24 Hours in Vientiane
With just 24 hours to explore Vientiane should you do? The capital city of Laos has a wealth of hidden gems to discover in this charming city.
If you get up early, you’ll see the monks on their alms-rounds. They begin each day by walking, barefoot from their temple to the streets around, where people wait for them outside their houses, with offerings of food. By giving to the monks you gain merit, so when people have an important life event coming up, alms offerings are considered to bring good luck.
When the monks have past, head over to That Luang (pictured up top). This golden stupa is one of the most revered in Laos, and is the site of a massive annual festival (pictured below), when monks from all around the country gather to receive alms. The precise dates of the That Luang Festival vary according to the lunar calendar, but tend to be in November. The festivities last for a week, and alongside the alms giving and merit-making, there are a series of games and festivities to be enjoyed.
Whilst you are at That Luang, check out the pictures from the Jataka Tales, depicting the Buddha’s life, that are painted on the temple walls, and the reclining golden Buddha behind the temple. Be sure to walk clockwise around the stupa three times where, it is said, the Buddha’s breastplate is entombed.
For the energetic, the following can be done by bicycle, with the furthest point being Buddha Park just 22km from downtown along good quality roads. Exploring by bike is not only more environmentally friendly, it offers a much more engaging way to explore the outskirts of Vientiane, with cries of sabaidee (hello) ringing in your ears from the people you pass along the way!
After visiting That Luang, make your way over to Buddha Park, where Buddhism and Hinduism combine in an eclectic group of statues alongside the river. Once you’ve checked out the statues, have some lunch and relax under the sala, drinking from a coconut as the river drifts past.
As you head back into town, drop in at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre, where, as well as seeing the great work they are doing, you can buy some wonderful handmade gifts to take home.
Clay House by Souliya:
The river road gives you a great glimpse into Lao life as it bends alongside paddy fields and bamboo huts, while fishermen cast their nets from boats. Call in at the Clay House by Souliya where Souliya Phoumivong can give you a tour of his workshop. It is here that he makes clay animations for TV shows and educational programs for schools. While you are there, check out the Khmer ruins of an ancient temple in his garden which is crammed with fruits and veggies, both familiar and unusual. Just make sure you make an appointment to visit first!
Sinouk Coffee Pavilion:
After you leave the animation studio, head on over to the Sinouk Coffee Pavilion and learn about the history of coffee in Laos. You can also learn about how the perfect cup of coffee is made (check out their website for tours and barista training!). Once refreshed, cross the road to check out the City Wall Visitor Centre where parts of Vientiane’s original city wall still stand. Vientiane officially dates back to 1545 as an important city in Lan Xang, or ‘Land of a Million Elephants’ although people have lived in this spot for over 1,000 years!
Once back in town, head over to the night market. In the evening they close the Mekong Riverside road to traffic and as courting couples stroll, kids are taught to ride bicycles – the river glows a glorious red as the sun sets. Street food vendors offer a wealth of BBQ fish, fresh vegetables and delicious delicacies to tempt any palate. Follow the river upstream for a few hundred metres and you will find more food stalls, local beer bars and some great restaurants to enjoy the evening from.