VIENTIANE, 11 July 2017: Travellers arrive in Vientiane and within a couple of hours wonder what on earth are they going to do for three days.
You have to do your homework to discover Vientiane and soak up magic moments. There are plenty of them, although the dominant perception suggests this is a place to chill out; a capital city that appears to have stopped in its tracks. Mind you, that is not such a bad idea when you consider the consequences of unchecked and haphazard urbanisation that has blighted capital cities around Asia.
Admittedly, for travellers who remember the Vientiane Times bemoaning the arrival of the first set of traffic lights in the early 1970s, the city has changed dramatically. As if to measure the pace of growth, the media noted in 2006 there were 26 traffic lights. Today, no one bothers to measure prosperity by traffic lights. Hotels and coffee shops are the new benchmark. You could also count TripAdvisor’s reviews that help to equate the top places to visit where the city’s charm shines through and that is what really makes a trip memorable.
Literally thousands of reviews of Vientiane’s attractions rank the top 76 choices. It will take more than three days to cover that lot. We settle for the top five at a more leisurely pace to give ample time to chill out with a coffee and cake, or to quaff a chilled Beer Lao in a street-side pub. (Note data from TripAdvisor as of 12 July 2017).
COPE a place of hope
Top of TripAdvisor’s must-see places is COPE a centre in Vientiane where orthotics and prosthetics are made for those who lost a limb due to unexploded ordinances that were originally dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War.
It’s the kind of place that stimulates questions, while dishing up a history lesson on an era the US calls its secret war. It dropped more bombs on tiny Laos than were discharged during World War II and they called it a secret?
COPE gets 1,743 reviews and leads off as the top place to visit according to TripAdvisor’s ranking. Reviewers talk about being inspired. The visit is an eye opener revealing how, decades after the war ended, agencies are still struggling to clear unexploded cluster bombs and land mines.
Some visitors in their reviews disagree claiming COPE presents a “blatantly inaccurate and dishonest portrayal of the events of the 1960 to 1975 Indochina War”. You can assess where truth lies by visiting the COPE Visitor Centre and Museum. Location: Khoummeng Boulevard at the National Rehabilitation Centre. Open daily from 0900 to 1800 except for public holidays.
Wat Si Saket
Usually a city tour starts with a visit to Wat Si Saket listed as the second top attraction according to TripAdvisor reviews.
Built in 1818, it is considered Vientiane’s oldest surviving temple, located a short walk from the central bus station. Entrance costs LAK10,000.
Due to celebrate its 200-year anniversary in 2018, festivities are planned that will also be part of the Visit Laos Year 2018 calendar.
Curators have counted 6,840 Buddha images, some damaged by an invading Siamese army that billeted in the temple in 1828. It was renovated by French colonial administrations in 1924 and again in 1935.
Ho Phra Keo, not ranked as a top five attraction, stands opposite Wat Si Saket and usually visited at the same time.
Now a museum the former temple, Ho Phra Keo, housed the famed Emerald Buddha after it was moved from Chiang Mai, Thailand. In 1828, when a Siamese army sacked Vientiane, the Buddha image was taken to Bangkok where it remains today, revered as a national treasure in Wat Phra Kaeo.
Statues in the park
Buddha Park is the third highest ranked attractions by the sheer weight of reviews. It stands on a large plot of land close to the Mekong River, 25 km from the city centre. Bus no 14 takes around 45 minutes to complete the trip and makes a stop at the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge on the way.
One reviewer tagged the park “a Lao Folly” a reference to an eccentric businessman, who had the vision to build a Buddha Park in his garden some 60 years earlier. Today, it’s a top attraction one that will keep you happy for couple of hours with its exhibits of Buddha and Hindu replica statues. At the same time you will have an opportunity to see the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and small minority ethnic village museum.
Pha That Luang is fourth on the list reviewed by 1,129 people. Located 4 km from the city centre it is described as impressive, but the stupa and its cloisters are under renovation, which makes photography a little tricky. Around the stupa there are a number of other temples and religious shrines that make a visit worthwhile.
Considered the most important religious landmark in the country, visitors come here to photograph the iconic 45-metre high stupa covered in 500 kg of gold leaf. There are entrance fees to visit Pha That Luang and also the enclosure of the statue of King Saysetthathirath.
Ranked fifth Patuxai Park is the site of a grand archway monument that looks remarkably similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. More than 1,000 reviewers can’t be wrong. This is a favourite, ‘selfie’ backdrop and the city’s most distinctive landmark dominating an otherwise low-key skyline.
A late afternoon city walkabout can conclude here with an ascent of the tower’s stairs to admire a stunning sunset. For those who need a serious reason to selfie, the monument is the official icon, or the national monument to Laos independence, marking the country’s freedom from French colonial rule.
The top five attractions and more figure in full and half-day tours sold through the TripAdvisor booking channel. This is definitely a plus point. After researching options, the tours can be booked immediately without searching tour company sites, which can be complicated and time wasting.
Prices vary considerably without a defining explanation. A private all-day city tour sells for THB3,743 per person, but there is also a similar full-day tour selling at THB6,600.
Swings in half-day tour prices are less dramatic ranging from around THB1,500 to 1,700 per person.
TripAdvisor identifies two travel suppliers for sightseeing trips; Helo Vietnam Travel and Bravo Indochina Tours.
For full detail of top attractions visit: TripAdvisor Top must see attractions Vientiane
(Source: Top Five attractions TripAdvisor 12 July 2017)