I’d always regretted not making it to Laos when we were in South East Asia (see our itinerary here). After visiting South Korea, since we were so close, I jumped at the chance to spend 24 hours in Vientiane.
The city has endured more than its fair share of devastation, from the Burmese, Vietnamese and ultimately the Siamese in 1828. Under the control of the French in the 19thcentury Vientiane was completely rewritten, drawing inspiration from the glorious Indochinese capitals of Saigon and Phnom Penh.
This itinerary is a whirlwind of temples and beautiful things to see. It packs in the cultural highlights of this now sleepy capital city, where small town charm mingles with the modern world.
24 hours in Vientiane: The Itinerary
Where to Stay: Settha Palace Hotel
There are so many options in and around the city centre that it can be tough to decide. I had heard that quite a lot places advertised ‘air conditioning’ but ended up with broken or sub-par cooling. Now this may not seem like a big deal to most people, but after getting verysick with Dengue Fever (spread through mosquitos) last time I was in South East Asia, air conditioning was top of my priorities since it reduces the number of insects.
The old world magic of The Settha Palace Hotel stood out to me (I’m always a sucker for colonial charm), along with the lush pool, rosewood four poster beds and of course it’s central location. It was the perfect oasis for my 24 hours in Vientiane. You can read more about my experience of The Settha Palace Hotel here soon.
Dinner at Khop Chai Deu
Since I arrived into Laos in the early evening, after settling in to my room, the search for food commenced.
Just a short walk from my hotel the twinkling festoon-lit deck of Khop Chai Deu drew me in (that and it had been recommended to me). The live music and eclectic mix of travellers, locals and expats made it a great place to meet people from all over the world.
After discovering Soju in South Korea I was eager to taste Laos’ equivalent; Lao Lao (you’ll find it under the ‘Hard Stuff’ section of the drinks menu). This clear Loatian rice whiskey is strong and traditionally drunk neat. It took me a few ‘gos’ to finish it, washed down with fresh coconut water.
The menu was extensive including traditional Lao food and international dishes. The Lao beef with spicy dip, satay chicken and sticky rice roasted in bamboo stick was perfect, I even ordered more.
After a couple more drinks (gin not Lao Lao!) with my new friends I wandered back to my hotel via the fountains and lively music of NamPhou Park, which was just next-door.
A new day, new adventures and with only 24 hours in Vientiane, I wanted to make today count.
The Patuxay Monument, Lao for Gateway of Victory, was a short walk away down the wide Champs Elysees-esque boulevard. This monument, inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, is sometimes named the ‘vertical runway’ as the cement used was originally intended for the city’s new airport. It now stands as an icon of resilience, dedicated to the Laotians who laid down their lives in the fight for independence from France.
It is adorned with religious, cultural and traditional imagery and the four towers and central tower represent the five Buddhist principles: thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honour and prosperity.
You can climb to the top of the monument for views over the city, or sit under the arches as I did and take in all the intricate details.
Pha That Luang
The city map makes Pha That Luang look relatively close to The Patuxay Monument, however on a (very) hot and humid day it took me much longer to get there than I anticipated. Don’t forget to take water with you.
Pha That Luang is the symbol of Vientiane, and is also depicted on the Laotian Coat of Arms. The Pha That Luang stupa (literally translated asgreat golden stupa) is famous around the world. Built in 1566 the pyramidalshaped Buddhist stupa stands 45 meter high, is adorned with 500kg of gold leaf and is constructed of three levels to represent the ascent from earth to heaven. The cloisters provided the perfect shade to view the stupa and they contain many statues and paintings of Buddha.
Tuk Tuk back to hotel
As the sun moved to it’s peak in the sky, very sweaty and slightly burnt I headed back to The Settha Palace Hotel via tuk tuk for lunch and to seek some shade by the pool. Who said 24 hours in Vientiane couldn’t be relaxing?
After lunch I took a car to Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park, famous for housing over 200 religious statues and a 40-meter reclining Buddha. Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat who studied Buddhism and Hinduism created the park where symbols from both beliefs are intermingled creating a very surreal experience.
You can get a great view of the whole park from the top of the giant pumpkin. You climb through the mouth of a demon straight into hell, then ascend through Earth to Heaven on the top of the three floors. With only precariously steep stone ladders or stairs, it is certainly a work out. The stones on the top floor are worn and smooth, making it quite slippy, so watch your footing.
I enjoyed sitting in the shade with an ice cream, taking in the sculptures, meeting some monks and being surrounded by lots of butterflies.
On the journey back, there were lots of other temples to explore on the road side.
Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge
Before my trip I didn’t know you could cross the Mekong River to Thailand, but on our journey back we stopped off and walked across to the border.
The First Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge connects Nong Khai in Thailand with Vientiane in Laos. I’m not going to go into bridge specifics but it was fun to be able to walk to Thailand.
National Ethnic Cultural Park
The next stop en route was a little strange. There were models of traditional Lao houses and sculptures, as you’d expect from a National Ethnic Cultural Park. There were also large yellow dinosaurs (that looked like corn) and a lot of mosquitos – which as you’ll know I was trying to avoid.
Back in the city, I was excited to visit the only original monument to survive from before the Siamese levelled the city in1828: Wat Sisaket.
It is famous for it’s cloistered walls housing thousands of tiny Buddha images from the 16thand 19thcenturies. The surrounding area was also a treat to explore with tropical fruit trees, colourful verandas, and a drum tower.
Wat Phra Kaew
Just across the road lies Wat Phra Kaew. This Royal temple takes its name from the famous emerald Buddha image that it once housed (which is now in the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok).
Wat Phra Kaew has been destroyed and rebuilt several times and has been transformed into a museum. The gilded throne of the Emerald Buddha is on display along with ancient Buddhist manuscripts inscribed on palm leaves. There is also a 2000-year-old stone jar from the Plain of Jars. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside.
Chao Anouvong Park
My 24 hours in Vientiane itinerary continued to Chao Anouvong Park. A leisurely stroll along the promenade from the Presidential Palace, past the imposing statue of King Chao Anouvong and all the way to the night market.
I planned to head to Bor Pen Nyang Bar for a drink with sunset views over the Mekong, but couldn’t pull myself away from the river front. I found a little spot on the stone steps that (since the river was high) led straight into the river. The stone was warm from the heat of the sun, and coupled with a chilled Beer Lao was the perfect front row seat to my favourite time of the day.
It sounds tranquil and relaxing right? Wrong.
As the sun started to set, the large speakers were wheeled out and the evening’s multiple riverside aerobic sessions began. It was surreal to watch but I was kicking myself for not bringing my active wear to join in. Although I’m sure I’d have melted in the crazy heat and humidity.
Once the stars had come out, and the excitement of the aerobics had faded, I headed to Bor Pen Nyang Bar for a chilled Beer Lao and some chicken rice. There were a LOT of stairs to climb (just keep going) but the view over the night market was fantastic.
To round out my 24 hours in Vientiane, I meandered through the night market to marvel at all the stalls and crazy food on display.
Last modified: 15th September 2018