Patuxai National Monument in the capital city Vientiane, Laos

When I first started researching Vientiane, Laos, I read a lot of mixed reviews.  Many people reported it to be dull and boring with not much to do.  Others really liked the city and enjoyed the simplicity of it.  I’m never swayed by what others have to say.  I was planning on coming to Vientiane no matter what, I just didn’t really know what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this small capital city.

Vientiane is located on the banks of the Mekong river, as are many of the major cities in Laos.  Just across the Mekong lies Thailand, making the capital city a popular visa run location for Thailand ex-pats.  There are several prominent temples, a monument, and the presidential palace.  It is by far the smallest capital city in SE Asia but is rapidly growing with the tourist boom.  Many new buildings are being constructed and the city limits are constantly growing.

This little city is charming in its own way with temples, museums, a national monument, and several markets for eating and shopping.   Although this is a quieter city than most there are still a few fun things to see and do.  In this article, I’ll tell you all about my experiences in Vientiane, Laos and why I loved it so much.

READ MORE: Interested in visiting Laos?  Consider taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang.

Birdseye view of the courtyard and fountain at Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane, Laos
Palace in the distance of downtown Vientiane, Laos

ADVENTURES AROUND VIENTIANE LAOS

I love smaller cities where I don’t have to rely on transportation to get around.  I feel happy and free when I’m exploring a new city on foot for the first time.  In Vientiane, I did a lot of walking and I was glad that I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go.

On the first day, I walked to the Patuxai Victory Gate War Monument.  It was built between 1957 and 1968 dedicated to those who fought in the battle for independence from France.  It’s a fairly large size monument located smack dab in the center of Vientiane.

The monument is surrounded by a very well manicured garden with an impressive water fountain in the courtyard.  Visitors are able to climb up to the top tiers for spectacular 360-degree views of the city.   Check out my video below that I shot from my Go Pro.

 

LEARNING ABOUT UXO’S AT COPE

Later that day I visited the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) visitor center.   I was chilled to the bones by the factual information I learned about the ongoing problem with UXO, which stands for unexploded ordinance, within Laos.

Between 1964 and 1973 the US army dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on the country of Laos, making it the most bombed country in the world.  The nightmare continues today because over 80 million of the bombs didn’t explode and continue to kill and injure people on a daily basis.

COPE is a non-profit organization offering help and support to sufferers of UXO explosions.   I was brought to tears reading the stories about the people of Laos who live with this very dangerous reality.  I was extremely humbled by this exhibit and stayed for a few hours choking over the severity and the damage this country has endured.

I donated my daily budget to the center because I was so moved by their cause.  Thank You COPE for what you are doing!  If you’re interested in donating or learning more about this great cause then please visit their website.

Old war bombs hanging from the ceiling at COPE
Many prosthetic legs found at COPE center in Vientiane, Laos

NIGHT MARKET IN VIENTIANE LAOS

After COPE I decided to wander through one of the many markets of Vientiane.  I needed to clear my head and a market is a perfect place for that.   I love that you can find almost anything at an Asian market.  This makes them very visually stimulating, which is exactly what I needed to get my mind off UXO’s.

I was in need of a few things for my upcoming zip lining adventure that I had been preparing for.  I was looking for a pair of athletic pants, a baggy tank top, socks, and a sports bra.

READ MORE: Check out my zip lining adventure with Green Discovery Laos.

Shopping for clothing in Asia sucks.  Their sizes are very small and you obviously can’t strip down in the middle of a market to try on a pair of pants.  I had already made the mistake of buying things that didn’t fit and had to leave them behind.   I really didn’t want to waste money, but I had to get something.

I ended up shopping for a few days at a couple of different markets and found a pair of XXL leggings that were see-through when I bent over.  I bought a men’s large tank top which I thought would cover my butt when wearing said see-through pants.   However, it did not because my hips are so big.   I got 3 pairs of men’s socks because I needed long socks to cover my ankles to avoid getting leeches.  Lastly, I got an XXL sports bra that has tiny pads that don’t even cover one boob.  It was actually quite comical.

EXPLORING BUDDHA PARK

I met a girl named Julia, who was from the Netherlands at my hostel.  We hit it off immediately and decided to take the bus to an attraction called Buddha Park.

Buddha Park is about 40 minutes outside of Vientiane, Laos located in a meadow by the Mekong river and although it is referred to as a Wat it’s not actually a temple, it’s a sculpture park.  Within the grounds, there are over 200 Hindu and Buddhist sculptures that depict many religious stories.

