On my last night in Luang Prabang I went to the Bun Awk Phansa festival, before flying to Vientiane the next day. The distance between cities isn’t even that big but the journey time by bus is 11 hours so I was happy to brave Lao Airlines again for the 30 minute flight.
Vientiane must be the sleepiest capital in Asia but there are a few sights. As I checked them out on Tripadvisor though, it wasn’t looking too good.
Take the Black Stupa “nothing special”, the Buddha Park “hardly worth the ride”, and the Laos version of the Arc de Triomph “ugly”. The city also has a reputation for bed bugs, which was the reason I checked in to a posher hotel, the Salana Boutique Hotel.
It’s true, Vientiane is nothing special but it does have a certain charm. As I had 3 whole days I decided to go to everything and Tripadvisor is right to an extent but it’s quite a nice to city to chill out in, especially in a nice hotel.
The Pha That Luang is the most important Buddhist monument in Laos and it’s a collection of buildings in a pedestrianised complex. The main attraction is the huge golden stupa and is pretty impressive. I was lucky to have bright sunshine and blue sky when I went so it really sparkled.
The next stop was the Buddha Park, 25km outside of town. It’s a very bumpy ride down a horrendously dusty road so not exactly pleasant from the back of a rickshaw but interesting when we finally arrived. In an area the size of a football pitch there is the weirdest assortment of Buddha sculptures and other gods that one eccentric spiritual leader has collected over the years. You can also sit in the cafe that overlooks the Mekong River and see Thailand on the opposite bank.
The Arc de Triomph copy ‘Patuxay’, or Victory Gate, is a bit of a lump but you can climb the 7 floors to the top for a good view of the city. The city is pretty flat so there isn’t that much to see but it was worth it just for a bit of breeze.
There is a sign by the entrance that reads;
“This is the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane, built in 1962, but never completed due to the country’s turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
One excellent place to visit is the COPE Centre. It is estimated that 260 bombies (sub-munitions from cluster bombs) were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War and 80 million of them failed to explode, so there are still hundreds of new casualties every year. The COPE Centre was set up in 1997 and they help disabled victims with rehabilitation and prosthetic limbs, and they have a really interesting exhibition.
The food is good here, especially French and Italian, and there are some lovely bakeries to spend an afternoon reading. I also tried out a traditional Lao massage – it’s completely different to a normal massage and there’s no oil involved. I was given a loose fitting cotton top and ‘fisherman pants’ (baggy trousers that tie at the top) to wear while the masseuse applies pressure to different points of your body with her elbows, feet and hands, and bends your limbs into different stretches. It’s like someone is doing yoga to you and it’s really relaxing.
I’ve had a good time in Vientiane but I’m definitely ready to move on. I would recommend Luang Prabang if you’re visiting Laos but don’t plan to spend too much time in Vientiane. I’m finally arriving in Cambodia tomorrow and before I start work, I’m heading down to the coast for a few days to (hopefully) get some sun. Finally some beach time!