Things to Do in Vientiane
Perhaps the most important monument in Laos, this 24-carat, 45-meter high golden stupa was built in the 3rd Century and is said to hold a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Local guides wander the grounds prepared to share with travelers the legend of this religious temple, which resembles the famous lotus flower. Travelers agree it’s worth a visit, but some argue the stupa’s golden splendor is more impressive from afar.
Victory Monument, with its five intricate towers, is a fixture in the skyline of Vientiane, as well as the center of Patuxai Park. This regal destination pays homage to those killed in the fights for independence against France, Siam and Japan. Patuxai is as stunning from afar as it is up close. The monument’s interior is decorated with hand-painted images of religious deities. Visitors can climb to the top of Victory Monument and enjoy spectacular views of famous Lao temples, the might Mekong River and the nearby neighbor, Thailand.
Formed in 1997 to support survivors of landmine explosions, the COPE Visitor Centre provides travelers with not only Laos' history with UXOs (unexploded ordnance, or explosive weapons), but an up-close look at how locals are working to provide disability services for those affected. The Visitor Centre showcases informative exhibits that explore both the history and impact of UXOs on life in Laos. Documentaries and local artwork explain how important the COPE mission is to people in the community. The Centre’s unique shop offers T-shirts and postcards for purchase, with proceeds going to support the COPE cause, and its Karma Café sells custom-made ice cream and cool drinks to refresh the tired traveler.
The Presidential Palace in Vientiane is the official residence of the President of Laos. The building is a grand French colonial Beaux-Arts style structure surrounded by landscaped gardens. It’s located on the main avenue within the city, not far from the banks of the Mekong River.
Construction of the palace began in 1973. However, due to a complicated political situation in Laos at the time, the Presidential Palace wasn’t officially opened until 1986, and only then as a venue for government functions and ceremonies. To this day, the palace remains closed to the public, and visitors will only be able to take photographs from outside its wrought iron gates.
This former temple, built in the mid-1500s, once housed the famous Emerald Buddha (before the Siamese reclaimed it). Today, Haw Phra Kaew is home to a small museum—the only portion of the royal palace to survive attack.
As a result, visitors can wander its original interior, filled with gilded halls, handcrafted sculptures, Hindu artwork and traditional Khmer carvings. Its protected veranda houses some of the most ornate Buddhist sculptures in the country, and manicured gardens full of brilliantly colored flowers and well-kept lawns make for a relaxing way to spend an afternoon outside the city center.
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