Vientiane Introduction Walking Tour, Vientiane

Vientiane Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Vientiane

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a colorful city, the history of which is reflected in its centuries-old shrines, memorials, garden squares, and colonial architecture lining broad boulevards and leafy streets.

The name "Vientiane" is the French rendition of the Lao word viangchan, in which viang refers to a "walled city" and chan derives from Sanskrit candana, translating as "sandalwood", thus meaning the "walled city of sandalwood".

Legend attributes the founding of Vientiane to Prince Thattaradtha, who established the city after leaving the fabled kingdom of Muong Inthapatha Maha Nakhone due to a succession dispute. Historically, however, Vientiane is believed to have been an early settlement of Mon people before falling under Khmer influence.

In 1354, Fa Ngum established the kingdom of Lan Xang, with Vientiane assuming administrative importance. However, it wasn't until 1563 that Vientiane became its capital, to deter Burmese incursions. Subsequently, it turned into an independent kingdom before falling to Siamese forces in 1779.

The city suffered devastation during King Anouvong's failed rebellion in 1827, leading to its decline until French intervention in the late 19th century. Under French rule, Vientiane underwent reconstruction, and significant Vietnamese migration occurred, altering the city's demographics.

World War II saw a brief Japanese occupation, followed by a French reoccupation. Vientiane eventually became the capital of independent Laos in 1953 amidst the turmoil of the civil war which ended in 1975.

In contemporary times, Vientiane successfully blends historical legacy with modernity. One of the top local landmarks is the iconic Victory Gate (Patuxai). This grand monument pays homage to those who fought for Laos' independence from French colonial rule. Its intricate design, combining Western influences with traditional Laotian elements, and sweeping views of the city make it a must-visit site for tourists.

A stroll down the French-inspired Avenue Lane Xang offers a glimpse into Vientiane's colonial past.

Religious enthusiasts will find solace in Wat Si Saket, a tranquil temple complex renowned for its thousands of Buddha statues. Meanwhile, the Monastery of the Emerald Buddha offers a glimpse into Laos' spiritual heritage with its ornate decorations and serene ambiance.

That Dam, or the Black Stupa, is another noteworthy attraction in Vientiane. Legend has it that this ancient stupa was once covered in gold, only to be plundered by foreign invaders.

Vientiane is a city steeped in history, culture, and charm. From its ancient temples to its bustling markets and grand monuments, there is no shortage of sights to see and experiences to enjoy. So, take this self-guided introductory tour and discover the enchanting allure of Laos' capital city today!
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Vientiane Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Vientiane Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Laos » Vientiane (See other walking tours in Vientiane)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: Helen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Patuxai (Victory Gate)
  • Avenue Lane Xang
  • Talat Sao (Morning Market)
  • That Dam (Black Stupa)
  • Presidential Palace
  • Wat Si Saket (Si Saket Temple)
  • Haw Phra Kaew (Monastery of the Emerald Buddha)
  • Nam Phou Square
  • Rue Setthathirat (Setthathirat Street)
  • Rue Samsenthai (Samsenthai Street)
Patuxai (Victory Gate)

1) Patuxai (Victory Gate) (must see)

Patuxai, also known as the Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph, stands as a prominent war monument in the heart of Vientiane. Constructed between 1957 and 1968, this monument holds deep significance for the Laotian people as a symbol of their struggle for independence from French colonial rule. The name " Victory Gate" reflects its purpose as a tribute to those who fought and sacrificed for Laos' freedom.

This iconic landmark is often referred to as the Patuxai Arch or the Asian version of the Arc de Triomphe, drawing parallels to its French counterpart due to its architectural resemblance. However, Victory Gate is distinctly Laotian in design, adorned with intricate Buddhist mythological figurines such as kinnari, which are half-female and half-bird figures. This fusion of traditional Laotian elements with Western architectural influences symbolizes the nation's unique cultural heritage and its journey towards independence.

Visitors to Victory Gate can ascend to the top of the monument for panoramic views of Vientiane, offering a breathtaking vantage point to admire the city's skyline and surrounding landscape. Inside the monument, visitors can also explore exhibits and learn more about Laos' struggle for independence and the significance of Victory Gate in the country's history.

