Top 7 Things to Do in Vientiane, Laos

Statues in Buddha Park

My adventure through Laos has been filled with many firsts, unique accommodations, crazy bug stories, meeting great people, and seeing some amazing views that I could have never imagined had I not hopped on that plane to Asia. And my last stop exploring Laos took me to Vientiane, right across the border from Thailand, and of course, had a crazy bug story yet again. We only stayed long enough to see some of the major sites and enjoy a little Laotian nightlife before crossing back over to Thailand, but my short time here definitely has me wanting to come back to explore deeper. Here are the top things to do in Vientiane, Laos.

Statues in Buddha Park
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The Road to Vientiane

The Road to Vientiane

What can I say about the road adventure I had to Vientiane? A lot, actually. The route most people go on takes 4-5 hours. The particular route that we took had just opened up for traffic as it used to be a military road and takes slightly less time. We bought tickets (50,000kip~$4.20) for a seat on a shared minivan that can handle the portion of the road that is not paved. Buses cannot go on this road as it is too rough for them. And it was rough!

You can see a hyperlapse video below of most of the drive to Vientiane. It was as crazy as the video shows. I was sitting in the front row center seat without a seatbelt (my lovely travel partner took the front passenger seat with the seatbelt and left me no other option). And let me tell you, it was a death-defining drive that I don’t think I ever want to repeat. Going around corners while riding on the other side of the road made me extremely nervous, and the eye-dropping cliffs on the right side of the road didn’t help either. Check out the drive in the video. See if you can spot the cattle crossing the road or the lady with the red umbrella? Thanks to Scott Thompson for the amazing music he added to the video. I hope you enjoy it! Let me know in the comments what you think of the video. I’m working on making more of these on my travels and my YouTube site.

What you don’t see at the end of the video is that we pulled into a little rest area. There was a restaurant, tiny store, and bathrooms for us to use. When I got out of the minivan, I had to stretch my legs which were a bit unsteady after the ride. The back of the restaurant had an amazing view of rice fields as far as you could see. The front of the restaurant was open, and in the parking lot were goats walking around freely right up to the tables. You wouldn’t see that in the States!

Panoramic View of a Rice Field in Laos

Most of the minivan passengers were hungry, but we didn’t have much time to get any food. Somebody noticed that a lady across the road was grilling meat on sticks. A handful of us dodged the scooters and cars to cross over and pick up a couple. I had a good track record of meat on a stick in Thailand, so I didn’t think it would be that different. However, we had a hilarious time chatting with her trying to figure out what kind of meat it was. We kept making animal sounds to see if one would be the right one. Between all the laughter, all you heard was Moo, Baaa, Woof, etc. We never guessed it. I tried it anyway. Not the wisest thing I have done. It was so chewy that I couldn’t even finish it and ended up spitting it out. And I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stomach whatever we ate. Not every experience is good, but it was memorable.

Lady Grilling Meat on a Stick

Where to Stay in Vientiane

Green Box Capsule Hotel

We stayed at the Green Box Hotel in Vientiane. A capsule hotel (started in Japan) is a room full of pods where the hotel focuses on necessities such as sleep and bath to provide the most accommodating stay at the lowest price. Privacy isn’t really there as the curtains provide a flimsy barrier to the aisleway, and you can hear everything. If you stay in a capsule hotel, make sure to bring earplugs if you need quiet. I’m sure my neighbors in the next pod loved hearing my snoring (yes, I just admitted that)! This was my first capsule hotel experience. Have you stayed in a capsule hotel before? What did you think about it?

Now, the Green Box Hotel is permanently closed. But, there are plenty of other options to stay at when you are staying overnight in Vientiane. Check them out on Agoda for the best deals.

Okay, now the crazy bug story. If you remember, my travel partner had a bug in his hair in Luang Prabang. Well, this time, it was my turn. As we were touring the Vientiane Night Market and walking around that evening, at some point, this guy flew into my hair. I had no idea until we got to the Green Box Hotel, and the clerk must have noticed it and then politely pointed it out to me. Which then had me screaming very loudly and flailing around to get it out of my hair. Of course, my travel partner was cracking up laughing while he did nothing to help me remove it. Below is what eventually fell out of my hair. It was hard to fall asleep that night without constantly running my fingers through my long hair. I just had to make sure.

Black bug that fell from my hair

Vientiane Night Street

Vientiane Night Street

There are a couple of places to experience the nightlife in Vientiane, one is the Night Market, and the other is Vientiane Night Street. Vientiane Night Street is a large open-air market that has many foods and fashion stalls lining it with tables and chairs in the center. Here you can enjoy a glass of Beerlao and have the opportunity to sample a wide range of local Laotian fare, including juicy barbecue pork skewers, spicy Lao salads, and, if you are feeling brave, fried insects. Let’s be very clear; I did not try those.

Vientiane Night Market

Crowded Vientiane Night Market

One of the most popular places to see the night market is along the Mekong River. This pedestrian-friendly market with hundreds of red awning stalls is more geared to souvenirs, clothing, and carnival amusements than food. Suppose you are looking for a souvenir for your travels in Laos. In that case, you can pick up all sorts of clothing, Lao skirts, textiles, magnets, crafts, technological accessories, footwear, sunglasses, and of course, statues and paintings of Buddha. The night market opens every day from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. If you want to avoid the crowds, make sure to come early.

Food in Vientiane

Although the food choices are limited in the Night Market, You can find plenty of street vendors lining up around the market. However, if you want to sit down and relax a bit while eating, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the streets of Vientiane. We found a great restaurant near the night market, Ban Lao Beer Garden. They have a nice quiet garden where you can eat outside and relax from the crowds at the night market. I had a delicious shrimp noodle dish and a tall refreshing beer. Another great option for food in Vientiane is sandwiches and salads. You can’t go wrong with those. And every once in a while, on a hot day, you can’t beat a refreshing Strawberry Daquiri.

Buddha Park

View of Buddha Park from the top of the Pumpkin Tower

Buddha Park is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Vientiane, with tickets costing only 15,000kip ($1.20). What looks like a religious site that has been here for hundreds of years with statues showing considerable wear is actually an art sculpture park built-in 1958. Filled with over 200 concrete sculptures representing Buddha and Hindu gods, you can also find statues of humans, animals, and demons. The two largest sculptures are the 130ft reclining buddha and the one representing a giant pumpkin, which can be seen from Thailand.

Pumpkin Tower at Buddha Park in Vientiane

The pumpkin sculpture has three stories representing three levels – Hell, Earth, and Heaven. You enter through the opening of a demon’s mouth and climb staircases from hell to heaven. Each level contains sculptures depicting the level. You have to climb through the little windows and step into the levels to see the center. It is very quiet in the pumpkin. When you get drawn into looking at the details of some of the sculptures, it is easy to lose track of time. Hopefully, you aren’t traveling with someone who thinks it is funny to jump out and scare you constantly. At the top, you can climb out a little window and capture photographs of the entire park, just as long as you aren’t afraid of heights.

Group of Statues in the Pumpkin Tower at Buddha Park

With so many unique statues to see, you can easily spend a couple of hours here. There is an area where you can get food toward the back of the park and huts you can sit under, surrounded by rows and rows of colorful flowers. Here are some photos of statues that caught my eye in the park.

Statues in Buddha Park
Rows of Statues in Buddha Park

Flowers in Buddha Park

Pink, White, and Purple Water Lilies

Whenever I travel, I’m always capturing something with my camera. More often than not, it is of flowers. I love seeing the bright, vibrant colors of the flowers, where sometimes the splash of color is unexpected. Here are some of my favorites that I found in Buddha Park. If you like these, you can see more on my SmugMug site.

Patuxai Victory Monument

Front View of Patuxai in Vientiane

Directly down the street from the Presidential Palace, you can see the towering Patuxai (Victory Gate). The arch was built between 1957 and 1968 to honor the memories of the Laotian soldiers who died during World War II and the war of independence from France in 1949. The entire structure and surrounding elements represent something important to the Laotian culture and history.

Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane

Five towers represent the five principles of coexistence among nations of the world and the five Buddhist principles of “thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honor, and prosperity.” You can walk through the arch and under the four gates to see the artwork on the ceiling. There is a pond in front of each gate representing the open section of a lotus flower, which you can see when you climb to the viewing platform at the top of the arch. There is no fee to walk around the arch, but if you want to climb to the top, it is 3,000kip ($.25).

Roof in the Patuxai Victory Monument

Other Sites to See in Vientiane

That Dam (Black Stupa)

That Dam (Black Stupa) in Vientiane

Whether it is legend, folklore, or history, That Dam is a unique place to visit in Vientiane. “That” in Laotian refers to an inverted bell shape (or unopened lotus flower) structure that usually contains relics of the Buddha. This stupa is located on a roundabout not far from Talat Sao, the morning market, and the American Embassy. Legend has it that a seven-headed water serpent, ‘Naga,’ lived here to protect the stupa, which was covered in pure gold. During the 1820s Siamese-Laotian war, the gold was pillaged and taken to Siam (now Thailand), leaving an unadorned black stupa that you see today.

Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace in Vientiane

The Presidential Palace is the official residence of the President of Laos. Initially built in 1560 and used as the royal residence, it didn’t officially open until many years later, in 1986. The public cannot enter, but you can view its magnificence through the gate. It is also lit up at night to get some cool night photos.

Elephant Statue

Elephant Statue Made from Tea Cups, Saucers, and Plates

The elephant statue can be found right by Patuxai. This is a unique thing to see because it is entirely made up of plates, cups, and saucers. Yep, artists used kitchenware to create this art masterpiece on display in the center of Vientiane.

Close-up of Elephant Statue Made from Tea Cups, Saucers, and Plates

Getting Back to Thailand

Riding the Bus in Vientiane

To get back to Thailand, all you need to do is buy a bus ticket from the central bus station for 22,000kip ($1.80), which will take you to Udon Thani. There are four bus times daily for you to choose from. The ride will take approximately 2.5 hours. It isn’t the most comfortable, but the price is great if you are on a budget. You’ll have to cross the Friendship bridge and go through immigration, but it should be a fairly easy process.

Summary

Heather at Buddha Park

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my journey through Laos. It has been quite the adventure with many firsts, including jumping into a blue lagoon, hitchhiking, all of the unique accommodations I booked through Agoda, insane bug stories, meeting so many wonderful people backpacking through Laos, and seeing part of the world that many of the midwest wouldn’t have ever dreamed of going to. If you have been following my travels, thank you so much. Let me know in the comments what you think. I enjoy hearing from you all. I have so many more stories to share with you and many more adventures on the horizon.

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Further Reading

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