Vientiane is the capital of Laos and considered to be the smallest capital in Southeast Asia with a population of about 600 000 (2007 est.). Vientiane is also known as the City of the Sandalwood. It is the largest city in Laos situated along the curve of Mekong River.
The city’s places of interest are concentrated in a small area in the commercial district and can easily be explored on foot. The city offers a laid back paced of life; traffic is lighter compared to other Southeast Asian cities, less modern infrastructures presenting a relaxing cosy feeling. Vientiane was declared capital of the country in the early 16th century, taking status from the more imperial and influential city of Luang Prabang.
During the early 19th century when King Anouvong raised an unsuccessful rebellion, the city of Vientiane was conquered and sacked by the Siamese army. When the city became a French protectorate in the late 19th century Vientiane was rebuilt and the Buddhist temples were repaired.
One of the most prominent landmarks of Vientiane is the Patuxai or Victory Monument. It is a huge monument on Lang Xang Avenue which resembles Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. The ceiling of the arc is elaborated by kinnari figurines painted in bright colors. The monument commemorates those who died in the pre-Communist wars. The monument was built in 1969 with US financed cement that was meant to be used for the construction of the new airport. Beneath the arch is a doorway with a staircase leading to the top of the monument. The top of the monument offers a panoramic view of the city.
Pha That Luang is also known as the Great Stupa is situated on the eastern outskirts of Vientiane. The stupa was established built in 1566 during the reign of King Setthathirat. It was built on the location of the older stupa believed to confine the relic of Buddha. Pha That Luang is a 45-meter high structure that was ravaged several times by foreign invaders. In 1930 the stupa that was heavily damaged and abandoned after the Thai invasion in 1828 was restored to its original design based on the detailed drawing of French architecture and explorer Louis Delaporte.
The architecture of the stupa includes many references to Lao culture and identity. That Luang is a major attraction tourist and had become the symbol of Lao nationalism. Consisting of three levels, each level conveys a reflection of part of the Buddhist doctrine. The 279 feet long encircling walls contain various Khmer and Lao sculptures including one of Jayavarman VII. During sunset when the sun is shrinking in the west, the stupa is glimmerings like a magnificent golden orb.
Vat Si Saket built in 1818 by King Chao Anou is considered to be the oldest surviving temple in Vientiane. Located on the corner of Lane Xang Avenue and Setthathirat Road, Vat Si Saket houses 6840 Buddha statues and figures. The temple was built in Siamese style Buddhist architecture; its ordination hall ceiling is adorned by floral paintings. The interior of the temple walls are thousands of small niches carrying a small Buddha statue and figures, while in front of the niches are huge Buddha statues made of ceramic, gold, silver and wood.
Opposite Vat Si Saket is Ho Phra Keo, popularly known as the former Temple of Emerald Buddha. Constructed by King Setthathirat in 1565 to serve as a royal temple and house the Emerald Buddha statue which was brought from Chiang Mai. The original temple was ruined during Siamese invasion and was rebuilt in 1936. It is now used as a museum showcasing extensive collections of Buddhist artifacts in the country. Ho Phra Keo is renowned for enfolding the original pillar of Vientiane which spread deep into the ground under the altar.
Situated 24 km south of Vientiane is the Buddha Park or Xieng Khun. The park is filled with large concrete statues of deities from Hindu-Buddhist pantheon and Buddha images including the 40 m reclining Buddha.
In 1958 Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat a priest-shaman built a sculpture park in which Hinduism and Buddhism were integrated. The most unusual structure within the park is the giant pumpkin with a dead tree sticking out its top. This three-story sculpture is a reflection of the idea of earth, heaven and hell.
Other attractions that can be seen in the Vientiane are the Presidential Palace, positioned at the intersection of Lane Xang and Setthathirat Avenue. This palace was built by the French colonial governor and served as a royal residence during the reign of King Sisavangvong. Talat Sao (morning market) consists of three main building in the center of the town opposite the post office and central bus station. The market offers a vast range of durable goods such as jewelry, handicrafts and textiles.