Category Archives: Travel in Southeast Asia

Vientiane for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

Pha That Luang in Vientiane. Photo via Wikimedia by Aaron Smith
Pha That Luang in Vientiane. Photo via Wikimedia by Aaron Smith

Visiting Vientiane might be first a bit of a shock when arriving from cities like Bangkok or Hanoi – not in terms of traffic or crowds, but more because of its refreshingly laid back atmosphere!

Unlike most of the Southeast Asian capitals, Vientiane remains far away from the atmosphere of an overcrowded city. A population of just close to 800,000 citizens – in comparison to multi-millions in Bangkok for example, speaks for itself.

Besides of the population, what else makes Vientiane different? Due to its size, it is quite easy to do sightseeing and navigate yourself around the city, which is even possible by feet or your own bike.

Let’s dive into a city which still keeps the charme of French colonial times, blended with Southeast Asian hospitality – Vientiane!

09:00 – the Patuxai

A good way to start your cultural trip around Vientiane is to start at the Patuxai. The Patuxai or also known as ‘Victory Gate of Vientiane’ reflects classical neo-renaissance style. It was built in the 1960’s as memorial from the independence of France and resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The ceiling depicts the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. Walk up the stairs and enjoy the wonderful view over Vientiane.

Open:  Daily from 08:00 – 16:30
Entrance fee: 3000 Kip (US$ 0.40) per pseon
Thannon Lan Xang

Patuxai. Photo via Wikimedia by Tim Wang.

10:30 – Pha That Luang

Also known as the ‘Great Stupa’, Pha That Luang is the most sacred monument in Laos and one of the holiest ones for Buddhists; it is believed that Indian missionaries sent by King Ashok around the 3rd century brought a breastbone of Buddha to Vientiane.

Open: Daily from 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00
Entrance fee: 5000 Kip per person
That Luang

12:30 – Lunch

One of the remaining legacies the French left behind: baguettes! Toasted baguettes can be found from markets to local restaurants with a variety of stuffings suiting every taste; chicken, cheese, vegetarian or seafood-style. Other delicious meals include:

Tam Mak (papaya salad, similar to its Thai version, Som Tam)
Laap (chopped meat with uncooked rice grain and vegetables)
Yall Dib (spring rolls)

Food vendors in Vientiane. Photo via Wikimedia by Alexander Steffler.

15:00 – A visit to COPE

The COPE centre has been established to support victims of mine accidents with rehabilitation and prosthetic devices. It is a non-profit organization situated in the heart of Vientiane and easily reachable via tuk tuk. It has a visitor centre which serves as an interactive museum, explaining the history of the US attacks from the late 1960’s to 1970’s and how Laotians live  now on the still-affected war sites in Laos.

Insider tip: try a delicious Coffee Lao at the adjacent coffee shop – it does not only taste great, but the profit goes 100% as donation to the centre for further support.

Open: Daily from 09:00 – 18:00
Entrance fee: FREE
Boulevard Khouvieng

18:00 – Take a walk along the Mekong promenade

The new promenade is very popular among locals and tourists. Just stroll around or even join one of the aerobic and tai-chi classes. Just located parallel, the Vientiane Night Market provides local crafts, souvenirs and clothes.

Have dinner at one of the numerous restaurants located near the promenade, completing your cultural day in Vientiane.

A Beginner’s Guide to Bagan (Myanmar)

Temples in Bagan (Wikipedia creative commons)
Temples in Bagan (Wikipedia creative commons)

Marco Polo described Bagan as, “one of the finest sights in the world,” and with over 4000 temples, visiting this beautiful city needs to be planned. Here’s how to get the best out of Bagan.

A Short History

Bagan’s temple building era was at its height from the 11th to 13th century when most of the pagodas were constructed. During the later period many of the buildings have Indian features and are more intricate.

King Anawrahta was a devoted Buddhist and most of the prominent temples were built during his reign. In 1289 Bagan was overrun by Mongol invaders. This led to the decline of the city, however many of the Bamar inhabitants are thought to have departed before the invasion.

