Vientiane Itineraries: Praying for a Better Tomorrow (Eastern Circuit)

As Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the society of Laos, it is not surprising to be able to spot numerous temples scattered all over the heart of Vientiane’s city centre. Commonly known as ‘wats’, these temples offer spectacular architecture for visitors to admire and also an opportunity to better comprehend the culture and traditions endeared by the local populace. 


Besides temple-hopping, we will also be exploring how the Secret War severely tormented the lives of the locals, how remnants of this destructive conflict continue to haunt Laos even today and the efforts being put into making this country safe again. Let us pray for a better tomorrow for this country together!


Haw Phra Kaew
Opening Hours: 0800h – 1200h, 1300h – 1600h (daily)
Entrance Fee: 5,000 LAK (USD 0.60) 

One of the most respected temples in the entire country of Laos, Haw Phra Kaew was constructed by King Setthathirath, who also built Pha That Luang, when he moved the capital of Lan Xang from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in the 1560s. Originally built to serve as the place of worship for the royal family, the temple became home to the Emerald Buddha for more than 200 years after the statue was seized from Siam.

The impressive stature of Haw Phra Kaew towers above all of us.

However, the statue, which was Siam’s most highly revered image of the Buddha, was returned to the kingdom in the south in 1779. Haw Phra Kaew thus received its name (meaning ‘Altar of the Emerald Buddha’) as the altar was the only relic that remained when the impressive structure it once housed was removed from its temple grounds. Another blow was dealt upon this temple when Siam invaded Vientiane during the war of 1828-29 and destroyed the Haw Phra Kaew which was subsequently restored to its former glory in the 1940s under French renewal efforts.

No Emerald Buddha here, but there are so many artefacts on display that are sure to amaze you!

Even though this wat no longer displays the Emerald Buddha which is now proudly exhibited in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, it still remains one of the most impressive attractions that Vientiane has to offer. Today, Haw Phra Kaew serves as a museum that displays numerous artefacts dating back to the olden ages for visitors to admire and learn more about the heritage of this country. 

Bronze statue of the Buddha accompanied with a structure of a turtle

Visitors will have the opportunity to admire religious relics such as palm-leaf manuscripts, Khmer stone tablets and wooden carvings mostly of Buddhist nature. Please note that photography is not allowed in the exhibition hall of the temple building - it is only permitted in the open-air area. 

Religious artefact which vaguely resembles numerous pagodas for blessings

Travellers will be able to enjoy Haw Phra Kaew’s breathtaking traditional architecture with its glistening appearance and skilfully carven structures of the deities and elephants on the roof as well as golden dragon structures forming the handles of the stairways.

The vibrant architecture of Haw Phra Kaew - with red and gold adorning its pillars

Walking through the temple grounds, beautiful gardens with charming statues reminiscent to a miniature version of those found in palaces offer visitors a place to rest and regroup in the shade.

These statues are giving me the vibes of a Western palace garden - cool, eh?

Nevertheless, one of the biggest highlights in Haw Phra Kaew is a well that boasts more than 2,000 years of history and was found in the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang Plateau. 

Wat Si Muang
Opening Hours: 0600h – 1900h (daily)
Entrance Fee: Free 

Wat Si Muang bears numerous similarities to Haw Phra Kaew – being erected by King Setthathirath in the 1560s, suffering massive destruction during the Siamese invasion in the 1820s and being reconstructed subsequently to its present state we see today.

Sabaidee (Hello), welcome to Wat Si Muang!

However, unlike its counterpart that was meant for the royalty to worship their deities, Wat Si Muang is much closer to the typical Vientiane civilian and bears an intriguing legend that infuses local animistic beliefs with the traditional school of Buddhism.

Stunning structures erected in another shrine next to the main temple

Locals believed that a young, pregnant lady named Si Muang volunteered to sacrifice herself to please the furious spirits and thus threw herself into a pit where the temple’s central pillar was to be installed. She was thus crushed to death when the column was lowered and revered as the guardian and saviour of the entire city of Vientiane.

Colourful statue of Phra Mae Thorani alongside a golden statue of a Buddhist deity

Besides being the centre of most celebrations during the That Luang Festival in November, devotees often flock to Wat Si Muang as it is believed that their wishes will be granted if they pray for something and make a promise at this auspicious temple.

Buddha statues cast in gold - devotees will kneel before them and do their prayers!

Wat Si Muang is probably one of my favourite temples in the capital due to its local flavour and personal touch. Monks clad in saffron can be found in the temple area studying scripture, working to keep the grounds clean and doing their regular prayers. 

The mural of the Buddha seems to be watching over the young monk with a kind gaze as he performs daily tasks to keep the temple clean.

