Laos Trip / Day 1 : Vientiane Expedition

After spending half a day traveling from Bangkok to Udon Thani by plane and then taking a bus to Vientiane (You can see the review here), we walked from the Morning Market to check-in at our hotel. We chose to stay at Green Box Hotel because it was conveniently located near the community area and places to explore (almost in the heart of Vientiane) and the price was reasonable. They offered both hostel-style accommodation and private rooms (around 25 USD per night for a private room). Additionally, the hotel had a travel service that could book bus tickets to destinations such as Vang Vieng (and other cities as well). We checked in around noon and freshened up before heading out to find something to eat. Since we had only had a sandwich and coffee in the morning, we were eager to satisfy our hunger.

But, before we set off, we had the hotel arrange a bus ticket to Vang Vieng for us. They informed us that the bus would depart around 8AM. There were two options available: an air-conditioned bus (priced at 50,000 kip or 6 USD/pax, with a travel time of 4 hours) and an air-conditioned minivan (priced at 60,000 kip or 7.50 USD/pax, with a travel time of 3.5 hours). We decided to purchase the bus ticket because, based on the information we had gathered, it seemed that often the minivans might cancel as it were not worth since they sometimes had fewer passengers.

And so, we began our mission to explore the culinary delights of Vientiane (because if you’re hungry, you won’t have the mood for sightseeing, right?). At first, we wandered around looking for food and only came across Western-style eateries like burger and sandwich shops. They didn’t seem particularly interesting, and the prices were quite high compared to the quality of the food. For example, a tuna sandwich combo set cost around 40,000 kip or approximately 5 USD. So, we continued walking and stumbled upon the Morning Market Mall. Downstairs, there was a air-conditioned à la carte restaurant. We decided to give it a try, thinking it must be delicious. The menu mostly featured single dish meals, with descriptions in both Lao and English. Lao is not too difficult to read (for us, it is similar to Thai language), so we could make out the dishes. The food was almost like Thai cuisine, such as fried rice, basil rice, and shrimp paste rice, priced at around 20,000 kip per dish (about 3 USD). The portions were large, and the flavors were similar to Thai food. It was delicious. In conclusion, our first meal in Laos left us fully satisfied at this restaurant.


Morning Market Mall


Our first meal in Laos


After satisfying our hunger, around 2 PM, we headed to our first destination, which was “That Luang” (Lao : ທາດຫລວງ), located about 4 kilometers away from the Morning Market Mall. The most convenient mode of transportation within Vientiane, if the distance is short, is walking. However, for longer distances, we had to rely on “tuk-tuks” (or here, they call them “sakay leps”). Negotiating the fare required some bargaining skills. When we walked out of the Morning Market Mall, we stumbled upon a tuk-tuk queue and decided to ask how much it would cost to go to That Luang. They quoted us 60,000 kip (approximately 7.50 USD), single trip, which seemed exorbitant for a mere 4-kilometer journey. So, we decided to escape the tuk-tuk and gestured for them to come down to 80,000 kip (approximately 10 USD) for taking us to That Luang and waiting for 30 minutes to bring us Victory Gate (Lao: ປະຕູໄຊ), making it a total of 80,000 kip (approximately 10 USD). They agreed. We considered it a fair deal for two people to visit two places at this price. As for whether the fare was cheap or expensive, we weren’t sure, but it seemed reasonable enough for us to afford. 😀 

We hopped on a tuk-tuk from the Morning Market Mall, and in about 15 minutes, we arrived at That Luang. It is a significant religious site in the capital city of Vientiane and a symbol of unity for the Laotian people across the country. It is considered a national treasure, as the current national emblem of Laos features the image of That Luang. Legend has it that That Luang has a history of construction dating back thousands of years, similar to Thailand’s Phra That Phanom. It was built simultaneously with the establishment of the city of Vientiane. After the construction of Phra That Phanom, the creator, Chanthaburi Luang or Phra Chao Chan Tha Buri Prasatthik, the first ruler of Vientiane, along with the five Buddhas, enshrined the principal relics (external bone) of Lord Buddha according to the tradition. They were invited from the Kingdom of Ratchakhru, India, and housed in a stone stupa. The stupa had a width of 10 meters, a wall thickness of 4 meters, and a height of 9.5 meters. Once the relics of the Lord Buddha were enshrined, Prince Chanthaburi commissioned the construction of a royal temple in Chanthaburi or Vientiane, consisting of five structures, to provide a dwelling place for the five Buddhas. According to the legend, the construction period was during the year 238 of the Buddhist era. The principal stupa measures 45 meters in height and resembles a blooming lotus flower. It has smaller stupas on the second tier, one on each side, totaling 30, called “Sammutiñāṇa Sābarī” in Lao. The builder cast the small stupas in gold, each weighing 4 baht, and hammered gold into plates, shaped like lotus leaves, called “Laan Kam” (golden leaves), totaling 30 pieces. Each piece is as long as a forearm (measured from the elbow to the tip of the fingers). The surrounding area of That Luang is a temple complex and houses resident monks. There is a Tripitaka Hall and an ubosot (ordination hall) that are open for visitors. That Luang is open for free visits every day (except Mondays) from 8AM to 4PM.

