What can you do for a weekend in Vientiane?
Vientiane is an extraordinary place. A city with a village feel, where religion and folklore guide the rhythms of life and family and happiness are priorities. With a weekend here, you can give yourself a taster of life in this magical place, unlike any other capital city.
Get off to a memorable start on Friday evening with a tasting menu feast at 3 Merchants Restaurant. This is a wonderful introduction to fusion food, blending the finest foods from the west, with the tastes for which Indochina and beyond is known. All at one of the top restaurants in the country.
On Saturday, have a leisurely start to the day with the buffet breakfast at Mosaic – which is known to have the best breakfast in town. Laos has a well-deserved reputation for its fabulous coffee, grown largely on the Bolaven Plateau in the South. Be sure to check out the Sinouk Coffee Pavilion where you can take a tour to learn about the coffee from seedling to cup. This tour takes you through each stage of the process and includes a tasting session so that you can begin to understand the different blends and roasts. Maybe even leave with a bag of unroasted beans to try out the process at home.
Cross the road and check out the City Wall Visitor Centre where you can learn about the original city wall that was built when Vientiane was founded in the 13th Century. Only ruins remain now, of course. After this, head over to Buddha Park, an extraordinary blend of Buddhism and Hinduism built after the founder had a chance encounter with a hermit whom he met when he fell down a well. Explore the surprising statues there, and have lunch and a coconut alongside the Mekong. On the way back, be sure to call in at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre and take a workshop to learn how to make some of the paper jewellery or coasters that they sell, knowing that you are supporting the women they train. You might want a swim in the Water Park nearby on the way back to the city centre.
Once back, wander along the river to the night market, and grab some street food to eat as the sun sets over the Mekong, kids learn to ride their bikes and couples stroll together giggling over a private joke.
On Sunday morning get up early to give alms. The monks do their alms rounds every morning at around 6am and any food you give will be eaten at the temple, first by the monks then by anyone who has come to join them. You could head over to the temple for this experience, but you might also decide to visit Kung’s Café where the mango sticky rice pancakes, washed down with a cup of Lao coffee will set you up wonderfully for the day ahead. Walk up the road to Si Muang Temple to check out the Khmer ruins of the original temple and the huge bronze Buddha. Look out for statues of Mrs Si while you are there. This temple was built when the capital was moved to Vientiane from Luang Prabang and the people believed that only a human sacrifice would bring them good luck after so much bad. The story has it that Mrs Si was pregnant when she jumped, or maybe she was pushed, into the hole dug for the foundation column of the temple which was then lowered into place.
Wat Si Muang
Rejuvenate with a coffee shake at The Little House, which also has a selection of indigo dyed fabrics. You are really near two lovely art spaces here, Eastern Gallery and iCat Gallery so now would be a great opportunity to replenish your spirit with some art, before strolling around the corner to visit COPE which is a short walk away. Here you can learn more about the secret war in Laos which has the unenviable distinction of being the most bombed country, per capita, in the world. Find out more about the ongoing impact of so many bombs being dropped on Laos and what COPE is doing to help those impacted by the aftermath. You’ll be hungry after such a busy morning, so head over to PVO for a paté Khaojee sandwich and a passion fruit shake.
One of the joys of South East Asia is the wonderful choice of massages available. Treat yourself to some pampering with the Tranquil Journey treatment at the award winning Senses Spa, and then take a swim in the pool, and a cocktail at The Link as you watch the sun set over the city. Once you are refreshed, take a taxi to Doi Ka Noi for a really Lao dinner, made from whatever ingredients Noi has foraged that day.
A perfect Lao end to a perfect weekend!