As they are extremely friendly and enthusiastic to interact with travellers, feel free to have a little chat with them exploring the temple grounds.

A monk offering blessings to a devotee who has come to make her prayers

A monk is stationed in the first chamber to offer blessings to devotees who have visited to do their prayers, offering travellers the golden opportunity to observe and experience some of the unique local traditions and practices endeared by the local Buddhists.

The monk reads religious scripture when there are no devotees around.

Walking through the wat, visitors will be treated to a visual feast of glistening artefacts such as ornaments made of gold leaf and colourful drums.

This is probably used during religious festivals and celebrations - I would love to see it in action!

There is even a replica of the Emerald Buddha in the first chamber where believers do their prayers and make offerings of fruits, flowers and incense.

A glistening altar with the replica of the Emerald Buddha and myriad offerings

Statues of the Buddha and various deities, usually protected by guardian animals such as seven-headed Nagas as as well as miniature pagodas and shrines can be found all over the temple grounds and are usually adorned with beautiful items offered by devotees. 

A golden Buddha statue protected by a seven-headed Naga

To further accentuate the charm of this temple, its magnificent architecture is decorated with skilfully carven golden sculptures that emblazon the roof and provide the wat with its unique local flavour.

Taking my last look of Wat Si Muang before heading off

The shrines erected in the vicinity of the main temple building also offer a golden opportunity to admire the spectacular architecture and to observe the monks at work.

I can only use one word to describe this: "Incredible".

Walking around the temple grounds and identifying religious motifs and symbols will definitely help allow travellers to better comprehend their understanding of the local culture.

The roof of this shrine can definitely pass off as a golden stupa.

While leaving the temple, take a step back to admire the aesthetically beautiful design of the temple gates before moving off to the next stop.

The interesting design of the temple gates seem to resemble Angkor Wat in Cambodia!


COPE Visitor Centre
Opening Hours: 0900h – 1800h (daily)
Entrance Fee: Free 

To better understand the dark history of Laos in recent years, there is probably no better place to start from besides COPE Visitor Centre in Vientiane. When my friend asked for recommendations of places to visit in the capital city, this landmark was the first to come to mind.

The entrance to COPE may not seem very grand, but I promise that you'll learn lots from your visit to this educational, enriching centre.

This museum showcases how the massive destruction caused by the Secret War terrorised the entire country, thereby offering us a solemn reminder that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of mankind. The United States military conducted more than 500,000 missions and heavily bombed Laos with 2 million tonnes of explosives, which equates to a planeload of ordnance being dropped onto the country every 8 minutes for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a terrifying duration of 9 years.

Imagine if these bombs tormented your entire country for 9 horrendous years.

These cluster bomb shells that were dropped contained hundreds of smaller bomblets and caused massive destruction throughout the expanse of the country. However, it is estimated that approximately 30% of the explosives that were dropped failed to go off and continue to endanger the lives and safety of the locals, especially those working in the fields where the bomblets may still lie.

The bomb threat strikes fear in the locals but they still have to perform their daily routines in the fields that put them in constant danger.

The museum further expounds that the bomblets resemble small balls which may attract the attention of children who may be inquisitive as to the identity of these ‘toys’ and cause undesirable ramifications. Pictures of the bombings drawn by the local children are also on display with accompanying written recounts of the happenings which are absolutely heart-wrenching to read and see.

Children's drawings: To witness death at such a young age must be emotionally scarring.

Even though more than 1 million objects of unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been destroyed from 1996 to 2009, this is just the tip of the iceberg as the Secret War had effectively left 288 million cluster bombs and 75 million unexploded bombs across the entire country of Laos. In fact, these UXOs continue to strike terror in the hearts of the locals, causing more than 120 casualties and 80 deaths annually. This is where the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) steps in as a non-profit organisation to assist survivors of UXO incidents.

The noble goal of COPE is clearly seen from each and every one of these prosthetics bringing hope to a local who has been faced with physical impairment.

Although COPE focusses on victims of UXO accidents, it has since expanded to provide support to locals who have suffered casualties during traffic incidents by offering free orthotic and prosthetic services as well as psychological support and medical care. The informative displays walk visitors through the entire procedure of creating prosthetics, while reading the stories of how some of the beneficiaries had suffered their injuries and were able to regain confidence to live their lives was extremely moving and inspirational. 

Now, they can walk again.

As the old adage goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” It is heartening to see that COPE has partnered government agencies to sweep through the land to identify potential UXO objects and speedily remove them to avoid casualties. Although works are tedious and slow, each bomb being removed from the ground can potentially save a life, so kudos to the agencies which are making concerted efforts to making life safer in this country. 

Statues built from UXOs - Laos, you're in our prayers.

