HISTORY 101: Vientiane is the capital of the Laos People’s Democratic Republic. They have their own monetary system known as Laotian money LAK (Laotian Kip) or simply ‘kip’, but your Baht is still widely accepted and used in Laos. Vientiane is situated on a bend of the Mekong river, which forms the border with Thailand at this point. All tourist who intends to visit Vientiane can either take plane, travel by train or bus and even sailing to the Mekong River from it’s nearby countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was a former colony of French so you will see more French Colonial Buildings everywhere. Theravada Buddhism is the predominant religion in Laos. It is therefore not surprising that the temples can be found easily in the country
Now the Story
Laos is my second stop for my INDOCHINA SOLO BACKPACKING TRIP. After spending 4 amazing and unforgettable days in Bangkok I am now ready to concur SEA’s laid-back capital. The initial plan on my itinerary is to take the overnight sleeper train from Hualumpong Train Station in BKK to Vientiane, Laos. But there’s turns of events that happened-I arrived pretty late in BKK from my day trip to Ayutthaya on my last day in BKK. So opted to get my PLAN B working-to take overnight bus from BKK-VIENTIANE. The journey took almost 12 hours but didn’t really noticed the time cause peacefully sleeping inside the bus. Due to the very short period of days I have in this trip I can only cover Vientiane-though I am dying to see the alms ceremony in Luang Prabang but I can only SIGH cause I aint have another 2 extra days.
At 9AM i was officially on the soil of Vientiane, we where dropped into a unfamiliar place where my worrying starts- the feeling of getting lost in translation in the middle of nowhere. So I chartered a tuk-tuk to bring me to the city center, I showed him the map of where I intended to go. Right away he knows what I am talking about but I did not get inside the tuk-tuk right away cause when I asked him how much he said only 400Baht. And this is what I hate about being a tourist as prices gets doubled and sometimes tripled- they know you have money so they will abuse and over charged you. So it is really important you do a lil bit of research when it comes to basic prices of commodities,transportation and even basic services and accommodation.
A sample laminated sightseeing tour pamphlet
Later on I was able to lower down the price to 150Baht which I think is still overpriced but I just took it cause I have to keep moving. The tuk-tuk driver also showed me this laminated photos of main attractions in Vientiane-he was saying something around 1000Baht not really sure with the exact price cause I am listening unattentively (if i know scam nanaman tong kinukuda nya).
WORD OF ADVICE: Don’t fall on this trap! Not unless you find it worthy to spend 50USD alone for less than half day of sight seeing via tuk-tuk. Most of the main attractions in Vientiane are close to each other so it will be easy if you can get your feet moving or simply rent a bike. I dont know how to ride one so shame on me for not learning this when i was still a child.
City Attractions Map
This map really helped me alot in this trip-so looking at this map you already have an idea that the attractions is plotted in a way that tourist can hop from 1 attractions to another easily. You can either star from the North of Lane Xang Avenue (That Luang) or down at the South (Chao Anuovong Statue) which ever you may think is suited for you. All the main attractions can be found in Lane Xang Avenue including the Talat Sao Mall and Market.
Patuxai Arc (Anousavari Monument)
I started exploring the Patuxai Arc which is not an ideal cause in the map That Luang is on the far end of Lane Xang Avenue while Sitting at the end of Lane Xang Avenue, between Vientiane Street and That Luang area, Patuxai which also means Victory Gate is built between 1957 and 1968, is dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. It looks like Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but its design is Laotian. t is the best known landmark of Vientiane.
At first glance it really looks like the Paris’s Arc de Triomphe but as you get closer [the monument] appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete”, a plaque on its wall says.
Its bottom and outside are simulated The Arc de Triumph de l’Étoile in Paris but the top and inside are designed with featured architecture and breathtaking carvings of Laos.
