Normally bypassed or used just as a gateway to Laos, Vientiane has more to offer for a traveler willing to stay for a couple of days.
Wind down along the Mekong riverbank with a beerlao in your hand or sit down at one of the many restaurants to try some delicious laotian food. Walk around and explore this relaxed city, way smaller than other Southeast Asian capitals and plan the rest of your trip.
Vientiane is in a perfect location in the middle of the country, not very far from both the north with Luang Prabang and from the south, 4000 islands and Bolaven Plateau.
Here you can find a slow-paced lifestyle uncommon in capitals. Probably an endangered characteristic since the city is engaging in a fast Chinese-invested growth separating it from the rest of the country mood. While in the whole Laos there are mainly nature or wooden villages, in Vientiane there is a rising middle-class and businesses starting to sprout everywhere to satisfied their needs.
Shortage of bars and restaurants is not a problem, with also the weird sight of luxury cars roaming the city’s streets or families going to new expensive shops. An ironic experience for this proudly communist country!
Nevertheless, an authentic and simple lifestyle is still possible to find in the many small markets and traditional businesses.
Located in the middle of the country, is also an easy stopping point between the south and the north. For instance, if you are coming from Cambodia and go first to 4000 islands, it is on your way to the north. Vientiane makes it a fairly convenient spot to stay for a couple of days and experience something different. Forget about dirty roads and bamboo infrastructure, expect wide boulevards and colonial buildings! The French in fact organized everything during the colonial period.
In terms of things to see and places to visit, have a look at:
– Pha That Luang: a golden-color stupa. It is the national symbol of Laos and its most important monument, a major pride for all Laotians
– Wat Sisaket: a beautiful temple built using the Thai-styled architecture. It is the oldest religious structure here and one of the few survivors of the destruction of the city made by Siam kingdom in the 18th century. Even the famous Emerald Buddha in Bangkok’s Grand Palace was stolen from here!
– Thanon Lane Xang: the widest boulevard in town, starting from the presidential palace
– the Mekong riverfront: where you can find places to eat street food, a small but lively market and a pleasant garden to cool down during the hottest hours of the day
– Lao national museum: where you can learn more about the history of this peaceful country
– Cope visitor center: in case you want to know more about the secret American war. In fact in the seventies USA heavily bombed extensive civilian areas of Laos. Feel free to donate or buy some souvenirs to supports this NGO providing health care to the victims
– Patuxai: a highly kitsch version of the French arc du triumph. Funnily enough it is slightly taller than the parisian one, just as a matter of national ego after independence!
– Black Stupa (locally known as That Dam): a stupa that Laotians believe protects the city
– Street markets: Laos is famous for the incredible wide collection of animals that people eat, so a great memorable experience can be to try some of the local specialties such as bugs or bats. (Although we recommend you to always check on the internet to see if the animal you are about to eat are part of some endangered species. Laos is unfortunately famous for its wildlife protection violations!)
A cool Vietnamese temple
For a bit of surrealism, go to the park in the Vientiane’s suburbs, a short bus ride towards Thai border. The name is Xieng Khuan, or Buddha park, and it has the weirdest religious sculptures you can imagine. It’s kind of an older brother of a similar (and more recent park) on the Thai side of the Mekong. It has been made by same artist and has an endless collection of strange creatures as well. Also if you are up for a daytrip outside the city, Nam Ngum Lake can be a good option. There you can relax while cooling off and swimming in its waters.
The public park near Mekong riverfront
Hope you got an idea of what to visit in this sleepy capital of Laos. Don’t miss Vientiane on your way between the south and the north of the country.
And if you are in Cambodia, have a look an Camboticket website to get some itineraries by bus.
Don’t forget that you will need a visa to enter Laos! For most of the countries available at the border for around 30 USD, depending your origin country.
Don’t forget to bring your smile to greet this friendly and happy people of Laos!