Vientiane – Little France of Southeast Asia
They say Vientiane is the sleepiest South East Asian capital… and “they” are right. It is one of the smallest capital cities in Southeast Asia but this is not necessarily a bad thing as you really get to enjoy it at a relaxing pace.
Vientiane enchants the visitor with many temples scattered throughout the city and you can still see the orange robes fleeing the streets on their way to and from school but it lacks somehow the charm of Luang Prabang (LPB). However, for about 3-4 days (including some spas pampering 😉 ), it can be pretty charming and it is best visited before LPB.
See/do in Vientiane
One of the most important temples in Vientiane (and the country) is Pha That Luang (the Great Stupa) and is the symbol of Laos, appearing on all banknotes and government logo. It is believed that the stupa houses a bone and hair of Buddha.
Other temples (wats) that are a must see in Vientiane are: Wat Si Muang (probably one of the most popular), Wat Si Saket (the oldest temple in Vientiane), Wat Pha Kaew (now a museum). If you stay downtown it is impossible not to stumble upon a few temples just by walking around. All of them can be visited, and even if the doors to the main temples are closed, they will usually have a beautiful and peaceful garden to reward your entrance. This was in fact my favourite thing to do in Vientiane: walk around and discover another temple and another temple and another temple….
For a different experience, you can join a Vipassana Meditation session, held every Saturday from 4 to 5.30 pm at Wat Sok Pa Luang. Everybody is welcome and it is free of charge. However it is better to confirm first that the session is taking place as in exceptional circumstances they might cancel them.
Other “see/do”‘s in Vientiane:
- Patuxai (Victory Gate): similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris; they have an “interesting” detail about the monument on their description board
- COPE visitor center – the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, a non for profit organisation. Laos was the most heavily bombed country per inhabitant in the world and even today people are killed or injured by unexploded ordnance (UXO). COPE runs rehabilitation centres that provide care and support for survivors of UXOs
- Beerlao brewery – winner of may international awards
- Buddha park – 25km outside of Vientiane, it is a huge and strange sculpture garden
In addition to the usual sightseeing, if you are in for the spas for instance, Vientiane certainly delivers (ok, it’s not Bali but really not bad at all!).
If you are addicted to coffee, again Vientiane is the answer (some of the best in Southeast Asia) and many times they can be accompanied by a croissant or some other delicious pastry that can make you feel you are in….
But the numerous cafes are not the only culinary treat that Vientiane has on offer, it also boasts a plethora of international and local restaurants to cater for any style and budget. There is even a rooftop bar (that I am aware of at least)!
Vientiane was almost like a city trip for me. Here is what a typical day looked like: start with a good coffee and a nice pastry, walk around and visit a few temples/sights, break for lunch, another coffee (at another cafe), some more walking around and probably some shopping, my daily treat at the spa/massage, aperitif time/ sunset, dinner. Voila! A perfect day in Vientiane :-). Oh and of course there is the sunset over the Mekong! It is Indochina after all!
…or is it just a little drop of Europe in the Southeast Asian teritory?
Makpeth – A local restaurant training former street kids to work in a restaurant. Not only is the food delicious but by eating in such a place you feel you are giving something back (not just “selfishly” enjoy yourself 😉 ). As a plus they also have a lovely little garden but with limited sitting. Makpeth is part of Tree global alliance of training restaurants in Laos and Cambodia. A definite must if you visit these countries!
Pimenton – a notch above most (if not all) restaurants in Vientiane. Delicious tapas, good wine list, stylish and elegant décor , very friendly owners…a must stop
Kop Chai Deu (restaurant and bar) – I would say that it should be tried at least once given the vast choice of food: Lao, Thai, European and even some Indian dishes in a food garden spread on 2 floors, heavily and colourfully decorated.
Fuji – as the name implies, a Japanese restaurant with an extensive menu from sushi to ramen to bento boxes. It serves Japanese classics as well as “with a twist” of SE Asia.
Benoni café – again a wide choice menu more geared towards Asian fusion cuisine but you can also find some non-Asian dishes as well
House of fruit shakes – it can even be called “heaven of fruit shakes” and no other comment needed.
Le Banneton, JoMa café, Café Sinouk , Croissant d’or , Scandinavian bakery – most of them are the “siblings” of the ones in Luang Prabang and none of them is a bad choice be it for a coffee, a croissant, a cake or even a meal. Nice modern atmosphere of a typical European bakery
Restaurants on the river – all of them very local, food wise as well as décor wise (some don’t even have the name written in English). A careful choice (i.e the busiest) delivers excellent quality fish
Bor Pen Yang – rooftop bar (yaay 🙂 ) with great views of sunset over the Mekong
Jazzy Brick – a nice bar for a post dinner drink, however not that “jazzy” and not that busy either
I-Beam – nice, cozy bar frequented by expats and with quite decent live music mostly on the weekends.
There are so many spas in Vientiane that choosing one is a challenge in itself. In fact not all of them are actually spas in the true sense of the word (for example most of them do not have a pool, a jacuzzi or a sauna) but rather beauty salons. I settled on Champa Spa as one of their 3 locations was the closest from my hotel. I was never disappointed by any of their services (and I went there daily!).
Walking, cycling or a rickshaw ride (the usual rule “always-negotiate-before-getting-on” still applies) are the best ways to see Vientiane. Nothing is too far given the size of the city and the traffic is almost relaxing for an Asian city.
More pics below 🙂
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