Not like a bustle of Bangkok or Hanoi capital, Vientiane has its own charms and yields surprises to those who spend a little time exploring. What will you do if you have only a 24 – hour trip in Vientiane, Laos? Here is the suggestion from our experience!
6 am: Attend the unique Alms – giving ceremony (Tak Bat) in Laos’ dawn
Laos is the country of Buddhism. It is understandable that why there are many pagodas and temples and their culture which will connect to Buddhism, one of these is alms giving ceremony (Tak Bat). To attend Tak Bat, you have to get up early from 5am – 6am. Tak Bat only takes place at dawn when the monks get out of their temples to collect offerings from local people. In order not to seem awkward or even stupid at the ritual, note to yourself some information about Tak Bat. In Laos, “tak bat” means “giving alms to monks”, which is why residents prepare the food to fill in monks’ bowls. In Laos people perspective, monks deserve the best so they always try to give the best food they have. By giving the good food to the monks, Laos people believe that they are also offering food to their relatives who already died.
Travelers can prepare offerings and wait for monks on the streets. The ritual is done in silence; the monks walk in meditation, and the alms-givers reciprocate with respect by not disturbing the monk’s meditative peace, even when they pass already. After the alms – giving ceremony, the monks will share their offerings for the poor people, for other monks at the pagoda, for animals at the pagoda and they will eat (They have only one meal per day).
An interesting fact about this ritual is, when giving out the food, all people need to remove their shoes and be on their bare feet. And the monks, while meditate by walking, keep their feet bare, too. Laos people often make a short pray before putting the food into monk’s bowl.
Here is a list of important things tourists should remember in this ceremony:
- Women need to be careful because they mustn’t touch the monks.
- Tourists need to know that monks will not look at you or communicate with you, so don’t expect them to say thank you or even looking at you whatsoever, this is a tradition in Laos.
- Buying rice at the market in the early morning is more appreciated than buying from street vendors while the monks are walking.
- For tourists who just want to observe the ritual, you need to keep an appropriate distance and be respectful. Do not walk into the way of the monks or turn on flash when taking pictures because their quiet, calm ritual may be disrupted.
- Like any other countries of Buddhism, tourists of all ages need to dress appropriately with their shoulders, chest, and legs totally covered. And don’t make any physical contact with the monks.
7 am: A bike tour around Laos’ lovely city
After the interesting ritual, tourists can grab a bike for just $5 a day from most guest houses, cafeterias or a unique tuk-tuk to wander around this small but lovely city.
The price will vary slightly, which depends on the places you hire a bike. The price will go up if you want a mountain bike or a higher performance. Also, ask for a lock just in case. Most rental bikes come with a lock-in their rear wheel hobble. You should wear a helmet and check the tire pressure before hitting the road.
8 am: A visit to sacred temple of Laos and have Baci ceremony
Located in downtown Vientiane, Wat Simuang temple is always crowded with people praying and other religious-related activities of the local. They all believe this is a sacred temple. Why?
The temple is considered the home of Vientiane’s guardian spirit. Wat Si Muang was named after a young woman – Si Muang, who sacrificed herself to appease angry spirits. She voluntarily threw herself into a hole in the ground where now is the building’s central pillar, then, crushed when the massive pillar was lowered into position. Therefore, Wat Si Muang is also called the “mother temple” of Vientiane. There is a small statue of the heroine behind the building, along with bricks that are said to date back to her time.
The large ordination hall which was destroyed in 1828 and rebuilt in 1915 was reconstructed and consists of two different rooms. The front room is usually quiet with a monk meditating and giving blessings to other people. The other room has a large main altar with statues and Buddha images
Locals believe that the statue has the power to grant wishes or answer troubling questions to prayers if they wish with their whole heart. When praying, you need to lift it off the pillow three times while mentally phrasing a question or request. Like a common belief, if your wish come true or your problem is solved, prayers are supposed to return with gifts as a mean of payback. The offering can vary, from bananas, green coconuts, flowers, incense and candles (usually two of each).
If you do not rush, you can spend your time exploring and relaxing in the garden here. Baci experience is one of the spiritual activities travelers can be recommended once you get to Vientiane. The ceremony involves a huge feast and tying strings or cloth bracelets around the wrists to wish people good luck and healthy life. Baci is a common Lao ritual widely practiced throughout the country and by other ethnic groups as well. It is done for any big changes or momentum in people’s lives, such as a wedding, the start of a big journey or the arrival of long absent guests.
