A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Vientiane - City of Sandalwood and the Moon.

sunny

In March 2001 we went to Vientiane for the day from Nong Khai in Thailand. We only spent a few hours here so just got a taste of the city.

Vientiane is the largest city in Laos. It is situated on the banks of the Mekong River and is not far from the border with Thailand. Vientiane became the Laotian capital in 1573.

The banks of the Mekong River.

The banks of the Mekong River.

Workers in the fields.

Workers in the fields.

We started our day trip to Vientiane by visiting the Wat Si Muang. This temple was built in 1563, during the reign of King Setthathirat. The temple is called after a young woman, Si Muang, who supposedly threw herself into a hole in the ground where the building’s central pillar was about to be placed in order to appease angry spirits. In front of this temple there is a monument to King Sisavang Vong.

We also visited Wat Haw Pha Kaew, which is now a museum. This was once home to the famous Emerald Buddha, which was enshrined here for over 200 years until in 1779 it was taken to Bangkok. Haw Phra Kaew was built in 1565 by King Setthathirath, who moved the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom to Vientiane.

Near to the Wat Haw Pha Made stands the Wat Si Saket. This is the only temple in Laos that survived the Siamese occupation of 1828. It houses more than ten thousand Buddha images.

King Setthathirat.

King Setthathirat.

King Setthathirat.

King Setthathirat.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat

Wat

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat.

Wat Si Saket.

Wat Si Saket.

Wat Si Saket.

Wat Si Saket.

The most famous temple in Vientiane is Pha That Luang which means the Great Stupa. The golden stupa here is believed to enshrine a breast bone of the Buddha which was brought here by Indian monks during the reign of King Ashoka. This temple features on the Laos coat of arms.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

The Pha That Luang.

The Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang.

We also visited Patuxai or the Victory Monument. This is an arch that looks a bit like the Arc d'Triomphe. Patuxai Monument is located at one end of Lane Xang Avenue; the Presidential Palace is at the other end. The Patuxai Monument was built in the 1960’s in memory of those killed in wars. It is possible to go up to the top of the monument for views over Vientiane. We did this.

Patuxai Monument.

Patuxai Monument.

Patuxai Monument.

Patuxai Monument.

View from the top of the Patuxai Monument.

View from the top of the Patuxai Monument.

.

One of the most enjoyable places we visited was the morning market. I especially liked the fruit and vegetable stalls. The women manning the stalls were extremely lively. Some were singing and dancing, not sure if that's normal or if a celebration was going on.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

At the market.

Another thing we enjoyed, but didn't get that much chance to do as we were on a tour, was just wandering the streets, looking at the people, the shops, the transport, the buildings.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

Local Transport.

School girls buying bread.

School girls buying bread.

Local sellers.

Local sellers.

Local Sellers.

Local Sellers.

Street Scene.

Street Scene.

Street Scene.

Street Scene.

Street Scene.

Street Scene.

We had lunch in a local restaurant. I've forgotten it's name. I think it was part of a hotel. We also had to sample the local beer, of course, and very nice it was, too.

Out for lunch.

Out for lunch.

Posted by irenevt 03:11 Archived in Laos Comments (7)

Luang Prabang

Laos

sunny

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Monks leaving a wat.

This was our second trip to Laos. Previously we have crossed into Vientienne from Nong Khai in Thailand but just for a day trip. This time we flew into Luang Prabang from Bangkok. Recently we have travelled every single time we have a holiday and I must admit we were both really, really tired this holiday. Luang Prabang turned out to be perfect for the way we were feeling as it is a sleepy, relaxed and lovely town. We spent our time wandering the town, eating and drinking by the rivers and swimming.

We were in Luang Prabang at Chinese New Year. This is quite a busy time in Luang Prabang with many hotels and guest houses full. We stayed in two locations. First in a lovely hotel on the far side of the Nam Khan River called My Dream Boutique. This was a friendly hotel with beautiful, flower filled gardens and a very nice pool. Then we moved to the Chitchareune Moungluang Hotel which was a lovely old building, very handy for the sights and also had a lovely pool.

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The pool in our first hotel.

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Inside our second hotel.

Luang Prabang has wonderful old colonial architecture ­ beautiful old wooden houses with colourful shutters; two rivers: the Mekong and Nam Khan both lined with cafes and restaurants; lots of wonderfully ornate wats; a huge night market and a colourful morning market. Strolling along the rivers or down the main street was fantastic and wandering the side streets revealed many wonderful surprises. It is also possible to take a boat trip down the Mekong. There are certainly some really beautiful buildings in Luang Prabang. I liked the old wooden buildings with their colourful shutters. Many old buildings had been made into hotels, restaurants or guest houses.

