Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of awesome, fun things to do in Vientiane Laos. In fact it turned out to be one of our favourite places in South East Asia. And it’s a city we could have spent a lot more time in.
Unlike most of the capitals in this corner of the world, Laos’ capital is super chilled out. It’s relatively small with an intimate feel to it, and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. And yet before we arrived, we didn’t have high expectations of Vientiane Laos.
The Best Things to Do in Vientiane Laos
The Laos capital has got something of a naff reputation among travellers. Not many people have a clue what to do in Vientiane.
“Vientiane nightlife is really boring”. “Just go for one night and then make your way up to Vang Vieng”. “You’ll be stuck for things to do in Vientiane”.
These are some things you’ll likely hear from people who’ve visited, or in some of the guff that’s written online.
Trust us when we say that this is absolute nonsense. There are plenty of amazing things to do in Vientiane Laos, so we’re going to put the record straight.
For all the naysayers, and those of you who might be wondering whether it’s even worth a visit, here are the best things to do in Vientiane Laos.
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Meditate with Monks at Wat Sok Pa Luang
Wat Sok Pa Luang is a low key temple set in a small wooded area. It lies just over a mile from the centre of Vientiane Laos and is (relatively) easy to reach by bicycle. Alternatively you can catch a tuk tuk or taxi there for a small amount.
Granted, it’s definitely not the most beautiful or impressive temple we’ve visited. However, it’s still nice to look at, and has numerous pretty red and gold buildings shaded by the surrounding trees.
But it’s not its appearance that makes a trip here one of the best things to do in Vientiane Laos.
The main reason to visit Wat Sok Pa Luang occurs every Saturday afternoon. This is when the novice monks of the Wat hold an open meditation session.
Primarily aimed at English speaking visitors, it’s like an exchange of services. Starting at 3pm there’s an English conversation session. During this the young monks brush up on their language skills by conversing with the visitors in small groups.
Following that they run a meditation session. As part of it they explain the different forms of meditation and even teach you how to do them.
At the end there’s also a Q&A session. You’re able to ask them any questions you might have about their way of life, meditation or the Buddhist religion. You could even quiz them about their favourite things to do in Vientiane!
Buddhism is a central aspect of the culture here in Vientiane Laos. A visit to this Wat is a fantastic way to understand a bit more about the country and its people.
Have a Traditional Laos Herbal Sauna and Massage
A favourite pass time for residents of Vientiane Laos is a trip to a traditional herbal sauna. At the one we visited, we got chatting to a guy who worked for the Laos Tourism Board. He explained to us that many people go once or twice a week both to relax and to reap the numerous medicinal benefits.
It’s like a normal sauna, but the steam is infused with fragrant herbs to make it an extremely aromatic experience. They’re pretty rustic too, as the vapour comes from a fire lit underneath the small hut that houses the sauna.
Once you’ve loosened your muscles up in the sauna, it’s time to have a traditional Laos massage. The one that we had was one of the best massages we experienced in Asia. And that’s saying something because we had plenty.
It involves a lot of stretching out of your limbs and contorting your body into weird and unnatural positions. But we left feeling happy and relaxed, and even got a free cup of tea to go with it.
This is easily one of the most soothing and tranquil things to do in Vientiane Laos. So if you like chilling out, be sure not to miss treating yourself to a little pamper.
Go to the COPE Visitor Centre
Even if you are only here for one day, this is an “absolute must” of top things to do in Vientiane Laos. It’s not very widely known that Laos was devastatingly targeted by the US during the Vietnam War. In fact, per capita, it’s the most heavily bombed country in history.
Incredibly, Laos had a planeload of bombs dropped on it every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years. It’s estimated that of the 270 million cluster bombs that fell here during the war, almost a third of them never detonated.
This has essentially turned vast swathes of the country into giant minefields. Since the end of the war thousands of people have been killed or lost limbs through inadvertently triggering an explosion.
COPE is a locally run charity that helps the victims that unbelievably still fall prey to those bombs to this day. It provides them with both prosthetics, and the much needed support required to get them back on track.
The visitor centre takes you through the effects of the bombings and gives an overview of the amazing work it does to help the victims. It’s free to enter, but you can help by leaving a donation or purchasing something from the onsite shop.