View from the top of Patuxai Arc
I paid 3,000Kip to get to the top which even more disappointing-really looks a unfinished huge block of cement. Taking the stairs reminds me of the narrow staircases in the church to get to the big bell.You will not believe that at the top there are gift shops selling overpriced items and souvenirs like key chain and magnets. All of my gadgets with me became useless after they run out of battery charge so I only have few photos from my Vientiane Trip.
At the back of Patuxai Arc
Entrance fee : 3,000Kip / USD0.39 / RM1.19 (staircase or lifts to the top floor viewing area)
Opening Hours : 8am-4:30pm on Mondays-Fridays, 8am-5pm on Saturdays & Sundays.
Pha That Luang from afar
While on my way to Pha That Luang from Patuxai Arc my prayer has been answered and luckily spotted True Coffee Shop. I was desperately looking for this for 2 reasons (to re charge my gadgets and freshen up and change outfit). It was just in time when I get inside the store and ordered a venti mocha frappucino. While I was at the counter I utterly asked the barista if there is a free wi-fi, then he said YES and then TING!!!!…. check in time muna sa FB but the bad news is it is only free for 1 hour and after that you will have to pay. The barista handed me my cup of frappucino and I was rushing to get to the comfy sofa next to power outlet. 2 and half hours passed and the battery charge on my Ipad is at 20%, so I think that’s enough -then I started to hit the road again feeling recharged and fresh-freshan.
It was 5 minutes before 12 noon when I reached the entrance gate of Pha That Luang. They wont let me in cause it’s lunch time (pakainin mu rin naman sila diba). I asked what time I can go back and lady answered to go back at 1PM.
And because I have not taken any solid food since we left BKK so I decided to go food hunting-started walking from That Luang until I spotted a food stall or resto (hindi kasi maipaliwanag ang hitsura nya), it was only few blocks away from the landmark so I sat in one of the empty tables then examined the menu and ended up getting Pork Noodle and Fried Rice (oh diba carb kung carb). I knew im gonna need alot of energy so I ate alot and thats actually my 1st and last meal in Vientiane (sa sobrang nagtipid lang). You know the face of a beggar man when you feed him with your left over take away? I literally looks like that when the lady started serving the food that I ordered. OH GOD! I was so famished that time and I finished the meal in less than 25 minutes..And BTW the food choices in the menu maybe limited but geez it so cheap around 40-70 Baht.
In one of the souvenir shop..TEMPTED pero buti nagpigil
Hmm it was still early so I explored the deserted street next to the resto and I was able to find some souvenir shops. I just checked out the items they were selling but decided not to buy cause I am running out of Thai Bahts.
In no time I am already done so I find my way back to That Luang and paid the entrance ticket of 5000 Kip. To enter That Luang, one must be covered at least from the shoulders down to the knees.
“World Precious Sacred Stupa”
It is the most important religious monument of Laos, with 30 small stupas around and Vat That Luang Neue in the north and Vat That Luang Tai in the south. That Luang has been built by King Settathirat in 1566. During That Luang Festival (2011 from 10-12 November) hundreds of monks representing all Lao temples gather to accept alms from the people and fireworks are displayed at night.Looking at it closer it seemed that it hasn’t been maintained well- the yellow gold paint coat starts to fade and some algae grows from the base of Stupa.
You have to pay to enter the gates but you can’t actually physically go inside the stupa, only walk around which is basically like seeing it from outside the gates.
Pha That Luang, the Stupa has become a symbol of Lao nationalism.
Spacious ground inside That Luang
Pha That Luang – compound surrounded by walls, are roughly
280 feet long on each side and within the compound contain
a large number of Lao & Khemer sculptures.
If you only have 1 day to spare then I suggest you make this as your 1st stop before Patuxai.,,WHY??.. It is because it is situated in hill side of 4 km from centre of Vientiane (around 20-30 min. walk considering you have a big backpack). It is like an uphill climb going here and there will be moments you will have a hard time catching your breath. It best to go there if you are riding a bicycle.
