Visit Wat Si Mueang and the nearby City Pillar Shrine, two of Vientiane's most historic and important Buddhist landmarks. Both the temple and the city pillar are located in the eastern side of town, just a short walk past the Presidential Palace and Wat Si Saket, and easily reachable by foot. Both the temple and city pillar are free to visit.
Wat Si Mueang
Arriving at the temple, a woman standing by the gates will offer you candles and flowers for a couple thousand kip to give as an offering to the temple's large Buddha statue. This statue depicts the Buddha deep in meditation, being shaded from the sun and rain by a mythical nine-headed Naga serpent. You can place the candles and flowers at the base of the statue.
The temple dates back to the 16th century, but its status as a holy site goes back a few hundred years earlier than that. Wat Si Mueang was built over the ruins of an ancient Khmer Hindu temple. Today, only one original stone chedi, or stupa, remains standing. Now, it's wrapped in blessed cloth and surrounded by dozens of Buddhist statues.
At the back of the temple is a small public park and a tall statue of King Sisavang Vong (1904–1959), one of the last kings of Laos. Today, Laos is a Communist country, and no longer has a monarchy.
Before leaving Wat Si Mueang, enter the main wat building and receive a blessing and a blessed string from a monk! The monk will chant and tie the string around your wrist. To receive a blessing, just put a small donation (a few thousand kip is fine) in the plate at the monk's feet, then kneel and extend your wrist to him. After he gives you the string and the blessing, be sure to wai - press your hands together like a prayer and make a bow.
There's another popular ritual at the temple. To one side of the main temple hall sits a smooth stone Buddha image resting on a pillow. The statue is made of solid stone and is very heavy. People can pray and ask a question or make a wish. If they are able to lift the statue three times above their head, the answer is "yes". If they can't, the answer is "no".
While I was at the temple, I watched a strong-looking young Lao man bow to the statue and try to lift it. He wasn't able to. He bowed again, presumably asking another quesiton, and this time was able to lift it as if it were made of paper...
Vientiane City Pillar Shrine
Just down the road from Wat Si Mueang is the Vientiane City Pillar Shrine. Most towns and cities in both Thailand and Laos will have a city pillar - a shrine steeped in ancient folk religion and animism. The shrine is built to honor the spirits of the city, and is blessed in a complex ritual.
Vientiane's city pillar is housed in a large and ornate shrine building. Like Wat Si Mueang, it's free to visit. There is also a small City Pillar Museum located around the back of the shrine.
Wat Si Mueang
Open daily 6:00am-7:00pm
City Pillar Shrine
Open daily 8:00am-4:30pm