The tuk-tuk brought us to a stop inside the vicinity of That Luang, and the driver informed us that it usually takes about 30 minutes to walk around the whole area. However, he assured us that we didn’t have to stay for that long if we didn’t want to. He said he would wait around here in case we finished exploring and wanted a ride back. Well, we weren’t going to keep him waiting. We immediately started exploring the surroundings. The first place we headed to was the “Tripitaka Hall” since it was the first building we noticed upon entering.


Tripitaka Hall




Panoramic View of Tripitaka Hall and That Luang



Inside the Tripitaka Hall, there were enshrined Buddha statues, and two wooden cabinets for storing Tripitaka scriptures. One cabinet was in the Lao language, while the other was in Thai, symbolizing the close relationship between Thailand and Laos. The atmosphere inside the Tripitaka Hall was serene. When we visited, there was only one foreign tourist and a group of about 3-4 Thai people. Overall, it had a similar ambiance to the provincial temples in Thailand. Perhaps it was because the architectural style and temple decoration in Thailand and Laos were quite similar, making it feel like we were in a Thai temple.

After visiting the Tripitaka Hall, we continued walking towards the Grand Stupa, which was our main destination for the visit. As we approached the stupa, we noticed that chairs and worship items were being set up, as if an important ceremony was about to take place. The decoration was splendid, as if someone of national importance was expected to visit. At that moment, we felt lucky to witness the preparations for a national-level event. However, when we returned to the hotel in the evening and turned on the television, it turned out that the event was not actually organized! They were just collecting the items because the preparations had been done since the morning. We were perplexed, wondering how we could mistake their preparations for an event… Quite disappointing -_-“

Within the vicinity of the Grand Stupa, it was stunningly beautiful, befitting its status as a national treasure. The grandeur of the stupa could be seen from afar, surrounded by a protective wall and a roofed pathway encircling the sacred structure. It reminded me of the walls surrounding the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, adorned with mural paintings that invite exploration. The more I observed, the more it emphasized my belief that the cultural heritage of temple construction in Thailand and Laos has undoubtedly influenced and shaped each other (speaking as someone with limited knowledge of history). As for the nearby structures near the Grand Stupa, they served as monastic residences and the sacred grounds, where the Buddhist monks seek refuge.













We spent about half an hour exploring the Grand Stupa, perhaps slightly exceeding our planned time, but our Tuk-Tuk’s driver didn’t seem bothered at all. It was as if he knew that no matter how much we wandered, time wouldn’t slip away quickly because the place was the only thing that mattered. However, everyone’s faces turned red due to the scorching heat. The weather in April, just before Songkran festival, was truly merciless. So, without further delay, we decided to head to the Victory Gate (Patuxai) in Lao language, pronounced as “Patoo Sai.” Lao language doesn’t have the “Ch” sound like in Thai, so words that are pronounced with “Ch” in Thai come out as “S” in Lao (for example, “Chang” is pronounced as “Sang”). Once we were ready, Tuk-Tuk started and raced through the city and government buildings, reaching the landmark of Vientiane, the Patuxai, in approximately 15 minutes. Anyone visiting Vientiane must pay a visit to this iconic gateway.

