Vientiane’s many attractions often overlooked by local inhabitants
Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

Every time I take a trip, I always contact friends at my destination to give me suggestions of what to experience because I don’t want to miss a thing.
When I meet overseas people I often talk about Laos and suggest they visit my favourite places such as Luang Prabang, Vangvieng and Champassak but curiously don’t often talk about Vientiane where I live.
I’ve grown up and spent almost 18 years of my life in Vientiane so I feel it’s my hometown which I know very well but have found it difficult to suggest places of interest to visit when a friend comes to spend a couple of days in the capital.
Of course, there are many must-see places in Vientiane but as a native, my sense of over-familiarity and complacency has made it quite difficult to make suggestions to visitors of what to experience.
Undaunted, I asked some friends where they take their visitors in Vientiane and they gave me many suggestions which made me even more confused.
So when friends came to visit recently I tried to put myself in their shoes as a visitor and the first activitywas to take them on a city tour because Vientiane is the capital of Laos.

The view north from Patuxay.

We visit the most beautiful religious and cultural site, That Luang, the gold-covered largest Buddhist stupa or temple in Laos, originally built as a Hindu temple in the 1st century.
The weather was great and not too hot so we could take a leisurely stroll around the golden stupa.
The next attraction on the list was the famousPatuxay which literally means Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph, formerly the Anousavaly monument known by the French as Monument Aux Morts that was built between 1957 and 1968.
Most visitors like to go to Patuxay because it’s in the centre of Vientiane and its tower affords pleasant views and photo opportunities across the city.
After that, we made our way further downtown close to the Mekong River where we enjoyed a nice lunch by ordering many kinds of Lao and foreign food.
Most of my friends preferred local fare, so I ordered them Laap Pa Namkhong (Mekong fish salad), grilled free-range chicken, papaya salad along with steamed fish with lime and of course sticky rice.
We planned to continue our journey straight after lunch but the weather was quite hot so another two hours were spent relaxing and slurping on fruit shakes.
Around 3pm we sauntered to historic Vat Sisaket which features a cloister wall with more than 2,000 ceramic and silver Buddha images.
Built in 1818, Vat Sisaket was built in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture, with a surrounding terrace and an ornate five-tiered roof, rather than in the Lao style.
It may be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane where many people like to go there to take pre-wedding photos. The French colonial government restored Vat Sisaket in 1924 and again in 1930.
Opposite is another famous temple called Hor Phakeo which is a cultural must-see.
According to numerous online sources, the templewas built in 1565 for King Xaysetthathirath after he moved from LuangPrabang to Vientiane. It was the royal palace to house the Emerald Buddha figurine, which Xaysetthathirath had brought from Chiang Mai, Thailand then the capital of Lanna to Luang Prabang.
This temple differs from others in Laos as it has no monks because it was used as Xaysetthathirath’s personal place of worship.
Xaysetthathirath’s Emerald Buddha stayed in the temple for over 200 years but when Vientiane was seized by the Siamese General Chao Phraya Chakri, the figurine was taken to Thonburi and the temple destroyed. The Buddha now resides in Wat PhraKaew in Bangkok, Thailand.
One of the most famous and respectful temples,Vat Simeuang, is around another 500 metres away and a good place to end of day’s sightseeing. Local folk like to go there to pray for good fortune.
On otherdays we ventured further out of town to Buddha Park or Vat Xieng Khuan which has over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues set in lush gardens on the banks of the Mekong.
It’s located 25 km southeast from Vientiane on the same road past the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge and you can get there by renting a motorbike, taking aTuk-tuk or Bus No. 14 to Thadeua.
On the way back, we also visited Vientiane Wall. It’s been recreated consistently with the time of the wall’s origins. Entrance is free and you have the option of being kitted out in traditional Lao costume so you can play your part in the capital’s historic recreation. Items of clothing can be rented for 5,000 kip.
According to information at the museum, the wall was built in the middle of the 16th century.
In 1560, Laos was known as the Lao Kingdom of Lane Xang and reigned over by Chao Xaysetthathirath who moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane to defend against an invasion from Myanmar. 
The wall was built in 1571 to strengthen the city’s defences against invasion from Myanmar.
In 1591, Chao Normeuang (Chao Xaysetthathirath’s son) succeeded to the throne as the king of Lane Xang and engaged in ongoing war with forces from Myanmar. Construction of the wall continued until 1806 under the leadership of Chao Anouvong.
In the evening, I took my visitors to the Mekong Night Market shopping for local and imported products as we rubbed shoulders with thousands of other bargain hunters.
We capped off a great day by enjoying our dinner beside the Mekong and watching the sun slowly set over the Thai side of the river.
Consequently, after my recent tour guide duties, I now feel that Vientiane is not just the capital but it’s a wonderful destination when we act like tourists.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update June 30, 2018)

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