9 am: Breakfast and French coffee in Laos’ heart
The French came and left, but they also left coffee. It is to be assured that drinking coffee at the heart of Laos will have a totally different taste to what you have at home. People here like it when coffee is brewed with cloudy robusta beans mixed with a heavy dollop of sweetened condensed milk, cafe nohm (cafe dam without the milk). The coffee here is so strong you could almost stand a spoon up in it. The scenario is that you either love it or hate it – why don’t you try?
Here are some of the best coffee shop in Vientiane that you may need: COMMA COFFEE, Common Grounds Cafe and Bakery, Annabelle 1 Khemkong Restaurant Cafe, Joma Bakery Cafe, Cafe Benoni
10 am: Visit That Luang – symbol of Laos
That Luang, or the Great Stupa, which translates to “World Precious Sacred Stupa” is a national symbol (its image is often seen on Laos’ official seal) and also the most sacred monument in the country. People even believe that this large golden stupa in Vientiane is originally a breast bone of the Buddha. This Buddhist temple was built in 1566 and Its golden color is not painting but it is literally covered in gold. Pha That Luang has a unique architecture with the largest and most beautiful tower in Laos, which is considered the nation’s pride since day one.
The stupa consists of three levels with each conveying a Buddhist doctrine reflection. Each layer symbolizes the path from Earth to the sky. The first level is the underworld, the second level represent perfections of Buddhism and the third and final level is the prelude to the Kingdom of heaven. The higher level is more narrow than the previous one. From the outside That Luang looks more like a fortress surrounded by high walls and it features two temples with the main stupa, the top of which is covered with gold leaf, standing 148 feet tall.
Every November when the Boun That Luang Festival is held in Vientiane, a large crowd of followers and tourists come to town from all over Laos and neighboring countries. The festival is considered the most important Buddhist celebration in Laos with many activities going on for three days and three nights.
In Laos, the Pha That Luang’s festival called “Boun That Luang” is considered the country’s most important Buddhist festival, held during the full moon of the 12th lunar month. At that time of the year, thousands of people attend the Buddhist ceremonies to celebrate for three days. They often pay respect to the golden stupa and give alms to monks in the temple with incense sticks to pay their respect.
On the grounds, there are hundreds of food stalls selling Laos traditional food, clothing or hand-made crafts. There are various activities here such as carnival rides, games, musical performances, traditional music with performers dressing up in traditional costumes, candlelight procession, and not but not least: fireworks.
11 am: Patuxai – worthy Laos tour for all travelers
Patuxai literally means Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph, known by the French as Monument Aux Morts. This is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Vientiane that most tourists do not want to miss. Standing on the top of Patuxai, visitor can have an overview of the whole square and Vientiane, which is totally a worthy experience for all travelers.
The Patuxai was built to honor those fought in the struggle for independence from France. Some people even call it Patuxai Arch or the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane as it resembles the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. However, the Laotian design is imprinted on the wall of Patuxai as it is decorated with mythological creatures such as the kinnari (half-female, half-bird). Patuxai monument has five towers that represent the five Buddhist principles of “ thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, and prosperity”. There is a pond in front of each gate. These four ponds represent the open progress of a lotus flower – a symbol of Buddhism.
However, these landmarks have been built since 1962 and until now, the work has not been finished. Many Lao people believe that this monument was not continued to be built is a clear representation for the poverty of the country during history periods and conveying a message to the next generations about the difficulties of striving to develop the country in the past.
The Patuxai is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Many believe that Patuxai seems to absorb all tired feelings and bring a vibrant vitality to any visitors.
12 pm: Enjoy delicious lunch at Makphet
This restaurant is managed by Friends International (www.friends-international.org), helps disadvantaged kids build a future as chefs and waiters. It’s similar to Koto in Hanoi which helps get kids off the street and into education and training. The restaurant has a French-style two-story building painted a lovely yellow with green and white window trimmings. Inside framed artwork adorn the walls and the windows look out onto a tree-filled garden. There are many hand-made products by disadvantaged children are shown here.
Other restaurants you could try for lunch or brunch: Tyson Kitchen, Flavours & Spices, Tango Bar Pub Restaurant, Rays Grille Laos
2 pm: Go to Buddha Park – a must-see destination when visiting Laos
Although most people referred to it as Wat Xiengkuane with Wat meaning temple, Buddha Park is not a temple, despite the fact that some of the sculptures there look like a large reclining Buddha are worshipped by local Buddhists. Buddha Park is a sculpture garden showing a collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures in a park on the banks of the Mekong river outside Vientiane.