There’s a ceremony when I was there.
That Luang was plundered and destroyed by first the Burmese, then Siamese, Chinese and Thai before being rebuilt to its present glory.
Reminds me of Wat Pho in BKK.
When there is sunlight, the structures looks glowing and magnificent. There are about 1000 Buddhas of all sizes watching your every step.
Some Buddha images around the vicinity of the Stupa
The complex is really overwhelming in beauty and is truly awesome. You need to spend time walking all over to appreciate the magnitude of it all. I remember exploring all the four corners of the temple where in I bumped in to 1 of my co passenger in the bus going to Vientiane from BKK. The Stupa itself is very small and can be seen quite quickly. But it is surrounded by monasteries and other temples which make it very worthwhile.
Entrance fee : 5,000Kip / USD0.65 / RM2.00
Opening Hours : 8am-noon and 1pm-4pm from Tuesday-Sunday
Left That Luang past 2PM to get to the next sets of attractions. As I said earlier it’s a mistake that I made this as my 2nd stop-because to get to Wat Sisaket which is my next stop means I have to take the same road I took earlier from Patuxai to That Luang. This is when my burden starts, at 2PM in the afternoon with a 13 kilos backpack under the mad heat of the sun which I think at 40 degrees Celsius is definitely a suicide. It was like a extreme temperature I have not experience in my whole life.
Think of a guy handling a magnifying glass on one hand and a dried leaf on the other hand, and he will attempt to burn the dried leaf using the sun’s heat using magnifying glass. It was the same feeling and I was profusely sweating, even recalled rushing to one of the nearest store at the street side to buy a big bottle of water. This 40 degrees celsius temperature literally slowed me down. Every 5-10 minutes I have to stop walking and find a roof to hide under the heat of the sun. My backpack who used to be my BFF now became my enemy cause it was too heavy, so next time I will definitely PACK LIGHT. Well you can’t blame me cause it is technically my 1st ever attempt to backpack solo so I got so excited and brought almost half of my closet. (ayan napapala ng sobrang excited mag fashion show).
There is 1 good thing though this numerous stopping did to me, I was able to appreciate the architecture of the some of the french colonial house and was able to observe how locals behaves. In addition I also photographed some interesting attractions while I was walking back to Vientiane Center and here are some of them.
I don’t know how they call it.
Khmer inspired gateway.
One of the Government House.
I’m almost near.
I cannot recall how may stops I made just to reach my next destination. These are times when I really pray to God to shower me with big drops of water from above. I was at the verge of dehydration and my shirt is now drenched in sweat. The backpacks has absorbed the sweat from my shirt and the white spots starts to appear from the bag handle (natuyong pawis).
Whewww nangalahati na ako..
Then I saw this road signage and I knew I am getting closer now to Patuxai. The supposed to be 30 min walk from That Luang to Patuxai becomes 1 and half hour “F*ck Yeah”. My skin has gone burnt brown and my sweat glands doesn’t stop from emitting liquid toxins(pawis yun pina arte lang).
Walking on the streets of Vientiane is like a walk from the past-you’ll see crumbling French mansions, bougainvillea-blooming street,street markets, Buddhist temples and steaming noodle stalls.
BTW Vientiane has a slow, sleepy stride ideally suited to long lunches, afternoon naps on shady veranda’s and evenings watching the sun set with icy cold glasses of Beer Lao.
The main attractions in the city cost little or nothing, so it should be quite easy to keep your budget intact.
Lane Xang Avenue makes me feel sleepy.
I was carefully looking at the map when I felt like I needed to ask someone to make sure I am heading on the right direction. 1st attempt is to ask a local but turns out to be a bad idea (no english). Then I saw some Canadian Tourists so I had to stopped them both and asked if they know where the h*ck is Wat Si Saket-and they also doesn’t where it is as they just have arrived today. And in my final attempt.. CHARAN….a POLICE/TRAFFIC ENFORCER, I showed him the map pointing to Wat Si Saket-I was already expecting he will not answer me the way I want him to answer me and he surprised me that he can speak a lil bit of English. He directed me to the way to Wat Si Saket and I can see it from afar when I stopped and started crossing the raod to take the photo of Palais Presidential (parang Malacanang).