Visitors are also able to make a donation to fund these initiatives by COPE or alternatively dine at the Karma CafĂ© or purchase souvenirs of which all proceeds will go towards COPE efforts. 

Wat That Khao
Opening Hours: 0800h – 1700h (daily)
Entrance Fee: Free 

Wat That Khao is a lesser known temple that is just a stone’s throw away from Wat Si Muang and is home to a massive statue of the reclining Buddha which is made of gold and gives it that glistening appearance.

The simplistic design of the golden, reclining Buddha

In general, the architectural designs of this temple remain very intricate with skilfully carven details just like many of the other temples we have visited in Laos, but the statues of the deities and the Buddha are much more simplistic and plain-looking.

One of the most simplistic Buddha statues I have ever seen

As this temple is very much off the beaten path, chances are that visitors will have the entire place to themselves when visiting Wat That Khao and indulge in the serene, tranquil ambience of Zen in the wat.

Certainly no need to wait for tourists to get out of your picture here!

Sitting in the shade, one cannot help but visualise the Buddha preaching to believers under the Bodhi tree and soak in the peaceful atmosphere in the temple.

Intricate design of a little sign in Laotian script

In fact, when I visited the wat, the entire place felt like an abandoned temple.

The locked gates make this temple feel even more abandoned and dilapidated.

The silence was almost deafening, which really gave a stark juxtaposition with the other popular temples in the area where hordes of tourists flock in and out of the grounds.

When heading back to the main road, I turned back to see this awesome view where the gate somewhat resembles Pha That Luang with its golden stupa.

After a hectic day of walking around Vientiane and learning more about the history of this country as well as the culture and practices endeared by the people, we are all probably exhausted. Next up – we are going to slow down our footsteps and enjoy a simple, relaxing adventure strolling through local haunts such as the Chao Anouvong Park and Vientiane Night Market. We will also be stopping by the renowned temple housing 10,000 Buddha statues and the Presidential Palace just nearby. Stay tuned!

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Comments

  1. Stunning, stunning pictures! The temples look so beautiful and serene. I'm sure I would love visiting them.
    Reading about the Secret War was so disturbing. :(

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    1. Hi Priya, owing to the fact that Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples ('wats') even more charming than they already are as the embodiment of local tradition. I'm positive you'll enjoy yourself as much as I did while just exploring the temples and enjoying the Zen atmosphere all around.

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  2. I'm absolutely inspired to visit Vientiane after reading this post! Not that I wasn't before, but this has just magnified my desire to visit Laos as a whole. I had no idea Wat means temple, and now I feel kind of stupid for not realising the obvious! I had absolutely no idea of the history of war in Laos, especially the fact that it's the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of mankind! How sad, especially for such a small little country who I can't imagine would have a very big military presence.

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    1. Hey Rhiannon, great to hear that you are now interested and inspired to visit this severely underrated travel destination after checking out this post. Laos is oftentimes neglected by many backpackers who are exploring the Southeast Asian region. However, I really enjoyed my visit to this charming little country as it is home to one of the friendliest locals, one of the most beautiful natural landscapes and certainly an authentic travel experience I had never felt before. For all these reasons, I highly recommend that you consider visiting this country!

      Indeed, the Secret War has caused massive destruction throughout the entire nation. Prior to my trip, I was totally unaware of this military conflict - but my visit to COPE has certainly opened my eyes to this horrendous war and the depressing ramifications it has dealt upon Laos. No worries about not knowing that 'wat' means temple, though. It's part of travelling, because we always have opportunities to learn more about the places we're visiting - now you know :)

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  3. I've still not been to Laos, and would love to visit after reading this. All the temples are incredible, and I love the stories behind them. So sad to read about the country's history, but it's great to read things are much better. Will keep praying for the people of Laos for sure!

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    1. Hey Lisa, I'm happy to hear that you're interested to learn more and possibly have a trip to Laos after reading my post. Knowing and learning more about the stories behind the temple definitely add a certain level of depth, enhance our appreciation for the temple and allow us to better understand why the locals revere these religious places so much - especially in the case of Wat Si Muang which effectively combined Buddhism and animist beliefs.

      When we think about the word 'history', images of the olden days centuries ago are conjured. However, in the case of Laos, the destruction it has undergone and the dark past it has experienced are actually not that long ago. The fact that the locals are still undergoing this constant threat to their safety and lives further accentuates this point. I'm sure Laos and its peace-loving people are in our prayers.

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  4. Love all of the beautiful wats in Laos! When we went to Vientiane, it was only for one day, so Haw Phra Kaew was the only wat we saw. I think we chose pretty wisely! The COPE visitor center is such a moving place--so glad they're there to keep the information alive, but it wasn't an easy place to visit.