In 1975 a large earthquake destroyed many temples at Bagan but rebuilding began with the help of UNESCO. Today, Bagan is one of the major attractions in Myanmar and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shwezigon Paya, Bagan (Wikimedia creative commons)
Shwezigon Paya, Bagan (Wikimedia creative commons)

Top Sights

It is impossible to see and appreciate every temple in Bagan during a short visit and focusing on a few will give time to appreciate the architecture and landscape here. Bagan is also very hot and so visiting the temples early is a good way to avoid the heat and crowds during the day.

One of the highlights is Ananda Paya with its four teak Buddhas in different directions and the golden hti. This is one of the most popular temples in Bagan and also one of the most beautiful.

Buddha at Ananda Paya (Wikipedia creative commons)
Buddha at Ananda Paya (Wikipedia creative commons)

Shwezigon Paya is another must see temple in Bagan. It is the main temple used in Bagan and famed for its 37 nats and zedi. It is particularly beautiful at dusk.

Dhammayangyi Pahto is a mysterious temple in Bagan and is known for its bricked up inner sanctum and gruesome history. This is where King Narathu mandated that bricks had to be so close together that a pin could not pass between them. Anyone failing the task had their arms chopped off.

Shwesandaw Paya is particularly beautiful at sunset. Temples such as Tan Kyi Paya are lovely to see from the Ayeyarwady River and taking a boat trip is a delightful way of viewing the golden stupa and Bagan.

Bagan is a spectacular site to visit and enjoying a few of the temples is an excellent way to experience the splendour of the city without being overwhelmed.

Other Diversions!

Viewing the temples in different ways is very popular in Bagan. Outside the monsoon season a hot air balloon ride over the temples at dawn is very popular. At any time of year taking a horse drawn cart through the temple areas at dusk is a beautiful way to see Bagan and especially as the sun goes down.

There are many other things to see in Bagan and one of the most popular are the craft workshops. Laquerware is very popular and of high quality in Bagan.

Another craft is sand painting which can be seen near some of the temples and is very interesting to watch. Visitors can also take a trip to Mount Popa which is a spiritual mountain near Bagan.

Getting There

Most of the travel hubs are at nearby Nyaung U which serves Bagan. It has an airport which services domestic flights from Yangon and other parts of Burma. Another way to arrive is by river boat along the Ayeyarwady from Mandalay. Other ways to get to Bagan include train, bus, and taxi.

Recommended travel site:

Tham Bu La temple (Wikipedia creative commons)
Tham Bu La temple (Wikipedia creative commons)

Highlights of Buddhist Sites in Vientiane, Laos

Wat That Luang
Open: Daily from 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00
Entrance fee: 5000 Kip per person, Laotians: 2000 Kip per person
That Luang Road

Pha That Luang is the most sacred monument in Laos as it is believed that the shrine houses a breastbone of Buddha. A local legend says that the original temple has been built around the 3rd century by an Indian missionary who brought the relict of Buddha to Laos. The current structure however was built by King Setthathirat in 1566 on the site of a 13th century Khmer temple ruin. It contains an impressive 45m high stupa.

Vientiane’s most important festival ‘Boun That Luang’ is held here in November on the night of the full moon to pay respect to the stupa and to enjoy the colourful event that includes parades, live music and religious ceremonies.

Note: there are two temples beside Pha That Luang, the one being Wat That Luang Neua to the north and Wat That Luang Tai to the south.

Wat That Luang. Photo via Wikimedia by Nikopol

Wat Si Saket
Open: Daily from 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00
Entrance fee:  5000 Kip per person
Intersection Lane Xang Road and Setthatthirat Road, near the Presidential Palace

Wat Si Saket is easily reachable by walking from some of Vientiane’s main attractions, such as the Patuxay or Presidential Palace. It has been built in 1818 (restored in 1935) and is considered as Vientiane’s oldest surviving Buddhist monastery and one of the few that were not destroyed by the invasion of Siamese armies in 1828, probably due to its Siamese style.

Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket. Photo by Kian Radojewski

That Dam (Black Stupa)
Open: 24/7
Entrance fee: Free
Bartholomie Road, near Talat Sao (the morning market) and the US Embassy

Since Vientiane has been destroyed in 1828, it is believed that a seven headed dragon (Naga) lives here as a guardian for the citizen of the city. The stupa was once covered in pure gold, but pillaged by the Siamese during the Siamese-Lao war, leaving the stupa almost entirely black.