Make sure you take the steps to the top, preferably in the morning or late afternoon. There are 3 internal levels inside and no lift, so not for the walking impaired. If souvenirs are your thing, enjoy some bartering on any of the 3 levels. The adjacent gardens are delightful but beware the heat in the midday. Take your sunhat, sunscreen, water, camera, and suitable footwear.
Avenue Lane Xang

2) Avenue Lane Xang

Avenue Lane Xang stands as the widest boulevard in Vientiane, that connects two of the city's most iconic landmarks, Victory Gate and Presidential Palace, and several other important sites along its route. Constructed by the Royal Laos Government between 1953 and 1975, Avenue Lane Xang serves as a prominent symbol of the country's aspirations for urban development and national identity. Inspired by the grandeur of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, this expansive thoroughfare reflects Laos' desire to create a public space on a scale reminiscent of its former colonial rulers.

The boulevard begins at the Patuxai Monument, a monumental structure erected between 1957 and 1968 to commemorate Laos' struggle for independence from French colonial rule. Reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Patuxai Monument is a testament to Laos' history and resilience.

Avenue Lane Xang's significance extends beyond its architectural splendor; it serves as a focal point for national pride and identity. As visitors stroll along this grand boulevard, they are immersed in the rich tapestry of Laos' history and culture, from its struggle for independence to its aspirations for modernity and progress. With its sweeping vistas, grand monuments, and historical landmarks, Avenue Lane Xang stands as a testament to Laos' journey from colonial rule to sovereign nationhood, inviting both locals and visitors to reflect on the country's past while embracing its future.
Talat Sao (Morning Market)

3) Talat Sao (Morning Market)

The Morning Market stands as one of the premier shopping destinations in Vientiane, attracting both locals and tourists alike. Situated in the heart of the city, this bustling market offers a diverse array of products to cater to every shopper's needs and preferences. From local cuisine and fresh produce to artisanal crafts and electronics, the Morning Market boasts a wide selection of goods that reflect the rich cultural heritage of Laos.

Visitors to the market can explore numerous stalls and vendors, each offering a unique assortment of items ranging from gold and silver accessories to silk garments, traditional clothing, musical instruments, and wooden crafts. Whether you're in search of authentic Laotian souvenirs or exquisite handmade treasures, the Morning Market is sure to have something to catch your eye. Additionally, the vibrant atmosphere and bustling energy of the market make for an immersive and memorable shopping experience.

Beyond its offerings of goods and souvenirs, the Morning Market provides visitors with an opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture and interact with the friendly vendors and artisans. Bargaining is a common practice at the market, allowing shoppers to negotiate prices and strike deals while enjoying the lively ambiance.

If looking for silk, go to where they weave it as you will then know it is genuine and not an imitation or made in China.
There is also an air-conditioned shopping mall in the area (the only one in Laos) for electronics, sports equipment, jewelry, etc.
That Dam (Black Stupa)

4) That Dam (Black Stupa) (must see)

The Black Stupa holds a prominent place in local folklore, with legends that have captivated the imaginations of residents for generations. According to one such myth, That Dam was once adorned with a layer of gold, which was allegedly plundered during the Siam invasion. Despite the loss of its golden exterior, the stupa's mystique and historical significance endure to this day.

The Black Stupa is steeped in symbolism and spirituality, serving as a tangible link to Laos' rich cultural heritage. In addition to its mythical associations, the stupa is also believed to have been safeguarded by seven mythical Naga creatures, mythical serpent-like beings, who reputedly defended it against the invading Siamese armies. Despite the passage of time and the gradual encroachment of nature, the stupa's imposing presence and enigmatic aura continue to command attention.

Today, Black Stupa stands as a testament to Laos' enduring resilience and the passage of time. The stupa's weathered facade, adorned with moss and overgrown with weeds, lends it a sense of ancient grandeur and mystique. Despite its crumbling state, efforts to restore or repair the stupa are said to be met with superstition and caution, as local lore warns of misfortune befalling those who attempt to alter its ruinous appearance. As a result, That Dam remains an evocative symbol of Laos' rich cultural heritage and spiritual significance, drawing visitors from far and wide to marvel at its enigmatic beauty.

