unique temples in Vientiane, is without a doubt the Wat Is Saket. The temples was built more than 200 years ago, and is very famous for its 6,800 seated stone, silver, bronze and ceramic Buddhas nestled into its walls. Most are actually between 100-400 years old! WOW!
If you are an early bird, you can catch glimpses of the morning alms ceremony taking place as well. In this ceremony, the locals give their offerings to the temples monks.
Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang is probably Laos most important cultural monument. It´s a symbol of powerful ancient royal kingdoms, as well as its Buddhist significance. It is also quite stunning, with its mesmerizing gold-covered Buddhist stupa. The temple was built in the 1500s, and visitors may wander the grounds, checking out the massive reclining Buddha. You may also met a monk or two, and you are more than welcome to relax in its beautiful and peaceful garden.
The Wat Inpeng is one of the less visited temples in Vientiane, and its probably one of the most beautiful ones too. The temples was built in the 1600s, and was destroyed in the 1800s during the invasion that destroyed most of the town. Since then, it has been rebuilt and renovated several times.
4. Patuxai Victory Monument
The Patuxai Monument was built in memory of the Lao people who fought and died in the battle for independence agains the French. According to the story, the monument was built using concrete donated by the US government in the 60s. This concrete was originally designed for building the new airport. The Patuxai is actually still incomplete today, however, it doesn’t make it less impressive for it.
There are a couple of offices and gift shops located inside the monument, and you can climb to the very top to enjoy a great view over Vientiane! Make sure to bring your camera 🙂
5. Lao Herbal Sauna and traditional massage
In the middle of the forest, you can find the herbal sauna and traditional Lao massage. This turned out to be one of the best experiences during our trip to Laos. Such a special, unique and memorable highlight! I can strongly recommend this to everyone, and it is an absolute must-do when in Vientiane. I would actually go so far to say that this experience, was worth the extra 24 hours we spent in this rather dull city.
Upon arrival we were provided the sarongs, tea and water. After we had changed and wore nothing except our sarongs, we were ready for the sauna. As soon as we opened the door, we were wacked with hot hot steam. It was good, and intensely uncomfortable at the same time. A completely new experience for the both of us. After a couple of minutes, we learned to appreciate the herbal-infused steam, and started to relax and enjoy the experience.
Once our Sauna experience was complete, we were provided with tea before our 1-hour traditional massage. First we had to shower and change into new sarong (thank you!). The massage was given on the second floor of the house, but with no walls and just forest around us. Such a magical experience! Relaxing, loading our batteries and just enjoying life and the beautiful sounds around us. It was the perfect end to a long day of exploring.
6. Visit the COPE Museum
Most travelers in Vietnam are aware of the horrors and severe consequences of the Vietnam War. However, very few are familiar with the “Secret War”, taking place right next to it. They denied it for many many years, between 1964 and 1973, USA dropped more than 2,5 million tones of ordnance on Laos. They shockingly, had over 580,000 bombing missions, where the goal was to eliminate the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a supply route for communist forces in Vietnam.
Most of them was cluster bombs, breaking up mid-air and then scattered thousands of smaller bombs across the countryside. This took place every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years straight. Thats more than all the bombs combines during WWII, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
Nearly 80 million (30%) of the bombs failed to detonate, and Laos is still suffering from unexploded bombs that kill or injure locals to this day. Most people die when they are gardening or farming. Children often dies searching for scrap metal for sell. Last year for example, 4 children died playing in their garden making fire. There had been laying a unexploded bomb in the ground for years, and the heat of the fire detonated it.
The COPE Museum is a non-profit organization and also a rehab clinic focusing on supporting bomb victims and their families. They offer free access to wheelchairs, prostheses and physical therapy to everyone who can’t afford it. At the museum you can explore the exhibitions or watch one of the documentaries about the war and the measures taken place to clean up after it.
The Museum itself is free, but it’s highly appreciated if you leave a donation for COPE´s work.
7. Buddha Park
A visit to the quirky and fun Buddha Park will make your time in Vientiane complete. The Buddha Park is also called “Spirit City” or “Xieng Khuan”, and was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. He was an eccentric artist and shaman. The Buddha Park is dotted with strongly looking concrete statues of animals, humans and demons from Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
It is located a little bit of the beaten path, and it takes around 1 hour to get there by Tuktuk. However, it is a wonderful park and one of our absolute highlights in Vientiane.
Read more: Buddha Park in Vientiane, Laos