Vientiane, capital of Laos. A capital city that doesn’t feel much like a capital city at all. Perhaps it’s the lack of large buildings that typically sprawl up and outwards in most capitals, or maybe it’s the lack of renowned sights. Regardless, it’s still a city worth visiting as you work your way through the country! Liam and I spent our first afternoon wandering the streets to see That Dam, an ancient stupa covered in vines placed smack dab in the middle of a roundabout. This historic sight is just casually integrated as a fleeting sight in city traffic. After seeing this odd sight we headed back towards our hostel and hit up the Mekong riverside market where locals come to shop for new clothing, electronics and have a few snacks along the way. I bought a new hat after losing my last one at the airport (oops) with a cute kitsch little cat face on it. My perfect travel look for SE Asia!
Ancient ruin / roundabout
Our second day in the city we decided to see all of the sights that were within walking distance. First on that list was the Patuxai Monument. It was built to be the Laos answer to the Arc de Triomphe, but was never completed due to wartime interruptions. I think that it’s unfinished look adds character and reflects the spirit of the city. Liam and I both thought it was the coolest site in Vientiane. For about 80p for two people you can walk up to the very top and get an amazing view. There’s also some lovely greenery and a fountain right behind the monument for visitors who take that extra moment to admire the sight in full.
Beautiful French & Laos mixed influence architecture
After rehydrating we walked another twenty minutes further out to Pha That Luang. A massive stupa completely painted gold. Unfortunately, when we tried to open the gates we were informed that the sight was closed for the day due to a very special guest from South Korea who was visiting. The lady at the gate did us a solid and still gave us a minute to snap a quick picture before we left! There was also a pretty impressive giant golden reclining Buddha right outside that was a good substitute to visiting the inside of this temple.
On the bright side we were the only two visitors here, even if only for a minute!
COPE (the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was our last stop for the day. This NGO run museum focuses on the organisations work in providing medical devices and interventions to people who may have lost a limb or ability after encountering a UXO, or for any other reason. Rural areas in Laos are particularly impoverished and underserved. They also happen to be the areas where most of the UXOs are still located. Being able to see the impact that this organisation has in improving the quality of life for those who need it the most was really impactful and I hope they continue to gain all the support they deserve.
Powerful sculpture work outside of the COPE center made from UXO parts
After a full day of sight seeing it was time for some food. Liam and I have developed a great system for finding food that is based around the following principle: look where locals are eating. It’s worked out pretty spectacularly for us and this night was no exception! After a delicious bowl of spicy pork noodle soup we wanted something sweet and stumbled upon a crowd around this man making prathas. After chatting with him and others visiting his stand we found out that he’s been doing this for 14 years. The guy was bantering with every regular that came to the stall and it was easy to see why this was a favourite even before we took a bite of our amazing banana pratha drizzled with condensed milk. Seriously, probably my favorite dessert we’ve had this trip!
On our second full day we decided to head to Buddha Park, located about 14km outside of the city. If you’re picturing a park with Buddha in it, you’re spot on. Only it’s hundreds of Buddhas in wildly different positions, sizes and shapes! Snake Buddha, Buddha stacked on skulls, four headed Buddha, you name it and it’s probably here. Our favorite part of the park was this massive jar shaped sculpture you could explore. Inside it had three levels with windy narrow staircases connecting them, every level filled with even more buddhas. After you tomb raider your way to the top you can stand on top of this massive structure and see all of the statues stretching out to the Mekong river! It’s quite a sight to see.
Buddha Buddha Buddha Buddha rockin’ everywhere
We had a delicious fresh coconut ice cream with roasted peanuts on top as a midday treat after exploring the park and headed out one bus stop away to the Laos Disabled Women Development Center. We actually only learned about this place after reading a blog about getting to Buddha park and I’m really glad we stumbled across it! This is another amazing organization in Laos. Since 2011, the center has provided a place for women who are disabled to gain new skills along with an empowering community who work together to bolster individual incomes and independence. Many of the women who come here develop various handicraft skills, making and then selling the various goods, encouraging entrepreneurship. We picked up a beautiful paperwork heart (even the paper itself is made on site!) that I can’t wait to put in our new home. The staff here are incredible and I’m so glad we were able to learn about the life changing work being done here.
Some stunning scarves made on site!
On our last day in Laos before our night bus to Bangkok (more on this unexpected change of plans later) we decided to take one final day trip to the Laos Textile Museum. It’s located pretty far north in the city so we decided to grab another bus there. A quick note on the buses in Vientiane: they are incredibly cheap, have air con, and pretty frequent service! So if you’re on a budget and travelling around the city we’d definitely recommend them. I’ve attached a link with the routes and prices that really helped us out. Right…back to the Textile Museum. Behind a green gate on an unassuming residential road lies this family run, immaculately kept compound. There are several stunning wooden buildings with a lush garden in between them. For about £3 you get entry to the working museum where you can learn all about the rich cultural history and current practices of Laos textiles. One of the most impressive things here was watching a few women working on looms using traditional techniques, truly a sight to behold! We also were able to see the plants and processes the center uses to make natural dyes for the silk threads once spun. The entire process is absolutely fascinating and even if you’re not an expert in handicrafts it’s incredible to see the level of care and attention used on the textiles produced on site! At the end visitors receive a cup of butterfly pea tea made with the flowers grown on the grounds. A perfect way to finish our time here. Although this museum is a bit out of the city it’s absolutely worth a trip to see and learn more about this amazing part of Laos culture.
I could watch this for hours and still be completely amazed by her skill
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around a cute little coffee shop near where we had to depart for Bangkok that afternoon. Although our time in Laos got cut short due to extreme flooding in the south that prevented us going there, we had an amazing time getting to know this gorgeous country. So for now, goodbye Laos. We’re so grateful for the lovely people we met, beautiful scenery and adventurous experiences we had.
I’ve been Emily Colorado and you can check me out on Instagram
You never know what weird and wonderful things you may stumble across while travelling!