Front view of the Palais Presidential
The Presidential Palace is the official residence of the President of Laos, whom informally, also holds the position of General Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. It is located on the banks of the Mekong River in the capital city, Vientiane.
Located near Wat Si Saket in the junction of Lane Xang Avenue and Settathirath Road, the building was first started in 1973 by the then Royal Lao Government on the grounds that used to house the royal residence.
You can take your photo at this side of the Palace. (Back Entrance)
From the outside a very interesting building. I would love to have gotten a visit in side but there did not seem to be any tours available. It is not allowed inside the perimeter fence but at the back entrance where through the gates your get photos of a surreally empty and quiet courtyard where you expect Lenin to come striding out of a door across the courtyard.
And since it is just adjacent to Wat Si Saket, wasted no time and paid 5000 Kip to get inside Si Saket.
Wat Si Saket Temple
Si Saket Museum – a Buddhist Temple
Dated since 1818, Wat Si Saket too was built under the orders of King Anouvong (Sethathirath V.). Having a Thai architecture have kept it safe during the Thai invasion as the Thai armies uses it as their headquarters. This temple was restored by the Fench during its colonization, once in 1924 and again in 1930. There are over 2000 ceramics and Buddha images being housed here at Wat Si Saket.
Wat Si Saket also known to hold over 6000 Buddha statues of all sizes dated as far as 15th to 19th centuries ago.The walls of the hall’s interior are quick to grab the visitor’s attention. Countless niches carry thousands of small Buddha statues. Around the statues are murals of Buddha, fading as time takes its toll.
Ilabas mu na ang mga ulo ng mga Buddha’s
Entrance fee : 5,000Kip / USD0.65 / RM2.00
Opening Hours : Daily 8:00am – 12:00pm, 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Wat Ho Phra Keo Temple
The original temple was built in 1565 by King Saysetthathirath to housethe Emerald Buddha which was eventually lost to Siamese. The latest renovation was done in 1936 and during the time of writing the museum was closed for further renovations. Unlike other temples which were converted to monasteries, Ho Phakeo was converted to museum in 1970. Ho Phakeo museum hosts the finest and valuable artifacts and sculptures of Lao. The museum shares neighborhood with Presidents’ Palace.
Main entrance to Wat Haw Pha Kaew
Ho Phra Keo means ‘Altar of the Emerald Buddha’ describing “an altar remained when the statue was removed” – this is referring to the sacred jade statue reclaimed by Thailand back in 1778 and now resides in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand.
Each stairway on the temple has dragons running the length of them with their heads at the entrance, guarding the temple.
A row of Buddha images outside the Wat Haw Pha Kaew.
You can find art world here with sculptures, carvings and rare artifacts covered by gold, silver or colorful jade. Phra Keo temple not only worships Buddha but this is also a museum exhibiting many Laos’ religious arts. In Vientiane, Wat Phra Keo is the most important and well-known temple after That Luang.
At the entrance of the temple are many ancient stone tablets. On each side are a line of incredible bronze Buddha statues, with more statues located at the other end of the temple.
The neatly tended garden contains colourful flowers, lush green lawns and charming statues set among the shady trees.
Ho Phra Keo is a place full of memory. It has a lot of stories to tell over nearly 450 years of history. Although it is no longer a place of worship, it is still a very sacred place in Laos, an ancient part of Vientiane.
Entrance fee : 5,000Kip / USD0.65 / RM2.00
Opening Hours : Daily 08:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00 every day.
