Discover the History of Vientiane
Explore the Historical Sites of Vientiane
Content: The Vientiane Crowne Plaza hotel is the number one business hotel in the city. It offers multiple spacious venues, world-class bars and restaurants, luxury suites and guest rooms, and a team of dedicated event professionals to help you organize the perfect meeting, conference or seminar. But, if you've never before visited the capital city of Laos, you should take some time to explore Vientiane while you're here. The people of Laos have overcome their troubled but ultimately peaceful history of both occupation and independence to chart their own course.
Explore the Past of Vientiane
The history of the city has had a profound impact on both its architecture and monuments. It has also instilled a sense of pride in the independence of the nation. When you tour the sites of the city, you’ll also get a sense of just how important the Buddhist faith has been in giving these people the strength and resolve to persevere in the face of their historical hardships. While the monuments of Vientiane are almost all Buddhist, the city's most striking architecture is composed primarily of beautiful and ornate French-colonial structures that the residents of the city have preserved and converted for modern use. The French influence can be seen everywhere you look, and the French occupation has left its mark on the country’s architecture, cuisine and culture.
History of the French Occupation in Laos
The French Protectorate of Laos was established in 1893. The French had explored Laos and saw it as a valuable source of building materials and labor for their more extensive holdings in Vietnam. They were responsible for establishing the capital of the country in Vientiane. Vientiane had been the former capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom but was destroyed in a Siamese invasion. The French recognized the importance of rebuilding the city as a way of earning the trust and obedience of the Lao people. During World War II, the Japanese succeeded in invading Laos and imprisoned all French nationals they found living in the country. With the French losing their grip on the country, Laos proclaimed its independence in 1945. The end of the war and the surrender of Japan caused Laos to be split into pro-French factions and “Lao Issara” or “Free Lao” factions. The factions continued to fight over control of the country until August 1946, when France installed a constitutional monarchy in Laos with King Sisavangvong of the Kingdom of Luang Prabang leading the government. In 1953, France and the Royal Lao Government signed the Franco-Lao Treaty of Amity and Association. This treaty transferred the remaining French political powers to Laos. By 1954, with their losses in Vietnam during the First Indochinese War influencing their decision, the French abandoned all their colonies and withdrew from the region.
Historical Sights in Vientiane
We’ll start off our short tour of the historical sights of Vientiane with a visit to the Patuxay Monument in the center of the city.
Patuxay is a monument representing the struggle of Laos for independence from France. “Patuxay” literally means Victory Gate. It was completed in 1968 and serves as recognition of the citizens who fought in the war of independence with France. This is an impressive monument that somewhat ironically resembles the Arc de Triomphe of Paris, set in a beautiful tropical garden with a lake. You can climb to the top of the monument and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding city. It’s also lit impressively at night and makes for a great photo opportunity.
Ho Phra Keo
Ho Phra Keo is a temple that was built in the 1560s and is the former home of the Emerald Buddha that now occupies Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. The Buddha was removed and taken to Thailand in 1779 when Siamese warriors invaded and ransacked Vientiane. Ho Phra Keo has since been converted into a museum that houses Buddhist relics. It is one of the oldest structures in the city with a visually ornate exterior that reflects traditional Lao architecture.
Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang is one of the holiest temples in the country, a national symbol of Laos, and a place that Lao Buddhists try to make a point of visiting at least once in their life. It’s believed to have been initially built in the third century AD, but because of numerous invasions and wars through the centuries, it’s been reconstructed many times. The temple consists of several buildings, but the most stunning aspect is the gold-covered stupa that rises 44 meters in the center of the city. Only the top portion is covered in gold leaf, with the rest being painted with gold-colored paint. The Stupa is believed to hold a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone, which adds to the reverence the people of Laos show for this impressive temple.
Of course, Vientiane, and Laos as a whole, have a rich and interesting history outside of the years of French occupation. Buddha Park is one of the peculiar and delightful historical highlights of Vientiane. All the fantastical statues and structures in the park were built by a single priest-shaman named Bunleua Sulilat, beginning in 1958. The park is filled with cast-concrete statues of humans, animals, fanciful demons, Hindu Gods, and Buddha statues. The park stands as a monument to one man's creativity and vision. The horrors of the Vietnam War also took a toll on Laos. The COPE Center in Vientiane is also worth a visit to see the humanitarian work providing prosthetics to the landmine victims of the country that this war caused. As you can see, there are plenty of fascinating attractions that give visitors a glimpse into the history of the city and the country. It’s well worth putting some time aside on your business trip to Vientiane to explore the history and culture of Laos.