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.
Presidential Palace

5) Presidential Palace

The Presidential Palace stands as a striking testament to the city's rich history and architectural heritage. Originally constructed to serve as the residence of the French colonial governor, the stately mansion later served as the royal residence during the brief period of Laos' monarchy reign. Today, the two-storey Beaux Arts-style building retains its historical significance and remains an iconic landmark in the city.

The Presidential Palace boasts an elegant facade characterized by its neoclassical design elements and grandeur, reflecting the architectural influences of its colonial past. Its imposing presence along Lane Xang Street underscores its importance as a symbol of political power and authority in Laos. While the mansion's exterior exudes a sense of timeless elegance, its interiors are equally impressive, featuring ornate furnishings, intricate detailing, and historical artifacts that offer a glimpse into the country's storied past.

In modern times, the Presidential Palace continues to play a vital role in the governance of Laos, serving as a venue for official government meetings, ceremonies, and events. Its significance as a seat of political power underscores its continued relevance in shaping the country's political landscape.
Wat Si Saket (Si Saket Temple)

6) Wat Si Saket (Si Saket Temple) (must see)

Wat Si Saket is a significant Buddhist temple with a rich history dating back to 1818. Commissioned by King Anouvong, also known as Sethathirath V, the temple was constructed in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture, featuring a surrounding terrace and an ornate five-tiered roof. Unlike many other temples in Laos, Wat Si Saket was built in the Siamese style, which may have contributed to its preservation during the Siamese invasion of Vientiane in 1827, when it served as the headquarters and lodging place for the invading forces.

Today, Wat Si Saket is recognized as one of the oldest temples still standing in Vientiane. Over the years, the temple has undergone restoration efforts, particularly by the French in 1924 and 1930, to preserve its architectural and cultural heritage. The temple's distinctive features include a cloister wall adorned with over 2,000 ceramic and silver Buddha images, each offering a unique glimpse into Buddhist art and iconography. This vast collection of Buddha images serves as a testament to the temple's significance as a religious and cultural landmark in Laos.

In addition to its architectural and artistic treasures, Wat Si Saket also houses a museum, providing visitors with further insights into the temple's history and significance. The museum offers a curated collection of artifacts, relics, and historical items related to Buddhism and the temple itself, offering visitors an opportunity to delve deeper into the rich cultural heritage of Laos.

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)...
Haw Phra Kaew (Monastery of the Emerald Buddha)

7) Haw Phra Kaew (Monastery of the Emerald Buddha) (must see)

Haw Phra Kaew is a historically significant site with a rich and tumultuous past. Originally constructed between 1565 and 1556 by King Setthathirath, the temple was intended to house the revered Emerald Buddha figurine, which the king had brought from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. However, the temple's fate took a dramatic turn when Vientiane was seized by Siam in 1778. The Emerald Buddha was taken to Thonburi, and Haw Phra Kaew was destroyed.

In the 19th century, King Annouvong of Vientiane undertook the task of rebuilding Haw Phra Kaew, only to see it destroyed once again by Siamese forces during his rebellion against Siam. Despite these setbacks, the temple was reconstructed for a third time in the 1920s, under French colonial rule. This period of reconstruction by the French marked a new chapter in the temple's history, as it underwent restoration to its former glory.

Today, Haw Phra Kaew stands as a testament to Laos' cultural heritage and resilience. While it no longer serves as an active temple, its interior has been repurposed to house a museum and a small shop, offering visitors the opportunity to explore its history and significance. The temple's architecture reflects a blend of traditional Lao design elements with influences from neighboring Thailand, creating a visually striking monument that continues to captivate visitors with its beauty and historical significance.
Nam Phou Square

8) Nam Phou Square

Nam Phou Square stands as a vibrant hub and focal point in the heart of Vientiane. Adorned with intricate floral arrangements and crowned by a majestic fountain, this iconic square has long been cherished as a symbol of the city. Its allure extends to both locals and tourists alike, drawing them in with its lively atmosphere and inviting ambiance.