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    1. Hi Kate, nice to hear that you have had the opportunity to visit Vientiane previously. Haw Phra Kaew is definitely one of the major highlights in the entire capital, so you certainly didn't go wrong with it. Besides boasting magnificent architecture and a rich history of having housed the Emerald Buddha back in the olden days, it also doubles as a museum showcasing numerous exhibits and historical relics - so you are able to kill two birds with one stone, I guess.

      The COPE Visitor Centre was a heart-wrenching place to visit, but it was also probably one of the more educational, enriching attractions for travellers to better understand the recent history that the country has experienced. Understanding the massive destruction which the Secret War has dealt upon the country through the statistics provided and pictures drawn by children were mind-blowing, but we seek solace in the fact that much has been done and is still being done by this non-profit organisation and the government to eradicate this threat.

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  5. Both the temples that you've mentioned here are 2 places that I have heard about and seen pictures of so much that I really want to go! Haw Phra Kaew looks gorgeous, I love the red and gold architecture, the numerous golden Budhha statues and also Wat That Khao's sleeping Buddha!

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    1. Hey there, it's nice to know that you've seen and heard about these temples in Vientiane, even though this is a seriously underrated travel destination. As Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people.

      The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples ('wats') even more charming than they already are as the embodiment of local tradition. I really enjoyed admiring the myriad statues and trying to understand what they represent to better appreciate these religious relics. For instance, the reclining Buddha position symbolises his peace and last days before achieving nirvana. I'm sure you'll love exploring these temples too!

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  6. Quite an interesting post. Ever since one of my traveler acquaintance visited Laos, I have been wanting to go too. And I feel so much more knowledgable now, after reading this post. The temples are indeed an architectural marvel.

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    1. Hi Arnav, Laos as it is such an underrated travel destination in the Southeast Asian region. Its temples and strong emphasis on Buddhism (both in Vientiane and further up in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang) embody the rich culture and heritage of the country. Knowing more about the stories behind these wats will certainly allow visitors to better appreciate them and learn more about the local culture as well.

      Apart from this, Laos has picturesque natural landscapes in more rural areas like Vang Vieng in the north and Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) in the south. Amicable locals notwithstanding, Laos has one of the most authentic travel experiences to offer visitors, unlike the prepackaged, overly commercialised tourist attractions in many other countries. You should definitely consider visiting this amazing country - I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself as much as I did.

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  7. You've just made me aware of more attractions I missed when in Laos. All the more reasons to return I guess. While I was able to explore the Wats in Luang Prabang quite extensively, I'm yet to visit these marvels you have photographed here. The Cope visitor centre is a place I did visit, but the museum seems to have more poignant exhibits compared to the ones on display when I visited. The visit was quite thought provoking for me as well nevertheless.

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    1. Hey Denny, Luang Prabang has a plethora of magnificent temples which I am sure you enjoyed yourself tremendously exploring. The fact that the entire city is being protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site makes the entire place even more charming and quaint, so I really enjoyed temple-hopping when I was in the area. Nevertheless, Vientiane's temples are oftentimes overlooked by visitors who treat the capital as just a point of transit to explore other regions. No worries, though - it's these attractions that we miss which always propel us to head back to places we have visited to explore it more thoroughly!

      COPE Visitor Centre was definitely one of the highlights for me as it opened my eyes to the massive destruction which the Secret War dealt upon the country decades ago and how it continues to torment the locals. The exhibits were definitely heart-wrenching to view, but I'm sure you will agree with me that it was an educational journey where we had a better grasp of this recent chapter in the history of Laos. It's heartening to see that COPE is collaborating with government agencies to make concerted efforts to eradicate the bomb threat though.

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  8. The temples are so beautiful! Having said that, the dark history of Laos certainly makes the beauty of this country stand out further..

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    1. Hi Claire, as Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples ('wats') even more charming than they already are as they essentially embody the unique local traditions. I really enjoyed admiring the myriad statues and trying to understand what they represent to better appreciate these religious relics. For instance, the reclining Buddha position symbolises his peace and last days before achieving nirvana. I'm sure you'll love exploring these temples too - do consider visiting!

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  9. Thanks for sharing details. I really like it that you have written the entry fees too, for budget travellers its always good to know about these details.

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    1. Hi Suman, great to hear that you found my post informative and useful. As some of the information which I gathered from other online sources prior to my trip were inaccurate or no longer valid, I certainly hope that consolidating the data (entrance fees and opening hours) which I have garnered during my travels in Laos in this post will be able to benefit travellers who are going to visit Vientiane so that they will have up-to-date information at hand to refer to when planning their vacation and route around these cities. Hope you'll be able to visit Vientiane really soon - I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself tremendously!

