The city of Vientiane became the capital of Laos in 1563, and since then, this bustling city center has been recognized as the country’s cultural, artistic and religious hub, making it an ideal place to explore the nation’s history.
Iconic temples such as Wat Si Saket and Wat Si Muang offer a unique look at Buddhist religion and tradition. Travelers can wander the well-kept grounds and explore the gilded halls that hold carved statues of Buddha and altars made for offerings. Haw Phra Kaew, built in the mid-1500s, once held the famous Emerald Buddha, but today serves a museum filled with Hindu and Khmer artwork.
Though more contemporary in its design, Patuxai, also known as Victory Monument, stretches high into the city’s skyline and pays homage to those killed in the fights for independence against France, Siam and Japan.
Perhaps the most important historical monument in all of Laos, Pha That Luang—a 24-carat, 45-meter high golden stupa, was built in the third century and is said to hold a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Local guides willing to share the local legend with travelers are easy to find and worth a listen, even if the golden stupa is most impressive from afar.