Vientiane Introduction Walking Tour, Vientiane

Vientiane Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Vientiane

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a colorful blend of French colonial architecture and Buddhist shrines set alongside the broad boulevards and leafy streets. Some of the most notable places of worship are Wat Si Saket, filled with thousands of Buddha images, and Wat Si Muang, perched over a Hindu shrine. To explore these and other prominent sights of the Laotian capital, follow this orientation walk.
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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: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: Helen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Nam Phou Square
  • Carol Cassidy's lao Textiles
  • Wat Mixai
  • Rue Setthathirat
  • Wat Ong Teu
  • Wat Inpeng
  • Rue Samsenthai
  • National Cultural Hall
  • That Dam
  • Morning Market
  • Presidential Palace
  • Wat Si Saket
  • Haw Phra Kaew
  • Wat Si Muang
Nam Phou Square

1) Nam Phou Square (must see)

Nam Phou Square is the city’s meeting place, hub, and popular tourist spot. Decorated with floral arrangements, Nam Phou has been the icon of Vientiane for many years. There are numerous cafes and restaurants surrounding the square which is crowned by a beautiful fountain. It is a great place for a morning coffee or an evening walk. Tuk-tuk drivers gather here in numbers, making the square a good place to start your tour of the city.

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.
Carol Cassidy's lao Textiles

2) 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.
Wat Mixai

3) Wat Mixai

Wat Mixai is another beautiful temple known for its ornate blue mosaic designs. Niak, or a giant guardian, stands on both sides of the beautiful gate welcoming the visitors. The colourful façade of the temple is decorated with gold coated wooden carvings designed in the finest traditions of Laotian architectural splendour. The temple’s main highlight is a series of old Chinese funeral stupas found along the sim or main hall. The entrance to the temple is on Francois Ngin Road.
Rue Setthathirat

4) Rue Setthathirat (must see)

Rue Setthathirat is another major shopping street in Vientiane replete with outlets specialized in Lao and Thai tribal and hill-tribe crafts. Alongside Lao and Thai goods, here you can find products from Vietnam, such as lacquer work and Buddha images. Some of the shops selling textiles and clothing also carry a good selection of handicrafts and antiques.

Check out True Coffee for really good coffee and light snacks. They also have fast wi-fi, computers available, and air conditioning.
Wat Ong Teu

5) Wat Ong Teu

Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan (Temple of the Heavy Buddha) is one of many Buddhist Monasteries that are present in the city of Vientiane. This name is given to the temple due to the large, bronze Phra Ong Teu Buddha image that is present within the temple: the largest Buddha in Vientiane.

This temple was initially constructed by King Settathirat I in the 16th century (known as the golden age of Buddhism in Laos) when Laos was being bombarded by the Burmese, but was later demolished during a foreign invasion. Thus, it may have gone through many reconstructions during the 19th or 20th century to attain the appearance it has today.

Though this temple is created in Vientiane, it has the basic shape for what is known as the ‘Luang Prabang I style’ with its scare use of brickwork and rectangular-like body.

Wat Ong Teu is said to have been placed along a cardinal point in accordance with three other temples, but that may just be coincidental.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Wat Inpeng

6) Wat Inpeng

Wat Inpeng Voraamahavihanh or “Temple of the Incarnation of Indra” is another symbol of the city and a prominent religious landmark. According to legend, it was founded in the 3rd century, when Indra arrived to the area to aid local artists in creating the image of Buddha. However, historical records confirm that the construction of the temple occurred in the 16th century. The main highlight of the temple is its rich decorations with carved wood frescoes and a mosaic façade. Statues and numerous images depicting mythological creatures, colourful and intricate windows, and ornate multilevel roofs continue to catch tourists’ eyes and leave memorable impressions. There is a tranquil garden area with benches and topiary trees settled at the rear of the temple.
Rue Samsenthai

7) Rue Samsenthai (must see)

Pretty much everything that is made in Laos can be bought in Vientiane, including hill-tribe crafts, jewelry, traditional textiles, carvings, and more. One of the city's main shopping areas is Rue Samsenthai or, more precisely, the eastern part of it near the Asian Pavilion Hotel. Several shops in Rue Samsenthai sell Lao and Thai tribal and hill-tribe crafts. Most of Vientiane's jewelry shops are also located in Rue Samsenthai, selling primarily gold and silver items.
National Cultural Hall

8) 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.
That Dam

9) 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.
Morning Market

10) Morning Market (must see)

Morning Market, also known as Talat Sao, is one of the best shopping spots of the city with a great number of products to offer. The place is always full of locals and tourists wandering around. The market features numerous vendors selling local cuisine, fresh produce and small shops offering gold and silver accessories, silk items, clothing, musical instruments, electronics, wooden crafts and lots of other products. This market is an awesome place to purchase unique gifts and souvenirs.

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.
Presidential Palace

11) Presidential Palace

Situated on Lane Xang Street, Presidential Palace was originally built for the French colonial governor. It has also served as the residence of the royal family during the brief Laos monarchy reign. Today, the two-storey Beaux Arts mansion is mainly used for official government meetings and ceremonies. Presidential Palace’s important historical significance and elegant façade insured its place among the top landmarks of the city.
Wat Si Saket

12) 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)...
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Haw Phra Kaew

13) 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.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Wat Si Muang

14) Wat Si Muang (must see)

Founded in 1566, Wat Si Muang, also known as Simuong, is another lovely Buddhist temple that is popular among both locals and visitors for its stunning bronze Buddha statues. The temple is famous for bringing good luck and wealth, particularly to those trying to have children. Wat Si Muang’s relatively modest construction is complemented beautifully by the elaborate wooden carvings and paintings. The temple is surrounded by ornate gates.

Tourists willing to check out the altar and the rest of the temple’s interior are advised to purchase flowers, incense sticks and candles from outside vendors to be used later at the altar. The entrance is from Setthathirath Road. Near the temple, there is a statue of King Srisavang Vong (1885-1959), who is known to have fathered 50 children.

Why You Should Visit:
Entrance is free and you can see how locals get blessed by the monks in the temple.
The architecture is just beautiful and there are a number of incredible gongs you are able to chime.

Best time to visit is early in the morning and, if possible, on the 'Buddha Days' which occur every 14 days in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Look out for important relics, the pillar of Vientiane surrounded by Buddhas; including the Emerald Buddha and a melted Buddha that survived the fire which has destroyed the original temple.