Vientiane, the laid-back capital of Laos, is a city that charms visitors with its French colonial architecture, Buddhist temples, and serene Mekong River setting. For those pondering things to do in Vientiane, visiting the iconic Pha That Luang, a gold-covered Buddhist stupa considered the most important national monument in Laos, and exploring Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in Vientiane, are top activities.
The city’s Patuxai Victory Monument, often referred to as the “Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane,” offers panoramic views of the city from its observation deck. Nearby, the bustling Talat Sao Morning Market provides a glimpse into local life, with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to traditional Lao textiles.
Beyond its historical and cultural attractions, Vientiane is also known for its relaxed atmosphere, with the Mekong Riverfront perfect for leisurely strolls, especially during sunset. For those seeking the best places to visit in Laos, Vientiane’s blend of cultural richness, historical landmarks, and tranquil vibes makes it a must-visit destination.
Table of Contents
Attractions & Things to Do in Vientiane, Laos
1. Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang, or the Great Stupa, is a gold-covered large Buddhist stupa in the center of Vientiane and is considered a national symbol of Laos. Its golden hue shines brightly under the sun, and the stupa is believed to house a relic of the Buddha.
Travel Tip: Visit during the full moon in November when Pha That Luang Festival takes place, with its fair and traditional music and dance performances, though it will be more crowded.
2. Patuxai Victory Monument
The Patuxai Victory Monument stands in the heart of Vientiane as a symbol of Laos’ struggle for independence from France. Often referred to as Laos’ version of the Arc de Triomphe, it offers panoramic views of the city from the top.
Travel Tip: Climb to the top of the monument for a small fee to enjoy the view, and visit late afternoon for a less crowded experience and cooler temperatures.
3. Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)
Buddha Park is a sculpture park located around 25 kilometers southeast of Vientiane. Home to over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues, the park provides a surreal experience amidst the meadows by the Mekong River.
Travel Tip: Get there early to avoid the heat of the day and to have more time to explore the statues without the crowds.
4. Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket is a Buddhist wat in Vientiane, famous for its cloister wall housing thousands of tiny Buddha images and rows of hundreds of seated Buddhas. These images mainly date from the 16th and 19th centuries and are set in an older temple that survived the Siamese invasion of 1828.
Travel Tip: Visit early in the morning to witness the monks chanting, a peaceful and meditative experience.
5. Lao National Museum
The Lao National Museum, housed in a French colonial building, offers a dive into the history of Laos, from prehistoric times to the modern day. The exhibits cover a range of topics, including the early kingdoms, colonial period, and the fight for independence.
Travel Tip: Some displays are not well-labeled in English, so hiring a guide or doing some research beforehand can enhance your visit.
6. COPE Visitor Centre
The COPE Visitor Centre provides insight into the impact of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos and the work being done to combat this ongoing issue. It’s both an educational and sobering experience to understand the challenges Laos faces even today.
Travel Tip: There is an excellent gift shop where your purchases support COPE’s work, and watching the documentaries offered is a must for a deeper understanding of their mission.
7. Vientiane Night Market
Set along the Mekong Riverfront, the Vientiane Night Market is the perfect place to end your day. With its red-roofed stalls, it’s an excellent spot for buying souvenirs, clothing, and local crafts.
Travel Tip: Bargaining is part of the shopping experience here, and starting your offer at about half the asking price is a good rule of thumb.
8. Haw Phra Kaew
Haw Phra Kaew is a former temple turned museum, which once housed the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew). It showcases some of the best examples of Lao religious art and has a tranquil atmosphere.
Travel Tip: Respect the dress code and be sure to cover shoulders and knees when visiting.
9. That Dam
That Dam, or the Black Stupa, is a stupa located in a quiet roundabout in Vientiane. It is shrouded in legend, believed by locals to be inhabited by a seven-headed dragon that protected the city from the Siamese army in the 1820s.
Travel Tip: It’s free to visit and makes for a quick photo stop as you explore the city.
10. Mekong Riverside Park
The Mekong Riverside Park is a popular spot among locals and tourists alike for its serene river views and the lively atmosphere in the evenings. It’s ideal for a leisurely stroll, aerobics, and to observe the everyday life of Vientiane’s residents.
Travel Tip: Plan your walk in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat, and don’t miss the sunset views over the Mekong River.
11. Talat Sao (Morning Market)
Talat Sao, known as the Morning Market, is actually open all day and is the place to go for everything from electronics to fabrics. It’s housed in two main buildings where you can find local handicrafts, souvenirs, and traditional Lao clothing.
Travel Tip: Be ready to haggle if you’re shopping for souvenirs, and check out the food court upstairs for some local snacks or lunch.
12. Wat Ho Phra Keo
Reconstructed in the 19th century, Wat Ho Phra Keo is a former temple turned museum, once home to the Emerald Buddha now in Bangkok. Today, it houses some of Laos’ most treasured religious sculptures and artifacts.
Travel Tip: The temple closes for lunch, usually between 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm, so plan your visit accordingly.
13. Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is a temple full of local color and everyday religious practice, famous for its city pillar and believed to be home to the guardian spirit of Vientiane. The temple is vibrant and frequently visited by locals making merit or seeking good fortune.
Travel Tip: When visiting, participate in the local tradition of making offerings or tying a cotton thread around the wrist for good luck.
14. Chao Anouvong Park
Named after King Chao Anouvong, this riverside park features a prominent statue of the king and offers a peaceful retreat with views across the Mekong to Thailand. It’s also a great place to observe or join in on public exercise classes in the early morning or late evening.
Travel Tip: Try visiting during the early evening when you can enjoy the cooler air and watch the locals enjoying their city.
15. Vientiane Capital Shooting Range
For something a little different, the Vientiane Capital Shooting Range offers visitors the chance to fire a variety of weapons under professional supervision.
Travel Tip: Always ensure you follow all safety instructions and guidelines provided by the range officers to ensure a safe experience.
FAQ About Things to Do in Vientiane, Laos
What are the must-visit landmarks in Vientiane?
Key landmarks in Vientiane include Pha That Luang, a gold-covered Buddhist stupa, Patuxai Victory Monument, offering panoramic city views, and the serene Wat Si Saket temple, known for its thousands of miniature Buddha statues.
Can I explore Vientiane by bicycle?
Yes, Vientiane is a relatively flat city making it ideal for bicycle tours. You can rent a bike and explore the riverside, markets, and temples at your own pace.
Are there any cultural experiences I should try in Vientiane?
Absolutely! You can watch a traditional Lao dance performance at the National Cultural Hall, visit the Lao National Museum to learn about the country’s history, or join a Lao cooking class to try your hand at local cuisine.
What are the best places for shopping in Vientiane?
Talat Sao (Morning Market) is a great place to find everything from textiles to electronics. For authentic Lao handicrafts, visit the Ban Nong Bouathong village, known for its weaving and traditional crafts.
Is there a place to relax and enjoy nature in Vientiane?
Yes, the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) with its impressive collection of Buddhist and Hindu statues is set in a peaceful parkland by the Mekong River, perfect for a relaxing day out.
What dining experiences should I not miss in Vientiane?
Do not miss trying Laotian staples such as larb (minced meat salad) and sticky rice at local restaurants. For a unique experience, dine by the Mekong River at sunset for breathtaking views.
Are there any wellness activities in Vientiane?
Vientiane offers several traditional Lao massage parlors and spas where you can enjoy herbal treatments and massages. It’s a wonderful way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Can I visit any local breweries or distilleries in Vientiane?
Yes, the Lao Brewery Company offers tours where you can learn about the brewing process and sample Beerlao, the national beer of Laos, right where it’s made.