Patuxai (Victory Gate) is a monumental landmark which is located at the eastern end of Lan Xang Avenue, in the heart of Vientiane. It was designed by Tham Sayasthsena, a Laotian architect, and constructed between 1957 and 1968. The purpose of this monument was to honor and commemorate the brave soldiers who fought for the country’s independence from French rule. Interestingly, the construction material used for Patuxai was cement imported from the United States, originally intended for building a new airport in Vientiane. However, the Laotian government decided to repurpose it for the construction of Patuxai instead. The monument is adorned with intricate elephant-themed artwork, depicting mythical creatures from Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, such as the Kinari and Naga. Surrounding the area, there are spacious courtyards for water fountain displays and beautiful gardens, enhancing the grandeur of Patuxai.









We spent about an hour walking, taking pictures, and resting near Patuxai. The reason we decided to take a break was because the weather was scorching hot, reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius. It felt like we were almost melting in the heat. Thankfully, there was a nearby vendor selling refreshing drinks, which was a lifesaver for us. After exploring and capturing the surroundings of Patuxai, we decided to make our way back to our hotel. It was approximately a kilometer away, and it took us about 15 minutes to walk. Along the way, we passed by a school where students were just finishing their classes. The atmosphere there was reminiscent of the feeling when we used to finish school and head back home. The children were buying snacks from the stalls or food carts, waiting for their buses, or simply playing around the school grounds. It brought back memories of our own school days. 🙂

Once we returned to our hotel, we took a moment to freshen up and wash our faces. However, our adventure for the day was far from over because there was still an evening activity awaiting us in Vientiane. That activity was none other than strolling through the bustling night market along the Mekong River. Luckily, our hotel was conveniently located near the market, so we didn’t have to travel far. Excitedly, we made plans to have our dinner at one of the food stalls along the Mekong River.

Around six o’clock in the evening, with the sun casting gentle shadows and a calm breeze in the air, we set off from our hotel to the night market along the Mekong River. It took us about 10 minutes to walk there. The riverside area was considered the largest and most relaxing recreational spot in Vientiane. It served as a public park for exercising, a bustling marketplace, and a hub for dining and drinking among tourists. I must say, the view and the atmosphere here were absolutely delightful. Being situated by the Mekong River and gazing across to the Thai side, the scenery and the air were truly exceptional.




The monument of King Anouvong, the 5th and last monarch of the Kingdom of Lan Xang Vientiane, is highly revered by the people of Laos. He is recognized as a king who strived to reclaim the independence of Laos from being a vassal state of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand).


At the market on the Mekong riverside, there is a wide variety of goods for sale, including clothing, jewelry, shoes, bags, souvenirs, local snacks, and more.


We strolled along the Mekong riverside, leisurely exploring the public gardens and bustling market with its countless shops. As the sun began to set, our hunger grew, and it was time for dinner. We crossed the street to the opposite side of the market, where there were both food stalls and restaurants. We ventured down a side alley and found ourselves spoiled for choice with a variety of Laotian eateries, including bars serving international cuisine. However, since we were in Laos, we knew we had to try authentic Laotian food. We stumbled upon a local eatery called “Pho Lao” that offered both som tam (papaya salad) and Lao noodle soup. We decided to skip the som tam this time because we had a long journey ahead and wanted to ensure a happy stomach. So, we ordered a steaming plate of Pho Lao’s signature pork dish. It was absolutely delicious, complemented perfectly with shrimp paste, shrimp sauce, and spicy chili sauce. It’s safe to say that when in Laos, one must indulge in these traditional local delicacies.


Pho Lao’s pork dish paired with spicy chili sauce and shrimp paste was absolutely delicious. This bowl cost 20,000 kip (2.80 USD)


After indulging in a delightful Lao-style dinner, it seemed like my brain started to register that it was time for relaxation. I could feel a sense of weariness creeping in, perhaps because we woke up before dawn to catch the flight to Dong Mueang and then took a bus to Vientiane. Moreover, in the afternoon, we expended energy exploring Vientiane amidst the scorching heat, causing our body to feel fatigued instantly. It was time to return to the hotel for a refreshing shower and some rest because tomorrow we had to wake up early again for our journey to the Vang Vieng. Overall, today’s time was well spent, as we covered a lot, starting from leaving Bangkok in the morning, arriving in Vientiane in the afternoon, and strolling along the Mekong River in the evening. We had a truly satisfying sleep tonight, exhausted from the entire day’s activities. Tomorrow, we’ll continue our adventure. See you tomorrow… Vang Vieng! 😀




4 thoughts on “Laos Trip / Day 1 : Vientiane Expedition

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