This two-storey colonial mansion became the Lao National Museum in 1985 and houses enough relics of Lao history and culture, both ancient and modern, to make a visit worthwhile.
The first rooms you come upon after entering the museum are filled with a hodgepodge of ancient artefacts like Khmer sculptures, dinosaur bones, pottery fragments, and a single jar from the Plain of Jars in Savannakhet. Though the items themselves are interesting, the displays are reminiscent of high school presentations in both scope and sophistication, plus many items are improperly stored — for instance, the jar is treated like a wishing well and visitors can throw coins inside.
The upstairs exhibits are better organised and trace the modern history of Laos from the Siamese invasions and eventual colonisation by the French through to revolution, communism and the American war. The information here is more detailed, though it mostly involves reading, and there are some stunning photographs of guillotines, old prisons and soldiers, though many are missing English captions. The tone of the information is strongly one-sided (the Americans are “imperialists”), but the museum’s display on UXOs earns them some sympathy. The final room upstairs is a shrine to Kaysong Phomvihane, the prime minister from 1975-1991, with all manner of his personal items including a chest expander and spoon he once used.
The final room of the museum is a new display chronicling modern Laos’ agricultural achievements and involvement with the ASEAN, but it’s less than inspiring.
A small souvenir shop on the ground floor looks like it hasn’t made a sale in decades and its modest inventory of booklets and handicrafts is coated with dust. Don’t miss the museum’s guest book near the exit; the comments from past guests are an amusing read and range from debates about the American War to random complaints about taxi rip-offs.