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  10. Really interesting read. Great tips and beautiful pictures. COPE looks like an interesting, albeit slightly harrowing place to visit. Great to hear about the good work they are doing now though.

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    1. Hey Nicola, thanks for the lovely comment. Indeed, COPE Visitor Centre was definitely one of the highlights for me as it opened my eyes to the massive destruction which the Secret War dealt upon the country and how it continues to torment the locals. When we think about the word 'history', images of the olden days centuries ago are conjured. However, in the case of Laos, the destruction it has undergone and the dark past it has experienced are actually not that long ago.

      The exhibits were definitely heart-wrenching to view, but I'm sure you will agree with me that it was an educational journey where we had a better grasp of this recent chapter in the history of Laos. It's heartening to see that COPE is collaborating with government agencies to make concerted efforts to eradicate the bomb threat and offering medical and psychological support to victims of UXO accidents. I'm sure Laos and its people are in our prayers!

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  11. Nice article, beautiful temples.
    Similar Buddhist temples are also in India. You may like: http://www.lucky-vagabond.com/2017/03/bodhgaya-buddhism.html

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    1. Hi Gaurav, thank you for your comment. As Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples ('wats') even more charming than they already are as they essentially embody the unique local traditions. I really enjoyed admiring the myriad statues and trying to understand what they represent to better appreciate these religious relics. For instance, the reclining Buddha position symbolises his peace and last days before achieving nirvana. I'm sure you'll love exploring these temples too - do consider visiting!

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  12. Great post! I've been dying to get back to SE Asia and to explore Laos.. thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Hey Erica, great to hear that you're interested to visit Laos after checking out this post of mine. It is certainly an underrated travel destination in the Southeast Asian region which backpackers and travellers alike often neglect when traversing the banana pancake trail. Besides rich culture and heritage here in Vientiane and further up in Luang Prabang (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the country also has picturesque natural landscapes in more rural areas like Vang Vieng in the north and Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) in the south. Amicable locals notwithstanding, Laos has one of the most authentic travel experiences to offer visitors, unlike the prepackaged, overly commercialised tourist attractions in many other countries. I'm sure you'll love it here!

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  13. After visiting Cambodia and learning about the atrocities happening there, the secret war is equally upsetting and just a terrible part of humanity's ugly history. But it's also encouraging to see so much culture and history preserved in Laos. You've definitely captured the vibrancy of the country's temples and I'd love to make a visit one day.

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    1. Indeed, Ling Ge! Both the damage dealt upon Laos by the Secret War and the horrendous genocide by Pol Pot in Cambodia still have resounding ramifications which the two nations continue to suffer and be tormented by even today. While learning more about these incidents may show us the ugly side of humanity, we are certainly educated about this piece of history and can seek solace in the fact that these nations are making concerted efforts to walk out of these dark ages and strive for a brighter future.

      At the cultural crossroads of numerous influences with special mention to its regional neighbours of Burma and Siam, Laos has its society pivoted primarily around Buddhism. As such, these temples are my prime choice for travellers to better understand the local culture and immerse themselves in the atmosphere together with the local people. Apart from admiring the magnificent architecture, learning more about the stories and history of the temple will allow us to better appreciate what we are able to see today. Hope you'll be able to visit soon - I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did!

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  14. Kicking myself for not travelling around Laos when I had the chance. The itinerary looks great, will follow it to the dot the next time I want to do a temple tour around Laos.

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    1. Hi Poorna, no worries about not having travelled to Laos while you were in the area. Travellers are also just beginning to notice the unparalleled beauty of this charming country which has oftentimes been neglected and severely underrated by backpackers in the Southeast Asian region.

      As Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples ('wats') even more charming than they already are as they essentially embody the unique local traditions. I really enjoyed admiring the myriad statues and trying to understand what they represent to better appreciate these religious relics. (Do check out my other itineraries for Laos and Vientiane as well - where you'll be able to admire picturesque natural landscapes, savour local fare and learn more about the history of this charming country!)

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  15. These are all so beautiful temples which are real works of art crafted with great devotion and love. I was particularly fascinated by Haw Phra Kaew. Having seen the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, this was something really intriguing to me. I had not realized that the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok had Laos as its original home. Also the threat of unexplored bombs is such a poignant state of affairs for the people of Laos.

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    1. Hi Sandy, I was actually unaware of the fact that the Emerald Buddha which is now sitting peacefully in Bangkok was actually being housed in Vientiane for such a long duration. Nevertheless, even though Haw Phra Kaew is no longer home to the revered image and statue of the Buddha, it still offers travellers the opportunity to admire timeless relics and artefacts back from the olden days which never fail to amaze us.

