We headed out of Xieng Khuang Airport (Phonsavan) via Lao Air headed for Vientiane. A few minutes after takeoff, we were amazed at the scenery below us. Almost immediately, we could see no signs of human civilization. Really all we could see was miles and miles of empty natural countryside full of moutains and jungle but without a farm, town or village in sight. We kept that view right up until a few minutes before landing in Vientiane.
We were met at the Vientiane airport by a local Northern Lao Travel Service guide and transferred to the Hotel Beau Rivage overlooking the Mekong River. As we looked the short distance across the river, it was easy to make out objects on the Thailand side of the river. The hotel is only a few blocks down the shoreline to the center of the tourist activities. There were cheaper massages available in that (central) area of town but just a half block away from the hotel in the other direction is the very professional Papaya Spa, which we frequented on an almost daily basis.
Between the hotel and the center, there were several no-name restaurant/beer gardens where we enjoyed a couple meals during our stay.
The hotel itself is very small and a bit eclectic in its furnishings but all-in-all we enjoyed out stay.
The first temple we visited in Vientiane was on the grounds of the Hor Pra Keo Museum. The initial temple at this location was built in the 16th century by King Sayasetthathirath as a part of his Royal Palace complex and was the home the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok) for over 2 centuries. During the capture of the city and the statue in 1779, the temple was destroyed but reconstructed in the 19th century only to be destroyed again in a subsequent revolt against the Kingdom of Siam. The current incarnation of this temple was constructed by the French in the first half of the 20th century.
The building was converted from an active temple to a museum and now is in a lovely garden setting and home to a great collection of Buddhist icons including a group of bronzes that line the outside corridor.
While we were in the same general area of the city we next stopped at the Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple and monastery in Vientiane. It was built in the early 1820’s but avoided destruction by the Siamese in 1828 bucasuse it was built in a style similar to Thai Buddhist Temples.
This temple features a large courtyard with low flat buildings on the perimeter. It houses thousands of images of Buddha some displayed side-by-side filling the length of a corridor but also including 2 great piles of ancient statues with some damages.
We had a charming encounter with an older monk that we saw reading a description display out in front of the temple. We were somewhat surprised when he started a conversation with us in English and even more surprised when we realized he had a copy of the New York Times in the fold of his arm.
That evening we had the first of 2 absolutely terrific meals at Makphet Restaurant, which is located not too far from our hotel. So that we wouldn’t get lost finding it, we hired a tuk-tuk for the drive there but enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the hotel after dinner.
See our Vientiane Restaurant page for details on our dinner at Makphet as well as a great beer and chicken place we enjoyed as well.
Click here for a video of our visit to Vientiane that includes what is described on this page as well as additional excursions.