Wat That Dam. Photo via Wikimedia by Magnus Manske

Wat Haw Phra Kaew
Open: Daily from 08:00 -12:00 and 13:00-16:00
Entrance fee: 5000 Kip per person
Setthathirath Road, walking distance from Wat Si Saket
Important note: Taking pictures is prohibited 

It was originally built in the 16th century by King Setthathirat as temple which housed the legendary Emerald Buddha figurine, but serves now as museum. The sacred jade statue has been brought from Chiang Mai, then the capital of the kingdom of Lanna, but taken back by the Siamese in 1778 and now sits at the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.

Good to know: Haw Phra Kaew derives its name from ‘Emerald Buddha’, therefore the identical names for the temple in Bangkok and then temple/now museum in Vientiane.

Wat Haw Phra Kaew. Photo via Flickr by Dan Searle

Wat Si Muang
Open: Daily 06:00 – 19:00
Entrance fee: Free; parking fees applicable
Between Setthatirat Road and Samsenthai Road

A legend says that a young pregnant woman named Si Muang sacrificed herself at this site and a pillar built over her body. There is also a small statue of Si Muang behind the building, along with a heap of old bricks that are said to date back to her time. The temple is of major focus during the Boun That Luang festival.

Tip: You can visit the monument of King Sisavang Vong next door, reachable through a gate on the grounds of Wat Si Muang.

Wat Si Muang. Photo via Wikimedia by Ondřej Žváček

Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan (=spirit city)
Open: Daily from 08:00 – 17:00
Entrance fee: 5000 Kip per person. 3000 Kip per camera.
24 km outside of Vientiane
East of the Friendship Bridge connecting Laos to Thailand

If you have some extra time to spare during your visit to Vientiane, take a trip to the Buddha Park. It was established in 1958 by a priest-shaman named Bunleua Sulilat and portrays over 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures.

Buddha Park Vientiane. Photo via Wikimedia by Dezwitser

List of Specialist Local Travel Agencies in Indonesia

We have carefully selected a number of well-established travel agencies in Indonesia, as we understand the importance of professional travel planning. All operators below have years, some even decades, of travel planning experience in Indonesia, are among the top experts and awarded with numerous travel awards as well accredited by leading travel associations like IATA or PATA.

Email: [email protected]
Jalan Laksda Adisucipto Km 9 No. 13
Tel.: +62 274 484 674, +62 484 685
Winner of TTG for Best Travel Agent in Indonesia 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Pacto was founded in 1967 and is recognized as one of the pioneers of tourism in Indonesia.

As an inbound tour operator which specializes in Destination & Travel Management, Pacto is actively present in Indonesia’s key tourism areas such as Jakarta, Bali and Yogyakarta and organizes a variety of services, such as multiple city –and island tours, romantic escapes and tailor-made packages.

Prambanan Temple. Photo via Wikimedia by Gunkarta

Adventure Indonesia
Email: [email protected]
Jalan Guru Serih No. 38, Cijantung
Jakarta 13790
Tel.: +62 21 293 833 01; Fax: +62 21 877 11 271
Accredited by:
PATA – Pacific Asia Travel Association
ASITA – Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies
JATA – Overseas Allied Member of Japan Association of Travel Agents

Adventure Indonesia operates since 1996 and has a comprehensive knowledge of major tourist areas as well off the beaten spots in Indonesia. All tours are directly operated by Adventure Indonesia, aiming a high satisfactory level and trusted experience. The company has a number of offices throughout Indonesia such Java, Bali and Flores and participates repeatedly at the ITB in Berlin.

Exotissimo Travel
Email: [email protected]
Jalan Bypass Nugurah Rai No. 157
Sanur, Denpasar
Tel.: +62 361 288 821, Fax: +62 361 287 073
Accredited by:
IATA – International Air Transport Association
USTOA – United States Tour Operators Association

Exotissimo has over 20 years of experience and is one of the longest established destination management companies in Asia. Well known for its high service standards and professionalism, Exotissimo has now 20 offices and over 600 full-time staff with destination based offices in countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia.

Email: [email protected]
PT. Mitra Persada Travelindo
Jalan Pringgodani 12 Mrican Baru
Yogyakarta 55281
Tel.: +62 274 511100; Fax: +62 274 541402
Accredited by:
IATA – International Air Transport Association
ASITA – Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies

Travelindo is a well-recognized inbound tour operator for Indonesia, handling all aspects of bookings and reservations from hotels over flight tickets to train tickets and –of course- tour packages.