      The damage that the Secret War dealt to Laos was certainly unimaginable and I do not dare to fathom how life must have been for the locals in the 1960s having to put up the constant threat to their lives and safety. Even though the bomb threat continues to linger on today, it is heartening to see that non-profit organisations such as COPE have stepped forward to offer medical support and even partnered government agencies to try to eradicate this threat. These steps, albeit small, will eventually pave the way to a bomb-free Laos in the future.

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  16. It was both intriguing and disturbing for me reading through your post. While the beautiful architecture of the wats in laos fascinated me with the golden artwork and deep red colour, I m quite disturbed to read about the secret war and how! Why was the war fought in the first place? I m going to read a bit more about teh history of Laos. However, I m inspired by teh work done by the COPE foundation.

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    1. Hey Sindhu, Laos has its society pivoted primarily around Buddhism, being at the cultural crossroads of numerous influences with special mention to its regional neighbours of Burma and Siam. As such, these temples are my prime choice for travellers to better understand the local culture and immerse themselves in the atmosphere together with the local people. Apart from admiring the magnificent architecture, learning more about the stories and history of the temple will allow us to better appreciate what we are able to see today.

      One of the many proxy wars on the Cold War front between democracy and communism, the Secret War saw the United States air force pelting explosives all over Laos for two main reasons: to support the royalist Lao government against the communist Pathet Lao (primarily in the north) and to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail which supplied resources to North Vietnam through the southern regions of Laos. As a result, the entire country suffered from the massive bombings that caused rampant devastation.

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  17. The architecture of these wats is so stunning. I'm awestruck by the gold and bright colours and super intricate designs. I especially love the photos of both the interior and exterior of Wat Si Muang.

    The museum at COPE Visitor Centre is also wonderful and very touching. I'm so glad that they are making efforts to both prevent injuries and help victims with things like prosthetics.

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    1. Hi Linda, the architecture of these temples are absolutely magnificent showcasing the beauty of the traditional Lao Buddhist designs and definitely making the entire place of worship much more vibrant. Wat Si Muang is certainly an amazing temple to visit as it is one of the most visited temples by locals in Vientiane, offering travellers with the golden opportunity to observe how they do prayers, make offerings and get blessings from the monks.

      It is certainly heart-warming to know that non-profit organisations such as COPE have stepped forward to address this major issue that is constantly threatening the safety and livelihood of the locals (especially those living in the rural countryside). Not only does COPE bring this issue up to the global stage, it offers medical support and even moves beyond just that to collaborate with authorities to try to solve the problem once and for all. Absolutely amazing and certainly great to see the things they're doing!

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  18. I'm traveling with my mind right now thanks to your pictures, they are amazing! I've always wanted to visit Laos but somehow never managed to organize a trip there. Wat Si Muang looks stunning and the legend behind it is truly fascinating!

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    1. Hey La Vale, thank you for the lovely comment. Wat Si Muang has beautiful architecture showcasing the beauty of Lao Buddhist designs and attracts hordes of locals to come forward to do their prayers and make their offerings. I can definitely understand why this temple is so popular with the common townsfolk after learning more about the legend with the little girl's sacrifice for the town's safety and the fact that it was built close to the hearts of the people rather than being constructed for the royalty and nobles.

      Laos is certainly one of the most underrated travel destinations in the Southeast Asian region, but it has so much to offer from amicable locals and rich culture to an authentic travel experience unlike the prepackaged, overly commercialised ones in many developed nations. I would highly recommend that you consider visiting Laos when you are in the area and am confident that you will enjoy it as much as I did. Safe travels!

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  19. The architecture in these temples are gorgeous!! The gold detailing shines and really makes everything come alive. Laos looks like such a beautiful, culturally-rich place to visit!

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    1. Absolutely Melanie! Being at the cultural crossroads and having influences from both regional neighbours which had previously ruled the area (like Burma and Siam) as well as its Western colonial masters from France, Laos indeed has that unique blend of culture with a tad of local flavour that is definitely interesting to experience. Being primarily pivoted around Buddhist beliefs certainly brings it a step further and enriches the culture of the locals as well.

      Not only are the temples aesthetically pleasant and beautiful, they are rich of culture and offer travellers with a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being able to observe how locals do their prayers, make their offerings and even get their blessings from the monks. They are also extremely friendly and will be more than willing to share more about their local culture and traditions, so that further adds to the beauty of it all. Learning more about the legends and stories behind the wats takes the experience to a whole new level.

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  20. Vientiane seems to be very rich with Buddhist temples and overall the practice of Buddhism. These temples are so beautiful. And their history is also very rich. I was surprised that in one of the pictures, I see a buddhist deity wearing a "saree" which is an ethnic dress in India!! This shows how close the cultures are and how underlying the world is so similar.

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    1. Hey Neha, owing to the fact that Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples even more charming than they already are as the embodiment of local tradition.