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Architecture.

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Architecture.

The highest point in Luang Prabang is called Mount Phousi. People come here to watch the sunset. We climbed up Mount Phousi from the Nam Khan River side and came down near the royal palace. It costs 20,000 kip. On the way up we passed lots of shrines, Buddha statues in different positions and a large Buddha footprint. There was even a machine gun up near the top of the hill. The views from the top were lovely and made the climb well worth it. We went up during the day preferring to see the sunset from the river rather than from here.

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Mount Phousi .

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Mount Phousi .

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Mount Phousi .

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Mount Phousi .

Luang Prabang is home to many beautiful wats or temples. I will list some of the ones we visited here.

Wat Xiengthong means wat of the golden city. It is located near the end of the peninsula where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meet. Entry cost 20,000 kip. We entered on the Mekong side where the wat was protected by some fierce looking cat statues. For me the best thing about this wat was its beautiful wall decorations including the tree of life on the back wall of its main building ( I won't include a photo as it was being repaired and had scaffolding over it during our visit) and lots of other beautifully depicted everyday scenes. The wat dates from around 1560.

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Wat Xiengthong.

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Wat Xiengthong.

Wat Mai is located on Sisavongvang Road quite close to the royal palace (now the national museum). This wat dates from the early 19th century. Entry is 10,000 kip. The best thing about the wat is the gold panels depicting the life of Buddha on its facade. It also had beautiful ceilings and a pretty garden with statues and (right up the back) the temple boat.

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The Royal Palace.

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Wat Mai.

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Wat Mai.

Wat That Noi And Wat Hor Xieng are right next to each other which is why I include them together. They are located near the post office on the other side of the road. Entry to these wats is free. Entry to Wat Hor Xieng is protected by a fierce looking snake and to Wat That Noi by a many headed nga. The wall paintings on Wat Hor Xieng depicted many gruesome, hellish punishment scenes. I saw exactly the same scenes depicted on other wats, too.

That Makmo is a watermelon shaped stupa located on the grounds by Wat Visoun and Wat Aham. This area is worth a wander. At this point in our trip we had no kip and I paid $US3 to go in Wat Visoun. It would have been cheaper to pay in kip at 20,000kip. For me the grounds were more interesting than the inside which housed a large Buddha surrounded by smaller Buddhas in a variety of different positions.

Wat Meun Na is located near the old bridge across the river. I especially liked its three wise monkey statues on the grounds: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Entry to Wat Meun Na is free.

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Wat Meun Na.

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Wat Meun Na.

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Wat Meun Na.

There were lots of beautiful wats one after another on Sakkarine Road. All were free entry and all are worth a visit. Sakkarine Road is a continuation of the main road as it heads towards the end of the peninsula.

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Wats on Sakkarine Road.

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Wats on Sakkarine Road.

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Sunset over a wat.

With so many wats monks are of course everywhere in Luang Prabang. I particularly enjoyed listening to the evening chanting sessions in the wats as sunset approached. I did not go inside or bother them, I just listened from a distance. I really enjoyed watching monks tend their garden near where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meet. Monks must get fed up with tourists like me taking so many photos of them as they try to go about their everyday business, but they do look very colourful and exotic so it is hard to resist. OK, I know I am just being weird here, but I was also quite fascinated by monks' washing lines. Just the fact that absolutely everything, and I do mean everything, was orange. Guess I'm just easily amused. The only thing about monks I did not really like was the morning alms giving ceremony. I know it is famous and it is why people come here, but when we went there were more tourists than monks. It was a bit of a tourist trap.

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Working the land.

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Farming Monks.

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Farming Monks.

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Monks.

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Monks.

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Monks.

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Monks' Washing.

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Monks' Washing.

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Morning alms giving ceremony.

It is fun to stroll across one of luang Prabang's bamboo bridges. I believe this is only possible in the dry season. There are two bamboo bridges across the Nam Khan River. The one near where the Nam Khan and Mekong meet costs 5000kip there and back. We just crossed and viewed the Mekong and Nam Khan but I read you can walk from here to a pottery village. The other bamboo bridge was also interesting. Another great thing about the rivers is the fishermen. I was incredibly fascinated by the many fishermen who waded into the Nam Khan to fish or fished off small boats in the Mekong. How come it's so relaxing to watch other people do all the hard, hard work?

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Stroll across a bamboo bridge.

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Stroll across a bamboo bridge.

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Stroll across a bamboo bridge.

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Fishing.

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Fishing.

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River Views.

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River Views.

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River Views.

