Our flight to Vientiane was scheduled late in the afternoon, around 6PM and we arrived in Wattay International Airport at around 8PM already. Laos is probably one of the most underrated countries in Asia and also one of the most peaceful. Immigration was a breeze and their airport was small but very nice. We took a taxi to bring us to our hotel, which was the Seng Lao Hotel, located in the city center. Seng Lao was formerly a popular movie theatre in the 70s before it was converted into a 16-bedrooms, 4 stories walk-up hotel in 2007. As always, location is one of the most important reasons when I choose a hotel to stay every time I travel. After checking in, we decided to have dinner, and since it was almost 10PM already when we arrived, some of the restaurants are already closed, so we ended up eating in one of the bars a few blocks from the hotel. One thing that I was not prepared for during that time was that despite the fact that there are a number of Western foreigners in the area, a lot of the people there cannot speak any English. I was really surprised considering we didn’t have any issue at all when we were in Cambodia. So unlike being in China, where a lot of the people also do not speak any English, I didn’t have anything with me to interpret or relay what I am actually trying to tell the waitress in the bar. Sheesh. So I ended eating some vegetable meal and a Coke.
After dinner we decided to walk around the area to familiarize ourselves with the place before exploring it the next day. Vientiane is such a quiet city, that it takes you into a different kind of environment. It’s like a silent metropolitan, an exact opposite of all the overcrowded tourist destinations I have been to before. We went back to our hotel to get some sleep and to explore the place the next day.
We were there for just 2 nights in Vietiane so we have to make the most out of it. It was recommended by other bloggers to make it a short trip since the place is so small and you can go around it in just one day. Our first stop the day after was to visit the Xieng Khuan Buddha Park. Since it is located about an hour and a half away from Vientiane, we decided to look around for a driver to bring us there. Good thing I had with me my handy Lonely Planet guidebook and I realized that on the last pages of the book, there’s a summary of some of Lao words that would come in handy during traveling. I knew I had to exchange some money so I just pointed on the book the word “money” to one of the girls selling some soup and she just pointed to the direction of the bank with an ATM. After withdrawing from the ATM, I tried to talk to some tuktuk drivers to see if they can bring us to the Xieng Khuan Buddha Park. Unfortunately, about three of them cannot speak any English. I tried to just point the line on the guidebook “Do you speak English?” in Lao characters and they called one of the drivers on the other side of the street. Thank God that guy knew how to speak English. So we negotiated the price and after some haggling, we were on our way to Xieng Khuan.
Vientiane is hot. Like seriously hot. And the ride to Xieng Khuan was just as tolerable. The roads were a little bumpy but it was okay. Had a great time taking pictures, as always. We arrived in Xieng Khuan after about an hour and a half. The Xieng Khuan Buddha Park is a sculpture park in a meadow by the Mekong River. Although it’s not a temple, the park contains numerous religious images and contains over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues. One notable sculpture resembles a giant pumpkin. It has three stories representing three levels – Hell, Earth and Heaven. Visitors can enter through an opening which is a mouth of a 3-metre-tall demon head and climb staircases from hell to heaven. Each story contains sculptures depicting the level. At the top, there is a vantage point where the entire park is visible. Another sculpture, an enormous 120-metre-long reclining Buddha, is also a park attraction. Despite the crazy heat, it was definitely one of my favorite places to visit and a great place for a number of photo-ops. We were there for about an hour and decided to return to our driver to drive us back to our hotel in Vientiane.
Since it was soooooooooo hot by the time we arrived in Vientiane (around 1PM), we decided to cool off and rest inside our hotel room. We decided to go out and explore the city around 3:30PM, when the heat of the sun’s not that strong anymore. I was able to buy a bunch of souvenir t-shirts along the way. Really good quality shirts being sold at around P50 (think Penshoppe quality at that price!). Our destination that time was the Patuxai, one of Vientiane’s most popular attractions. We walked all the way from our hotel to the Patuxai, for about twenty minutes. It was not hard finding the place since I have a map with me and the city’s pretty small.
Reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Patuxai is Vientiane’s most prominent monument. But unlike its Parisian namesake the Patuxai boasts four, rather than two, archways. The Patuxai is dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. It may not be as huge as the Arc de Triomphe, but Patuxai on its own, is very beautiful. From a distance, it looks much like its French source of inspiration. Up close, however, the Lao design is revealed. The bas-relief on the sides and the temple-like ornamentation along the top and cornices are typically Lao. A stairway leads through two levels stuffed with souvenir T-shirts, like thousands of them, and I was there a long time haggling and trying to find the best designs and color to match my style preference. After that, I went ahead to the top of the building to catch the amazing views of the city and take a whole lot of pictures.
As Vientiane’s most popular park, the work in recent years has transformed the surrounding field to be very attractive to both locals and tourists alike and has become a good place to hang out and to soak up the atmosphere of modern Laos, with the Chinese-donated fountain complementing the entire area and making it an absolute postcard moment for everyone who visited the place.
Straight down the highway from Patuxai was our next stop, which was the Pha That Luang. Considered to be the most important national monument in Laos, Pha That Luang is a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty. The monument itself looks almost like a gilded missile cluster from a distance. Surrounding it is a high-walled cloister with tiny windows and even more aggressive-looking than the thick walls are the pointed stupas themselves, which are built in three levels. The area around Pha That Luang is now gated, to keep traffic out. Previously visitors could drive around the whole complex. We were there for some time since we waited for the sun to set and for the stupas and the temples around it to light up. The weather cooled down already and we had a good time exploring the place. It was so serene and quiet, no noisy tourists around, just some kids playing, monks walking around and a number of locals just hanging around the area.
On our way back we passed by a night market and we decided to try some of street food that they were selling. My brother bought some fruits while I ended up munching on a pizza pie, which for me, was probably one of the most delicious pizza pies I have ever eaten in my life. Seriously. We also had dinner in one of the local restaurants along the way. Everything just seems to be so cheap in Laos that I was loving every moment of it. We passed by the Patuxai again, and just like the Pha That Luang, the place looks so good at night. I had blast snapping away pictures of every possible angle I can get out of that monument.
We arrived back into our hotel around 10PM, packed our stuff and decided to get some sleep since we have to leave the next day for Luang Prabang. Vientiane may be considered as a boring place but that whole day we spent walking around the area is definitely one the highlights of this trip to Laos and I loved every moment of it. Too bad we had to leave the next day but I would love to visit this place again for some stress-free vacay the next time around.Follow @iamthegarysia