Let’s face it: when you travel, your camera is on fire! This is the first of the souvenirs, before the lot of bric-a-brac that we will have bought on the spot. Thanks to Instagram, this memory will be shared almost immediately with our loved ones. Whether it’s a race for “likes” and promotion of a destination or the need to look back on these magical places with nostalgia later, Vientiane is undoubtedly a photogenic city that is definitely Instagrammable! Always choose the early morning or late afternoon for the best light, unless you are a professional photographer: well taken night or sunset shots are fantastic! Let’s embark on the top 5 must-see places in the city.
The Patuxaï :
At the end of Lang Xang Avenue, the city’s main road, this triumphal arch, sculpted with mythological creatures, is dedicated to the fighters for independence. Surrounded by the eponymous park, the monument is full of symbols to discover, where Buddhist and even Hindu patriotic values are exalted, look for it!
Once these discoveries have been made, it’s time to capture them:
Tip number 1: the picture at the water’s edge: day or night, with or without the water jets and light effects, anything is possible, as long as the Monument and its palm trees are reflected in the pond for a fantastic result.
Tip number 2, If you have a good Zoom: the Ceiling under the Patuxai porch is also ultra photogenic, and …spoiler….this is where to find the Hindu symbols!
Tip 3: the views of the city, by taking height, and by playing on the barring of the openings.
And while you’re climbing inside the monument, the stairs and terraces, which are sometimes used by monks in saffron, offer tremendous artistic potential. Go ahead, instagram or not, the view from up there is worth every shot!
The That Luang :
Or Supreme Stupa, it is said to contain a hair of the Buddha. Emblematic of Laos, this Buddhist monument is the occasion of a festival in November, an opportunity to take magnificent pictures, as long as you know how to work in the middle of the crowd.
Here again, the same advice as before: from the front or in profile, by day or night, at noon in the sun or in a storm, anything is possible to make this magnificent monument stand out. Go for the wide angle so that the Stupa comes into the frame, or the back angle.
Bonus: you will see through the surrounding wall, the That Luang Tai monastery, with its Reclining Buddha. From the floor to the ceiling, in the middle of the gardens, to the walls, don’t miss visiting this place as an extension of your visit to the Supreme Stupa, a guaranteed Instagram hit, no need for a manual!
The Vat Phra Kèo :
This former royal temple in Vientiane once housed the Emerald Buddha which the Siamese took with them in 1779 to the eponymous Wat in Bangkok. This is a sensitive issue between the two countries since Laos is demanding the return of the Jadeite statue to Vientiane.
Since then, the temple has become a museum of religious art, with its gallery of bronze Buddha and sacred art objects.
Avoid the flow of visitors: go early in the morning for better pictures. Otherwise, you’ll have to be satisfied with close-ups of the statues or the temple decorations, which isn’t so bad.
The Vat Sisakhet :
This is the oldest monastery in the city, traditionally the place where the king received the annual oath of loyalty from the officials. Here again a cloister houses a rich collection of Buddha statues, and the library contained valuable manuscripts that were destroyed during the sack of the city.
On site: focus on the details with close-up shots: explore the many possibilities offered by the Buddha Statues and Statuettes in their alcove inside the Cloister. Here again, choose to visit in the morning to enjoy the place without too many people, and watch for the monks’ wanderings.
The Buddha Park:
This haven of greenery located some 25 km from Vientiane gathers 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues on the Mekong River. Its ideal location near the Friendship Bridge border crossing makes it easily accessible to those arriving in Laos by road.
While the monsoon season brings out the best of the green flora, contrasting with the stone Buddhas, a walk in the rain can spoil the fun. Wait for the rain to end. You should also avoid going there in the hot sun. The beginning of the dry season is the best time for photography: the vegetation is still lush and the heat more bearable.
Large angle lens and wide shots: to get as many statues as possible into the frame. Another suggestion is to focus the image on a face, bordered by flowers. And the good news is that you don’t need a drone to get a bit of height, just climb to the top of one of these sculptures. If you want to liven up this green and grey setting, look out for the monks’ saffron robes! Yes, it’s a cliché but it works!
If you spend the day wandering the streets of Vientiane, with a camera or smartphone: think of spare batteries or the Power Bank for the phone. Be careful not to photograph people without their consent, and for monks: avoid doing so in an overt manner. The women shall not touch the monks, nor do they look them in the eye, even though this is a Western courtesy.
And if you want to upload your pictures on Instagram, make sure you have ordered a local data plan! Throughout Laos, but in the cities in particular, network coverage is pretty good and cheap.
Challenge: once you have mastered the classic shots, let yourself be inspired for more original and daring framing without ever losing the respect due to the religious sites. For the rest, it’s Sabai Sabai!