Luang Prabang had great food and drinks. There are wonderful restaurants along the rivers. A relaxing drink by the river is wonderful. Laos makes its own beer. The most famous is beer Lao available in light or dark. We only tried the light and it was very good. It is not available in draft in Luang Prabang only bottles and cans. We also found Nam Khan beer in some restaurants along the Mekong. This was also good but tasted more like a bitter than a lager. Most restaurants also sell delicious coconut milk shakes mixed with a variety of juices such as pineapple, papaya, banana, mango. I even tried mint. For some reason they are dearer if you have them without ice.The best place to view the sunset in my opinion is from a restaurant overlooking the Mekong. There are lots of people offering sunset cruises too. You will encounter them as you stroll along the Mekong. Apparent disinterest gets the price down.

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Sunset over the Mekong.

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Sunset over the Mekong.

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Sunset over the Mekong.

We were really spoilt for choice for restaurants in Luang Prabang there were so many located along the sides of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It was wonderful to sit next to the river at sunset and watch the sun go down while sipping a cold beer Lao or coconut milk fruity shake. Food was tasty and cheap everywhere we went. There were local Lao dishes, Thai dishes, baguette sandwiches, pizzas. Going to the toilet was a little strange as it involved using the toilet in the restaurant owner's house. You just stroll into their front room, walk past family members reclining on the floor, pass the kitchens where they are making your meal and ask to be pointed in the direction of the loo. Every restaurant we visited on the river provided an excellent location and great value.

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Enjoying a coconut drink.

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Coconut Milk Shakes.

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Relaxing on the river.

We also enjoyed eating in the Bel Air Hotel. This hotel is located right next to the far side of the old bridge. We went here for a meal as it was close to our first hotel. It is located on the banks of the Nam Khan River and is a bit more upmarket than many of the other restaurants as it is part of a hotel. We had excellent food. My husband had a baguette sandwich. I had a local stir fry meal. The beer Lao was lovely and cold. The setting was relaxing and peaceful, service was friendly and pleasant. The price was still very cheap.

As you wander around Luang Prabang you will most certainly see some wonderful river views and lots of river activity. The rivers and the wats are what really make Luang Prabang special. The main areas for wandering are the riverbanks and the main street, but also take some time to wander down side streets where you just might find food drying in the sun and people preparing food or making things. Luang Prabang lends itself perfectly to the aimless stroll.

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Explore the side streets.

Luang Prabang is not noted for its nightlife, but it does have a huge night market which takes over a large area of the town every evening. It begins near the post office and stretches down the main street and into some side streets. There are food and drink stalls as well as lots of handicraft stalls. Among other things we saw colourful sarongs, bags, T-­shirts, silver jewellery, some interesting lamps, paintings, bottles of spirits with snakes and other creatures inside.

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Shopping for local handicrafts.

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Shopping for local handicrafts.

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Shopping for local handicrafts.

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Shop fronts.

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Shop fronts.

If you prefer shopping in the daytime then try the morning market. We visited the morning market after watching the alms giving ceremony. It starts early. I don't know how long it lasts. It was wonderfully colourful and great for photos. Most stalls sell fruit and vegetables, but there was also meat and fish. There were also some marigold sellers. Directions: The morning market was located on two streets one led off the main street, the other ran parallel to the main street stretching towards the royal palace.

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The Morning Market.

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The Morning Market.

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The Morning Market.

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The Morning Market.

Other shopping opportunities include Dara. This is an indoor market hall located on Kitsalat Road. It had some lovely sarongs and silver jewellery. I'm not much into shopping, but it was worth having a look here especially at the brightly coloured cloth. We noticed some stalls selling local paintings along the Mekong near the entrance to Wat Xienthong. Such pictures were also on sale in the night market. I did not buy any but they were interesting to have a look at.

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Dara Market.

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Dara Market.

Sadly Laos is one of the most bombed and land mined countries in the world having been blanket bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War. Remains of these sad times can be found all around town. Some War Memorobilia has even been put to practical use.

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War Memorobilia.

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War Memorobilia.

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War Memorobilia.

There is no need to pack the alarm clock for Luang Prabang.In the mornings it is possible to wake up as God intended us to do. Roosters and chickens abounded in Laos. I like to get up early on holiday to maximise daylight sightseeing time so they were fine for me.

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Waking up.

The local currency in Laos is the kip. 10,000 kip is $US1. There was an ATM at the airport and there were lots of ATMs and money exchanges in town especially on the main street. It is better value to pay for sights in kip rather than US. It is easy to change US and Thai currency.Notes should be in good condition, though. We frequently changed small amounts at the money exchange as we needed it. You cannot change it back if you take out too much.

Posted by irenevt 03:39 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

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