Marvel at Xieng Khuan Buddha Park
One of the more unusual Vientiane attractions is this vast outdoor Buddha Park, also known as Xieng Khuan. It’s located around 25km southeast of the Laos capital, so you’ll need to catch a bus, tuk tuk, or taxi there. The journey is well worth it though.
Buddha Park was designed and constructed by a fascinating mystic called Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. He was a sometime shaman, part-time priest, full-time faith fuser, and spiritual sculptor. And Xieng Khuan reflects this unique mystic mashup.
He took aspects of both Buddhism and Hinduism and mixed them together to form something entirely individual. This and his charisma won him a loyal following throughout the region, with some people even referring to him as a cult or sect leader.
Along with his devotees, he set about constructing the slightly surreal Buddha Park. These days it’s crumbling and weather worn which all adds to the mystical aura. But though it looks like it could hail from the same era as ancient sites like Ankor Wat, construction didn’t begin until 1958.
You’ll be enchanted by the hundreds of giant individual sculptures depicting everything from the weird to the wonderful. Among the most famous sculptures are a giant pumpkin you can enter via a demon’s head, a 40 metre high reclining Buddha, and a raft of gods from both Hinduism and Buddhism.
If you’re looking for slightly more alternative things to do in Vientiane Laos then this is certainly one.
Visit the Laos National Museum
******Please note, the Laos National Museum is reportedly in the process of moving to a new location. The original one detailed below has now closed down, however, we’re not yet sure when the new one is due to open. Once we have the details we’ll update again. If you know, please let us know in the comments******
The guidebooks will tell you that the Laos National Museum is run down, poorly kept and has some sketchy information on the history of Laos. But do you know what? These are the exact things that make it such a fascinating place to visit and one of the best Vientiane attractions.
Laos is one of the world’s few surviving communist states. The narrative of the museum is told from that perspective, something which is eye opening in itself.
There are no fancy interactive exhibits, no 4D cinema rooms. And on the day we went there wasn’t even any aircon despite the sweltering 34 degree heat.
But the museum is startlingly ambitious nonetheless. It crams content ranging from prehistoric dinosaur bones through to present day governmental initiatives into quite a small building.
A stroll around this wide ranging museum is definitely one of the most interesting things to do in Vientiane Laos.
Climb up Patuxai Victory Monument
This intricate war monument was built in memory of those who fought in the long struggle for independence from France. Curiously though, from far away it actually looks extremely similar to Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. It also lies at the end of a wide, very French feeling avenue.
But the closer you get, the more you can see of the ornate, crumbling, distinctly Laotian detail that decorates the arch. The contrast of these two elements is representative of Vientiane Laos itself as a whole. It’s without a doubt one of the most gorgeous Vientiane attractions.
The story behind Patuxai Victory Monument’s creation is just as peculiar. It was built with cement gifted by the Americans, intended to be used to construct an airport.
The government had other ideas for this donation and used it to fashion the monument instead, leading to it being nicknamed “The Vertical Runway”.
Climbing up the spiral staircases leading to the top of its towers will give you great panoramic views over the surrounding city. If you’re into intricate architecture or stunning vistas, this is easily one of the best things to do in Vientiane Laos.
Shop at the Riverside Night Bazaar
Every night at around sunset, the walkway that runs parallel to the Mekong River in the centre of Vientiane turns into a massive marketplace.
You won’t miss it as all the stalls are bright red. And the huge crowds of both tourists and residents line the riverside confirm it’s one of the most popular things to do in Vientiane Laos.
As i to be expected, a lot of what’s on offer is souvenirs aimed at the tourist market. But you can pick up anything from trainers to headphones and if you’re in need of any items of clothing then this is the place to go.
It’s cheap, but don’t let that stop you from bartering as it’s expected here. There is also some interesting food available if you get peckish. When it comes to Vientiane attractions, the Riverside Night Bazaar is one of the most vibrant and lively going.
Get Involved in Open Air Aerobics
The first day we arrived in Vientiane, we took a wander down to the Mekong River as it was just a few minutes walk from the guesthouse we were staying in. We were amused to see dozens of people taking part in what looked like an audition for a part in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
It was actually one of the open air aerobics classes that takes place each night on the riverfront. Obviously we had to try it.
The instructor is up on a makeshift stage and dance music blares loudly from speakers at either side as she barks instructions into a microphone headset.
It’s actually really fun to take part in and one of the most enjoyable things to do in Vientiane Laos.
Plus you don’t have to be afraid of being the wally who gets all of the dance moves wrong (me). Everyone is really welcoming and non judgmental. We met some lovely people and had great fun. And nobody laughed.
Discover the Legend of That Dam
We’re not usually massive roundabout fanatics. But as roundabouts go, the one that connects Rue Chanthakhoumane and Rue Bartholonie is pretty special.
It’s where you’ll find one of the oldest of Vientiane attractions, the That Dam. Also known as the Black Stupa, That Dam dates back to sometime in the 16th century. This makes it one of the only remaining structures in Vientiane from that period.
Long before its fading and decay lead to its current nickname, the Black Stupa was said to glint and shine. Incredibly this is because it is believed it was originally covered head to toe in real gold.
But that’s not the only magnificent story surrounding this site. Another legend repeated about That Dam is that it’s occupied by a seven headed snake or naga. This creature was believed to protect the stupa as well as the threat posed by the Siamese.
However, its valuable facade was stolen by the Siamese army as part of a retaliation against an unsuccessful Lao rebellion. The Siamese went on to take control of what was then the Kingdom of Vietnam, pillaging destroying much of it in the process.
Even though history would seem to suggest otherwise, apparently many local people still believe that the naga is still there acting as some kind of guardian over the city. Go and check it out for yourself and see what you think.
Sample a few Lao Lao Cocktails & Enjoy the Vientiane Nightlife
One of the main complaints about Vientiane Laos is around its lack of nightlife. But even though it may not have the best nightspots in Asia, there are plenty of bars in Vientiane where you can enjoy a night out.
If you’re up for a swill of the local tipple then make sure you try Lao Lao. Produced from rice, Lao Lao is a whisky like spirit.
It’s so good they named it twice and will definitely leave you seeing double (see what I did there?).
Many of the bars serve two versions of their signature cocktails, the premium ones and the Lao Lao equivalent. We actually developed a taste for the Lao Lao, and were happy to enjoy a couple of nights out on the local cocktails.
To buy a bottle of Lao Lao from a shop costs under a quid so it also makes for an extremely cheap night in!
Vientiane nightlife is a good reflection of the city – it’s chilled out, varied, and surprisingly fun. A night out is also cheap making it one of the things to do in Vientiane Laos that you might just do a few times.
Tuck into the Food at the Ban Anou Night Market in Vientiane Laos
Laotian food in Vientiane can broadly be split into two categories. There’s the traditional dishes, and then there’s the stuff that clearly has a French influence. Both are absolutely stunning, and each really distinct from most of the other cuisines of the region.
We knew absolutely nothing about Laos food before we visited. But stuffing your face with all of the delicious goodies on offer is definitely one of the most exciting things to do in Vientiane Laos.
Laos dishes tend to be spicy, fragrant, and are often accompanied by sticky rice and lots of fresh herbs and salad leaves. The French influence is most clearly seen in the baguettes and pastries available all over the city as well as the availability of cheese and pate.
Ban Anou is probably the best place to indulge your foodie fantasies. Despite not being massive, this colourful night market in Vientiane has hundreds of great dishes on offer at extremely cheap prices. You’ll also see a different side to the Vientiane nightlife.
Watch the Sun Set Over the Mekong
This one’s for all you romantics out there! If you follow us on Insta then you’ll know that we love nothing better than a good sunset.
And if you don’t follow us on Insta then I question your life choices, so click here and put a bit of sunshine in your existence.
The sunsets that we witnessed over the Mekong River are some of the most memorable and colourful we’ve ever seen.
Purples, pinks, oranges and reds vie with each other to turn the sky into the most outrageously coloured canvas.
Most evenings we’d grab some street food snacks, buy a couple of beers from a street seller and settle down to watch the show. It’s totally free and catching one is undoubtedly one of the most unmissable things to do in Vientiane Laos.
Transport to Vientiane
If you’re looking to book transport to Vientiane check availability and book your tickets online here:
So tell me, are you convinced yet? Would you like to visit Vientiane? Which of these things would you make sure to do on your visit? Drop us a note in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you.
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