The park also called Xieng Khuan and Xiengkuane Buddha Park was built in 1958 by a Laos, Luang Pu Bounleua Sulilat, who later moved to Thailand where he built a similar Buddha park named Sala Keoku in Nong Khai, located on the other side of the Mekong river.
Because the creator studied both Buddhism and Hinduism, tourists will be surprised seeing not only Buddha statues, but also of Hindu ones, too. There is also a wide range of deities, demons, and animals from both beliefs. The statues are as impressive in size as they are in tiny detail.
The whole park is filled with more than 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. Some of them are enormous, a lot of them are a bit weird and what is absolutely amazing: you can go inside and on top of some of the statues! The big ball, for example, has three floors which represent hell, earth, and heaven. On top of the ball, you have an amazing view of the whole park. The statues look ancient, but they are not. It was built in the late ’50s by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a shaman who combined the Hindu and Buddhist religions. The most standout sculptures at Buddha Park include a 40-meter reclining Buddha, Indra (a Hindu god) a 2-headed elephant, and a 4-armed deity riding a horse.
Yet, tourists may need a guide visiting here since there are a few English signs with information about the sculptures’ details and meaning. Also, there are a lot of vendors selling food, souvenir and a lot of Laotian restaurants overlooking the Mekong river.
Tourists can visit the park from 8 am to 4.30 pm with 5,000 Kip of entrance fee per person. If you bring a camera with you, you have to pay extra 3,000 Kip.
4 pm: Learn about Laos’s horrific recent history through a trip to Laos’ COPE Centre
The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, known as COPE Centre is an excellent place for tourists, especially American ones to learn about Laos’s horrific recent history. Between 1964 and 1973, it is reported the US dropped more than 260 million cluster bombs on Laos, making this nation the most heavily bombed on earth.
However, around 30% of these bombs failed to detonate, which caused more than 20,000 deaths or injuries since. The war shadow in Laos is clearly shown, complete with a sculpture of a dangling UXO right at the entrance. More interesting, the “COPE” name sign of the building is created from used prosthetic feet, donated by bomb-survivors. And when tourists go far inside, they can see the roof with dozens of worn-out prosthetic limbs, returned by bomb victims in exchange for new prosthetics.
There is a statue of a mother grabbing her child’s arm created from discarded bomb materials outside. Inside, visitors can have a full view of a rural Laotian stilt house, with their daily household items made of military equipment or occasionally bomb materials discarded by American and European militaries. This full-scale replica highlights how Laos families are making the most use of bomb materials while not fully understanding the danger they are risking.
5 pm: A tuk-tuk trip along Mekong river and enjoy Beer Lao on the shore is A GIFT
Riding along the old streets in Vientiane to view the temple and enjoy the pure atmosphere. Or you can pass through the Mekong River. One surprising you is that you cannot hear any vehicle’s horn in this city. Like Thailand, tuk-tuk is always available for you for visiting around the city if you want. Stopping by the river for a while and enjoying Beer Lao, you get a complete journey in Vientiane.
7 pm: Dinner with Laos’ most popular dishes
Laos a country tucked between offers a cuisine Laos has borders with Thailand, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia, making their cuisine a lovely-mixture rich in flavors, herbs, and simple and fresh ingredients. And do you know that Laos food is one of the best-kept secrets of Southeast Asia? So here is the time for you to explore this.
Stylish Lao Kitchen (Hengboun Road, Ban Anou; lao-kitchen.com), a hole-in-the-wall diner with wooden tables spilling out onto the road, offers national staples such as laarp (minced meat with ground rice and herbs) and or lam (upcountry stew seasoned with pepper bark) plus excellent jaew bong (chilli dip) with fried river weed.
Here, don’t forget to try sticky rice – a traditional food that all family here enjoy. Here people eat somehow as Indian do – traditionally, they eat sticky rice food using their fingers. In the countryside, people all eat as family style, sitting on the floor, sharing a few dishes.
9 pm: Shopping at Laos’ night market to explore street food and souvenir
The night market pops up every evening on the boulevard, you won’t miss it if you walk around the city’s central park next to the Mekong. The market starts to open at around 5:30 pm. And it’s right along the bank of Mekong River. Here you can find all your awesome Laos souvenirs, and also personal care products, clothing, and typical night market snacks. Locals and tourists mix, and it’s really enjoyable to search for the right color of nail polish and the perfect shampoo together with the Lao girls.
There are also a lot of street food stalls dot the road that runs alongside the night market where you can enjoy the lovely and unique cuisine here in Lao.
