We were a bit nervous about this trip because it was the first time we travelled with a walker (yes, like the zombies in The Walking Dead), also known as “toddler”. We had been back home with Ruben being able to walk, but that was totally different because we were staying with friends and family and didn’t have to move around as much. This time, we went sightseeing, visited temples and spent plenty of time walking, which means Ruben spent quite some time in the baby carrier.
We were concerned as to how long he would resist the “entrapment” especially because we decided not to bring a stroller, which was a good call because streets were not always stroller friendly, there was a lot of getting in and out of tuk – tuks and many of the temples we visited had long flights of stairs.
Another reason for our nervousness was the availability of food for Ruben. We planned ahead and brought with us the kind of food we knew Ruben likes (yes, picky eater). This was also a good call, because many places around Vientiane don’t always seem appropriate for a baby to eat and of course we didn’t want to risk him getting sick!
Our apprehensions were greatly alleviated as we got to know what Vientiane is like.
Vientiane is totally baby friendly, and all in all, a great place to visit with children.
Tip #1: Visit during low season
The whether is quite nice during this season. Humid, yes, but totally bearable. Ruben was happy to stay in the baby carrier as we walked around. He loved being front and back carried, while looking around at everything going on around us. Changing between these two positions was a great way to keep him entertained as he was able to observe from different perspectives.
He was super interested in all the dragons and snakes that decorate the temples. Every time we saw one he jumped up and down in the carrier, pointing towards it and making dragon noises!
Tip #2: Take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere
The unbelievably relaxed atmosphere is truly awesome. Cars don’t go any faster than 50 kilometers an hour. People stroll lazily around the streets. It seems like its nap time all day! There is such a chill out feeling all the time that relaxing is inevitable! It’s like time goes by slowly, and it’s so nice to just sit around and take in this peacefulness! Sitting in front of a temple or laying around in the lawn around them to just take in all the beauty of the architecture is the best. Ruben really enjoyed being able to walk around and explore everything around him, in a totally safe and mellow environment.
Tip #3: Say yes to the kindness of strangers
And, like with many other places in Asia, people love babies! This is very convenient when you want to have lunch or a coffee without having to get up a million times to run after your toddler, as there will usually be a kind volunteer, happy to entertain him or her.
So, what are the must see places in Vientiane, that are totally ok to visit with a baby?
Wat Sokpaluang… chill out and explore, but stay in the baby carrier
This place is “a little far from the center” as many guide books explain, but totally do-able in a tuk-tuk. It’s extremely peaceful. Here, you will see the monks strolling around completing their daily tasks, which we thought was very interesting. They wash their clothes, organize their things, pick up the trash, or just lounge in their terraces.
You can see their houses and their places of worship. When we were there we could see them resting around, hanging their washed clothes, working in building and getting ready for prayer. It was very interesting to get a glimpse of what their everyday life looks like.
That Luang Stupa… a must see
This stupa (which is a dome or obelisk shaped Buddhist shrine) is within a big complex that has a lot of temples. That Luang in particular is breathtaking. It was originally built in the third century but has undergone a variety of improvements. In fact, while we were there, a big part of the structure was closed because of this.
Ruben loved this site. It is surrounded by a very well kept, beautiful green lawn, which makes it a wonderful site as the green contrasts with the shining gold of the stupa. Ruben really enjoyed walking and running around as we contemplated the place.
Buddha Park… Do not miss this place!
We took a tuk-tuk ride to come here, and although this was a mistake, it was totally worth it! I suggest you take a regular taxi – the ride is quite long for a tuk-tuk, and the road is very, very bumpy. We were lucky because nothing happened and we had no problems at all, like we did have on tuk-tuk rides in Cambodia.
This park has a an entrance fee (5000 kip) and an additional fee (2000 kip) for taking photographs, but both are totally paid off once you get to see the amazing structures and sculptures that you won’t resist photographing! The entrance and photo costs are not expensive, so don’t be scared and pay away!
In the park you will see around 200 sculptures of different sizes, depicting Buddha, Hindu gods and several demons and mythological creatures. It was built in 1958, by Luang Pu Bounleua Sulilat, a popular priest and artist.
Among the most astonishing sculptures is the large reclining Buddha, which is truly breathtaking because of its size. Larger than the oh – so – popular golden reclining Buddha in Bangkok and the other in the complex of That Luang, this sculpture is currently venerated by people who often come to the park to light candles and pray, even though the area was not built as a place for worship.
A mythological creature holding a dead body in his arms is another sculpture that will surely get your attention. It looks like something from a horror movie, but no worries, it’s not scary.
The three headed elephant was my favorite, mainly because I love elephants!
And then there is also Sergio’s favorite, a pumpkin-like structure that you can enter through a demon’s mouth and climb up the three stories that represent heaven, earth and hell. This last bit may be a little scary.
Patuxai is an arch of triumph – like structure located in the center of Vientiane. It was built in memory of those taken by the independence war that the country had against France. Isn’t it interesting and ironic that they built a very french – like looking arch to commemorate this?
COPE Visitor Centre
This is a place we did not visit and I regret it. According to the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, Lao is the country that has received the most heavy bombing per capita in the world. After their independence war with the French and the bombing on the part of the United States, it is estimated that there are still 30% of land mines that have not yet exploded. The Cope center works as a non government that helps survivors with the care and support they require by providing orthotic and prosthetic devices.
At the visitor center, you can learn about the history of these bombings and the impact it has had on the country. You can also learn about what the center does to help the community and of course, make donations to help with the cause.
I wish we would have been to the Cope Visitor Center.
Vientiane River Side Night Market
Although I had researched this before and had it well included in our itinerary, we ended up finding it by chance as we wandered around the streets of Vientiane close to sunset.
The truth is, it’s impossible to miss because it is huge! Once you start heading towards to the Mekong river side, you will see a massive amount of red tents decorated with bright lights, tons of street food carts, and of course, a lot of people.
The market sells mostly cheap clothes and accessories, though you can also find some crafts and souvenirs. Like in most areas of Asia, prices are not fixed so you can bargain away.
As this market is located all along the Mekong River there are plenty of open green spaces where children play and run around, which makes for a great opportunity for stretching the legs after a day of sightseeing.
All of these places are really, very child friendly because there is a lot of wide open spaces where children can run around and play, so I would encourage you to take on the challenge of visiting Vientiane with babies and young children.
Of course you should always take precautions, such as avoiding drinking tap water, bringing your own baby food (although you can find very decent restaurants in Vientiane that are great for young children to eat, it is always easier to carry around jars of baby food), and for sure contacting your pediatrician before the trip, just to check if there are any other special measures you should take when visiting Laos.
For more ideas on how to survive trips through South East Asia like this, check out this post about Siem Reap, that has many applicable things to Laos.