Wall exhibit breaks down barriers to Vientiane’s past

|     Patithin Phetmeuangphuan     |


VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) – While Laos’ convoluted history is often just studied in textbooks, today’s generation can now sample a part of it from the 16th Century for themselves – the Vientiane city wall.

This ancient barrier which once helped protect the city has almost been forgotten as large parts of the wall were destroyed during times of conflict, but authorities have now created a visitor attraction based around a remaining section, to recreate history and inspire public interest.

One small part of the wall in Nonghai village (near the 10km traffic lights) in Hadxaifong district has now been brought to life again and may be visited by the public from 10am-11pm.

This site has been recreated consistent with the time of the wall’s origins.

Entrance is free and you have the option of being kitted out in traditional Lao costume so you can play your part in the capital’s historic recreation.

Visitors get into the spirit of the historical attraction by dressing in traditional costume. – VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN

Items of clothing can be rented for 5,000 kip each so men need 10,000 to 20,000 kip while women require 30,000 to 50,000 kip to be suitably attired. But visitors in regular clothing are still welcome.

The Vientiane Wall attraction is still novel so most visitors are opting to dress traditionally.

This means the front office is quite crowded in the evening as people rent their outfits. If you prefer to avoid the crowds it’s best to go in the daytime.

Next to the front office is the boat station which reminds visitors of the historic importance of the Mekong and canals to Vientiane before road transport existed.

A small boat can hold four or five people and take you to the nearby market.

Alternatively, you can choose to walk over the bamboo bridge or along the food fair but the area is not large, so you can take both options.

Along the bamboo walkway, you get a deeper appreciation of the old culture and you also can stop at some small restaurants set up along the riverside. Everything is cheap but be careful while walking over the bridge as it is built to ‘traditional’ standards.

You can cross to the other side if you want as there are several small bridges.

When walking around I was struck by many people talking on their smartphones and taking selfies while dressed in traditional 16th century clothing.

Walking past a disused boat lying on the left side of the canal you will find a small museum with the remaining ruins of the Vientiane city wall along with some interesting information and displays, allowing the younger generation to gain an insight into the nation’s rich past.

According to information at the museum, the wall was built in the middle of the 16th Century.

In 1560, Laos was known as the Lao Kingdom of Lane Xang and reigned over by Chao Xaysetthathirath who moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane to defend against an invasion from Myanmar.  The wall was built in 1571 to strengthen the city’s defences against invasion from Myanmar.

In 1591, Chao Normeuang (Chao Setthathirath’s son) succeeded to the throne as the king of Lane Xang and engaged in ongoing war with forces from Myanmar.

Construction of the wall continued until 1806 under the leadership of Chao Anouvong.

According to www.tourism-laos.org; the wall was built at the same time as the development of the capital city. In the middle of the 16th Century, much of it was destroyed by Siamese troops. Currently, there are only ruins left to see.

There were three brick walls surrounding Vientiane on both banks of the Mekong. The length of the first wall was four kilometres (now Setthathirath Road). Within this walled area were the castles of the King, Latsavong’s followers and noblemen and important temples such as Somdetsangkharath (King of the Buddha) located on the site of the Lane Xang hotel.

The second wall was 14 kilometres long and built of mud rendered brick. This wall prevented enemy invasion (along present-day Khouvieng Road).