Vientiane: An Atypical Asian Capital

February 21, 2018

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, welcomed us with hot and humid weather (not a great combination), but also with the most relaxed and quiet atmosphere we’ve seen in an Asian capital so far. To be fair, it’s also the smallest Asian capital we’ve seen so far. The center of the city is easy to navigate on foot, but we nonetheless rented a scooter, to be able to get to the more remote sites easily.


Naturally, Vientiane has its fair share of Buddhist temples. A few of them are in the city center, while Pha That Luang, the most important one, is a 15-minute motorbike ride away. It’s also the one we liked the most, as it actually comprises a complex of temples, a stupa, a giant reclining Buddha, and lavishly decorated halls. Its golden stupa has become a symbol of Vientiane.

The Victory Monument

Another one of the main attractions of the city, the Victory Monument bears a stark resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Like it, it’s located in the center of a big roundabout, and it’s possible to go to its top, for views over the surrounding area. While we were not overly impressed either with the monument or with the views, it was funny to see the many shops set up inside the tower, selling all kinds of junk goods.

The Buddha Park

There is disagreement on travel websites whether the Buddha Park is worth the 1-hour bus or motorbike ride from the center of Vientiane, and about whether the sculptures it contains are just another tourist rip-off or interesting/fascinating. The story behind the park is that a monk created the sculptures in the 1950s using both Hindu and Buddhist symbols, in an effort to bring together the 2 religions. The result is, in any case, unusual.

The COPE Visitor Center

Very closely related to the UXO Information Center in Luang Prabang, COPE has all kinds of interesting and informative displays about the life of people with disabilities in Laos, and the unexploded bombies (remaining from the time when Laos was bombarded by the US during the Vietnam war) which are still killing and maiming so many Lao people.

Highs and Lows


  • The discussions we have with other travelers are often highs for me. I don’t write about them here too often, but, most of the time, when we do get to have longer conversations with other travelers, those fascinating discussions teach us so much. In Vientiane, this happened one evening at a restaurant, when an old Australian professor started talking to us. While the conversation starter was a question about mosquitoes, over the following one hour and a half we got to discuss everything from world politics, to religion, to his adopted children. He had already been in Vientiane for 2 months, on a state-sponsored program for agricultural development of the country. He had travelled to a lot of other countries for similar reasons, in Asia and in Africa, and had loads of fascinating stories to tell. At the end of our 6 months of traveling, we will also go back home with lots of interesting stories, but I always feel humbled when talking to someone who has travelled for his whole life, trying to help in the development of the places that he visits.


  • When we left Vang Vieng, I thought we were done with the dusty motorbike rides, at least for a while. Turns out I was wrong. We went to the Buddha park on motorbike and, although we had thought the road to it was paved all the way, that was not the case. So our motorbike ride turned into a dust festival again. I tried to protect myself from the dust as best I could:

But this is what I looked like when I got back to the hotel:

Next Stop: Hanoi, Vietnam

As Swiss citizens, we’re allowed to stay in Laos for 15 days without a visa. That time is running out now, so we’re moving on. Next destination: Vietnam! We’re flying from Vientiane to Hanoi. We’ll start our exploration of Vietnam in the north of the country, and slowly make our way south. We got a 30-day visa for Vietnam, so this will give us more time to explore the country.

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