      Interesting to learn that you've spotted a deity donning a sari! As we've learnt from Buddha Park which cleverly depicted a mix of Buddhist and Hindu mythology, these temples certainly further prove the point that these seemingly contrasting cultures actually have some similarities and may not be as different as we think them to be. Travel does surprise us in many different ways and broaden our understanding of the world, doesn't it? :)

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  21. I was very sad as an American to read this post. I had no idea that our country had bombed Laos like that. Americans don't always learn about the darker parts of our history. But Vientiane seems like a beautiful city, and I would definitely want to see the historic Haw Phra Kaew.

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    1. Hi Stella, this is certainly one of the ways that travel broadens our global perspective and allows us to better understand the history as what we learn in our country may not be that holistic a view. This lack of recognition by the American government in turn contributes to this military conflict being labelled as the "Secret War".

      It was actually fought as a proxy war as part of the Cold War between democracy and communism - where the United States supported the royalist Lao government against the communist Pathet Lao and thus bombed the north extensively. However, as part of the Vietnam War, the United States also wanted to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through the southern region of Laos and supplied North Vietnam with resources, thereby resulting in the massive bombing throughout the entire nation.

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  22. Cool! We're not actually fans of architecture, but we do admire structures that display the ingenuity and artwork of mankind. Look at all those intricate details. Those can only be done with people who have art and passion in their hearts.

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    1. Hey there, the beautiful architecture of the many temples dotting Vientiane certainly accentuate the reverence that the locals accord to Buddhism which plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of the entire country. Undeniably, these craftsmen must have been extremely skilled to be able to produce such intricate designs and beautiful masterpieces which we have the honour of admiring today in Laos.

      Beyond the architectural facades, these temples are a great way for travellers to immerse themselves in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. Not only will they be able to observe religious practices such as doing prayers, making offers and getting blessed by monks, they will even be able to interact with these devotees and monks who are oftentimes more than willing to share more about what they know about local culture and traditions, further enriching the entire experience travellers yearn to have.

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  23. Maybe there was more to Vientiane than I originally thought... I only had a day here but now I kind of wish I got to explore more!

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    1. Hey Eli, I totally understand where you are coming from. Prior to my trip, I was overwhelmed with reviews by backpackers about how dull Vientiane is and recommendations to get out of the capital city as soon as possible. However, I decided to give it a chance and realised that the city actually offered numerous sights and attractions to enrich my travelling experience in the country.

      Vientiane allowed me to admire national monuments and symbols (Pha That Luang and Patuxai) as well as significant temples and wats (Wat Si Saket, Haw Phra Kaew). I was even able to explore places to learn more about the traumatic history of the country (COPE Visitor Centre) and gradually adapt to the slow, relaxed pace of life before heading off to the countryside. I would recommend that you consider spending at least 2 days to be able to soak in what Vientiane has to offer - I'm sure you won't regret it.

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  24. I was in Laos a few years back and was shocked to discover some of the facts about the secret war. We visited Vientiane and loved the temples but did not happen upon the Cope centre which is a real shame. I think it would have helped aid my understanding of the country further.

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    1. Hi Anne, I actually did not intend to visit the COPE Visitor Centre as it did not seem that interesting or significant a monument to me. However, after reading the positive reviews which numerous travellers have left on online platforms, I decided to give it a shot and am certainly glad that I made that choice to explore COPE which gave me unprecedented insight into the traumatic history that the country had to endure and continues to be threatened by.

      Beyond the beautiful architecture of the temples lies the dark past of Laos which in one way or another shapes the local culture. It is heartening to see how the non-profit organisation is putting in so much effort into both preventive measures and cures for victims of UXO explosions. I would highly recommend that you consider visiting the COPE Visitor Centre when you are in the area, as it promises a life-changing experience and a better understanding of Laos.

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  25. I've never visited Asia before but I would someday love to visit the region and explore the temples. So much rich history and gorgeous architecture. Can you recommend a good time of year to come? How about transportation in the region?

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    1. Hey there, I am glad to hear that you are interested to visit Asia after checking out this post of mine as well as the photographs of the temples that the country has to offer. The entire Asian continent offers vibrant, rich culture and heritage dating back to the ancient times as well as some of the most scrumptious cuisines in the entire world. However, as it is too big a continent to play with to offer my suggestions, I'll water it down to Southeast Asia instead.

      I would recommend visiting the area between November and February as it is usually the dry season in many of the regional countries, so rain will not dampen the mood when you are out exploring the various attractions. You can certainly rely on overland transport such as tourist buses to travel between cities and even countries - they are relatively inexpensive and convenient (as they often pick you up from your accommodation). However, the downside to these tourist buses are the fact that they usually take extremely long hours, so you may want to mentally prep yourself for that - or else, you may wish to consider taking flights instead. Hope this helps!

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  26. I'm just in awe at all your pictures. These sites looks amazing. It was nice to read a travel itinerary that showed your personal experience. Thanks

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    1. Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed admiring the photographs of the various sights and sounds - they were so beautiful that I couldn't help but grab plenty of shots on my camera. Nevertheless, these pictures simply do not do justice to the magnificent architecture of the various temples in the area - it is just a totally otherworldly experience to be there for yourself and admire the sights and sounds in person.

      Hope you found the information I've presented in this post useful - perhaps, it has inspired you to consider travelling to this underrated travel destination which visitors to the Southeast Asian region oftentimes neglect. I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself tremendously, learn more and be better able to appreciate the local culture. Safe travels!

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  27. The temple complexes looks incredible, every one of them I must say! The architecture is so vibrant and stunning. However it’s so sad to read about the destruction during the war. The COPE centre is definitely a must visit when in Vientiane.

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    1. Hey there, the beautiful architecture of the many temples dotting Vientiane certainly accentuate the reverence that the locals accord to Buddhism which plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of the entire country. Learning more about the legends and stories behind these temples as well as having the chance to observe some of the religious practices in person further enrich this experience which travellers will enjoy at these local temples.

      Learning more about the Secret War as well as the traumatic past that the country had to undergo (and continues to be tormented by) is certainly heart-wrenching and is further aggravated by the fact that this is under-reported and not brought to the attention of the global community. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that COPE is doing so much to both provide medical aid to UXO victims and even attempt to prevent similar accidents from occurring by seeking out these UXOs to be destroyed.

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  28. I am a huge fan of the Laos temples. They are are so beautiful and intricate! I love the fact you shared the detailed itinerary including the entrance fee. Helps a lot to plan your finances beforehand.

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    1. Hi Archana, it's fantastic to know that you found the information I've presented here in this post to be useful. Prior to my trip, I tried to obtain some of these details from online sources which proved to be either inaccurate or outdated. Therefore, I hope that sharing the information and tips I have gathered from my travels will be able to help visitors plan their itineraries and possibly their finances in advance before flying over. Glad that it helped you.

      Owing to the fact that Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the societal make-up of Laos, the lives of the locals certainly centre around the temples which boast rich culture and heritage. As a result, I found visiting these temples to be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and have the opportunity to interact with the Lao people. The magnificent architecture and peaceful ambience certainly make these temples even more charming than they already are as the embodiment of local tradition. I'm positive you'll enjoy yourself as much as I did while just exploring the temples and enjoying the Zen atmosphere all around.

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  29. There are so many things to see in here and your shots are awesome, they express all the beauty and the uniqueness of these places :)

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    1. Thanks Daniele! Many backpackers actually recommend that travellers skip Vientiane totally and travel out to the countryside as soon as possible. However, this capital city actually has so much to offer, including the national monuments like Patuxai and Pha That Luang as well as places to learn more about the local history such as the COPE Visitor Centre.

      The temples that are scattered across the entire capital offer one of the most amazing experiences for travellers. Not only are the architecture of these wats magnificent and intricately carved, the stories and legends behind their existence as well as the opportunity to observe religious practices in person certainly enrich the entire temple-hopping experience. I'll highly recommend that you consider visiting Vientiane and checking out these sights for yourself - I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself tremendously!

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  30. All these temples are so beautiful! I didn't realize that the entrance fees are so cheap (on U.S. standards). Great pictures and definitely pinning this for a future trip. Thanks!

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    1. Hey Martha, great to hear that you're inspired and interested to visit these sights and sounds that Laos has to offer. Indeed, the entrance fees to these attractions are extremely inexpensive and the budget travellers are guaranteed to be able to experience the local culture on a shoestring budget (albeit not as cheap as neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam).

      Laos is certainly one of the most underrated travel destinations in the region. However, it has so much to offer - from amicable locals who are willing to share more about their local traditions to rich culture and heritage emanating from the myriad temples across the entire country. Picturesque natural landscapes in the countryside with beauty that can compare with many other renowned sights (see: Vang Vieng) and that authentic travel experience that retains sights in their raw, untouched state are just some of the reasons you should consider visiting this charming country. I'm sure you'll love it here.

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  31. I have only recently discovered the beauty of the Wats of SE Asia during a visit to Thailand earlier this year. I really want to visit the other countries of the region to also appreciate the variations in architecture and the culture and traditions that go alongside.

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  32. Laos looks so interesting, I really need to plan a trip there soon. And awesome pictures :)

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  33. I am planning to spend my birthday this July in Laos. Good to know about this beautiful city and the things that i can do and visit there. Will definitely check this out/

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