Beautiful French-influenced architecture, Buddhist temples galore and fabulous natural beauty make Vientiane a must-see stop on any tour of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
The Night Market or Chinese Market opens daily along the riverfront as the sun goes down over the Mekong and stays open until 9:30pm. Merchants sell all manner of souvenirs and food from carts and red-roofed tents. Construction has begun on a more permanent market down at water level that is scheduled to open in 2018.
COPE Visitor Centre
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history, with about 30 percent of the ordinance failing to explode properly. Even though Laos is at peace now, these devices are still going off, killing and maiming people. COPE, short for Cooperative Orthotics and Prosthetics Enterprise, works to rehabilitate people whose lives have been destroyed by these devices, which include bombs and grenades. Visitors to the center can learn more about the problem of unexploded devices in Laos as well as the treatment provided to victims. An excellent gift shop offers fun, offbeat souvenirs that support a good cause.
Haw Phra Kaew
Haw Phra Kaew is considered one of the most beautiful and impressive temples in Vientiane. Built in 1565 as the chapel for the royal family, Haw Phra Kaew was home for a while to the Emerald Buddha that was stolen from Thailand. The name of this gracious building translates to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, though the Thais stole the statue back in the 18th century. It is now a museum, no longer used for religious services. The temple is famous for its wood and stone carvings, and collection of Buddhas. With a dragon guarding the temple, visitors can sit in peace in the garden to rest or meditate.
Nam Ngum Reservoir
Nam Ngum means beautiful water and the reservoir created by the dam of the same name certainly fits the bill. Hydropower is one Laos’ top exports and Laos’ largest lake has the added bonus of attracting tourists for boat rides, fishing and swimming. Visit the dam itself, the salt factory or the nearby casino on your way to or from Vientiane Capital.
Lao National Museum
The Lao National Museum is a good place to learn about the Lao people from prehistoric times on as well as spend a few hours out of the sun. It’s located in an old French colonial building that is falling apart and some of the exhibits are faded, but this doesn’t detract from the contents. The bottom floor concentrates on the country’s early history, with dinosaur bones and pottery shards. The upper floor deals with a more modern Laos, including French colonization and fight for independence, and United States’ presence during the Vietnam War.
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