Laos was home to one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia for four centuries, the Kingdom of Lan Xang Hom Khao, translated to the Kingdom of a Million Elephants Under the White Parasol. After that it broke into three different kingdoms and in 1893 became a French protectorate. It finally became independent in 1953, and after the civil war ended in 1975, the country was renamed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Vientiane is their capital city.
Vientiane has a long and interesting history. It began as an early Khmer settlement but when the Lao people settled, they took over the city. It was made the capital city in 1563 to avoid a Burmese invasion. In 1707 it became the Kingdom of Vientiane, and in 1779 it was conquered by the Siamese. King Anouvong tried to rebel but was defeated and the city was burned to the ground and looted. In 1893, the French rebuilt it and made it the capital city. During World War II, it was occupied by the Japanese. During the civil war, it changed hands a few times before it was liberated symbolically by a group of Pathet Lao women in 1975.
Even though there’s a lot of history in this city, it’s very small, and you can actually see most of attractions in one day. Here are some attractions you can see in Vientiane:
- Visit Xieng Khuan, the Buddha Park. It was built by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat in the 1950’s combining the Buddhist and Hindu religions. The park has more than 200 sculptures.
- Join an outdoor fitness class during sunset along the boulevard next to the Mekong.
- Go shopping at the night market that pops up on the boulevard near central Vientiane for souvenirs and necessities alike.
- Visit the National History Museum, which is a subjective look at the history of Laos.
- Go on a Temple Tour. Unfortunately, due to the periods of conflict, none of the temples are very old. They are still very beautiful and many of them tell the stories of the Buddhist religion.
- For a look at what happened in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and the Unexploded Ordinances (cluster bombs), visit the COPE Visitor Center.
- Rent a bicycle to explore around the outside of the city. You can ride down the Mekong, pass by temples, and visit with the locals.
- Visit the Patuxay Monument, or the Victory Gate, also known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane.
Let me know if there’s anything else that you visited if you went to Vientiane in the comments below.