Surrounding Nam Phou Square are numerous cafes and restaurants, offering visitors the perfect setting to enjoy a morning coffee or leisurely meal. The square buzzes with activity throughout the day, making it an ideal spot for people-watching or simply soaking in the vibrant energy of the city. As the sun sets, Nam Phou Square transforms into a picturesque setting for an evening stroll, with the fountain casting a soft glow against the backdrop of the surrounding buildings.

In addition to its role as a social gathering place, Nam Phou Square also serves as a practical starting point for exploring Vientiane. Tuk-tuk drivers congregate here in numbers, offering transportation services to eager travelers looking to embark on their city tours.

Why You Should Visit:
Lovely place to chill out and enjoy the breeze, especially in the evening (8:30-9pm) when many more businesses open up for the night-time trade.
Large outdoor dining area around the fountain with a large variety of foods to choose from: Lao, Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Scandinavian bakery, etc.
Live music by the fountain (beautifully lit up) and some really nice cocktails.
Rue Setthathirat (Setthathirat Street)

9) Rue Setthathirat (Setthathirat Street)

Setthathirat Street stands as a bustling thoroughfare in the heart of Vientiane, offering visitors a vibrant shopping experience rich in local culture and craftsmanship. As one of the major shopping streets in the city, Setthathirat Street is renowned for its diverse array of outlets specializing in Lao and Thai tribal crafts, as well as hill-tribe creations. Travelers wandering along this bustling street will discover a treasure trove of traditional goods, ranging from intricately woven textiles to handcrafted jewelry and pottery.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Setthathirat Street, visitors will find an eclectic mix of products sourced from Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Lacquer work and Buddha images from Vietnam share space with Lao and Thai goods, creating a vibrant tapestry of cultural influences. Textile shops offer a delightful selection of fabrics, clothing, and accessories adorned with traditional patterns and motifs, while antique stores beckon with their unique treasures from times gone by.

Beyond its offerings in textiles and clothing, Setthathirat Street boasts a thriving market for handicrafts and antiques, providing visitors with ample opportunities to uncover hidden gems and unique souvenirs. Whether browsing for the perfect gift or simply immersing oneself in the vibrant atmosphere of local commerce, a stroll along Setthathirat Street promises an unforgettable shopping experience infused with the charm and authenticity of Laotian culture.

Check out True Coffee for really good coffee and light snacks. They also have fast wi-fi, computers available, and air conditioning.
Rue Samsenthai (Samsenthai Street)

10) Rue Samsenthai (Samsenthai Street)

Samsenthai Street is a bustling thoroughfare renowned for its vibrant shopping scene and diverse array of offerings. Visitors to this bustling street can explore a treasure trove of traditional Laotian crafts, jewelry, textiles, carvings, and more. As one of the city's main shopping areas, Samsenthai Street attracts locals and tourists alike with its enticing array of goods and services.

The eastern part of Samsenthai Street, particularly near the Asian Pavilion Hotel, is a hub of activity where several shops specialize in Lao and Thai tribal and hill-tribe crafts. Here, visitors can browse through a colorful assortment of handcrafted items, each reflecting the rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions of the region. From intricately woven textiles to intricately carved wooden artifacts, there is no shortage of unique souvenirs to be discovered.

In addition to its vibrant craft scene, Samsenthai Street is also home to a plethora of jewelry shops, making it a premier destination for those seeking exquisite adornments. Visitors can peruse an extensive selection of gold and silver items, ranging from traditional designs to contemporary creations.

Walking Tours in Vientiane, Laos

Create Your Own Walk in Vientiane

Create Your Own Walk in Vientiane

Creating your own self-guided walk in Vientiane is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Vientiane Temples Walk

Vientiane Temples Walk

The capital of Laos, Vientiane, is in the heart of the Buddhist world. This explains the presence in the city of numerous temples and shrines making up the bulk of local landmarks. Scattered across the city, these religious sites hold significant historical and spiritual importance, drawing visitors from all over the globe.

Indeed, some of the country's most notable sanctuaries are found...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles