Vientiane delivers a relaxing riverside break where one of the best things you can do is grab a drink and enjoy the sun’s spectacular show as it sets over the Mekong. Despite being the largest city in Laos and the hub of commerce and administration, Vientiane is still refreshingly laid back. 

The city offers a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and pavement cafes some adding a French air with their style of architecture which contrasts pleasingly with the old Buddhist temples dotted around. There are plenty of things to do after dark and bars cater to all tastes from backpacker beer haunts to elegant cocktail lounges. Navigating Vientiane is relatively simple due to its size and sightseeing can be done either on foot, by bike or by hiring a song-teow. 

The countryside is never far away, with rice paddies providing a backdrop to most streets. Culture buffs should make the Laos National Museum their first stop. When in Laos, do as the Laos do and the slow the pace right down. A common joke is that acronym PDF (Peoples Democratic Republic) actually stands for ‘Please Slow Down’. A word of warning to the anally punctual, the country is decidedly laid back and some visitors may mistake this for a lack of ambition or impolitesse but regardless, it's best not to expect things to run like clockwork. 

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Top 10 Attractions in Vientiane Best Things to See and Do in Vientiane 

Vientiane is known for its laidback atmosphere, and its list of quaint, uncrowded, yet on the whole impressive attractions reflects this fact. Age old Buddhist temples are scattered throughout, while quirky riverside markets sit next to interesting cultural sites and colonial French architecture. Love it or hate it, life moves slowly here – but that gives visitors more time to enjoy the small everyday events that you might miss in the bustle of a bigger city. Grab your camera and hit the streets; you’ll feel like a local in no time! Our list of Top Ten Attractions in Vientiane demonstrates exactly why you might find yourself booking a couple of extra nights in this often overlooked capital city. From the stunning golden 'That Luang' stupa, to the vibrant Night Market, if you delve deep enough there’s a wealth of interesting things to do and see in this picturesque Mekong riverside spot.

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1 Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)
Opening Hours: Daily from 08:00 – 18:00 
Location: About 25 kilometres southeast of Vientiane, along the Mekong River  
How to get there: The Buddha Park can be reached by public bus or tuk tuk

This famous Buddha Park (also known as Xieng Khuan) is located 25km outside Vientiane and features over 200 elaborately designed religious statues and sculptures, including a huge 40-metre high reclining Buddha image. 

The monk who built the park back in 1958 studied both Hinduism and Buddhism, which explains the curious mix of religious styles. 

Among the pick of the bunch is Indra, the king of Hindu gods, who is depicted riding a three-headed elephant. You’ll also find a four-armed deity sitting on a horse as well as another one with 12 faces and many hands. 

The statues are as impressive in size as they are in detail, and there’s a great spot to view the whole park from three-storey building near the entrance.

There is a local eatery and café offering food and drinks to tourists at one end of the park right next to the Mekong River that makes a great spot to chill after all the walking and climbing. Among the popular snacks are papaya salad, fried bananas and cold Lao beer. It also has a souvenir shop and restrooms. There is a small fee for entering the park as well as for photography.

2 That Luang – Vientiane Great Stupa
That Luang 
Opening Hours: All year round 
Location: The impressively gilded structure is situated about four kilometres northeast of Vientiane

That Luang, or The Great Stupa, is the most sacred monument in the whole of Laos, and certainly one of the country’s most beautiful. Dating back to the 16th century, this giant golden temple complex looks more like a fortress than a place of worship with its set of turrets surrounding a central stupa standing 148 feet tall.

Located around four kilometres northeast of the capital, this must-see Vientiane sight is easily reachable by tuk-tuk, or if you’re feeling energetic, by bicycle (which can be rented from many guesthouses in the city centre)

That Luang was greatly damaged by the Burmese, Chinese and Siamese during invasions in the 18th and 19th centuries then was basically left alone until French colonial times. Restoration work was completed in 1900 by the French and for a second time in 1930, again with the help of the French. 

Every November when the Boun That Luang Festival is held in Vientiane, a large crowd of followers and tourists come to town from all over Laos and neighbouring countries. The festival is considered the most important Buddhist celebration in Laos with many activities going on for three days and three nights. The main event is always held at That Luang and thousands of people come to pay respect to the stupa and to enjoy the colourful event that includes parades, live music and religious ceremonies. 

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3. Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane

With its crenellated upper level topped with five ornate towers in the traditional Laos style, the Patuxai Victory Monument cuts a distinctive figure on the Vientiane skyline. 

It forms the centrepiece of Patuxai Park, and is dedicated to the Laos who were killed in the fight to gain independence from France, as well as from the nation’s earlier occupiers, Siam and Japan. 

Situated at the end of one of the capital’s grand avenues, the large, square arch is reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. 

However, as a monument to Laos’ resilience and eventual independence, Patuxai was designed to pay homage to its national culture and traditions.

Its exterior embellishments feature both Buddhist religious symbols such as lotus leaves and the stupa-shaped towers, and statues of animist kinnari (half-female and half-bird figures) and nagas (dragons). The interior of the monument is also richly decorated with painted walls and ceilings depicting gods, goddesses and elephants. 

For a small fee, you can climb to the top to enjoy the panoramic view of the charming, old-fashioned city of Vientiane with its many trees, low-rise buildings and temples, and all the way across the Mekong River to Thailand.

4. Vientiane Night Market - Riverside Night Market in Vientiane

Riverside Night Market 

Opening Hours: 18:00-22:00 
Location: Riverside promenade, upstream from the Chao Anouvong statue.

The Vientiane Night Market is aimed primarily towards tourists, with clean, orderly stalls, and all manner of merchandise that make great souvenirs or mementos. It all begins around sunset when a small army of sellers begin setting up their red-roofed stalls directly on the riverside promenade. 

You can’t fail to see it. The whole riverside area is alive at this time with joggers and dog-walkers taking advantage of the cooling breezes and stunning backdrop of the sun lazily sinking into the Mekong river.

Products on offer are fairly typical of night markets throughout the region. You will find a predictable array of Buddhist-inspired paintings and knickknacks, cheap sunglasses, and Beer Lao T-shirts. The clothes stalls tend to be geared towards the backpacker market with fishermen pants and one-size-fits-all dresses and skirts. 

With only $US10 in your pocket you can pick up at least a couple of products here, but, for bargain hunters, it’s worth mentioning that everything on offer here can be found at a slightly cheaper price at other markets. 

The traders seem to have whittled down all the best-sellers from the Morning Market and set them up in more attractive, and convenient, surroundings.

As with all tourist markets, English is widely spoken but be prepared to test your bargaining skills because initial prices are always inflated, and you should never accept the first price quoted. Most of the products can be found at several stalls so it helps to wander around to find the best price. 

A little perspective is advised when it comes to the negotiation process however, as the difference of a few thousand Kip is negligible when converted to foreign currency. Even if you have already stocked up on souvenirs and aren’t really planning to buy anything, an enjoyable few hours can be spent browsing and people watching down by the river. It seems to be the Laotians’ favourite pastime. 
5. Wat Ho Phra Keo in Vientiane 

Opening Hours: The temple is open from 08:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00 every day. 
Location: Wat Ho Phra Keo is situated on the corner of Thanon Setthathilath and Thanon Mahosot. It is next to the Presidential Palace and across the road from Wat Si Saket. Mahosot Hospital is on the opposite side of Thanon Mahosot.

Vientiane boasts several beautiful temples or wats, but one of the most impressive and interesting of them is Wat Ho Phra Keo. It was originally constructed in 1565 as the Lao royal family’s personal chapel, and as a home for the Emerald Buddha after it was snatched from northern Siam (Thailand). This sacred jade statue was reclaimed by the Siamese in 1778 and now sits in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. 

Even without the Emerald Buddha, however, Ho Phra Keo is well worth a visit. The only part of the old royal palace that has survived, the temple is no longer used for religious purposes and is now a museum. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as it is often known in English, is richly adorned with carved wooden features, a magnificent 16th century lacquered door with Hindu carvings, numerous Khmer stone carvings and a variety of Buddha statues.

The stone balustrade of each of the temple stairs features a dragon with its head facing the grounds, guarding the sacred building. The shady, well-kept garden is an oasis of calm that offers a welcome respite from the sun and a quiet place to meditate or simply rest. 

•The name Ho Phra Keo means ‘Altar of the Emerald Buddha’, in reference to the fact that only the altar remained when the statue was removed
 •It is also sometimes spelled Haw Phra Keow, Ho Prakeo or Ho Phra Kaew. English-language guidebooks often refer to it as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
 •The temple was first built on the grounds of the royal palace in 1565, but was destroyed in the Siamese invasion of 1828-29. 
•Prince Souvanna Phouma, an engineer and future prime minister of Laos, directed the reconstruction of Wat Ho Phra Keo between 1936 and 1942.
•Although it is relatively new, the Bangkok-rococo style structure has a distinctly traditional look. 
•On its veranda you will see some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture in Laos.
 •The interior of the temple is now a museum that houses many Lao treasures such as a gilded throne, Khmer Buddhist stone tablets, wooden carvings, bronze frog drums and palm-leaf manuscripts.
•The entrance fee is less than a dollar. 
•The neatly tended garden contains colourful flowers, lush green lawns and charming statues set among the shady trees.

6. Lao National Museum 

Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 - 12:00 and 13:00 - 16:00 
Location: Thanon Samsenthai, in front of the National Stadium. 

Those wanting to discover more about the history and culture of Laos should look no further than The National Museum. The old colonial French building in which the museum is housed has a good range of exhibits, artefacts and photographs ranging from prehistoric times up to the present day. 

On the ground floor you’ll find a bit of a mixed bag, with dinosaur bones lying alongside pottery shards and Khmer sculptures. Upstairs is dedicated to detailed and educational exhibitions depicting the more recent history of Laos - from the Siamese invasions and the French colonial period to the American military presence during the Vietnam War 

7. Wat Si Muang
Opening Hours: Daily 06:00 - 19:00 L

Location: Wat Si Muang is located at the eastern end of Thanon Setthathirath, in the triangular area formed just before the street merges with Thanon Samsenthai and turns into Thanon Thadeua. 2028

Wat Si Muang is one of Vientiane’s most popular sites of worship. Alongside its interesting Laos-Buddhist architecture, it provides a fascinating story that still holds great significance with the Laotian community today. According to local legend, the temple is named after a young woman, Si Muang, who sacrificed herself at the construction site of the main building over 400 years ago in order to appease angry spirits. 

Visitors today can enjoy a visit to the temple, soaking up the unique spiritual atmosphere whilst observing the steady flow of Buddhist worshippers who come to pray and make promises to the deities above

8 Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise 

Opening Hours: 09:00 – 18:00  

Location: Khouvieng Road

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) is a charity based in Vientiane that provides treatment and rehabilitation programmes for Laotian people with physical disabilities - many of which have come as a result from unexploded weapons that are scattered throughout the countryside as a result of the Vietnam War. 
COPE also has five other rehabilitation centres spread across eight provinces in Laos, allowing victims, many of whom are children living in rural areas, convenient access to this crucial healthcare. Visitors to the Vientiane centre can learn more about this fantastic charity and its background through various exhibitions and documentary films on show. You can also see for yourself how prosthetic limbs are made at the onsite workshop. 

9. Wat Si Saket
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 16:00 

Location: On Lan Xang Road (across the street from the Presidential Palace), Vientiane 

Wat Si Saket is known as the only temple in Laos which survived the Siamese occupation that destroyed much of the capital in 1828. The site is also famed for its cloister wall housing more than 5,000 Buddha sculptures of varying sizes and styles, reflecting the long on fascinating history of this temple. Today, Wat Si Saket stands majestically near the centre of Vientiane; its bright yellow pillars and detailed red roof (all of which are the result of various restorations since its construction) really make it stand out as one of the must-see temples in town
10 Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage 
Opening Hours: Daily 13:00 - 20:00 

Location: Sok Pa Luang Road 

Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage offers a refreshing alternative to the typical massage shops and spas lining the streets of Vientiane. The centre is three kilometres out of town, but is well worth the extra effort in getting there. In an open-air traditional house, guests can take a herbal spa made from boiling a mix of herbs beneath a sealed room, before moving outside to take a massage in tranquil natural surroundings. A trip to the Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage could be made into a day out in itself, with the peaceful Wat Sok Pa Luang temple (a good landmark to look for when you’re on your way) and several local restaurants all nearby, offering a true taste of Laotian hospitality and their simple lifestyle.

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