I was about to call it a day when I looked at the map again to check if I missed out something, then I saw the Chao Anouvong Monument which looks just around the corner. So I walked and traced the street mentioned in the map. I wasn’t expecting anything at all about this statue but hey maybe there is something worth seeing here that is why it is in the map.
Chao Anouvong Monument
Chao Anouvong was the last king of the Lao Kingdom of Vientiane. During his era, he struggled to fight against the Siamese invasion of Vientiane. In the end, he was unsuccessful and was captured and the Kingdom of Vientiane was forced to surrender to Siamese rule and ceased to exist. Because of his persistent attempts to defeat the Siamese forces, Chao Anouvong is considered a courageous hero who fought for Vientiane until his death.
It is actually built in the park facing the Mekong River Front. I was about pass out when I reached the monument. My soles are aching and just turned TAN. I bought a bottle of water from vendor selling just beside the monument. I saw some couples in the park and some families just lying on ground and enjoying the view of the sun as it starts to settle down.
Mekong River Front
One of the best places to see and interact with local people is by walking around the Chao Anou Park along the Mekong Riverfront in Vientiane, Laos. This is quite a popular spot among locals and tourists alike. Before sunset and just after 5 pm, people start gathering at the park and engage themselves in various activities. This is the best time to take a walk and meet with local people, when the sun is not so hot, and people are starting to leave work. You can stroll around using bicycle not motorcycle as it is not allowed. There is a night market which starts at 5PM that wasn’t able to catch as I have to travel back to BKK same day. The photo was taken when it was low tide I guess and as you can see the sun still striking. At first glance I actually didn’t thought that it is the Mekong River, just happen to hear from another tourist busy taking photo of the river front.
Did not stay much here cause I still have 1 final stop for the day before I take the bus to the border. Another walkathon from the park going to Talat Sao Mall/Market. While walking I saw the tan lines in my feet and dirts and dust which makes my feet starts to look ugly and yuckiness. My feet looks like the feet of a beggar man who make his ritual walk everyday in dirty streets of Manila hunting for food left overs in the trash cans. (ang itim lang ng mga paa ko at parang paa ni KIRARA na).
9th and Final Attraction
Taken at the entrance of the mall.
Situated at the eastern intersection of Lane Xang Street and Khu Vieng, in the centre of Vientiane, Talat Sao Market is open daily from 7am until around 4pm. It offers many kinds of international and local products such as silk handicrafts, souvenirs, traditional and modern clothes, shoes, food, jewelry, silver, gold, books, etc. It’s popular amongst locals so it may become crowded at times. Prices at the mall is not too expensive, and varies with the quality of the products you buy.
At the back of the Mall is the Khua Din Market-It is more a local market so you can observe locals shopping. It offers a lot of different choices and good value products as well.
The stalls were starting to close when I arrived here- I have no idea that the mall and market is just until 4PM. My main goal of visiting this market/mall is just so I can buy cheap souvenirs (ref magnets,key chain and so on) cause the ones you can find near the major attractions/landmarks are costly. So ending is I left the place with empty hands-still have around 30 minutes more so I just find a seat in one of the coffee shops inside the mall and use their WI-FI to google my route back to BKK. The bus station is just located at the back of Talat Sao Mall so it convenient for me to just wait for the last trip of the bus at 6PM. There are buses which leaves Vientiane’s Talat Sao bus station at 7.30am, 9.30am, 12.40pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 6pm. 15 minutes before 6PM headed straight to the bus terminal and bought some Baguettes as my meal for another long journey.
My trip to Laos is the most tiring of all. It was literally a backpacking trip because I was carrying my huge 13 kilos backpack during the whole duration of the walking tour in the City Center. I also considered it as the cheapest day trip I had so far as I only got to spend few bucks for food,admission tickets and transportation. If only have enough time I would love to stay for maybe another day or two then continue the journey to Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang but maybe next time. That 9 hours stay is really enough to see and experience the real beauty and charm of Laos but still I was happy that the trip was successful. Definitely I will go back here again one of these days..