Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial

Lonely Planet review

Opened in 1995 to celebrate the late president's 75th birthday, the Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial near Km 6 on Rte 13 south serves as a tribute to Indochina's most pragmatic communist leader. Kaysone's former house is a model of modesty, while in contrast, the museum is a vast Vietnamese-style celebration of the cult of Kaysone (a cult he never encouraged).

It's possible to cycle here or take any transport on Rte 13 south. Kaysone's house is a bit trickier to find, so it's easiest to backtrack; after visiting the museum, return south, the way you came. Upon reaching the first stop light, turn right and continue 1km until you see the sign on your right that says 'Mémorial du Président Kaysone Phomvihane'. Alternatively, a tuk-tuk will cost around 40,000k from the centre.

The museum is impossible to miss, with its mega-sized bronze statue of Kaysone out front flanked by large sculptures in the Heroes of Socialism style, complete with members of various ethnic groups and a sportsman looking like a super-serious Superman. The building is a stark contrast, too, and is filled with a remarkably complete collection of memorabilia of both Kaysone and the Party. These include a mock-up of Kaysone's childhood home in Savannakhet, his desk from the French school he attended at Ban Tai, and a model of a portion of 'Kaysone Cave' in Hua Phan Province, complete with revolver, binoculars, radio and other personal effects.

In contrast, Kaysone's house is a remarkably modest affair, yet fascinating both because of its history and that it remains virtually untouched since the great man died in 1992. The house is inside the former USAID/CIA compound, a self-contained headquarters known as 'Six Klicks City' because of its location 6km from central Vientiane. It once featured bars, restaurants, tennis courts, swimming pools, a commissary and assorted offices from where the Secret War was orchestrated. During the 1975 takeover of Vientiane, Pathet Lao forces ejected the Americans and occupied the compound. Kaysone lived here until his death.

A Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) guide will show you through the house, with Kaysone's half-empty bottles of Scotch, tacky souvenirs from the Eastern Bloc, white running shoes, notepads and original Kelvinator air-conditioners. Even the winter coats he wore on visits to Moscow remain neatly hanging in the wardrobe.