Vientiane - The Land of Unique Culture Symbols in Laos
by Blake Johnson Apr 23, 2017
Travelling is the best way to learn and discover a country. Thus, having an excursion to Laos is equivalent to write and read the book about “the Land of a Million Elephants” yourself. This beautiful country has many sights and attractions to please travellers, however, the first destination you should pay a visit is Vientiane – the capital of Laos. It captures the travellers’ attention all over the world by its relaxing atmosphere, ancient temples and unique architectures.
Vientiane is located on a curve of the Mekong River. The history of the largest capital city related to the myth which is about Prince Thattaradtha. After denying the throne, he left the Lao Kingdom and established a city called Maha Thani Si Phan Phao which later became Udon Thani, Thailand. However, one day, a seven – headed Naga advised the Prince to found another city opposite to the old one on the eastern bank of the river. The prince called the new city “Chanthabuly Si Sattanakhanahud", which was believed to become Vientiane nowadays.
In contrast, many people believe that Vientiane once was the Khmer settlement. Later, when Lao and Thai people came in 11th and 12th century, they soon dominated this area.
When the Kingdom of Lan Xang was founded, Vientiane was seen as a significant administrative city. It became the capital city in 1563, however, in 1779, Siam invaded almost Lao’s territory and this city became vassal of Siam. In 1827, after the unsuccessful revolt against Siamese of King Anouvong, the Vientiane was destroyed seriously. It was not until the French invaded Lao that this city was rebuilt and became the capital of Laos under the French’s rule. Even after Laos was independent, Vientiane still kept its position.
To Laotian, Vieng means “ the city” and Chantha (tiane) means sandalwood or the moon. Thus, the name of the capital means the city of sandalwood or the city of the moon which is embodied on the national flag.
Nowadays, Vientanie is the economic centre and tourist hub in Laos. However, unlike other hustling and bustling cities in the region, the pace of life in this city is very slow and the laidback lifestyle becomes the highlight of this location.
Things to Do and See in Vientiane
1. Pha That Luang
The first attraction which visitors should not ignore is Pha That Luang. It is a Buddhist stupa and is considered as the most important religious monument in the Land of a Million Elephants. Since its unique architecture reflects Lao culture, it becomes the national symbol. It was believed to be built in 1566 and enshrine the relic of Buddha brought by an Indian missionary. Along with the history of Vientiane, this magnificent stupa was damaged and restored many times. The last time of restoration was in 1930 with the help of the French.
Pha That Luang is a three-layered gold-covered stupa built in pyramid shape. It is around 69m-wide, 45m-high and surrounded by 30 smaller stupas. As its name literally means “great gold stupa”, it was said to be used more than 1000 pounds of gold leaf to decorate. It makes impression on visitors not only by it stunning shape and decoration, but also by many beautiful Buddha statues, unrestored sculptures and hand painted pieces of art. This stupa also welcomes tourists to come and enjoy the Boun That Luand Fesival with live music and religious ceremonies.
Patuxai which is located in the Lane Xang Avenue is one of the highlights in Vientiane. It is also well-known with another name Arc of the triumph of Vientiane or Victory Gate. Built in 1962 to dedicate to those who fought for the independence of Laos and sacrificed in World War II, the Victory Gate is considered as one of the most important monuments of the city.
It can be seen as the first impressive image on the main avenue since it was built in Laos’s style with five towers on the top and decorated with feature of Buddhist symbols. There’s no doubt that visitors can contemplate several statues of nagas, charming paintings which depicted gods, elephants on the walls and ceilings.
3. Buddha Park
Buddha Park is one the ideal destinations for art lovers due to its collection of more than 200 statues of Buddha and Hindu deities. That is reason why this park is considered as the embodiment of the harmony between Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddha Park is also known as Xieng Khuan which means Spirit City. One of outstanding sculptures is Tower pumpkin, an accessible three-floor building.
This structure reflects the religion in which three floors represents for hell, earth and sky respectively. The entrance of Pumpkin tower is the mouth of a mythological creature, which makes the sculpture more impressive. In addition, when coming inside visitors can find a lot of statues decorated on the sides of the stair. Buddha Park also enables you to contemplate several stunning sculpture such as the 120-metre long reclining Buddha statue, a deity with 12 faces and many hands.
4. COPE Visitor Centre
COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. It is a local non-profit organization which supplies Lao people who are disabled and affected by war with artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs. The unexploded weapons (UXO) such as bombs which were released in Laos during Vietnam War still injured and hurted thousands of rural people in this country. Thus, COPE offers the medical care for helping people overcome the impact of the bombing. It’s also a great destination to learn new experience with the display of books, pictures, orthotic devices or the information about UXO.
5. Wat Ho Phra Keo
One of the most beautiful and colorful temples in Vientiane is Wat Ho Phra Keo. This impressive Wat was built in 1565 and used as the royal family’s personal chapel. Although this temple worships Emerald Buddha, there are no monks living in this temple. Emerald Buddha which is referred as the relic carved in jade once was the remarkable statue in Wat Ho Phra Keo. However, when Siam invaded Vientiane it was looted and now it is put in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. This temple leaves strong impression on visitors by its unique architecture, beautiful bonsai, carved wooden features, Khmer stone carvings and a lot of Buddha statues.
Vientiane is really a wonderful land with variety of interesting attractions and new things to experience. You can also spend your time on visiting some others destinations to discover the unique culture of Laotian such as Wat Si Saket (the ancient temple), That Dam (Black Stupa) and Wat Si Muang.
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