Other Vientiane attractions worth visiting while you are in Laos
- Wat Si Muang: Wat Si Muang is a Khmer temple with a fascinating legend that still holds great significance among the Laotian community. The gold and red structure were built in 1563, during the reign of King Setthathirat Read more at:
- Wat Ho Phra Keo: Ho Phra Keo (or Haw Phra Kaew) is a former Buddhist shrine dating back to 1565 – today, it serves as a museum of religious arts in Vientiane. Read more at:
- Wat Si Siket: Wat Si Siket has over 10,000 Buddhas throughout the structures on the property. Interesting fact: this is the one and only original temple that remain till this day after Siamese control.
- Nong Fa Lake: also called Nongphatom Lake (meaning Blue lake) is a magical and beautiful volcanic crater lake in the mountains of Sanxay District, Attapeu Province, southeastern Laos
- Pak Ou Caves and Kuang Si Falls: tourists can witness the beauty and hidden wonders of Laos through Pak Ou Caves and Kuang Si Falls. On this trip, tourists can visit Laos rural village and taste the locals’ rice wine and see the indigenous life here. Moreover, visitors have the chance to savor a picnic lunch next to the gorgeous waterfalls of Kuang Si a- one of the country’s most picturesque destinations.
- Weaving workshops and boutiques: There is no place to understand the local tradition better than the local market and shops. Visiting weaving shops is a chance to have in-depth introduction to Laos’ traditional textiles, the processes and traditions behind each piece.
Fast facts about trips to Laos and Vientiane
Weather and climate in Laos
Laos has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons, rainy and dry season. The rainy season often starts from the beginning of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October through April. The average annual temperature is about 28ºC (86ºF), rising to a maximum of 38ºC (106ºF) during April and May.
You can see, the best time to visit Laos is from November to April every year. And here in Laos, the hot season starting from March to May is very dry so during this time, certain river trips are not possible – you may want to remember this.
Laos is a landlocked country located in the center of Indochina which shares borders with China to the north, Myanmar to the northwest, Thailand to the west, Cambodia to the south and Viet Nam to the east. The majority of Laos’s land (around 70%) is mountain. The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Viet Nam, in particular, are dominated by rough mountains.
It is of common knowledge that Lao people are kind and friendly people, so most visits to Laos are trouble-free. However, you may get into troubles if you do not carry an ID document with you since it’s illegal. The chance that tourists are fined for not having one for presentation are high.
One more thing to remember, the Lao government bans any sexual relations between foreign citizens and its citizens, unless when the two parties hare legal couple in accordance with Laos family law. Penalties for breaking these regulations can range from fines to imprisonment.
Visa and passport requirements
Passports: To enter Laos, a passport valid for at least six months is required by all nationalities.
Visas: Visas for Laos are required by all nationalities, except citizens of Luxembourg and South East Asian countries.
Tourist visas permit entry for 15 days and the cost varies from US $20 to US $50, depending on your nationality. You can obtain a tourist visa through a Laos Embassy or alternatively get it upon arrival at international arrival gates. All visas are issued for just one entry and will be expired within two months of the date of issue.
Nightlife in Laos
Laos is a very quiet country and apart from the night markets (open from dark till 10 pm every day), there are several bars in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There are live music in big hotel’s bar; however, most of them close at 11 pm.
Laos tipping culture
In most places in Laos, tipping is not expected. This culture is only expected in the main tourist areas. Up-market restaurants and hotels may add a 5-10% service charge to the bill.
Electric current: 230 volts, 50Hz, two-pin socket system. You should buy an adapter or voltage converter if your device is not compatible. If the frequency in Laos (50 Hz) is different from the one in your country, you should not use your appliances. In important cases, try to use it for a short time only.
Laos and Thailand speak the same language
The interesting thing is if you can speak some Thai, then ta-dah: you are also speaking some Lao. The Thai and Lao languages are very closely related, so much so that Laos speakers can understand Thai and vice-versa.
Beerlao is one of the best beers in Asia that you should not miss
The most famous drink in Laos, besides coffee is the award-winning beer made from Jasmine rice and yeast imported from Germany. The West has talked a lot about this national drink with huge applause like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Today, the beer is quite popular in South East Asian countries, particularly in Cambodia and Thailand.
For more free interesting facts and crucial information, visit Here
The capital Vientiane located at the heart of the colonialism and history and inherits a small town like ambiance where time stands still. Southern Laos is the gateway to natural extravaganza where cascading waterfalls set the dramatic backdrop for 4000 riverine islands of mighty Mekong River. Lux Travel DMC hope that our experience can help you make the most of your Laos tour!