Vientiane is the capital of Laos. Situated on the banks of the Mekong River, it boasts temples, restaurants, and cultural attractions all without the traffic of other Asian capitals. Don’t let Vientiane’s small size keep you from hanging around long enough to explore the top things to do around town.
COPE VISITORS CENTER
The COPE Center helps Lao citizens with disabilities obtain prosthetics and do physical therapy to regain mobility. The visitors’ centre has an in-depth display on the horrors of cluster munitions and the damage bombings have caused and continue to cause in Laos. Watch documentaries on UXO removal then see photos and read stories about some of the patients COPE has helped. You might catch a wheelchair basketball game or grab a coffee or ice cream from the on-site café.
PHA THAT LUANG
Boun That Luang takes place every November over three days around the full moon, but the temple is open daily year-round to visitors. The stupa in Vientiane is the national symbol of Laos and is said to house a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Thousands of pilgrims gather at That Luang to give offerings to the monks who come from all over Laos. Processions, parties, and a trade show follow. Even if you don’t make it for the festival, the stupa is a sight to behold any time of year. Join the faithful and place offerings of flowers, candles and incense at the altar or quietly stroll around the massive enclosed yard.
Try a fun workout
Every morning and evening group dance aerobic classes can be seen (and heard) on the Vientiane Promenade by the Mekong River. For less than $1 you can join in the fun and try your moves to American and Thai pop songs. If you’d rather set and spike than shake your booty, check out the pick up volleyball games on Thursdays at 6 p.m. at Vientiane International School. At 6 p.m. on Monday and Thursday evenings SabaiiDisc plays ultimate frisbee at the Ambassador’s Field and on Saturdays at 4 p.m. they play pick up games on the beach next to the Mekong.
Laos can be stiflingly hot. Cool off at Ocean Park, Laos’ premiere water park. Adult tickets are 50,000 kip ($6) and entrance for children is 20,000 kip ($2.50). Located at the Lao ITECC, Ocean Park opened in 2015 and has a wave pool, waterslides, swimming pool and a lazy river. Check out the climbing wall, relax poolside and eat at one of the two restaurants at the park.
MUY LAO WITH CHAMPIONS
Backstreet Academy connects travelers with local entrepreneurs who want to share their skills and culture. Participants in the two-hour Muy Lao with Champions class will learn Lao boxing techniques from former national champion Khampanath Kounlavong. Muy Lao is similar to Thailand’s Muy Thai and Cambodian’s Pradal Serey. Choose a morning session for a quiet one-on-one coaching session or an evening class to train and interact with local boxing students.
Vientiane is the perfect place to shop for Lao handicrafts and textiles. Mulberries is a fair trade textile store that sells products made at the farm and workshop in Xieng Kuang Province. If you’re looking for silver, handbags or accessories, check out Saoban, which sources its goods from over 300 village artisans. For a full day of shopping, consider downloading the GPSMyCity app and following the Vientiane Shopping Tour Map for boutiques and a stop at the morning market.
TUK TUK SAFARI TOUR
Tuk Tuk Safari is run by husband and wife team Ere and Peta and offers five distinct and intimate tours to get to know Vientiane, its people and food. You’ll be picked up Lao-style in a three-wheeled tuk tuk and taken to an organic farm if you choose the Down On The Rice Farm tour. Live Lao For One Day participants visit a temple, market, silversmith workshop and the COPE center. The Hungry Tuk Tuk and Dinner With The Locals are perfect for foodie travelers who want to dive deeper into Lao cuisine. The Silk Road Safari allows visitors to try their hand at the pottery wheel and learn about Lao textiles from weavers.
i:Cat Gallery was started in 2009 by British art teacher turned gallery owner Catherine O’Brien. i:Cat supports artists in Laos and beyond by showing and selling visual art, fashion design, hosing fundraisers, music and poetry performances and film screenings. New shows go up every one to two months. Local writers have had book launches, readings and gallery shows of illustrations in the space as well.
Vientiane’s quiet streets and relatively flat landscape makes the city and its surroundings perfect for a bicycle ride. Many guest houses and cycling shops in town have bikes for rent at a nominal price. If you’re interested in meeting fellow cyclers on a group ride, Team Dai organizes five rides per week. If a slower pace mixed with booze is more up your alley, the Lao Hash House Harriers organize a bike hash once a month in addition to their two weekly runs.
NAM NGUM DAM AND RESERVOIR
Located 56 miles (90 kilometres) north of the capital of Vientiane, Nam Ngum is the largest lake in the country. The reservoir was created with the Nam Ngum dam was completed, which provides hydro-electric power domestically and as an export. Take a boat ride around the lake and enjoy the calm waters. Head up for the day, or stay at one of the resorts around the lake.