I found this tourist attraction extremely fascinating, unique and beautiful.   My favorite part was a demons head you walk through in order to climb inside a three-level pumpkin that is meant to represent hell, earth, and heaven.  The top-level spits you out on top of the pumpkin with fantastic views of the park.  Check out my Go Pro footage of Buddha Park.

 

Buddha Park was fantastic and I got lost for an hour or so taking photos and climbing around.  I had split up with Julia when we first arrived and went to look for her after I had sufficed my need for tourist photo opts.

I found her in a small restaurant with a local who worked there.  She didn’t look good at all.  I asked if everything was ok.  Apparently, while I was out exploring she had gotten sick, thrown up and then passed out.  Everyone was really concerned about her and they had her go lay down in a hut, then they called an ambulance.  

I had no idea what was going on, however, I was quite excited for the opportunity to take a little adventure in the healthcare land of Laos.

Large Buddha head stone sculpture with it's mouth wide open
Strange sculpure of a buddha with many hands on top of a dog next to a man with no legs

RIDING IN AN AMBULANCE IN VIENTIANE LAOS

The ambulance that came to get Julia was for sure from the 1980s, as well as all its “supplies”.  Everything was extremely old and outdated.  There was nothing safe about this vehicle or the way it was driven.

We were flying down the street with the most annoying sirens, swerving around people, and going airborne after flying over potholes.  No one was secured in their seats because there were no seat belts.  Not even Julia was strapped down on the stretcher that was rusted, rickety and ancient.

There were 5 EMT’s in the van with us, all of which looked under the age of 20 and only one of them spoke a small amount of English.  It’s a really good thing that this wasn’t a “real” emergency, otherwise, we would have been screwed.

I knew Julia was going to be fine so I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.  I was truly intrigued with this insiders experience and kept thinking about how good we’ve got it back in the States.

The first place we drove to did nothing for poor Julia.  They unloaded her from the ambulance then laid her on a bed.  All of the attendants spoke in Laotian and it seemed as if they were cracking jokes and laughing at the situation.   Which in turn made me want to laugh because we obviously had no idea what was going on.

They put Julia on speaker phone with a woman who spoke English.   She asked Julia some questions and then translated to the EMTs.  After the phone call, one of the EMT’s handed me a bill and asked me to pay.   I then started laughing for real.  I told them I’m sorry but I’m not paying anything, this is a friend I met yesterday and this has nothing to do with me.  Then they load her back into the van and off we go again.

Girl in the back on an ambulance with EMT's

HOSPITAL VISITS IN VIENTIANE CITY

The “hospital” was a decaying dilapidated old building that had not been well kept.  When we arrived, a nurse came out, rolling her eyes and asked Julia a few questions before having the EMT’s bring her inside.  I’ve never seen healthcare workers look like helping someone is the last thing in the entire world that they want to do.

No one acted concerned and it felt as if they were all making jokes about us.  The nurse pricked her finger as diabetics do.  Then a few minutes later, a woman speaking English came over and said her blood was fine and basically said we should just go back to the hostel.

They gave Julia a bill for the “blood test”, which wasn’t really a blood test seeing as they didn’t draw any blood.   Julia needed to call her mom and insurance, however, they didn’t have a phone or WiFi at the hospital making that impossible.   She ended paying out of pocket, luckily, she had enough money.

We all loaded into the back of the ambulance for the third time and the EMT’s drove us back to our hostel.  I thought this was awesome because we basically got a free ride home.

REFLECTIONS FROM THE CAPITAL OF LAOS

Our short-lived hospital visit and freeride were my highlights of that day.  A few things I learned from that little adventure were:

1) I hope to God that I never have a real “emergency” in Asia.

2) I need to learn to speak some other languages.

3) It’s shocking the lack of supplies and education the healthcare has in Laos.

4) Things are very old and outdated when it comes to healthcare.

5) Contacting someone if you are in the hospital is impossible.

Vientiane was an excellent choice for me, I love all the cafes, French-influenced cuisine, markets and the fact that I could walk from one side of town to the next.  I had a great little hostel that had capsule beds for privacy and also served a decent breakfast.

Lastly, Wifi was decent enough in places to get some work done.  I don’t know what people were talking about when they said they didn’t enjoy this quaint little city and I’m glad I didn’t skip it!

READ MORE: Headed North to Luang Prabang?   Check out my article Laosome Luang Prabang

With Love,

Julie

Very detailed stone sculpture with many different Buddha's on it
Large Buddha structure with a round face inside it's mouth at Buddha Park

SHARING IS CARING

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