The landlocked country of Laos with its capital in Vientiane is the perfect place to view ornate Buddhist temples, trek through beautiful forests and try some delicious Laotian meat dishes.
This 3rd century beautiful Buddhist temple is covered in gold and remains the most important national monument in Laos.
For 5,000 kip you can visit this temple filled with miniature Buddhas, which is considered to be one of the oldest temples in Vientiane.
Created in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, this non-profit center was created to aid survivors and educate visitors about disability in developing Laos.
This museum used to be the former royal temple of King Setthathirat's, which, in past decades, housed the coveted Emerald Buddha.
This structure located in the heart of downtown is believed by locals to be guarded by a seven-headed nāga, who attempted to protect Laotians from invasion in 1827.
Probably the most elegant Buddhist wat (temple) in Vientiane, Wat Si Saket can be found close to the river's edge in the downtown area, and its a feast for history and architecture lovers. The undisputed highlight of the temple is its wall of 6,800 Buddha statues dating back 400 years, but the Burmese-style exterior design is also a beautiful sight. During the day, expect to run across monks carrying out devotional activities, adding extra charm to the scene.
It's hard to miss Pha That Luang's golden exterior, which is a good thing, as nobody would want to. This Buddhist stupa (a shrine containing holy relics) has been attracting pilgrims since the 3rd century AD, and continues to amaze visitors from all over the world. Over the years it's seen some action, undergoing periodic rebuilding work, but everything has been carried out tastefully and well, ensuring that Pha That Luang retains its majesty and timeless feel. The centerpiece is the star attraction, with its pyramid shape and 500 kilograms of gold leaf covering its surface.
Perhaps fittingly for a nation that was under French colonial rule for 60 years, Vientiane has its own version of the Arc de Triomphe in the form of Patuxai, but this is no simple homage. Patuxai was constructed as a memorial to those who died in the fight for Laos' independence between 1957 and 1968, but it's not solemn or heavy-handed. Instead, motifs from mythology adorn the exterior, giving it an appropriately exotic feel and reflecting Laotian tradition. Be sure to savor the gorgeous ceiling, and if you have the chance, climb to the top for views across Patuxai Park.
A few miles east of central Vientiane, you'll find Xieng Khuan, also known as the "Buddha Park". This name is well-merited, thanks to the park's enormous collection of Buddha likenesses and Hindu gods. In fact, the communist authorities maintained the park as something of a dumping ground for religious art, but it now works well as an open air museum, providing visitors with a refreshing run through of Laos' traditional art. In a way, it's come full circle back to the intentions of the founder Luang Pu, who set it up as a way to bring faiths together.
It's only about 10 miles outside central Vientiane, but Ban Hom feels light years away from the capital. Located on the Mekong River (and completely dependent upon it to support its people), Ban Hom is a living museum dedicated to traditional Laotian life. You can see weaving techniques in action that have been used for centuries, or even sit in on primary school classes. Tours also introduce visitors to age-old farming and fishing techniques, things that sticking to the city could never reveal.
The best time to visit is during the dry season between October and April, when the weather is cooler and it is easier to travel around the country by motorway.
Wattay International Airport is located 3km outside of the city center. A one-way ticket from London to Vientiane costs 4.1 million kip.
Tha Naleng station is 22km outside of Vientiane and the closest stop to the capital city. The station is rather rural and there are not very many transfer options to the city.
To cross the border into Laos, you will need a car passport. The owner of the car must be in the vehicle when crossing and you must buy insurance upon arrival.
There are many buses operating routes between nearby countries to Laos. One of the most popular from Thailand costs 400,000 kip and crosses via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
Settha Palace Hotel is a beautifully restored hotel with French colonial architecture, landscaped gardens and an outdoor pool. Prices start at 1.5 million kip.
Ban Anou - This district is popular for its night market selling traditional food that's popular among locals.
Ban Mixai - This area is the cultural center, where the National Museum and Lao Theatre are situated.
Ban Haysoke - Wander around this neighborhood for the best concentration of boutique shops and hotels.
There are many blue and white city buses in the city, with a single ride ticket costing 6,000 kip.
There are a few official taxi services in Vientiane, starting at 6,000 kip and costing up to 20,000 kip for a ride in the center.
Rental car prices start at 400,000 kip a day and can be picked up at the Vientiane International Airport.
The Morning Market is a collection of stalls selling food, electronics, knock-off jewelry and silk and cotton textiles for negotiable prices. The Talat Sao Mall is the only modern shopping center.
The main grocery stores in Vientiane are SiMuang Minimart, V-Shop and Phimphone Mini-mart. A dozen eggs costs 11,000 kip.
Moon the Night Restaurant is an off-the-beaten track restaurant outside of the city center serving traditional Laotian food. A meal for 4 people costs about 1.6 million kip.