Vientiane is the capital city of Laos. While most capital cities around the region are bustling with activity, Vientiane is a considerably small town, big enough to simply walk around the main attractions in the city centre by foot. Despite this, it has its own unique charm which is a good respite from the typical shopping malls and business districts found in almost every capital city in the world.
After getting off the minivan from Thanaleng Railway Station, I began my walk to Patuxay Monument, north of Talad Sao.
Patuxay Monument is the most easily recognisable structure in Vientiane city centre, standing out on the main Lane Xang Avenue similar to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
It looks impressive when walking towards it on Lane Xang Avenue, with it’s unique Laotian design influence.
However, upon a closer look, there are obvious signs of wear.
The Paxuxay Monument looks as if it was underutilized, but it was clearly not.
Even the description of the Patuxay Monument on the monument itself describes it as a “monster of concrete”. Hmm.
The Government’s Office beside the Patuxay Monument.
The fountain in front of the Patuxay Monument is also switched off.
Not sure if the aid is for the Paxuxay Monument, but, okay.
The beautiful ceiling of the Patuxay Monument.
Tickets are sold to enter and head to the roof of the Patuxay Monument for 3000 Kip (~$0.48).
Looking back down at the ground floor from the stairwell.
The climb up to the roof was a bit strange – 2 floors were filled with souvenir shops.
The roof of the Patuxay Monument.
In the middle, there lies – you guessed it – a souvenir shop.
The view towards the northeast of Patuxay Monument.
The view towards the southwest of Patuxay Monument, with the Presidential Palace at the end of Lane Xang Avenue.
While walking around the souvenir shops (without buying anything), there seems to be an incomplete stairwell as well.
Next stop: That Dam
(Pronounced like how it is in Malay or Chinese Hanyu Pinyin, and not in English like that dam.)
That Dam, or Black Stupa, as I found online is a large stupa, however, when I got there, it was smaller than I imagined it to be.
Also, it looked overgrown with ferns, something which I thought was disappointing and perhaps even disrespectful for a religious structure in civilization.
I headed to the (outside of the) Presidential Palace next.
The Presidential Palace is the official residence of the President of Laos, which is of course, closed to the public. It looks rather French to me, and the Lane Xang Avenue in front of it only complements the feeling.
As close as I could get to the President of Laos, perhaps.
Looking back down on Lane Xang Avenue, it does look a little like Paris. Until the heat reminds you that you’re in Southeast Asia instead.
Wat Sisaket/Sisaket Museum
Just about a minute away from the Presidential Palace lies Wat Sisaket, a functioning Buddhist Temple. However, signs around in English call it the Sisaket Museum, which is it bit of a misnomer I guess.
The temple proper is surrounded by a wall, similar to some temples in Thailand.
Foreigner tickets cost 10,000 Kip (~$1.61) each. (Not sure why my ticket was issued for the Ho Phra Keo Museum though.)
Tickets can be purchased from the counter outside, and will be checked upon entry into the temple compound proper.
The main temple is in the middle.
Around the sheltered perimeter, many Buddha statues surround the temple.
Ho Phra Keo
The Ho Phra Keo is a former temple which housed the Emerald Buddha, which today is housed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) in Bangkok.
Similar to the Wat Sisaket, tickets cost 10,000 Kip (~$1.61) to enter the Ho Phra Keo Museum.
I skipped this visit as I was running short on time to explore the other parts of Vientiane.
Sacred Heart Cathedral
The Sacred Heart Cathedral is the only Catholic Church in Vientiane, and just one out of 3 churches in the whole of Laos, with the other two in Savannakhet and Pakse respectively.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral was built in 1928, when Laos was part of the French Indochina.
The overall exterior is rather simple as compared with other Cathedrals around the world.
However, the interior looks rather pleasant with some gold paint and even chandeliers for this small church.
Just like French churches, marble ex-voto plaques don a small portion of a wall. On top of French words, Vietnamese and even Chinese can be seen inscribed.
On the other side, there’s a small open area with a Grotto.
Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is another Buddhist temple, towards the eastern entrance to Vientiane city. The colours here are more vivid than the other typical Buddhist temples around Vientiane. Also, being more local, no entrance fee is needed to be paid for this temple.
The atmosphere here feels more like an actual temple rather than just being a tourist attraction.
King Sisavangvong Park
Just outside Wat Si Muang where the two main roads merges/splits off depending on which direction you are looking at, lies the King Sisavangvong Park with a Statue of King Sisavangvong in the middle. King Sisavangvong was the second-last King of Laos before the Monarchy of Laos was in exile since 1975.
Right where the road merges, a plaque stands to commemorate Japan’s help in improving the Vientiane No. 1 Road.
Hmm, this might be the start of consumerism in Laos.
Nam Phou Fountain
I visited this place only because my pick-up to Thanaleng Railway Station was here, but it seems like Nam Phou Fountain might be an evening attraction in Vientiane.
Nam Phou Fountain is located in a square surrounded by French-style shophouses which today are restaurants and bars. Also, the term “0 KM” can be seen around here, which I guess might be the 0 km mark of roads in Vientiane, or perhaps even Laos.
A public toilet is available here, which was really convenient since there aren’t many public toilets around Vientiane city.
All restaurants and bars were closed when I was there at around 2.30pm.
All in all, Vientiane is a quaint and quiet capital city, perhaps perfect as a day trip from Thailand, be it from Bangkok or Udon Thani for now as a short but interesting look of how Laos is like. While I personally do not think that it might warrant a 3-day holiday just for this city alone, if you’re interested in exploring Laos, especially with most tourists heading for Luang Prabang instead, Vientiane, though it might not be as bustling as lots of other capitals around the world, should not be missed.