Those wanting to discover more about the history and culture of Laos should look no further than The National Museum. The old colonial French building in which the museum is housed has a good range of exhibits, artefacts and photographs ranging from prehistoric times up to the present day. On the ground floor you’ll find a bit of a mixed bag, with dinosaur bones lying alongside pottery shards and Khmer sculptures. Upstairs is dedicated to detailed and educational exhibitions depicting the more recent history of Laos – from the Siamese invasions and the French colonial period to the American military presence during the Vietnam War.
Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is one of Vientiane’s most popular sites of worship. Alongside its interesting Laos-Buddhist architecture, it provides a fascinating story that still holds great significance with the Laotian community today. According to local legend, the temple is named after a young woman, Si Muang, who sacrificed herself at the construction site of the main building over 400 years ago in order to appease angry spirits. Visitors today can enjoy a visit to the temple, soaking up the unique spiritual atmosphere whilst observing the steady flow of Buddhist worshippers who come to pray and make promises to the deities above.
Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise
Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) is a charity based in Vientiane that provides treatment and rehabilitation programmes for Laotian people with physical disabilities – many of which have come as a result from unexploded weapons that are scattered throughout the countryside as a result of the Vietnam War. COPE also has five other rehabilitation centres spread across eight provinces in Laos, allowing victims, many of whom are children living in rural areas, convenient access to this crucial healthcare. Visitors to the Vientiane centre can learn more about this fantastic charity and its background through various exhibitions and documentary films on show. You can also see for yourself how prosthetic limbs are made at the onsite workshop.
Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket is known as the only temple in Laos which survived the Siamese occupation that destroyed much of the capital in 1828. The site is also famed for its cloister wall housing more than 5,000 Buddha sculptures of varying sizes and styles, reflecting the long on fascinating history of this temple. Today, Wat Si Saket stands majestically near the centre of Vientiane; its bright yellow pillars and detailed red roof (all of which are the result of various restorations since its construction) really make it stand out as one of the must-see temples in town.
Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage
Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage offers a refreshing alternative to the typical massage shops and spas lining the streets of Vientiane. The centre is three kilometres out of town, but is well worth the extra effort in getting there. In an open-air traditional house, guests can take a herbal spa made from boiling a mix of herbs beneath a sealed room, before moving outside to take a massage in tranquil natural surroundings. A trip to the Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage could be made into a day out in itself, with the peaceful Wat Sok Pa Luang temple (a good landmark to look for when you’re on your way) and several local restaurants all nearby, offering a true taste of Laotian hospitality and their simple lifestyle.
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