Vientiane boasts just a handful of monuments; its biggest, That Luang, was built in 1560 to commemorate moving the capital city from Luang Prabang to here. Perhaps the lack of interesting architecture is what led the Royal Lao government to create Patuxai when the US supplied cement and funds to build an airport in 1960 — that’s where the cement ended up, anyway.
Now affectionately nicknamed “the vertical runway”, Patuxai literally translates into “Gate of Triumph”, and is dedicated to those who fought to liberate Lao from the French in 1949. Ironically, Patuxai bears a striking resemblance to Paris’ L’Arc de Triumph, yet it is ornamented with iconic imagery in Lao Buddhist fashion, while the cement lays a foundation, so to speak, of 1960s functionalism. The monument gives a slight impression of architectural schizophrenia that adds a certain charm.
The pillars of Patuxai are spiral staircases that take visitors to several storeys of tourist shops and displays of artifacts. It’s a light trek that terminates at the top floor viewpoints, which provide a nice spot to perch and gaze across the centre of town.
The monument is located at the end of Patuxai Park, which with increasing traffic has come to resemble a spectacular oblong roundabout. The walkway leading from the monument is lined with plants and benches, and circles two large fountains. At the other end of the park you’ll find a small cafe with mediocre Lao food and ice-cream. If you fancy a nibble, better to save your appetite and head to the Patu Xay Cafe, located a 10-minute walk away.
Patuxai Park has become an increasingly popular place to congregate at dusk. Intensive exercise is generally not pursued in Laos, especially in the hot day-time sun. However, evening strolls have become very popular in the capital. Families and friends arrive after rush-hour, as the air cools down. They chatter, take pictures and walk hand in hand around the small park, with Lao music playing, but not blaring, from the lit up fountain’s speaker system. Patuxai at dusk has a pleasant atmosphere that beckons one to join in the strolling.
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