King Boko Palace. Photo via Wikimedia by Gunkarta

Email: [email protected] and [email protected] (Yogyakarta branch)
Jalan Prapatan No. 32 (Aerotravel Main Office)
Jakarta 10410
Tel.: +62 21 231 0006; Fax: +62 21 231 02777
Accredited by:
IATA – International Air Transport Association
ASITA – Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies

Aerotravel is part of Aerowisata, a brand under the wing of Garuda Indonesia Group which al so represents the national airline Garuda Indonesia. Aerotravel / Aerowisata are operating several hospitality businesses such as Hotels & Resorts, Transportation Services and Food/Beverage Services.

Please send us your feedback in the comments here or via our Facebook page.

[Please note we cannot officially endorse any linked companies: please undertake your own research and talk carefully to tour operators and travel agents when selecting a professional service.]

Growth in Tourism to Ancient Buddhist Sites – Not Always a Positive?

Tourism to Buddhist sites aims to promote interest for Cultural Tourism and Pilgrimage or Faith Travel, as well Archaeological Tourism.

But where is the line between the promotion as important tourist site and religious heritage?

The desire to embark on a journey for religious purposes has inspired people for centuries and considered the oldest form of tourism in history. But visiting ancient Buddhist sites is no longer a domestic and only faith related event.

In times of globalization it has been developed into a major commercial oriented industry. Travel agencies now offer special handcrafted tours to sacred sites, often including multiple temples in various cities or countries.

Tourists at Angkor Wat. Photo via Wikimedia by Kounosu

Tourism can have a potential high impact on the local culture by turning it into commodities, when rituals and festivals are reduced to tourist expectations, resulting in what has been called “reconstructed ethnicity”[1].

For example Angkor Wat: In the early 2000’s it was still possible to run around the complex without encountering another tourist. Now, it seems almost impossible. Numbers of visitors were rising 45% from the first quarter 2011 to 2012, making it almost 640000 [2] or in other numbers, 7100 per day.

Thus, the development of mass tourism during the past decade to temples like Angkor Wat or Borobudur effecting into deterioration and permanent damage of irreplaceable, century-old relicts and material.

Historical sites are often run by tourism boards that keep focus on monetizing from souvenir revenues, walking tours, restaurants or hotels in the respective area. In the case of large Buddhist events, these important sites are mostly exceeding the capacity of visitors – challenges include how to best manage the flows, proper hygienic/health conditions, food services, first aid and safety and security.

In an indirect way it also effects negatively the surrounding environment as it could potentially lead to natural disasters such as flooding or landslides.

It is also worth to mention that the profit taken through souvenirs, accommodation, etc. ought to benefit the individual and local businesses, but only a small percentage will be used for the actual maintenance of temples.

Naturally speaking, it depends on how the sites are managed: Sustainable tourism could be taught to tourists as way of orientation or information on arrival to sites, strict fines could be introduced where tourists go against those rules and certain viewing distance could be maintained. In order to manage increasing visitors, the management should have a plan in place to control the traffic and to not exceed the loading capacities of the temple.

Monks at Borobudur
Buddhist monks praying at Borobudur. Photo via Wikimedia by Frank Wouters

But tourism to ancient Buddhist sites works also as a catalyst for economic development and poverty reduction for the city / country by providing employment, incomes and taxes, thus increasing the country’s GDP. Moreover, tourism brings attention and recognition to these sites from the general public, as otherwise it might have been lost and/or forgotten.

The creation of a Tourism Management Plan and a Risk map has been put in place for Angkor Wat through a mutual cooperation of UNESCO, the Government of Australia and APSARA (Authority for the protection of the site and the management of the Angkor region) in order to support the locals and their culture, the temples and flora & fauna [3].

Reducing the size of tourism to historical important temples could have a devastating impact on the economies. Tourism to ancient Buddhist sites requires a well-coordinated partnership and collaboration between tourism boards, tour operators, local – and federal government authorities and of course – the visitors.


1: United Nations Environment Program –
2: BBC – Are there too many tourists at Angkor’s temples?
3. UNESCO – Angkor –