Tacky Architecture Award Goes to…Vientiane, Laos!

By Perrin

Befriending my neighbor the guardian demon.

I love a room with a view. Imagine my excitement at waking on sun-soaked sheets in the capital of Laos, waltzing to the hotel window humming Celine Dion and throwing the curtains open — to face two toothy gremlins grinning back at me.  They resembled Keebler elves dipped in pond scum.  I screamed.

It’s possible that Laos’s lush landscape escapes further development because its architects have been banished.

But Vientiane deserves credit for obliterating building boredom.  The ostentation serves a purpose: 1. Bright colors keep tourists on their toes.  2. House-size Buddhas attract attention from even the most oblivious lost souls.  Religious buildings and sculptures are the loud ones, and the town certainly remembers to pray.

Some of my favorite structures are below.


Omm on the Mekong River

The aptly named Buddha Park hosts over 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. The only question is, is that enough?

PATUXAI (“Victory Gate”)

Concrete monster belittles Anne (locate girl in red dress).

Oh, the irony! America provided concrete and funding for an airfield during the Vietnam War. Lao architects built Patuxai instead. Locals jokingly refer to it as the Vertical Runway.

The monument, which celebrates Laos’s 1949 coup of French occupation, resembles Paris’s Arc de Triumphe.

Look closely: each tile of the arch contains a happy Buddha.

Gargoyles are so 1000 years ago. Buddha figurines guard all man-made surfaces, from doorstep to rooftop, from the reaches of archways to (I suspect) the depths of mouse holes.

Bird woman Kinnai, unique to Laos mythology, flutters across the ceiling.


Sedans not admitted.

Can you imagine speculating with friends as this gate went up? The conversation may have gone something like this:

“The guard’s not the handsomest frog in the pond, but he does look dignified in grey plaster.”
“They’re painting him shades of mucus.”
“At least there’s only one.”
“His twin just rolled in. Hide your children.”

Mixay exemplifies the electric yellow wats that illuminate Southeast Asia.

About sistersbailey

We are Perrin and Sarah Bailey, collectively known as “The Sisters Bailey”. The moniker was born out of a crazy weekend at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and it was the first time we had ever been referred to as one unit. We grew up in Alexandria, VA together and then separated for college - Perrin to The University of Pennsylvania and Sarah to Northwestern University – and somehow landed together in New York after graduation. It was in the midst of the hustle of Manhattan that we became friends for the first time in years. Somehow we landed jobs in the same industry - Sarah worked in marketing at HBO and Perrin managed creative digital promotions for her media agency’s main client, Disney - just three blocks from one another. One day we decided to leave our jobs, sell our belongings and travel abroad with a backpack and a collective savings of $10K. The stories of our continuing adventures and those of other fearless travelers are here to inspire you.
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1 Response to Tacky Architecture Award Goes to…Vientiane, Laos!

  1. Ngnay says:

    Here are other official links and comments:


    Patuxai, symbol of the Laotian unit

    A monument will not take its true rise that if it expresses an unconscious collective. When, defying time and space, its force symbolic system sticks so much to the image of the city which its architectural beauty creates with it only a shock compared to all that surrounds it. What symbolizes very well Patuxai, a Triumphal arch Mekong version, which for recent that it is (1962), is not less already completely integrated of it into the image of Vientiane, provisional capital of the ASEAN.

    Vientiane, that shows through as of the first glance, incontestably kept its small air of deep France, an atmosphere of softness and user-friendliness which differentiates it from the start of these odds and ends which became the majority of the modern Asian cities incorporating itself today around immense motorways. This type of development will not have course here where the means are less and the model so openly different. Of liking or force, Laos preaches its own values, its secular culture, its version of the accession at modern times. It is all this ambient particularism which makes of Patuxai an architectural work intended to cross time.

    Realized according to the project of the architect Tham Sayasithsena who had made his studies in Paris, it was set up between the end of the colonial period and the beginning of the war of Vietnam, in order to honour the memory with the unknown soldier died for what was at the time a fragile kingdom, though already plain under only one and even administration.

    Paradoxically, Patuxai (or Arch of the Victoire) would never have been born, at least in its current form, without the gift by the Americans of 6000 tons concrete taken on the surpluses generated by construction of the new tracks of the airport of the capital…

    Loan to face eternity, it acquired its truly national dimension when the population of Vientiane gathered there in mass, as the Parisian ones at the time of the storming of the Bastille did it, to reverse the mode on December 2, 1975, date official of the advent of the Democratic Popular Republic of Laos (event which each annçe commemorates an immense procession where, by interminable lines of nine, the inhabitants of the capital pay homage to the Fatherland).

    Unspoilable view

    Located at the top of Lane Xang (the avenue of the million elephants), the Elysées Fields of the city, Patuxai throne in the middle of its clean “park of Tileries” (arranged in 2004 thanks to a gift of 15 million dollars of Popular China to commemorate the first session of the ASEAN) such invincible concrete Samouraï under its armour open on the four corners of the horizon and placed under the constant guard of eight dragons. Directly inspired by Taj Mahal, its architectural harmony rests on figures 3, 7 and 8; reference express to its Buddhist implication. Each tower measurement 24 meters (3 X 8) on the basis of square itself of 24 meters.

    The unit comprises 7 stages and culminates exactly with 49 meters (7 X 7), in accordance with the guns of the architectural style lao, to start with famous PhaThat Luang. Large the stupa is as deeply anchored in the unconscious collective lao as are it, for our part, our more beautiful cathedrals.

    For the visit, it will cost you 2000 kips of it if you are Laotian and 3000 if you are tourist (0,25 euro), for the climbing of 162 steps leading to the various rooms before arriving at height of the first panorama. You for the pleasure offer the 27 last by climbing the spiral staircase which leads to the top of the central tower. You will discover there any Vientiane with 15 kilometers with the round, the large rectilinear arteries which converge there, the curve of Mekong, a package of antennas GSM, a myriad of red roofs and the perfect geometry of this famous park to the fountains “its and lights”.

    While going down again, take time to traverse the various galleries external decorated with innumerable so particular Buddhist sculptures of the tendencies with Laotian art, Bai If on the topic of the petal of lotus borrowed from That Luang, and the Nagas snakes, another emblem if it is country. Finished 90% of the consent even of its creators, the memorial of Patuxai answers incontestably its vocation of national union and would deserve some installations and a rough-casting with height of its genesis. Visit not to miss, this temple of independence is the emblematic expression of the inhabitants of the country of the million elephants, the heart of the people lao.

    Alain Sapanhine

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