Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: When a monk asks to add you on facebook, you don’t say no!
13 WoW – Laos: Vientiane
It was dark by the time I arrived, so spotting this fountain gave me a sense of security.
It was all very different in Vientiane, I could tell it was the capital by how well developed it seemed to be.
I’d already decided on a hostel to go to; Sailomyen hostel, it seemed to be walking distance so I braved it with my front and back backpacks.
Although a little bit away from the centre and a dollar or two more expensive than other hostels in the area (around $8 a night), this hostel was far superior in decor, ambience, cleanliness and luxury to any other hostel I had stayed in.
Walking through the door was a very pleasant surprise and checking in was smooth, friendly and professional. I was lead to my four bed female-only dorm on the fourth floor, the bunks were so luxurious with curtains allowing for full privacy. It was like each bunk was your own little hotel pod. It was probably the most comfortable hostel in all of Laos, maybe even all of the countries I visited.
After a very comfortable night’s rest, and a tasty breakfast in the morning, my only complaint was the same complaint I had for most hostels all over South East Asia; the Air Con!
So I switched to a much cheaper hostel bang in the center where I shared a room with 7 men and had beds that felt so hard that I wondered if they were carved of rock. But thankfully, me and the boys agreed on no air con whilst we sleep!
“Wat” is there to see in Vientiane?
Vientiane is a city full of surprises. It is a combination of traditional Buddhist temples with french colonial buildings and architecture, this is because of it’s history with the French making this one of their trading posts. Also for this reason, you will find some very good french restaurants, cafes and bars in this area.
Bordering Thailand with nothing but the Mekong river between the two countries, you can enjoy some amazing sunsets by the river whilst you overlook Thailand.
Here are some of the things you can’t miss!
In case you didn’t get the pun in the heading, a temple is called a “wat” in Laos (and most parts of SE Asia). Probably because when you see the beautiful architecture you will be going “waaaat” in awe.
The most popular temples would be these three:
Wat Ho Phra Keo
One of the oldest Wats in the capital and former home to the emerald Buddha. This is now converted to a museum.
Wat Si Muang
The site of the lak meuang, or city pillar, which is home to the guardian spirit of Vientiane.
Wat Si Saket
Basically a temple with thousands of Buddha statues.
I have to admit that I didn’t visit any of those, but preferred to explore some of the other temples that I came across whilst I explored such as Wat That Phoun and Wat Mixai. This may or may not have lead to me befriending a monk on Facebook.
Make Friends with a Monk
Meet my friend ພູມລຳເນົາ ສາຍເຊໂດນ, don’t ask me how you pronounce it. Yes, he is a monk and yes, we are facebook friends! Let me tell you how this happened.
I was exploring Vientiane on Buddha day, not sure what I was looking for but as it was Buddha day, I thought there may be something going on about town. As I am walking, a stranger in his car approached me and started to talk to me, but in true British style, as I did not know this individual, I did like we do on the London underground and ignored him.
Ducking into Wat Mixai, I’m admiring the architecture when lo and behold, I am approached by the same man. “Hello!” He smiled widely at me, “Don’t just stand outside, come in! Come in!”
He said it with such confidence that I thought perhaps he worked at the temple, if that’s even a thing, and so I allowed myself to be ushered inside.
I realised too late that inside was a monk, sitting in front of a giant Buddha and my new Indian friend walked straight up to him, put some money on the gold tray and sat in front of him. He turned to beckon me as I contemplated my escape, “Ohh no, I’m good, this isn’t really my thing” I tried to tell him, but he would have none of it!
Before I knew it, we were both sat there listening to this monk telling us the history of the temple, about monk life, anything you wanted to know! It was all very interesting, but then out of the blue the monk asks me, do you have facebook? And I’m taken aback, I mean yes of course I have facebook but are monks even allowed facebook??? How do they log on? What do they post about?
Whatever the answer, I’m now friends with a monk on facebook.
Take a walk along the Mekong Delta past 6pm to see the night markets set up trade by the riverside.
You will be spoilt for choice as you browse through each stall selling various styles of clothing, souvenirs, jewelery, accessories and more.
If you follow the river, you will also come across food markets nearby selling not only Laotian cuisine but varied dishes from neighbouring countries and beyond.
If you are feeling more like a sit-down meal, why not explore some of Vientiane’s restaurants and bars. I was delighted to come across this French restaurant playing live music.
Also known as the “Victory Monument”, this monument is dedicated to those who fought for their independence from France.
Found on the same road that leads to the Presidential palace, this monument sits in the centre of Vientiane standing out in this commercial district.
The stunning water fountain is a centrepiece to the symmetrical gardens which you will be able to see the best view of from the top of the monument.
On each floor as you go up, expect to find market stalls selling everything from clothes and handbags, to shoes and books. And take a look out of each of the unique windows for a new perspective of Vientiane.
Pha That Luang
This is a large and very ancient stupa in the middle of Vientiane which is covered in gold! It is the most important national monument in all of Laos, both as a religious symbol and as a symbol of independence.
It was amazing seeing monks flock to this monument, even taking selfies (yes I’m serious) with their monk buddies by the monument.
There is so much going on around here, with market stalls outside, monks inside and people selling small birds (poor things) to be released over the monument.
And if you keep exploring, you will find the giant sleeping Buddha, where you may be able to take a nap yourself (or was that just me?!).
So there you have it! Vientiane in a nutshell! Other than not really having anywhere to change money from Kip to Thai Baht (be prepared if you plan to go on to Thailand from here, I had to exchange with some random Australians I met in a bar – it was all very much a last minute panic), it was a very well built up city with plenty of things to do and places to explore. A definite must-visit when you go to Laos!
Follow me as I get the sleeping train back to Bangkok and then prepare to leave Asia altogether!