Patuxai, one of Vientiane, Laos' most important landmarks is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France
Out of all of the capitals in Southeast Asia Vientiane takes the prize as the most laid back. You’d never believe it was the center of commerce, government and transportation.
It’s a testament to the attitude of the people of Laos. Not taking anything too seriously and having little or no sense of urgency. They do appreciate their leisure time and even though the Mekong River is the center of social activity in the evening it never felt too crowded there-the population of Vientiane is less than 800,000. Hell, there’s even enough room for paragliding.
Vientiane became the capital of Laos in 1563 and was the administrative capital during French rule. Vientiane has seen it’s share of adversity from being burned completely to the ground in 1827 by Siamese armies, Thailand is right across the river, to passing over to French rule in 1893, Japanese occupation in World War 2., back to reoccupation by the French in 1945 to being established as the center of power for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975. Laos, and it is properly pronounced without the s, is a communist country.
Vientiane is a mix of French colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and the odd leftover Soviet style building.
A great place to get started on your exploration of the city is a visit to one of the country’s most impressive Buddhist temples, Wat Ho Phra Keo, otherwise known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha. Once the royal family of Lao’s personal chapel it was here where the precious emerald buddha statue was reclaimed by the Thai army in 1778 after being snatched by the Laotian king. Today the Emerald Buddha resides at the Grand Palace’s Emerald Buddha chapel in Bangkok.
The temple is adorned with carved features, Khmer stone carvings and several Buddha statues. Wat Ho Phra Keo is no longer in service as a place of worship but acts as a museum and monument.
Wat Si Muang is also another worthwhile temple visit for the fact that it’s where the city pillar is located and the guardian spirit of Vientiane. Wat Si Muang is considered the mother temple of the city.
Round out a temple run with a look in at Wat Si Saket believed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Vientiane still standing after the sacking of the city by Siam in 1827. It’s also believed because the temple was built in the Siamese style rather than Laoation style it was spared by the army who used it as their headquarters and compound. You can check out more than 2000 silver and ceramic Buddhist images, there’s also a museum on site.
Take a break at one of the many cafes or French bakeries in town. This is really one of the highlights of a visit to Vientiane. A coffee, French pastry, and relaxing to the slow groove of this unique capital experience.
There’s tons of dining options in Vientiane as well. I love sticky rice and fish larb, a mix of fish, greens and herbs, there’s also meat and veg versions. But it’s nice to know there’s lots of options out there like sushi, western, I really do love sticky rice though.
Afterwards grab a bike from your hotel or guesthouse and head out for ride around the town, enjoying the buddhist temples, quieter charming tree-lined streets and their French colonial homes. Enjoy the slow pace, that’s what it’s all about in Vientiane.
OK, so that was too slow for you? Grab a motorbike then. I personally wouldn’t attempt this in most major cities in Southeast Asia but the streets of Vientiane are pretty quiet, even in the midday and you can cover alot of ground and sites in a short period of time. It gets pretty hot depending on the time of year pedalling around here so a motorbike is a good option if you’re comfortable driving a two wheeler.
After that it’s back to the cafe culture of Vientiane. Coffee is Laos’ 5th biggest export.
Laos is a country that is very appealing to me. It’s in the heart of Asia but for some reason has remained a low tourist traffic area on the South East Asia circuit.
Whether it’s backpackers or luxury travelers, the big numbers are not there yet. It’s surprising because it has amenities and activities to fit both group’s needs as well as amazing travel value!
The combination of a mysterious past, a former colony of France that has still held onto some of its traditions, the predominately Buddhist culture and boundless adventure activities puts it high on my list of places to recommend to the traveler looking to get off the beaten path in this part of the world. That’s something that is increasingly challenging to find.
One of the most unique adventures I recently enjoyed in Laos was visiting The Gibbon Experience. This is a jungle adventure that takes you into the Bokeo Reserve of Northwest Laos on a zip trekking tour of the forest and a chance to spot and listen to the singing of the rare Black-Crested Gibbon.
Their singing or calls, are some of the most unique sounds in nature. I can best describe them as a combination of whales, birds, and synthesizers, seriously!
You can find zip lining adventures all over Southeast Asia and if that's all you're looking for The Gibbon Experience in Laos might not be the right fit. Emphasis is not placed on zip lining. It's merely the mode of transportation to cut across the vast jungle in search of gibbons. It's also the quickest way to the treehouse you'll be perched in on your one or two night visit.
Even with the emphasis on nature you will experience the sensation of gliding over the forest canopy with lines reaching up to 600 meters!
Join me in this episode of Far East Adventure Travel zip lining at The Gibbon Experience, Laos.