Cultural Venues (Self Guided), Vientiane

Vientiane has a vibrant cultural life. The history and traditions of Laos can be explored through popular cultural venues such as the old temple-museums of Haw Phra Kaew and Sisakhet Museum, the National Cultural Hall that offers exciting folklore dance performances, the Carrol Cassidy gallery and many others. Take this self-guided walking tour to check out the most significant cultural hubs of the city.
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Cultural Venues Map

Guide Name: Cultural Venues
Guide Location: Laos » Vientiane (See other walking tours in Vientiane)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: sabrina
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • That Dam
  • National Cultural Hall
  • Carol Cassidy's lao Textiles
  • Wat Si Saket
  • Haw Phra Kaew
  • Sacre Coeur Catholic Church
That Dam

1) That Dam (must see)

That Dam, known as ‘Black Stupa’, is a large ancient landmark situated in the heart of the city. The legend that has been feeding the imagination of locals for years says it was once coated with gold that was carted off after the Siam invasion. This mythological structure is also said to have been protected by seven Naga creatures who managed to withstand the armies of Siam despite giving up the gold. Today Laos’ oldest temple is crumbling and growing with moss and weed, which somehow adds to its splendor. Bad luck is meant to befall anyone who tries to repair its ruinous state which could explain its current overgrown appearance.

Why You Should Visit:
Black, simple and pure lines, damaged by the time but still beautiful.

The House of Fruit Shakes next door is great or you can check out Pho Zap further down the road on a left turn, who are selling top-notch noodle soup in gigantic bowls.
National Cultural Hall

2) National Cultural Hall (must see)

Situated in a magnificent building, the National Cultural Hall was built in 2000 with help from the government of China. This large venue includes a 1,500-seat theatre/auditorium, conference rooms and a large lobby hall with varying exhibitions of national and international artists. The art presentations and performances that take place here are often organized by foreign embassies, the Ministry of Culture of Laos and other government offices. Among the popular performances of the venue, there is a Lao traditional dance, French cinema, and even a beauty contest.

The challenge here is to figure out the shows and performances on offer – when and at what time and for what price.
There are some occasional free shows offered by the various embassies represented in Vientiane, though finding information on them may take some time.
Carol Cassidy's lao Textiles

3) Carol Cassidy's lao Textiles

Carol Cassidy is a textile factory, shop and gallery situated in a French colonial villa and specializing in hand-woven silk. They have fabrics such as scarves, wall decorations and shawls that are presented in various museums and cultural centres in Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Tokyo and other cities. There is also a workshop open for the public that displays the best traditions of Lao silk manufacturing. Visitors are also invited to observe weavers working on handlooms. Come here to enjoy American artists' contemporary interpretations of beautiful traditional textile motifs. Open Monday to Friday 8 am - 12 pm and 2 pm - 5 pm, Saturdays 8 am - 12 pm.
Wat Si Saket

4) Wat Si Saket (must see)

Wat Si Saket is a Buddhist wat situated on Lan Xang Road, on the corner with Setthathirat Road, to the northwest of Haw Phra Kaew, which formerly held the Emerald Buddha.

Wat Si Saket was built in 1818 on the orders of King Anouvong (Sethathirath V) in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture, with a surrounding terrace and an ornate five-tiered roof, rather than in the Lao style. This may have kept it safe as the armies of Siam that sacked Vientiane in 1827 used the compound as their Headquarters and lodging place.

It may now be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane. The French have restored it in 1924 and again in 1930. It features a cloister wall with more than 2000 ceramic and silver Buddha images. The temple also houses a museum.

Why You Should Visit:
A must for its history alone, but also worthwhile since so much restoration work has been done and it includes an interesting museum and more Buddhas than you normally see in one place for sure.

Go in the afternoon and capture the golden orange light accentuating the gorgeous earthy tones.
Wear clothes suitable for temples (knee-length trousers) and suitable footwear (you'll be required to take off to enter the temple).
Bring some cash for the (small) entrance fee, plus sunscreen, sun hat, water, camera (note that pictures are forbidden inside the temple)...

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-12pm / 1-4pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Haw Phra Kaew

5) Haw Phra Kaew (must see)

Haw Phra Kaew is a former temple situated on Setthathirath Road, to the southeast of Wat Si Saket. The interior now houses a museum and a small shop.

Haw Phra Kaew was built between 1565 and 1556, on the orders of King Setthathirath. The temple housed the Emerald Buddha figurine, which Setthathirath had brought from Chiang Mai, then the capital of Lanna, to Luang Prabang. When Vientiane was seized by Siam (now Thailand) in 1778, the figurine was taken to Thonburi and the temple was destroyed. After it was rebuilt by King Annouvong of Vientiane in the 19th century, it was again destroyed by Siamese forces when King Annouvong rebelled against Siam in an attempt to regain full independence. The revered Buddha now resides in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok. The temple was rebuilt for a third time by the French in the 1920's, during colonization of French Indochina.

Opening Hours:
Tue–Sun: 8am-11:30pm / 2–4:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Sacre Coeur Catholic Church

6) Sacre Coeur Catholic Church

Sacre Coeur Catholic Church is the largest church in Vientiane. Located at Mission Street (Rue de la Mission), it represents a colonial Romanesque, rather simplistic structure, built in 1928 and recently renovated, in 2005. The church belongs to the Vicariate Apostolic of Vientiane.

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