- The capital and largest city of Laos, with a population of ~750,000.
- Located on the Mekong River, near the border with Thailand.
- Once the hub of Indochina, Vientiane is now a quaint frontier town bustling with promise.
- Nickname: literally translates to “Sandalwood City”
- Currency: Kip (LAK).
- Spoken languages: Lao. English is also widely spoken.
- Best time to visit: from mid-November to January (the cool, dry months).
- Arriving via airport: taxis into town will charge 57,000 LAK, but tuk-tuks can be found outside the airport gate for 30,000 LAK.
WHERE TO STAY
For a capital city, Vientiane is rather small and quiet, with all the tourist action located within Central Vientiane, which consists of three main roads running parallel to the Mekong River. Better deals can be found by walking directly out of the center in just about any direction (note that the farther out you go, the less accommodation options you will come across).
- With tuk-tuks, negotiation is common, though the ones lingering around tourist hot spots are often difficult to negotiate with. Many carry a “menu” with set prices, which are typically rip-offs. It is best to walk a couple blocks to flag another one down and negotiate a price. Jumbos with fixed routes cost 10,000 LAK per person, depending on how far.
- You can rent a bicycle (10,000 LAK per day) or a motorbike (80,000 LAK and up). Bigger bikes may cost as much as 250,000 LAK for a day.
- Consider renting an air-conditioned van or taxi for the day as a way to get around – these can be arranged through your guesthouse.
- Drinking age is 18. Last call is 12 AM (though some discos stay open later)
- While Vientiane is generally a relatively quiet place, there some local discos for in the city open till late. These include: Romeo Nightclub, Meena, Marina, Future, and D’Tech.
- Bor Pen Nyang, a rooftop bar overlooking the Mekong, is the most popular place in the Center. While it’s a haven for working girls and ladyboys late at night, the mixed crowds seem to get along regardless of background. Be sure to double-check your bill!
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Visit the UXE (Unexploded Ordinance) Museum to learn about Laos’ brutal history and the undetonated bombs that still plague the citizens to this day.
- Head 90 km out of the city to visit Nam Ngum Lake, where you can take cruises on the water or eat at one of the floating restaurants. A favorite pastime for locals.
- Go to the Wat Onteu and hang out with the monks. There are English-speaking monks who gather there once a month to converse with visitors.
- See Patuxai, Vientiane’s own version of the Arch de Triomphe, which symbolizes the struggle for independence from the French and serves as a reminder of the country’s colonial history.
- Note: Central Vientiane is very walkable – while the heat can be unbearable, it’s a great way to see the city in short spurts.
- Stroll along the banks of the Mekong, where the government has designed a beautiful riverwalk to promote tourism in the area.
- Don’t forget to try Beer Lao at one of the city’s many beer gardens. A source of national pride for the Laotian people, it’s considered by many to be the best beer in Asia and is now a cult classic among the backpacker crowd.
- Try to hunt down the Fireballs of Naga, a mysterious, unexplained phenomenon of lights rising from the Mekong River in late October. While more well-known in Thailand, crowds of Laotians also gather on the opposite shore (just outside of Vientiane) to catch a glimpse.
- Dangerous areas: In the center, be wary of “women” standing on dark corners at night – many are ladyboys and can be very aggressive. Watch your drink in late night clubs, and use basic common sense when walking at night. Also, avoid drugs at all costs as they come with harsh penalties (and often offered as part of extortion schemes).
The Best Vientiane Guide Books:
- The Rough Guide to Laos (covers the whole country)
- Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand (covers region)
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days